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.

 

Email accounts explained

With the advent of GDPR, town, community and parish Councillors and the clerk should no longer use personal email account for council business.

There are two main types of accounts: free web-based emails such as hotmail or gmail and hosted email accounts where the email address uses your domain name eg clerk@yourdomain.org.uk.

With hosted accounts there are 2 types: POP and IMAP and the main difference between these is that with IMAP, messages are stored on the server and are accessible from anywhere and with POP accounts messages are downloaded to the user’s computer.

Hosted Accounts

IMAP accounts

Pros

  • Messages are stored on the server
  • You can access your email from any computer or device that is connected to the internet
  • You don’t need to be connected to the internet to view received messages or compose new messages, but you need to be connected to send or receive messages
  • You can use either an internet browser or an email program such as Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird to access your emails
  • The council has control over all email accounts and can request the removal of an account and deletion of messages if a Councillor or clerk leaves the council
  • Your email address uses your website domain name – giving a more professional appearance

Cons

  • You will need to pay to have the accounts set up and maintained
  • Most companies will charge extra for storage space for the email messages

POP accounts

Pros

  • Messages are downloaded to the your computer
  • You need a program such as Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird to access your emails
  • You don’t need to be connected to the internet to view received messages or compose new messages, but you need to be connected to send or receive
  • The council can request that an account be removed if a Councillor or clerk leaves the council, and that account will no longer work, although messages already downloaded will remain on the user’s computer (see Cons below)
  • Your email address uses your website domain name – giving a more professional appearance

Cons

  • You will need to pay to have the accounts set up and maintained
  • You can only access the messages on the computer that the messages have been downloaded to
  • If you request that an account be removed, messages that have already been downloaded will remain on the user’s computer unless they delete them

Free web-based accounts

Pros

  • You can access your emails from anywhere connected to the internet
  • It’s a free service

Cons

Guide to writing documents that are accessible

Write using simple language

Use simple language as often as is possible. This makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities.

Most people would prefer to read documents that use simple language as it means they can quickly understand the information.

If you need to use technical terms or acronyms, explain what the mean the first time you use them.

Keep your documents simple

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica. Make the minimum size 12pt.
  • Avoid using ‘all capitals’ text or italics
  • Left align your text, don’t justify text
  • Use centred text sparingly and only where you want it to stand out such as the main heading
  • Avoid underlining unless for links
  • Use single columns if possible, rather than a more complicated layout
  • Use tables sparingly – only for data and avoid splitting or merging cells
  • Don’t use colour alone to get across the meaning
  • If you use images, think about how a user with visual impairment will be able to access the information
    • by stating the same information in the text
    • by giving the image an ‘alt text’ (alternative text) tag
  • Avoid footnotes if possible

Structure the document

Use bullet points, numbered lists and subheads to break up the document.

Always mark up subheadings with styles – you can create a heirarchy of headings to structure your document, using heading 1, heading 2, heading 3 etc.


Ideally publish web pages rather than PDF files

The Government guidelines state that wherever possible, information should be published as an HTML web page, rather than as a PDF file.

The reason is that information is harder to find, use and maintain in a PDF file and is more difficult to make PDF files accessible. You can read here about why content should be published in HTML and not PDF



More complex documents

There’s lots of information about how to make more complex Microsoft Office documents accessible on the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project website.

How to save Word documents in accessible PDF/A format

Save your document using Save or Save AS
  1. Under ‘Save as type’ select PDF (*.pdf)
  2. Select the checkbox for Minimum size (publishing online)
  3. Click on the Options button for more options. This will launch the Options window (shown below)
  1. Check the box ‘Document structure tags for accessibility.
  2. Check the box PDF/A compliant
When you have done this, click OK and Save your document.

Making PDF files accessible

How to make your minutes and agendas PDF files accessible

You must save any documents you want to publish to the web in PDF format as a PDF/A format.

