New Sarasota County Government website unveiled

The proposed new homepage for Sarasota County Government features easier access to the most frequently visited county sites, staff members say.

Sarasota County commissioners on June 27 proposed some tweaks to the design of the new county website, specifically to make it easier for people to find out information about economic development.

During a presentation by Crystal Pruitt in the Communications Department and Barbara Garrett in the Information Technology Department, Commissioner Joe Barbetta pointed out that if people can’t find information readily on a website, they leave it quickly. “It’s my understanding you have about 20 or 30 seconds to capture someone when they come on your site,” he said.

Pruitt told him that economic development was one of the topics that would be easily accessible from a button on the lower part of the homepage.

Barbetta responded that people tended to use search bars right away, and someone typing in “economic development” in the search bar at the top of the new website should be able to bring up a page with information on the county’s economic development programs.

He added that he wanted “better links to key things in the county. … There should be a homepage for economic development.”

Garrett told Barbetta that staff could use key words on pages to help someone reach links faster.

“I think the suggestion is we have direct contact information,” County Administrator Randall Reid told Garrett and Pruitt.

Barbetta also said he would like to see a collage of photos related to economic development show up when a person went to that page.

Chairwoman Christine Robinson concurred with the need to make it easier to find information about economic development, adding, “Jobs is the No. 1 issue that is facing our county right now.” She asked Pruitt and Garrett to make sure a website user could touch one button and reach an economic development homepage.

Moreover, Robinson said, it should be easy for small business owners as well as representatives of larger companies to find the resources they needed on the website. She pointed out that certain information would be important to both types of businesses.

Barbetta also emphasized the need for simple links, though he voiced approval of some of the links planned, including one for information about the county’s beaches and parks.

Barbetta stressed that the website needs to get users “to the right place so they can contact somebody right away.”

However, Barbetta conceded those were just his views.

“They want your comments,” Reid said, referring to Pruitt and Garrett. “That’s the intent of presenting [this].”

Pruitt told the commissioners, “Most of the changes that we have heard today are very easy to do.”

After the website launched, she said, staff would monitor it regularly and continue to seek responses from the commissioners and the public about any further changes that were needed.

That launch is expected in about two weeks, she told The Sarasota News Leader.

Commissioner Nora Patterson asked whether Pruitt and Garrett could appear again before the board and demonstrate the changes Barbetta and Robinson had proposed, once the features had been incorporated into the design,.

Those were good suggestions the commissioners had made, Patterson added, “and I’d like to see what you do with them.”

Reid said the follow-up appearance would be scheduled.

During the presentation June 27, Pruitt also noted that “Sarasota County Excels” would be the logo incorporated throughout the website as “branding.”

She added that, based on research and analytics as well as work with focus groups, staff had learned that the most visited parts of the current website were the calendar of events, the contact button, the Sarasota County Area Transit site, the beaches/park information, the libraries site and the electronic newsletter. As a result, she said, buttons featured on the new website would make those sites easier to find.

Buttons for the county commissioners and Reid’s office would be easier to access as well, Pruitt said.

Garrett also pointed out that staff in each department would be able to load material onto the site — including photos and video — without having to go through the Communications Department.

“You do check the quality of [that material]?” Reid asked.

The Communications staff would check everything before it appeared on the website, Garrett told him.

Highlights of the new website

The staff presentation noted the following among the features of the new website:

• A current weather and beach cam link “as a friendly reminder that Sarasota County is a great place to live, work and play.”

• News and video access located prominently in the center of the homepage.

• Easy navigation to a list of online services such as the county’s new eProcure system for vendors bidding on county projects, GIS mapping, the online auction and water bill payments.

When Commissioner Patterson asked, “What’s the ‘online auction’?” Pruitt responded that it was a link to a national site featuring surplus items, including those from Sarasota County, on which members of the public could bid.

“We’ve had it for quite a while now,” Pruitt added. “These things which may have been buried in several links are now brought forth to the front of,” she added.