When Larimer County residents struggled to find what they needed online, the team knew it was time for a change. To best serve the needs of its 350,000 residents, Larimer County looked for a search option that would deliver relevant information with intuitive features and powerful analytics.
Larimer County is the sixth most populated county in Colorado, serving over 350,000 residents. A desirable place to live, Larimer County features beautiful parks and mountain landscapes, like the Rocky Mountain National Park, and has residents from the finest farmlands and ranches to its popular, urban areas. It is home to employers like Colorado State University, Otter Products (creators of OtterBox) and New Belgium Brewing. They have exploded in growth in recent years, but the heart of the community remains and the need to serve all its residents persists.
Government websites are content-rich resources for the diverse needs of the community. No one understands this better than Gregg Turnbull, Director of Innovation and Insights at Larimer County. Being able to meet and exceed the needs of Larimer County residents is a top priority for him and his team.
“Having 350,000 folks needing service from the county, there’s a lot of things to find on our site and navigation isn’t always the easiest method,” says Turnbull.
In 2017, with the sunset of Google Site Search, many organizations like Larimer County looked for a replacement tool. With a new website redesign, they initially opted for a homegrown tool to fit their search experience needs. And while the low cost of building their own was appealing, Turnbull recalls the realization of how much developer time was needed to maintain their search.
“We have so many services online that are time-consuming to keep up and running,” he says. “We needed a search that worked well that we didn’t need to spend a lot of time on, but we could easily understand it.”
The lack of functionality and features were not meeting the needs of their internal teams, but more importantly, it was not delivering relevant information to their most important audience – their residents. One resident pointed out his frustration with the lack of information on shed permits on the website. His experience searching for ‘shed’ yielded no results, despite Larimer County having content available. The building information on the site used the term ‘detached structure,’ and the PDF files were not being included in search results. The search tool Larimer County deployed was unable to guide this resident to the right content and it was clear to Larimer County that a better solution was needed.
Larimer County recognized that search was more than a piece of their website, it was another opportunity to engage with their community. This initiative aligned with their shift towards digital government: being able to serve all Larimer County residents anytime, anywhere, and on whichever device they choose.
“Digital government impacts every element of our website,” says Turnbull. “It makes the ability to find content very important. It’s important for us to direct people to the right place when they’re lost, and for us to intuitively understand how people are using the site and our search.”
Although developer time was spent on building their search, it didn’t have all the functionalities they needed. While attending a National Association of Government Web Professionals (NAGW) Conference, Turnbull met the team from Cludo. He knew the Larimer County website visitors would benefit from a search with:
Cludo offered an easy-to-use, out-of-the-box solution that fit Larimer County’s needs versus continuing to spend more time on their in-house solution.
With a quick and easy set-up process, the Larimer County team went to work on optimizing their visitor experience. Cludo helped evolve the digital experience and improve business efficiencies for their web developers and marketers.
Larimer County is now more proactive and can adapt to the needs of the community by leveraging the features Cludo has to offer. Now when someone searches for ‘shed,’ the team can set up Synonyms (hut, woodshed, cattle shed, lean-to, outbuilding, etc.) to guide visitors to applicable content throughout the site to ensure a successful experience.
Performing a search for "shed" on Larimer County's website
“We have the ability to interpret when people are searching and use Banners or Page Rankings to guide them along the way and lead them to the right path,” says Turnbell.
In the spring, the Larimer County marketing team deploys Banners to guide searchers to park permit information when searches are typically higher as people want to get outside. When someone searches “change of address,” the form is automatically highlighted with a Banner.
Performing a search for "change of address" on Larimer County's website
With intelligent search in place, Larimer County has been able to efficiently adapt to the needs of its residents. The digital native generations are establishing careers and buying homes in communities like Larimer County. And residents of all ages are becoming increasingly reliant on smart devices and virtual assistants, like Alexa and Siri, to quickly find what they need online. Businesses, agencies, and organizations must be able to deliver.
40% of Larimer County’s search sessions are on mobile devices, driving Turnbull and team to make sure the search experience is accessible and mobile-first.
This became even more important as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our world and accelerated digital transformation. For Larimer County residents, this meant they could no longer interact with the Larimer County staff in person, and the internal teams needed to react to the new needs of their community.
“Whether you’re a CIO, or digital web professional, COVID kind of forced the hand to where we had to be better,” recalls Turnbull. “We had to start doing a lot more online. Folks were already moving online and trying to engage with governments from their phone.”
The Larimer County teams integrated Cludo data with Google Analytics to analyze content gaps and behaviors, helping to ensure residents’ questions regarding the pandemic and new restrictions were being prioritized and answered through search.
As the world adjusts to the impacts of the pandemic, things have also steadied for the Larimer County staff. Turnbull continues to look for innovations and remains vigilant in best serving the residents of Larimer County. He is an advocate for better search experiences with the NAGW community and the importance of understanding residents and their needs.
“Cludo search became something we could put online and adapt and engage with the public. It was immediately useful and an immediate benefit.”