Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A Growing Threat to Local Government Websites

(But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!)

We all remember what is now being called the largest DDoS attack in history. That fateful day in October 2016 when a massive DDoS attack shut down Twitter, Etsy, Github, Spotify, Airbnb, Netflix and Reddit. Most of us felt the effects and hence the big take away is that we are all targets. And DDoS attacks are on the rise, including on government websites. There are even increasing concerns about the use of DDoS attacks for government protests.

Recently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was overloaded and shut down for 40 hours after a DDoS attack simulated many, many users trying to access an online census form. This effectively shut down the service altogether and millions of Australians were blocked from completing the online form. As it turns out, the ABS was not prepared for such an attack and paid dearly. Another lesson learned.

DDoS Attack Illustration
A little closer to home, an international activist hacker group claimed responsibility for a DDoS attack that brought down the Minnesota Courts website for 10 days.

Local governments must ensure that their websites are secure and are able to withstand a DDoS attack. This article, 9 Ways to Protect Your Technology Company from DDoS Attacks, published in Forbes magazine, offers excellent do-it-yourself security options which are applicable to local governments.

However, many of them require a dedicated IT staff, preferably with security expertise, to review and implement. For many local governments, such specialized staff is just not possible. So what can you do? Focus on the worry-free option, “Choose the Right Hosting Partners”. In other words, make sure your website is hosted by a company which provides DDoS protection as a standard service.

GovOffice regularly monitors for DDoS attacks and we’ve successfully defended attacks directed at specific local government sites on our platform. This January, we implemented a major security and infrastructure upgrade to provide even greater, system-wide, DDoS protection to address this growing threat.

The really good news is, all GovOffice sites are covered by this upgrade and no action is required on your part. For our clients interested in more detailed information, we now utilize an enterprise level DDoS solution for the GovOffice platform developed by a leading DDoS security company, Corero. The key benefit of the Corero solution is that it automatically mitigates DDoS attack traffic before it impacts our customers, enabling us to keep our networks clean of attack traffic.

While no one can guarantee 100% prevention, we make it a priority to ensure your website is accessible to citizens 24/7/365. A state-of-the-art, worry-free hosting infrastructure with robust security solutions is increasingly critical to local governments, and we want you to know we’ve got you covered!

Contact us today to learn more.

Live Video Streaming and Your Local Government

This month we are featuring a blog post by Alex Hilleary, Market Trailblazer and local government expert with our new streaming video partner, Boxcast. He offers his insights on how our all new video streaming service can help open your government to everyone.

This is Why Your City Council Meeting Attendance is Low
Whether you're a council member, public information officer, or engaged citizen, you may have noticed a decline in the number of seats filled at your weekly public meetings.

Your local government isn’t alone in this struggle – low attendance is a regular concern of municipalities across the country.

As a part of my job, I’ve attended council meetings in various cities and have witnessed the problem firsthand. I’ve even shown up only to realize that I was the only non-government employee in attendance.

However, I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to residents. Time and time again, they’ve made it clear that they care about what’s going on in the community, but just can’t make it to council meetings in person.

This is what they’ve had to say about why that is....

"I'm already overcommitted."
There was a time when most people worked 9 to 5 jobs, came home, and filled their evenings with community and social events. Weekly schedules included regular events and activities. The American city council meeting was built to serve people with this lifestyle.

However, the 9 to 5 lifestyle is no longer the norm. People work all hours of the day. They travel more. They have more outside-of-work activities. With so many things pulling them in different directions, people are prevented from dedicating an evening to their city hall to hear about community happenings.

Local Government Video Streaming
Streaming has never been so easy.
“I can’t be there in person.”
Even for the people willing to carve out time to attend meetings, there are obstacles that prevent them from being there.

Consider your resident-base. Are transportation concerns ever an influencing factor? How often do people get sick? Do people ever take vacations?

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how dedicated someone might be to community affairs, there are still things that keep them from attending your meetings in person.

By demanding your residents’ physical presence, you keep them from fully participating every time they want to. When you confine your public meetings to one physical space at one moment of time, you fail to reach, engage, and achieve transparency with your full community.

“Council meetings are too long.”

Suppose that your residents are able to find an hour or so in their busy schedules each week to attend a public meeting. Unfortunately, many municipalities have meetings that can regularly run anywhere from two to five hours.

