How to publicise your new website

So you have got a shiny new website. How do you go about letting people know it’s there and building up your numbers of visitors?

The first thing is to make sure it is appearing in Google when you search for your town or parish council name. We’ve written an article about how to optimise your content so that you get a prominent listing in Google (and other search engines) that you can read here: How to improve your search engine ranking

The next step would be publicising it to your parishioners who may not even know that you have a website. Ways to do this is include:

  • adding the web address to your email signature so that it appears at the bottom of each email you send out
  • putting posters in your village noticeboard, shop and/or pub
  • including the web address on all council documents such as minutes or notices
  • you could also deliver flyers around your village advertising the site

Another way to keep visitors coming back it to keep publishing lots of news items and useful information.

Other councils publicise their site or information on social media – usually Facebook or Twitter. We’ve published a series of guides about setting up social media here: https://parish-council.website/category/marketing/social-media/

It is also good to get incoming links to your site. This will have the effect of bringing more visitors to your site and will also help with your search engine ranking. These could come from your local and district council, neighbouring parish councils or local institutions such as the church or the WI. If you set up links to them, you can ask them to return the favour and set up a link back to you.

Website Accessibility Training for web editors

We are planning on running training for local council councils on how to create accessible website content.

The course will include:

  • What is website accessibility?
  • How to ensure your web pages are accessible
  • How to ensure any files you add to the site are accessible
  • How to check whether your pages are accessible

The cost will be around £250 for a half-day, depending on the number of people attending.

We will also offer online training at a reduced rate. The training will take the form of a webinar and you will have the opportunity to ask questions afterwards.

If you are interested in accessibility training, please complete the form below as an expression of interest. We will then be able to asses where we can run courses based on numbers.

Approximately how far would you be prepared to travel for a course

Would you be interested in attending an online course

 

 

 

I’m still running Windows 7 – what shall I do?

On Tuesday 14th January, Windows 7 came to the end of its supported life. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean it will stop working, but Microsoft will stop providing security updates from now on.

Windows 7 was launched in 2009 and currently still has a couple of hundred million users, many of them individuals or small businesses.

The problem for users is that holes in the security of Windows will no longer be patched and the malware industry will be able to exploit any vulnerabilities without protection from now on. This could include ransomware, where your computer is locked unless you provide payment.

So what can you do to protect yourself? The easiest option is to upgrade to Windows 10 but if you can’t afford that there are still a few things you can do.

If you can’t patch Windows, you can still make sure that other software you use is updated. In particular, your browser is somewhere that malware can infect your computer. Google has committed to fully supporting Chrome on Windows 7 computers at least until 15 July 2021.

Another way to protect yourself it to try to avoid untrusted or insecure websites. The websites of large organisatons are usually safe.

Running good firewall and anti-virus software is essential. Which recommends Avast as the best free anti-virus software or you may prefer to pay for one that includes a firewall such as Kaspersky Total Security.

Emails are another common source of infections. Never click an unsolicited attachment and beware of phishing emails that claim to come from a trusted source such as your bank or PayPal and ask you to click on a link or button to log into your account. Do not click the link, instead go directly to the organisation’s website and log in the way your normally would.

Finally, the best defence against ransomare is to have all your information – files, pictures backed up or stored in the cloud. There are free cloud storage sites such as Dropbox that will allow you plenty of space to store your files.

How to clear your cache

Sometimes your site just doesn’t display as you would expect it to. It could be that it’s not showing the latest updates you have made or it could be giving you odd redirects. A good idea is to clear out your cache and see if that fixes the problem.

Everybody’s browser stores a copy of any sites visited so that it can load them more quickly if they revisit the same site. Exactly how this is set up depends on the browser and the settings on the user’s computer.

How you clear your cache depends on which browser you are using. For information about how to clear the cache in your browser, click on one of the links below:

Checking your website can be viewed using screen magnifiers

Users with visual impairments will often need to enlarge the text on your site in order to read it. It is important that they are able to do this without the website appearing so large that they have to scroll sideways to see all the page content. The WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Guidelines state that you must be able to magnify the text to 200% without there being any problems for users to view it.

To check your website, works correctly when zoomed in or magnified, you can change your browser settings to magnify the page. To do this in Chrome, select ‘Settings’ then ‘Font size’ and change it to ‘very large’. If you use Firefox you can click on the 3 horizontal bars icon at the top right of your browser and click the ‘+’ in the Zoom section.

If you would prefer to use keyboard shortcuts, you can hold down the ‘Cmd’ or ‘Ctrl’ key and the ‘+’ key on your keyboard at the same time. Click the ‘+’ key repeatedly to enlarge the text. The %size will show at the top of the browser next to where the website address is showing. If you need more details about your particular browser, click one of the links below.

