CivicPlus Is Killing Your SEO
CivicPlus, an all-in-one municipal website service, has been busy applying for municipal website bids all over the country. They tend to win projects pretty regularly, as their pricing is often tempting, but a serious flaw in their services is their lack of satisfactory SEO for their website projects.
For this article, I decided to review about thirty websites that were built with CivicPlus and see how they were functioning. The aspects I noticed most were the websites' difficult navigation and lack of important SEO elements.
SEO elements like user-friendly design, proper menus, URLs, security certificates, sitemaps, redirects, metadata/structured data, on-page and off-page SEO, and more are all vital for every websites' success, and municipal websites are no exception to this. Saying your government website doesn't need key SEO elements is like saying your car doesn't need all four of its wheels.
Your website has a huge job to do, but, first and foremost, it needs to be found easily. Not just the home page of the website, but various information across the website needs to be found quickly and easily too. If someone needs a specific permit; if they need to access a certain job application; if they're only looking for an emergency alert; or whatever situation you may have, they should be able to type their query into a search engine and be provided a link to the correct page with that information on it. The correct SEO elements all across your website is a must for any successful online presence.
CivicPlus doesn't even provide the fundamentals of good SEO for its websites, let alone the bare minimum. Thus, these websites' SEO ranks will continue to decrease over time.
In this post, I'm covering some of the key aspects of website SEO standards and how CivicPlus fails to set up their clients for success.
Based on the websites I've reviewed, CivicPlus's municipal website designs have been hit or miss. The company claims itself as 'top of the line' in website design, but, due to their website builder tools, their designs usually end up reading more like clunky eyesores.
They do seem to provide all of the needed information on their municipal websites, but the websites are incredibly cluttered with text and difficult to navigate for that. The best government websites, as proven in the Center of Digital Government's Best of Web Awards, tend to be clean in design with minimal text, utilize many images, and prominently feature search options for their users to directly search for what they need rather than navigate through tons of drop down menus and service lists. These award-winning websites focus on usability. They don't overwhelm their audience with cluttered text, a thousand options on a single page, and a confusing link system.
Correct URL usage is a vital SEO element for every website. Search engines give your website additional SEO points, increasing its SEO rank, when the website's URLs are human-friendly and incorporate keywords.
CivicPlus either assigns a number to every URL, so the number is listed within it, or they have a confusing string of random letters and numbers for your pages. Typical URLs given by CivicPlus include endings like /723/job-applications or /index.aspx?nid=111. If your URL is for job applications, it should read as, https://yoursite/job-applications, and that's all. This clearly defines your page without any extra confusing fluff, and it makes it easier for people navigating to and from the page, which in turn improves your search engine rank.
Within my review of thirty CivicPlus websites, I found that only 20% have SSL certificates (the HTTPS in front of their URLs). This is surprising, as SSL certificates are the current standard for website security. It's more common for small businesses and organizations to be lacking SSL certificates, but not larger government and nonprofit organizations' websites.
Search engines prefer your website to be secure (they're taking care of their users too!), and as HTTPS is the current standard, a lack of it is more likely to hinder your website's visibility. As SSL certificates can be generated for free, there is NO reason to not have one for your website.
Every piece of CivicPlus documentation regarding their provided SEO only refers to on-page SEO. On-page SEO incorporates elements related to the web page itself, including the page's title, metadata, content, URL structure, text formatting, and image optimization. While these are all vital SEO elements, they're not everything a successful website needs.
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to link building/backlinking, blogging, forums, local listings and yellow pages, press releases, article submissions, classifieds, and PPC ad campaigns. Off-page SEO is your website branching out over the internet and providing a wider reach through multiple avenues.
Now, CivicPlus doesn't necessarily need to take care of all of your on-page and off-page SEO, but it does need to be clear about exactly what SEO elements you're getting with your website, the best ways to maintain them all, and what you'll need to take care of on your own in order to achieve the best SEO rank you can.
Instead, CivicPlus's client guide for maintaining their SEO (located at http://www.civic-u.com/index.aspx?NID=982 -- no SSL certificate AND a complicated, fluffy URL) lists only five very lightly-described tasks:
- Creating accurate titles;
- Writing accurate summaries for page descriptions;
- Identifying keywords;
- Using 'alt' text for images; and
- Making content king (using keywords often and naturally within the page's content)
While these are indeed important things to keep in mind, they're hardly everything that people need to know for their website's successful SEO. This methodology is immediately setting up the website owner with an ill-performing website at a high dollar amount.
It all comes back to the phrase, "You pay for what you get." CivicPlus is an all-in-one solution that tends to look good on paper up front. But, it has a lot of hidden holes and flaws within it that website owners find out about later and by that point, they're in a contract, they're stuck using proprietary software, and they don't have the rights to their own website or anything in it.
It's not just SEO that CivicPlus has flaws with; their functionality can be quite limited for their website owners and their users. To read more about the benefits and drawbacks of CivicPlus versus an open-source solution like Drupal, check out our blog post: Municipal Website Solutions: CivicPlus Versus Drupal.
This is why it's important to read a web design company's customer and employee reviews before choosing them to take over your website project, so you can better understand their product and company. Otherwise, if you only look at the price tag and promises, you'll find yourself unsatisfied with your choice further down the road.