Cherry Hill's website gets high marks in a new report

Posted: March 24, 2013

Ever tried to find out something about your municipality quickly online: the mayor's e-mail address, the next trash pickup, details on pet licensing?

If you live in Cherry Hill, it was probably pretty easy, according to a new report from the Monmouth University Polling Institute and Graduate Program in Public Policy, which listed the township's website as the 15th-best in the state.

Your experience may be different in Pemberton Borough or Mansfield Township, which ranked 535th and 538th among the 540 municipal websites studied.

Municipalities in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties took 20 of the top 100 spots, including Woodbury at No. 21, Woodbury Heights at 24, and Magnolia at 25.

Tavistock, the golf course borough with five residents according to the 2010 census, came in dead last.

Municipal government websites have become more important as people turn to the Internet for information, said Patrick Murray, director of the institute. A previous study found that more people turn to town websites than call or visit City Hall.

"More important, when people don't find the information on the website, they get steamed up and then call City Hall, and they're annoyed," Murray said, laughing.

Having easily navigated websites saves time for residents and officials, he said.

"You can use your website to build trust by providing information that people want and need," Murray said. "It also reduces the burden on municipal government because they're doing less work and they don't have to field all these questions."

Last fall, many municipalities used their websites to provide a steady flow of information on Sandy recovery efforts, the institute's team of 15 researchers discovered. That case was striking, Murray said, because it underscored the websites' importance and their potential to inform residents.

To evaluate the websites, the team came up with 86 kinds of content that residents often seek or municipalities are legally obliged to provide. Each was given values based on importance, and the websites received a weighted score based on how much content they had and how easily it was found.

For Cherry Hill, where a site redesign was unveiled a year ago, the high ranking was "really validating," said township spokeswoman Bridget Palmer, one of the website's administrators.

"The kind of information people want is changing; the way they want it is kind of changing," Palmer said Friday. "We've made great strides, and I'm proud of where we are, but . . . there's always room to take it to the next level."

Possible new features for www.cherryhill-nj.com include online bill payment, pet registration, and a Pinterest board showcasing things such as photography from parks and event fliers, Palmer said.

The Cherry Hill site helps break information down into easily understood components, allowing users to quickly find information, said Allan Espiritu, an associate professor of graphic design at Rutgers-Camden.

Poorly ranked websites, take note: It's not about pretty visuals. In fact, Espiritu wants the word design replaced with experience when discussing websites.

"The experience, of course, includes the visual choices by the designer, but that is not primary to the information on the site. . . . The computer programming and visual cues have to be in sync to bring the person an experience," he said, "as well as understanding the audience - including what information is paramount to emphasize or make easily available to that particular audience."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

To view the full report, visit http://www.monmouth.edu/polling/

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