Social Media

How to set up a Twitter Account

Twitter is a very good way to keep in touch with your local community. It enables to you post messages to your followers and keep them informed about what is happening in your town, parish or community council.

These messages are called ‘Tweets‘ and are limited to 280 characters. You can also post pictures or short videos.

To set up a Twitter account, go to https://twitter.com and click the blue button on the right of the screen that says ‘Sign up‘.

On the next screen you will be asked for your name and phone number. You should use the name of your council as the Name. If you don’t want to add your phone number, you can use your email instead. Don’t worry these won’t be displayed publicly.

The next screen ‘Customize your experience‘ has some options that are optional.

Step 3: Create your account – just click the blue ‘Sign up ‘ button at the bottom of this screen to set up your account. You will be sent a verification code, either to your phone or email, depending on which one you used to register in step 2. Enter the verification code and click the ‘Next’ blue button at the top right of the screen.

Note: if you copy and paste the verification code, be careful not to pick up any spaces at the end of the code – if you do, you will get a messages saying the code was incorrect.

On the next screen you will be asked to add a Password.

The following screens will let you pick a profile picture and add a short description. You can click the ‘skip for now’ link you don’t have one and add this later.

The screen asking ‘What are you interested in‘ will show different options you can select. Twitter will show you suggestions of accounts to follow based on your choice here. Again you can click the ‘Skip for now‘ link.

The ‘Suggestions for you to follow‘ screen will show popular accounts that you may wish to follow. If there are any that interest you, just click the ‘Follow‘ button next to the account. Don’t worry, you can add more people/accounts to follow at a later date, or can ‘unfollow’ accounts you have followed. Click the ‘Next‘ button when you are ready to move on.

The next screen allows you to turn on notifications. This will allow Twitter to send you an email or phone notification when certain events happen, such as when someone follows you or comments on you tweets. You have the option to ‘Allow notifications’ or ‘Skip for now‘. Again, you can change these settings at a later date.

Finally you will be directed to your home screen. This has Home at the top and a box that says ‘What’s Happening‘. To write you first tweet, just click in the box. When you are happy with your tween, click the blue ‘Tweet‘ button.

In the next couple of months we’ll go into more detail about how to optimise your account and how to grow your following.

Website Accessibility for Town and Parish Council Websites

What is website accessibility?

Making a website accessible means ensuring that it can be used by as many people as possible. At least 1 in 5 people have an impairment or a disability including those with:

  • Impaired vision – for example, blind or partially blind
  • Motor difficulties – for example, users who may have problems using a mouse
  • Cognitive impairments – for example, users with autism or learning disabilities
  • Impaired hearing – for example, deaf or hard of hearing

As website editors for local councils, the two main groups you need to consider are those with impaired vision who may be reading your site using a screen reader or magnification and users with cognitive impairments. Your website designer should make sure that your site works for users with motor difficulties. Users with impaired hearing will not have problems using your site, unless your town, parish or community council website uses sound or video.

We go into more detail here: Website accessibility – what is it and why does it matter?

We have also published some handy pictorial guides here: Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide

Who needs to comply?

All local authorities need to meet the regulations unless they are exempt. That includes all town, parish and community councils.

If you feel that full compliance would be a disproportionate burden on the council, you need to explain why in an accessibility statement and state how users can obtain the information in an accessible format.

So, for example, a local council that has already published a lot of historical minutes in PDF format might find that converting them all to accessible PDF/A format presents a disproportionate burden. However, going forward, you need to make sure that all information is published in an accessible format as soon as you are able.

You can read more about applying for exemption here: Website accessibility regulations – applying for exemption

When must you comply by?

For new websites that were created on or after 23 September 2018, you need to meet accessibility standards by 23 September 2019.

For websites that were created before 23 September 2018 you need to ensure that your website meets accessibility standards by 23 September 2020.

What do you need to do?

Ensure your web pages are accessible

Make sure you writing is easy to understand, that your information is well structured and that your pages don’t use complicated layouts. That includes writing in short sentences and structuring your pages using headings or bullet points, for example. You can read more here:  How to write accessible web pages

Accessible formatting for web pages

You should make sure that the way you style your pages does not make them less accessible. Common issues that make pages harder to read and therefore less accessible include writing in uppercase, using underlining (other than for text links) and centered text (unless used sparingly – as an example, for headings.)

Other parts of your web pages

If you publish images on your site or have links to other pages in your site or other websites, you also need to make sure they are accessible. We’ll be writing more about that later.

Ensure your file attachments are accessible

Most councils publish a lot of documents in PDF or Word format. These might include minutes, agendas, financial information and other documents. Making these files accessible is twofold – you must write and structure the document in an accessible way and you must then save it in an accessible format. You can read more here:

Guide to writing documents that are accessible

Making PDF files accessible

How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

Accessibility statement

You need to have an accessibility statement that details how your website complies with accessibility regulations. You can read more about it here: Developing an Accessibility Statement/

Accessibility of your website framework

As well as what you need to do to make sure your website content is accessible, there are also lots of things your web designer needs to do to ensure the framework and design of your site is accessible. This includes making changes to the coding of the pages to enable them to be read more easily by screen readers, making sure the design works for users with impaired vision and that it is flexible enough to be viewed with the text enlarged and ensuring the coding of the contact form is accessible.