The reality is that your residents don’t have time for that. If they care about an issue that won’t be brought up until hour three, what’s the point in even going? And it’s always uncomfortable to walk out of a meeting while it’s still going on.

How Can You Address the Issue?

Your residents have made it clear that they care about the issues that affect them. They want to be involved, but often feel excluded because they can’t drop their other commitments in order to attend council meetings.

To address this issue head-on, many municipalities around the country are starting to live stream their meetings. Doing so lets residents tune in live from wherever are. And if they’re busy at the time of the event, BoxCast will automatically record every broadcast and make it available online immediately after your event is over.

Over and over again, live streaming has proven itself to be a powerful tool to drive community awareness and civic engagement.

Ready to improve council meeting attendance? Start streaming!

GovOffice and Capturepoint Announce Strategic Partnership

Market leaders set to deliver integrated website and parks & recreation software solution for local governments

MINNEAPOLIS, MN and RIDGEWOOD, NJ – September 5, 2017 — GovOffice and Capturepoint, creator of CommunityPass software, today announced a strategic partnership to deliver an integrated website and comprehensive parks and recreation management software solution to parks and recreation departments across the U.S. The initiative joins two leading providers of local government software solutions in an effort to deliver state-of-the-art technologies at lower cost to local governments.  Together, the companies serve nearly 1600 local governments and departments in 44 states across the U.S.

“This initiative advances our goal of providing a broader suite of state-of-the-art web technologies to meet the needs of local governments at an affordable cost.” said GovOffice CEO Eric Johnson. “By collaborating with CommunityPass, we can deliver more comprehensive solutions at lower cost at a time when our local government clients are being asked to do more with less.  This partnership helps us help them.”

“We believe this partnership will leverage our complete parks and recreation software for more local governments across the country,” said Joe Oriente, Founder and Managing Director of Capturepoint. “In addition, it offers our clients a leading website solution to enhance their online presence.”

Developers, tech support and web content experts in both companies will cooperate to serve a growing local government market with these innovative solutions and world-class support services.

About GovOffice
GovOffice is a leading national provider of websites and online services for local governments. With its cloud-based, mobile-friendly platform, GovOffice offers proven, easy-to-use web technology tools to enable a more efficient and responsive government. Based in Minneapolis, MN, GovOffice was launched in 2001 as the centerpiece of a unique public-private partnership to bring website technologies to cities across America. GovOffice serves over 1400 local governments in 44 states.

About Capturepoint
Capturepoint’s CommunityPass is one of America's most well respected and complete online recreation management solutions. CommunityPass, originally released in 2003, provides highly configurable cloud-based registration, membership and facilities software. Our community-based approach allows residents to participate in an unlimited number of organizations via a single login, while each organization benefits from autonomous, streamlined operations and payment collection. Headquartered in Ridgewood, NJ, the company’s clients include park and recreation departments and districts, public and private schools, sports organizations, and more. 

Contact us today to learn more!

ADA Compliance and Your GovOffice Website

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Website Compliance Practices

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits states and local governments from discriminating on the basis of disability in “all services, programs, and activities provided to the public.” While ADA website accessibility standards evolve over time with changes in technology, the US Department of Justice has cited Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA as a key standard for ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities.

Website accessibility generally deals with how individuals with varying disabilities interact with information found on webpages. Those individuals must utilize assistive technology to enable them to navigate websites or access information contained on those sites. For example, a blind person would need to rely on a screen reader to convert the visual information on a webpage into audio.

GovOffice works to keep up with these evolving requirements and our newest design framework (LT4) was specifically developed to address accessibility of our sites. However, older custom designs eventually fall behind on ADA compliance. New designs are tested and utilize the latest standards, so updating your design every few years will help ensure your website meets the latest standards.

