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Crow Wing County Board: Website sets record with more than a million visits

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle talks about plans for a county website re-design at Tuesday's board of commissioners meeting at the Historic County Courthouse in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The official website for Crow Wing County set a record with about 1.3 million views in 2017, according to officials, a trend for the fourth straight year.

For the first time, mobile device users topped 60 percent of the website traffic and continue to grow at a higher pace than residents searching the county website using a desktop computer.

"That shows us that citizens are confident in finding the information they need while on the go," website coordinator Marcus Cadena said in a news release.

Website visitors searched for a variety of county-related information. The most common was criminal cases, in-custody reports, properties and property taxes. But despite the website's popularity, Administrator Tim Houle said he isn't content to rest on his laurels.

"We are going to scope out the next iteration of our website. Most interesting to me at least is the transition of those who visit our website," Houle told commissioners at Tuesday's board meeting.

"The majority of the website traffic we used to see on our website was from desktop computers—like you have here—and in fact for the past two years in a row, mobile devices—your smartphones, your tablets, your iPads—have become the majority of users of our website."

There were about 750,000 unique hits to the county in-custody webpage, but 125,000 unique hits to the county's homepage.

"People are going to various pages on our website but not necessarily through the homepage," Houle said. "Maybe they have it bookmarked, maybe they've done a search for that particular subject and can bypass the website and go in, and so that's interesting."

Cadena added, "This tells us that residents are finding what they need on our site and are going directly to that information instead of having to start a search on the homepage. This is a faster and more efficient way to find what they are looking for."

A significant change in 2017 was website visits to more content-specific webpages were up between 10 percent and 100 percent, according to Cadena.

"The website has been designed to be most useful on a desktop environment, and we know that with smartphones, and iPads, and tablets, that's a smaller screen," Houle told the board.

"And so in the next iteration of the website, I think it's prudent for us to take a look at and emphasize the presentation of that information in mobile environments—trying to keep up with what the data is telling us about who is using the website and how."

Cadena said, "It also means that we keep a constant focus on what mobile users are doing in order to ensure a good experience. Whatever way users search our website helps residents continue to get access to our services around the clock."

The county had 725,000 unique hits to its Facebook page, according to Houle.

"The No. 1 posting on Facebook is when we send out snowplows—a timely bit of information that people really want to know, and so that has not only gotten unique hits on our page, but it also leads in the number of items that were shared to other people's Facebook page," he said.

"We don't post every news item that's on our website. We don't automatically push it to Facebook and Twitter like we used to. Now, we curate what goes out on Facebook ... and what we're seeing is a better response."

A website feedback form for county residents is available for submitting ideas, suggestions or to report a problem at www.crowwing.us/websitefeedback.

"Instead of sending them every bit of information—which is information overload and then people tend to push us away because we are boring the bejeebers out of them ... now we're putting out information that we think is much more targeted and relevant," Houle said.

"If we have a piece that we think is relevant for a subset of the general population, we have the capacity within Facebook to push it to the demographics of Crow Wing County residents who might fit the targeted audience for that message and so we're also using that."

The county website also provides the option to subscribe to notifications on topics or services that are important to residents without having to check the page for updates. Almost 4,000 subscribers took advantage of this service in 2017.

"I think we're getting much better and much more sophisticated in our use of both our website and social media and responding to the trends that we are seeing in the data," Houle told the board.

The meeting was not attended by Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom.

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