Writing an Accessibility Statement

Why provide an accessibility statement

Accessibility statements are important for several reasons:

  • Show your users that you care about accessibility and about them
  • Provide them with information about the accessibility of your content
  • Demonstrate commitment to accessibility, and to social responsibility

As a local council you will be required to provide an accessibility statement on your website

What to include in an accessibility statement

Accessibility statements should contain at least the following:

  • A commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities
  • The accessibility standard applied, such as WCAG 2.1
  • Contact information in case users encounter problems

It is also advisable to include the following information:

  • Any known limitations, to avoid frustration of your users
  • Measures taken by your organisation to ensure accessibility
  • Technical prerequisites, such as supported web browsers
  • Environments in which the content has been tested to work
  • References to applicable national or local laws and policies

How to write an accessibility statement

Accessibility statements are primarily for users of your content. Usually they will refer to accessibility statements when they encounter problems. Technical and jurisdictional language will likely lead to confusion and increase the frustration rather than help your users. It is important to write in simple language, and to provide information that is useful to the users, rather than use the language of developers and lawyers.

In particular, accessibility statements should explain functionality and known limitations in common terms. For example, rather than to say “WCAG Success Criterion 1.2.2 was not met”, it is better to say “videos do not have captions”. Accessibility statements are not technical assessments or declarations of conformity, though they ideally refer to such background to provide verification and increase credibility.

Where to put an accessibility statement

Accessibility statements should be easy to find. Linking them to the footer of your website is an acknowledged convention, but you could include links to them from other areas from your site.

Sample accessibility statement

You can view a sample accessibility statement on the Government website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sample-accessibility-statement/sample-accessibility-statement-for-a-fictional-public-sector-website

How To Avoid Becoming A Victim Of Ransomware Fraud

Ransomware is a type of malicious software which locks, or encrypts, part of your computer until a ransom is paid. It is often delivered via email, either through attachments or links to websites where it downloads on to the victim’s computer. There are several steps you can take to help stop criminals from holding you to ransom:

  • Back up all of your important files, so you can still access them if you’re infected with ransomware. If this is to an external drive, make sure you unplug it once you’ve backed up as they can become infected too.
  • Never click on a link or attachment in an email address unless it’s from a trusted source. Remember, email addresses can be spoofed or made to look very similar to genuine ones.
  • If you have a back up, you’ll be able to factory reset your device and restore it. If you can’t reset your devices and restore them, try free decryption tools from https://www.nomoreransom.org/en/index.html
  • Unplug your computer or remove your laptop battery as soon as possible to stop other computers or devices on your network becoming infected.
  • Never pay the ransom. Those responsible may ask for more money and there is no guarantee you’ll get your files back.

New website: Norton sub Hamdon in Somerset

Norton sub Hamdon Parish Council websiteWe are delighted to announce the launch of a new Parish Council website.

Norton sub Hamdon Parish Council in Somerset wanted a modern website that was accessible and GDPR compliant.

It also needed to have all the pages necessary to publish the information required by the Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities.

We used a new design that showcased all the lovely pictures of their village and surrounding countryside that they provided. Each page can have it’s own ‘header image’ which displays in an attractive panoramic shape.

We love the finished site and it was a pleasure working with them.

If you are interested in getting a new website for your Town, Parish or Community council you can get in touch using our Contact Form or request a quote using our Online Quote Form. Alternatively if you would like to speak to someone to discuss your requirements, please call 01453 298702

 

How to make your website accessible for users with different impairments

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) outline what you need to do to improve the accessibility of your Town, Parish or Community Council website. This involves considering how the users with the following impairments can access your information:

  • Vision – including people who are blind, partially sighted or colour blind
  • Mobility – including users who find it difficult to use a mouse or keyboard
  • Thinking and understanding – including people with dyslexia, autism or learning difficulties
  • Hearing – people who are either deaf or hard of hearing. We won’t go into this in detail as it doesn’t apply to most Town, Parish or Community Council websites, only websites that use sound or video.