Additionally, as our clients manage their own content, we have several recommendations that will help comply with ADA best practices for state and local governments, including the following:
  • Rely on your built-in, default design elements - e.g. font type, size, and color - to display your content. These are specifically designed and programmed with accessibility standards in mind.
  • Make sure each section/page has a title. These along with lists, and other structural elements provide meaning and structure to web pages. They can also facilitate keyboard navigation within the page and improve search engine optimization.
  • Avoid using tables for layout. Tables should be used for data only and should include column headers. Data cells should be associated with their appropriate headers, making it easier for screen reader users to navigate and understand the data table.
  • Never use flashing features or objects on a page. Also avoid using Adobe Flash or other content that requires plugins that may not work with screen readers or mobile devices.
  • Write meaningful descriptive links. Avoid using "click here" to link to an item. Links should describe the actual contents (where the link is taking you) of the link whenever possible, e.g. Contact GovOffice Training & Technical Support. Every link should make sense if the link text is read by itself.
  • Make sure content is clearly written and easy to read. Write clearly, use clear fonts, and use headings and lists appropriately.
  • Add descriptive alt text (image descriptions) on images to describe the image for visually impaired visitors. 
  • Ensure that every form element (text field, checkbox, dropdown list, etc.) has a label. Also make sure the user can submit the form and recover from any errors, such as the failure to fill in all required fields.

More questions about website ADA compliance? Let us know!

Easy Content Strategies for your Local Government Website

Most local government websites require several website administrators to maintain content on specific sections. This makes sense as municipal websites are often deep with rich content which can become too much for one person to handle. Also, it is common for some departments to have their own unique requirements and a need to control their own identity. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, ensuring consistent and quality content throughout your website can be a challenge. That is why it is important to establish some ground rules, or what is known as a content strategy, for all web administrators to follow.

Content strategy encompasses all of the content that can be added to your website, from basic text to images to videos and more, and how that content is presented. With that in mind, below are some basic content principles and best practices to help guide your own efforts to establish “rules and standards” for your web administrators. You’ll notice a common theme, simplicity. So I’ll do my best to practice what I preach, and try to keep this simple.

A content strategy can keep your website from falling apart.
Review your content
First things first. Proofread, edit, update, and remove outdated information. This is perhaps the single most important rule for any content strategy. It will establish a baseline for where your content is and where it needs to be. If you adopt only one rule, let this be it.

Write for the web
The basic tenant of this rule is simplicity and here are the primary components:
  • Create short, simple, relevant headings/section titles.
  • Break up long blocks of text with paragraphs and bulleted lists to highlight the main points. This treatments is called “chunking”. It’s easier on your site visitor’s eyes and much easier to read. Using page or CMS Items (link) is an excellent tool for this. A lot of text is too much on the web.
  • Use plain language for longer, more technical information. This is actually a good practice for any text on any section.
  • Never underline text unless it is a link. It causes confusion for site visitors. Find other ways to highlight text such as bolding or italicizing.

Let the Content Management System (CMS) do the work
Every design has its own built-in combination of font types, styles, sizes and overall colors scheme. Since content editors function much like MS Word, it’s tempting to play around with formatting. But this is where trouble can arise as each administrator may apply different formatting styles to different areas. The easiest way to keep your content consistent is to let the CMS do the work.
  • Use the default fonts and associated styles built into the design. If you decide to change any of these elements, be sure to decide as a group so everyone is doing the same thing.
  • Add content directly into the CMS content editor. Do not create an external Word doc and then copy/paste.
  • Only use ALL CAPS for a short title or if that style is built into the design headings.

Follow accessibility (ADA) standards
ADA guidelines are kind of a “twofer”. If you apply them to your content, you get a website that is both consistent and more accessible to all visitors. How can you lose?

Set a content review & update schedule
Admittedly this one can be a big challenge to establish staff-wide, but if it is, your content strategy just became that much easier to implement. Even if you just convene the web administrators once a year for a site review, that will pay big dividends.

Ensure new web administrators are trained
This isn’t a true content strategy principle per se but it definitely falls under the large umbrella of maintaining a professional local government website. Remember to have new web administrators trained on the CMS and the ways of your in-house web guidelines. Consistent content is the key to a great site. One errant admin and the whole thing can fall apart!

GovOffice offers a wide variety of content services to help keep your municipal website in tip-top shape. Contact us today to discuss your needs!

How to Gather High Quality Images for Your New Website

GovOffice Design Series, Part 1

In a recent GovOffice eNews article, we touched on the importance of incorporating high quality images into your local government website design. However, according to our lead designer, acquiring such images is a common challenge for clients. They take on the task entirely themselves and sometimes resort to generic photographs gleaned from the Internet, old snapshots from the area, or even clip art.

Our designs offer many distinctive ways to showcase your community’s brand, so populating these spaces with exceptional photos is crucial to ensure your new design really shines. This article provides a few ideas on how you can gather high quality images for your new website. Your collection of stunning images is closer than you think!

