Category Archives: Latest news

6 ways to make your council website more secure

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to keep your town, parish or community council website safe and secure from hackers. According to Securityweek.com, approximately 18 million websites (that’s 1% of the nearly 2 billion websites online right now) are infected with malware and that the average website is attacked 44 times each day.

1. Use an SSL certificate for your website

An SSL certificate is used to provide a secure connection between the server and the visitor to your website. These are now pretty much mandatory, with Google marking any website that doesn’t have one as ‘unsafe’.

How can you tell if you town, parish or community council website has an SSL certificate?

When you are visiting your site, look at the address bar at the top of the browser. Does the address begin https:// and display a padlock icon just before the address? If it does then you have an SSL certificate installed and working. If your address just begins http:// (without the ‘S’) then you need to get one installed. Just contact your website provider and ask them to install one for you.

2. Use a strong password to log into your website

Make sure that the password you use contains upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. It is a good idea to use different passwords for each site you use, as if there is a data breach on one site, the hackers don’t gain access to other sites you use. This is especially important on any sites where you buy things such as Amazon or Ebay, but also for your website, because these are a target for hackers wanting to install malware.

3. Make sure you backup your website

This is imperative as if your site gets hacked you will need a backup copy to restore all your files and information. We have had lots of parish councils who have requested a new website and told us that their existing site got hacked and they lost everything. Just like any computer system – make sure you have backups and that they are stored off-site.

A good hosting company will keep regular backups of your site. It’s worth checking with your provider to see if they do this.

4. Keep you software up to date

Providers of Content Management Systems (CMS) software such as WordPress or Joomla and the makers of the software that adds functionality to your town or parish council website constantly provide updated software with added security enhancements, in much the same way as your computer updates it’s operating system (usually Windows for those on a PC) from time to time.

You should always make sure your website is running the latest versions of all software that will include patches for any vulnerabilities that are discovered. You should also delete old unused software, as this can still act as a backdoor for hackers, even if it is not in use.

5. Don’t use the default usernames and log in page

When your site is first installed, the installation program usually sets up a default user to be the main site administrator. So for example WordPress uses ‘admin’ as the default name and https://[yoursite]/wp-admin or https://[yoursite]/login to get to the login page. If you use these defaults, hackers already have 2 of the 3 pieces of information needed to log in and hack your site – the third being your password.

If you change these settings from the default, hackers would need to guess 3 pieces of information to hack your site – the username, the password and the login page.

If you site is set up in this way, you can ask your website host to make it more secure.

6. Use a firewall and anti-malware software

Just like on your computer, it is vital that you have security software installed to protect your site. There are lots of security systems available depending on what platform your site is running on. You can ask your website host about the options available.

To get a quote for our hosting service – which includes all the features listed above, you can visit: Get a Quote

How to improve your search engine ranking

Decide on what your keywords/phrases should be

Your keywords/phrases should be what you think users would search for when looking for your website online.

Key-phrases work better than single keywords such as just your town or village name as they are more specific. Most people search using a phrase rather than a single word. Using a phrase will make your site stand out against the likes of Rightmove or Trip Advisor, who will often rank more highly for your town or village name as they are large commercial sites.

A good starting point would be the name of your council followed by town council or parish council eg ‘[yourcouncil] parish council’.  If there are several town, parish or community councils with the same name, you would probably want to include the name of your county to differentiate from the other ones eg ‘[yourcouncil] town/parish/community council, Staffordshire’.

Optimise your homepage for your keywords

When you are writing the content for your homepage you should include your keywords or phrases. You should always use your key phrase at least once on your homepage.

There are certain places where your keywords are given more weight. These are:

Headings (always format your page using Heading 1, Heading 2 etc, rather than manually setting the sizes of text eg Bold, 14pt), as search engines prioritise the content of your web pages using the headings. If you are using WordPress you can find the heading settings under the Paragraph drop-down menu in the editing buttons along the top of your page.

The first words on the page – search engines such as Google give more weight to the very first words on the page, so it is a good idea to begin your homepage ‘[yourcouncil] is….’ .

Images – when you add images to your site you need to add an ‘alt tag’. This has a number of purposes, for example it will be shown to anyone who has images turned off in their browser or for visually impaired people using your site with screen readers, so it should be a description of the picture. It is also used by search engines, so it is a good idea to also include your keywords. A good alt tag description that works for accessibility and for search engines would be something like ‘[yourcouncil] parish council village fete’.

Optimise each page on your site for your keywords

You can optimise different pages on your site for different keywords – for example if you have a page about your village hall, you can optimise that page with the key phrase ‘[yourcouncil] village hall’.

Keep your content fresh with new posts

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors.” Google, 2017

It’s a good idea to add new content to your site as often as you have time. This not only helps with your search engine ranking, you will find that your visitors also like to find new information on the site and it will keep your visitors coming back.

Get incoming links to your site

Make sure your district and county council websites have a link to your site. You should also make sure that your local association for local councils adds a link to you.

If you have social media accounts you should have a link to your website as part of your profile. It’s also a good idea to link back to specific articles your publish. If you publish a post about your village fete, write something about it on your Facebook or Twitter page and include a link that goes back to your website.

If you have a page of links to other local businesses or organisations, you can get in touch with them and ask them to link back to your site.

 

Announcing our 100th Customer!

We are delighted to welcome our 100th customer – Little Gaddesden Parish Council. They are the winner of a free website. We are currently working on the site and will post a link as soon as it’s live.

The parish clerk commented: “Wow, we’ve hit the jackpot, absolutely brilliant our Councillors will be really pleased because they are constantly having to juggle expenditure and cannot always afford what they would like to do. We have an outdoor Gym equipment project that we can go ahead with now, so the good news is you are helping to keep the residents here fit and well!”

We look forward to working with them.

2019 Transparency Code deadlines

Information to be published annually

The deadline for publishing the following information is 1 July 2019 (for information relating to the tax year 2018/2019).

  1. All items of expenditure above £100
  2. End of year accounts
  3. Annual governance statement
  4. Internal audit report
  5. List of Councillor or member responsibilities
  6. The details of public land and building assets

Information to be published more frequently than annually

  1. Draft minutes from all formal meetings (i.e. full council or board, committee and sub-committee meetings) not later than one month after the meeting has taken place. These minutes should be signed either at the meeting they were taken or at the next meeting
  2. Smaller authorities should also publish meeting agendas, which are as full and informative as possible, and associated meeting papers not later than three clear days before the meeting to which they relate is taking place

The data and information must be published on a website which is publicly accessible and free of charge.

 

Website Accessibility – what is it and why does it matter?

Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • contribute to the Web

As a local town, parish or community council, it is especially important that your website does not discriminate against users with disabilities. From 23 September 2020 (for existing websites) or 23 September 2019 (for new websites) there is a legal requirement for all public sector bodies to comply with the accessibility requirement, unless doing so would impose a disproportionate burden. You can read about applying for exemption here: Website accessibility regulations – applying for exemption

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • auditory
  • cognitive
  • neurological
  • physical
  • speech
  • visual

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, for example:

  • people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • older people with changing abilities due to ageing
  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
  • people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth

We’ll be publishing a series of articles about how to make your website accessible, so watch this space.