You need to check that you can complete all tasks with the font magnified to 200% for your website to be accessible (WCAG 2.1 level AA).

Help! I can’t see my website updates

How to reload or refresh your page if you can’t see your updates

Sometimes you may find that you have made changes to your web page and you have a look at the page on the live site and can’t see the changes you have made. The reason you aren’t seeing the latest version of the website is most likely because you are viewing a ‘cached’ version.

Everybody’s browser stores a copy of any sites visited so that it can load them more quickly if they revisit the same site. This is called the cache. Exactly how this is set up depends on the browser and the settings on the user’s computer.

The way to make sure you are seeing the latest version of the web page is to reload or ‘refresh’ the page.

You can either reload the page by clicking the CTRL + F5 at the same time (or Cmd + R in Mac) buttons on your keyboard. Alternatively you can click the icon that appears to be an arrow going round in a circle that is usually on the top bar of you browser. We’ve outlined the button in red on the screenshots below.

Reload your web page in Google Chrome

reload page - chrome

Refresh your web page in Firefox

reload page - firefox

Reload web page in Internet Explorer

reload page - internet explorer

Another way to check if the changes you have made have been applied is to have a look at your site using a different browser, or a different device, for example your phone. If you can see the changes then they have been applied and it is because your most commonly used browser is showing you a previously stored version.

Very occasionally, you may need to clear the cache on your browser to see your changes. How you do this depends on which browser you are using. You can read about how to do that here: https://wiredimpact.com/blog/clear-cache-see-website-updates/

Website accessibility for local councils: 4 things to start doing now

Compliance with website accessibility regulations (WCAG 1.2 AA standard) will become mandatory for all town, parish and community councils in September 2020. This is going to mean changes in the way you publish information online, as well as in the way you write your web pages and documents such as minutes and agendas.

Here are 4 things to start doing now.

Structure your documents correctly

Make sure that you are using proper markup to style your headings. You need to do this because some users with visual impairments use ‘screen readers’ to read out the text for them. These screen readers will often jump through the list of headings so that they can quickly find the information they are looking for – in the same way non visually impaired users will quickly scan the headings on a page.

If you style your headings just using the normal font but making it larger or bold, the screen readers will not recognise them as headings.

If you are using WordPress, you can tell if the headings are styled correctly by opening up the page in the editor and clicking on the headings. The drop-down box at the top of the screen should show ‘Heading 2’ or ‘Heading 3’, rather than ‘Paragraph’ when you have a heading selected. If it doesn’t, simply select the heading that you would like to apply to the text, then click ‘Publish’ to save your changes.

Use descriptive links

Check that links clearly state what they are linking to. This is important because users viewing your site using screen readers will frequently scan through just the links on the page. This means that they don’t have the surrounding text to explain where the link is going to. So for example instead of a link saying ‘Agenda’ you should set up a link saying ‘Agenda 3 March 2019’.

How to write good link text

  • Put the most important words at the front of the link for example use ‘website accessibility – further information’ instead of ‘click here for more information about website accessibility’
  • Make sure the links make sense if viewed in isolation
  • For links that lead to information, use text about that information in the link
  • For links that take visitors to a page where they will complete a task, begin the link with a verb. For example: ‘contact us’
  • Where possible use the title of the page you are linking to as the link text
  • Don’t use the same link text to link to different places
  • Think about visitors with reduced motor skills and don’t make the link too small as it will be difficult to select. One word links aren’t ideal for these users.

Save files in accessible PDF/A format

All office files that were created after 23rd September 2018 need to be accessible. This means that if you have saved them as PDF files, they must be saved in the accessible version of PDF which is PDF/A. You can read more about how to do that here: How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

PDF/A format is a version of PDF. In order for a document to be accessible by screen readers it needs to have ‘tags’ and ‘searchable text’.

  • Tags are elements that structure the page. For example there are tags for paragraphs, headings, lists, table and images. These tags enable users using screen readers to quickly and easily navigate the page content.
  • Searchable text means that text is embedded in the pdf, rather than the text existing as an image (for example a scanned form). If you’re not sure, open your pdf and try to drag and select the text. If you can do that it is searchable.

Older documents that were published before September 2018 do not need to be accessible unless they are essential for the council’s services. However you should state this in your accessibility statement and provide an alternative means of users being provided with that information on request.

Write in simple language

When you are writing it is important to think about making your information – whether it’s web pages or pdf minutes – accessible to users with cognitive impairments. These include visitors who may have difficulties with memory, comprehending and reasoning or users with adaptive behavior impairments. For example users with dementia, dyslexia, autism.

You should:

  • Write in plain English
  • Use short, simple sentences
  • Do not use long or complicated words
  • Break up long blocks of text into headings/bullets/short paragraphs
  • Don’t use figures of speech
  • Don’t use footnotes
  • Don’t expect users to remember information from a previous pages
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