How to create accessible PDFs from a scanned document

In order to make scanned documents such as annual returns or Councillors’ register of interest forms machine readable you need to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Perhaps, going forwards, these forms could be made available as Word documents for you or your Councillors to fill in. You would then be able to save them in PDF/A format.

How to check if your PDF file is accessible

You can check if your PDF file is accessible by using Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Open your document in Adobe reader then go to ‘Edit’ > ‘Accessibility’ and select ‘Quick check’. If you find any problems you’ll either need to change your original Word document, and re-save as PDF or use Acrobat Pro to fix the problems. Depending on the version of Acrobat you are using you may find ‘Accessibility’ under the ‘Tools’ or ‘Advanced’ menu.

If you want to check if your original Word document is accessible before converting it to PDF, use the Office Accessibility checker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are using Microsoft Office 2010 and above you can do this by checking the PDF/A box when saving.

How to save as a PDF/A

  1. Under ‘Save as type’ select PDF (*.pdf)
  2. Select the checkbox for Minimum size (publishing online)
  3. Click on the Options button for more options. This will launch the Options window (shown below)

  1. Check the box ‘Document structure tags for accessibility.
  2. Check the box PDF/A compliant

When you have done this, click OK and Save your document.

 

 

GDPR compliant websites

GDPR for Town & Parish Council Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

We’re still getting lots of question from our town and parish council customers about how to make their websites GDPR compliant, so we’ve answered some of the most common questions below:

How does your website use and process personal information?

GDPR compliant privacy policy

GDPR and website security

GDPR and website cookies

GDPR and personal email accounts – Is it okay to use personal email for parish council business under GDPR?

Making your contact form GDPR compliant

How we can help

 

How does your website use and process personal information?

Your website collects personal data in a number of ways:

  • When you request information from users, such as if they fill in any form on your site to contact you or to subscribe to your newsletter
  • When users visit or log into your site cookies can be set on their computer
  • If you have any members areas/bulletin boards or the option for users to add comments

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GDPR compliant privacy policy

Your website should include the privacy policy for your town or parish council website, covering how you process information both on the website and in your general dealings. Your privacy policy should cover:

  • Do you collect data?
  • If so, why?
  • How do you use it?
  • Is it secure?
  • Do you share it with anyone?

All our websites include a built-in privacy policy page ready for you to add your policy to. This links into your site footer, so is visible from ever page on your website.

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GDPR and website security

You are responsible for the security of your user’s data if they fill out a form on your website, for example. Your website should have a SSL certificate installed so that the connection between the server and the user is encrypted, and information cannot be intercepted.

In addition all sites that do not have an SSL certificate installed are now being marked as ‘insecure’ by the major web browsers, so having an SSL certificate is now becoming essential for all websites.

All our websites include an SSL certificate set up and configured, as standard. You can read about the features we offer on our websites.

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GDPR and website cookies

If your website sets cookies (as nearly all websites do), you must inform the user that cookies are set and allow them to opt out. This is done using a cookie consent bar.

How can you tell if your website sets cookies?

Virtually all modern websites set cookies. If you log into your website to make updates, then a cookie is set to ‘remember’ that you have logged in. The exception is older style websites built using html, although some of these sites set cookies too.

All our websites come with a cookie consent bar as standard.

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GDPR and personal email accounts

If your parish clerk or your Councillors use personal email accounts you should consider setting up dedicated town or parish council ones. This means that if someone were to leave the council, that account could be deleted so that any personal information about individual parishioners it contains would be erased.

We can set up email accounts using your domain name. We offer both POP (where messages are stored on the user’s computer) and IMAP (where messages are stored on our server) accounts.
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Making your contact form GDPR compliant

GDPR states that you must inform the user that you are collecting data about them at the point of data collection. In practice this means that you contact form and any sign-up form should have a link to your privacy policy and a checkbox that users must click to confirm they accept.

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How can we help?

At Town and Parish Council Websites we are committed to providing fully GDPR compliant websites for local councils.

Please get in touch if you would like further information or fill out our quote form for us to provide you with a free, no-obligation quote.