Making your website accessible to users with impaired vision

This means that your website should be accessible for users who cannot see well and may need to use a screen reader that will ‘speak’ the content to them to access your site or may need to enlarge the text using a screen magnifier or increasing the text size

What you need to do:

  • Provide ‘alt text’ for all non text content, for example images
  • Ensure your web pages are structured logically so that they can be read by a screen reader. The best way to do this is to use the Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 options structure the sections in your web page, rather than manually setting font sizes and making them bold etc
  • Use tables sparingly. If you are using tables make sure that the headers and content are defined as such and that they work when magnified to 200% and on smaller screens
  • Do not use underlining other than for text links
  • If you publish PDF files as so many Town, Parish or Community Councils do, make sure they are accessible – See making pdf files accessible for how to do this

What your web designer needs to do:

  • Make sure that any forms, such as the contact form, have the correct markup to be read by a screen reader
  • Do not just use colour to distinguish something. For example use the convention of underlining to define links and do not use underlining elsewhere
  • Use default text colours that show up well against the background colour
  • Ensure that every feature can still be used when viewed at 200% text size and that content flows into a single column when it’s increased by 400%
  • Make sure you site is correctly programmed for screen readers
  • Use valid HTML to enable assistive technologies to interpret content
  • Ensure that all parts of the interface can be read by assistive technologies

Making your website accessible for users with impaired mobility

This is especially to address the needs of users with mobility impairments to ensure they can access your web content using keyboard or voice commands, rather than a mouse, to navigate through your site

What you need to do:

  • Make links descriptive rather than using ‘click here’ as the link. For example use ‘click for Parish Council minutes‘ rather than ‘for Parish Council minutes click here‘ where the underlined text represents the actual link.
  • Use meaningful page titles, headings and labels so that users can easily find the information they want if they are using a screen reader

What your web designer needs to do:

  • Make sure everything works for users who are just using keyboards
  • Ensure that using keyboards mean that users can move through the content in a logical order
  • Provide a ‘skip to content’ link in the coding of the site so that screen readers do not read out all the programming commands
  • Use ‘active focus’ so that users can see what their assistive technology is currently focused on
  • Enable visitors to disable or change shortcut keys

Making your website accessible for users with cognitive impairments

This is to address the needs of users with thinking or understanding difficulties. You need to ensure that the language and structure of your site is easy to understand

What you need to do:

  • Write in plain English, using short sentences
  • Use straightforward language and simple words and explain any complicated words or phrases
  • Always provide an explanation of any acronyms used

What your web designer needs to do:

  • Ensure that form fields are correctly labeled and that they’re correctly coded with accessibility in mind

 

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

Choosing the best website for a town or parish council

When choosing a parish council web provider it is very important that your new site is safe, secure and compliant.

Town and parish council website legal requirements

There are now a host of regulations out there that local council websites must comply with.

The main ones are that your site is:

  • GDPR compliant
  • Transparency code compliant
  • Accessible

Town and Parish council website hosting

When choosing a host for your website there are a number of factors to take into consideration

  • Security – where to begin on this huge subject… Well it’s imperative nowadays for sites to have an SSL certificate which means that the connection between the visitor and the server is encrypted. You should also make sure you use strong passwords.
  • Backups – it’s imperative to maintain backups of your site content. We’ve heard from so many people who’s sites have been hacked and they have lost everything because it wasn’t backed up.
  • Speed – it’s important for your users that your web pages and files load quickly, especially for those living in rural areas with slow internet connections.
  • UK-based hosting – while not imperative, this is desirable. It means that when your visitors click on your site the signal doesn’t need to be bounced to America and back (for example), which helps with site speed. It’s also desirable for GDPR, ensuring that your information is hosted in the UK.

Easy to use websites with help and support

You want a website that is easy to maintain and update.

It’s best if you are able to do this yourself as this means that you don’t experience delays in getting someone to make changes to your site and can do alteration as and when you need to.

You can’t beat having a friendly voice on the end of the phone or email who will answer any questions you have – so much quicker and easier than poring through help documents or watching endless YouTube videos.

Guide for local councils – how to write accessible web pages

From 23 September 2020 information published on town, community and parish council websites must be accessible, so it’s worth starting to think about how to make your website accessible now. Accessiblity will cover your website content including web pages, pdf files, images and the website itself.

Making web pages accessible

We recently published an article: Guide to writing documents that are accessible. This covered how to write documents that you plan to put on your website such as minutes or agendas, but the principles we outlined there also apply to web pages:

  • Write using simple language
  • Keep pages simple
  • Structure your pages using headings and bullets for example

Making images accessible

You must ensure that any images you add to the website are accessible to visually impaired users who need to use screen readers and users with images turned off by adding an ‘alt tag’ to the image that describes what the picture shows. The alt tag will be what is shown to these visitors. How you add the alt tag will depend on what you use to make your web pages. You will be able to find instructions by Googling ‘setting image alt tag in [your web editor] – so you may substitute [your web editor] for WordPress, Joomla, HTML etc, depending on what you use.

Making website links (hyperlinks) accessible

Again, for users with impaired vision who are browsing your site using a screen reader it is important to make website hyperlinks descriptive, rather than using ‘click here’ as your text link. See the links in the following paragraph as a good way to show descriptive links.

Making PDF files accessible

Also, you must make sure that all PDFs or other documents you put on your website are accessible. See Making pdf files accessible and How to save Word documents in accessible pdf-a format.

 

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.