Choosing the right subject
Choosing the right subjects for your images is a critical first step before you start the gathering. Your photos should be community focused and promote your local quality of life. Think about what makes your city unique: historical landmarks, distinctive landscapes, a bustling main street, an elegant capitol building, cozy neighborhoods, community events, local businesses, etc. What is your city’s slogan? Perhaps a theme or feel can be built around that. The answers are usually right in front
of you.

Prosser, WA highlighted their annual balloon regatta.

Tips for the Do-It-Yourselfer
If you choose to go it alone and take your own photos, or have your in-house staff take care of this task, here are a couple nuts-n-bolts articles on how to compose and take effective photos. The articles are succinct yet thorough.

8 tips for taking great photos

Ten Tips for Making Interesting Images

Hire a professional
Many of our clients have had great success hiring a professional photographer to get the job done. Even the smallest communities find exceptional local pros that are eager to do the work. And based on our anecdotal evidence, they always deliver!

Canyon Lake California Website
Canyon Lake, CA hired local pros to capture the essence of their city.

Conduct a community photo contest
If you don’t have or want to spend the money hiring a pro, asking community members to submit images is a great and fun way to gather images for your new website design. You’d be surprised how many budding photographers live in your area. They are usually very eager to show off their work and like the pros, the results are often quite stunning. The bonus here is community members may find that little extra inspiration as they really know the area and know what is important to your city’s identity. Make a city-wide announcement on our website, they will respond!

Community members contributed gorgeous photos for the new
Ashland County, WI website.

Use stock images that fit your community brand
There are many online catalogs of diverse stock images waiting for you. The photos included in these collections hit all of the marks described above. You could a gather many to shape your entire design or perhaps just a few to supplement what you already have. The key is finding the right images that fit your community brand. The other advantage here is the potential time savings. Look through the selections, make your choices, and they are design-ready. Contact us today to learn more about our stock image packages.

As you can see, finding and gathering high quality images for your local government website design is not too hard. It just takes a little planning and using the right resource. Before you know it, your new design is on its way!

Where's Your Website?

Simple SEO Tweaks to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine's "organic", or unpaid, search results. In general, the earlier and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users.

The process of completely "optimizing" your website to appear (and perform well) in search engine results is quite complicated, but there are some easy ways to make improvements using the GovOffice CMS.

Here are some simple steps you can take to get started, and well on your way to improving, the search engine ranking of your GovOffice website. You’ve work hard to build and maintain your awesome municipal website. Make sure this valuable resource is available for everyone!

Essential Steps

  1. Add a Title, Description, and Keywords to the backend of your website. We have seen many instances where a GovOffice website went from non-existent to the top of the heap in search engine rankings by making these changes alone.

  2. Create Friendly URLs for sections. These are shorter Web addresses that are easy for search engines to understand, e.g. GovOffice.com/design.

  3. Add Alt text and title text, to images and icons. This step is often overlooked as it is for more “advanced” users but fear not, this image text how-to guide will walk you through the process. Adding this text gives a label (a text identity) to graphic images which search engines love. Search engines don’t recognize images on their own. It also improves site usability and conforms to ADA Web standards.

  4. Keep your site content current, dynamic and relevant. Create links to local organizations, businesses, etc. in your community or surrounding area. Like Friendly URLs, your links should be descriptive. For example, where does click here take you? Read our 2017 Budget Plan takes you to the resource it describes. Descriptive links are also easily understood by search engines and will help visitors find specific content they are looking for more quickly.

Extra Steps

  1. Purchase a custom URL for your local government website, for the same reasons Friendly URLs are beneficial. They are descriptive and help identify your site. However, you’ll want to act fast as fees for .Gov website domains are set to increase dramatically next year.

  2. Done with applying the SEO fundamentals above and ready for the next level? Go nuts with MOZ's very concise, yet thorough Beginner's Guide to SEO.

  3. After you have completed the implementing the first steps above, keep up with what what pages are being visited and what pages aren't. Our get started with Google Analytics guide will help you configure this "behind the scenes" monitoring of your municipal website activity. It's a great way to see your work in action!

So where is your website? It’s somewhere out there, but making these few simple SEO tweaks can bring it much closer to your intended site visitors.

Can you help these people find your city's website?
Need some additional SEO guidance? Contact us today, we can help!