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Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide

Click on the images for a larger version

 

What the posters say

Designing for users on the autistic spectrum

Do

  • use simple colours
  • write in plain English
  • use simple sentences and bullets
  • make buttons descriptive – for example, Attach files
  • build simple and consistent layouts

Don’t

  • use bright contrasting colours
  • use figures of speech and idioms
  • create a wall of text
  • make buttons vague and unpredictable – for example, Click here
  • build complex and cluttered layouts

 

Designing for users of screen readers

Do

  • describe images and provide transcripts for video
  • follow a linear, logical layout
  • structure content using HTML5
  • build for keyboard use only
  • write descriptive links and heading – for example, Contact us

Don’t

  • only show information in an image or video
  • spread content all over a page
  • rely on text size and placement for structure
  • force mouse or screen use
  • write uninformative links and heading – for example, Click here

Designing for users with low vision

Do

  • use good contrasts and a readable font size
  • publish all information on web pages (HTML)
  • use a combination of colour, shapes and text
  • follow a linear, logical layout -and ensure text flows and is visible when text is magnified to 200%
  • put buttons and notifications in context

Don’t

  • use low colour contrasts and small font size
  • bury information in downloads
  • only use colour to convey meaning
  • spread content all over a page -and force user to scroll horizontally when text is magnified to 200%
  • separate actions from their context

 

Designing for users with physical or motor disabilities

Do

  • make large clickable actions
  • give form fields space
  • design for keyboard or speech only use
  • design with mobile and touch screen in mind
  • provide shortcuts

Don’t

  • demand precision
  • bunch interactions together
  • make dynamic content that requires a lot of mouse movement
  • have short time out windows
  • tire users with lots of typing and scrolling

Designing for users who are D/deaf or hard of hearing

Do

  • write in plain English
  • use subtitles or provide transcripts for video
  • use a linear, logical layout
  • break up content with sub-headings, images and videos
  • let users ask for their preferred communication support when booking appointments

Don’t

  • use complicated words or figures of speech
  • put content in audio or video only
  • make complex layouts and menus
  • make users read long blocks of content
  • don’t make telephone the only means of contact for users

Designing for users with dyslexia

Do

  • use images and diagrams to support text
  • align text to the left and keep a consistent layout
  • consider producing materials in other formats (for example, audio and video)
  • keep content short, clear and simple
  • let users change the contrast between background and text

Don’t

  • use large blocks of heavy text
  • underline words, use italics or write capitals
  • force users to remember things from previous pages – give reminders and prompts
  • rely on accurate spelling – use autocorrect or provide suggestions
  • put too much information in one place

 

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 regulations – applying for exemption

From 23 September 2020, all local council websites must be made accessible, unless the council can demonstrate that doing so would impose a disproportionate burden.

We believe that a lot of smaller parish and community councils would have grounds to apply for exemption for historical information on their websites – often local councils have minutes and agendas going back several years and it could be argued that converting all of these to accessible formats presents a disproportionate burden. However, if users need information to complete a task or access a service, even if it was published before 23 September 2018, you will need to provide it in an accessible format.

However, going forward local councils have no excuses not to present their documents and web pages in a way that is accessible to all. You can see the types of disabilities that should be considered when thinking about accessibility here Website Accessibility Dos and Don’t s – a pictorial guide.

To apply for exemption, a council must perform a disproportionate burden assessment. This should include

  • The size, resources and nature of the council
  • The estimated costs and benefits for the council in relation to the estimated benefits for persons with disabilities, taking into account the frequency and duration of use of the specific website

If the council determines that compliance would impose a disproportionate burden they must publish an accessibility statement. This must be in an accessible format and published on their website.

It must include the following:

  • An explanation of the parts of the content that are not accessible and reasons why
  • Where appropriate, a description of any accessible alternatives provided
  • A link to your contact form so that the user can request details of the information excluded or notify the council of any failure to comply
  • A link to the enforcement procedure that the user can access in the event of an unsatisfactory response to the notification or the request.