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Website widgets for the Vermont Department of Finance and Management.

Website Design and Content Strategy

If you plan to create a new website or update an existing website, please reach out to us. Along with the Agency of Digital Service, we can help guide you through the options, process, and timeline. We can discuss your web communication needs. We can also help you determine if your site needs to use the standard web design template or if your agency or department has custom needs. Websites representing state agencies and departments must be built using the State’s web template.

If you need to create a site for a program or service and decide not to use the State web template, you still need to follow the State’s Web Look and Feel Standard. We developed this Standard with the Agency of Digital Services (ADS). The Standard describes the minimally acceptable components every website must include. It also helps web visitors easily identify official state websites.  


First, define what you want to do with this website build or redesign. Then determine if you can do a website build or redesign in-house. If you do not have the capacity, talk with us. We can connect you with our Statewide Marketing Contractors, Prequalified Marketing Vendors, or with the State’s approved IT vendors

We strongly encourage state agencies to use the template whenever possible because it speeds up the development process and saves money. If you choose not to use the state template, you must still follow the state Web Look and Feel Standard.


To build a website, you first need to know who your audience is and why they would visit your site. This information will help you determine what content should go on your website and how to organize it.

Goals and Audience

  • What is your primary goal for building this site or redesigning your current site? 
  • Who is your audience? 
  • Why would they visit your website?  
  • What are their needs and big questions? 
  • What are their pain points?
  • Think about the 5-10 biggest questions and the most common 5-10 tasks a user might come to your site to accomplish. Use this information to create content buckets that can form your site architecture. 
    • Example: If a visitor comes to your site trying to figure out where your office is located and what your hours are, create a “Location and Hours” content bucket. 
  • How will this website help meet their needs and answer their big questions? 


To answer some of these questions, you may need to do some research. This could include: 

  • Talk directly to website visitors via interviews or focus groups.
  • Reviewing site analytics to better understand how site users interact with your current content.
  • Looking at similar websites and analyzing their approach.


If you are redesigning an existing website, conduct a content audit and analyze site metrics. After you have a chance to audit current content, you'll be able to determine what content is working well, what content needs to be removed, what content needs to be edited, spot any redundancies, and identify gaps in content. Using the sitemap, create an inventory of all webpages on your site and review every page, asking: 

  • Who needs this content?
  • Does this content answer the audience’s top questions and satisfy their top needs
  • Is this content written in plain language? 


Review site analytics to see the most frequently visited pages, demographic information, search terms, etc. Knowing this information can help you organize your content when you create an updated sitemap. 


Next, sketch out a site map. A site map is essentially a blueprint of your website. Creating a site map allows you to identify all the pages on your site and how they link together. Thoughtful site navigation helps users easily understand where they are and get to where they want to go. There is no one set format for a site map, but it needs to show the different levels, or hierarchy, of your content. The top level will become your main navigation items. All your additional pages will need to be grouped underneath that top level. Sitemaps are generally organized into a hierarchical diagram to show how different elements relate to one another.

  1. Place all the content you want to keep into a single document. 
  2. From there, identify 3-6 major themes. Create a content bucket for each. Derive the content bucket themes from the exercise you did above where you thought about the biggest reasons your audience comes to your website. 
  3. Draw a box for each bucket. Below each bucket, add the corresponding content. Determine if you need to further divide that content into corresponding subpages. 
  4. Label each bucket. This could be a page name or key topic. 


  • The Agency of Digital Services Web Services Director or your selected web design vendor can work with you to create the site map.
  • Use Microsoft Visio in Office 365 to generate a hierarchical diagram of your sitemap.  


Once you have a sketch of the sections of your website, it’s time to create and select the images, text and documents that will go on the site. As you gather your content, you may realize that certain pages in your site map need to be combined, reorganized, or removed. This is also a perfect opportunity to update and refresh content that’s on your current website.


Next, you send your site map to ADS and let them know you’re ready for buildout. ADS will review your documents to ensure your site proposal matches state web standards and will provide feedback on any concerns. ADS will then build a skeleton site structure for your website so the basic pages are ready for you to enter your content.


  • WC3: W3C web standards 
  • U.S. Web Design System (USWDS): USWDS is a toolkit of principles, guidance, and code that makes it easier to build accessible, mobile-friendly government websites. 
  • W3Schools: Training school for web developers covering all aspects of web development. This site offers simple, interactive learning experiences to help web editors. 


Once ADS has finished the site buildout, your empty template is ready to be populated with your content. ADS will set up a training session to show you how to enter and update your content. When you meet with ADS, talk with them about how to set up and access your site's analytics. 

Resources: Drupal 8/9 CMS How-to Guide


Most State entities do not have a dedicated Web Manager position, rather, managing sites is the responsibility of a group of web managers and editors. If this is the case for your state entity, think about how to set up and sustain a web managers group within your agency or department. Organize regular meetings to routinely manage content, review analytics, and tackle site updates. 

Tips on Writing for the Web

WHAT: Keep focused on the user

  • First step in any content audit: identify who comes to your website and why?
  • Think of your target audience for every page; who needs this content?
    • Rank content, prioritize content for primary audience
  • Focus: what is the central message / key idea on the web page?
    • What question does this content answer? What task can be accomplished?
    • Try to make your users lives simpler and easier
  • Can your content be improved? (edit, consolidate)
    • Remove content ROT (redundant, out-of-date, trivial)

HOW: Make your point first, then explain it

  • Use inverted pyramid style, put your most important information first
    • Easy to skim, user can quickly decide if content is relevant to them
    • Can stop reading at any point and still have main idea
  • Create visual hierarchy, give key content visual weight
    • Use headings, subheads, chunk content
  • Make text scannable
    • Use bulleted lists, FAQs
    • Use pull quotes
  • Keep text concise (about 50% of what you’d write for print)
    • Avoid formal sentence construction, keep conversational, 4th grade level
    • Use plain language; active voice, avoid jargon, use keywords

WHY: Keep user engaged

  • Break long pages into multiple pages
  • Use visuals; is there a graphical way to present this information?
    • Stats, icons, fast facts, calls to action, links as practical
  • Avoid long lists of links or documents
    • Group documents with headings, include summary text (title might not be descriptive enough)
    • Use visual links (show me why I should go to this section or site)
    • Make hyperlinks relevant; use keywords, give user clear expectation where link will go