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Lost in the Fine Print: Why Text Hierarchy Matters for Municipal Websites (and How to Fix It)

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Imagine you’re a senior citizen trying to find information about property tax exemptions on your city’s website. You’re met with a dense wall of text, with no clear headings or visual cues to guide you. Frustrated, you abandon the search and call city hall instead, hoping to get the help you need. This scenario is all too common, and it highlights the critical importance of clear text hierarchy on municipal websites.

In our previous blog post, “Seeing the Light: Color Contrast Best Practices for Local Government Websites,” we delved into the importance of color contrast for ensuring website accessibility. But visual clarity goes beyond color – it’s about how you structure and present your written content too. That’s where text hierarchy comes in.

What is Text Hierarchy?

Text hierarchy refers to the visual arrangement of text on a page, using different sizes, weights, and styles to guide the reader’s eye. It’s like a roadmap for your content, leading visitors through your information in a logical and intuitive way. The main levels of text hierarchy include:

  • H1 (Heading 1): The main title of your page or section, usually the largest and most prominent text. The title should be the only H1 level header on the page.
  • H2 (Heading 2): Subheadings that divide your content into smaller sections.
  • H3 (Heading 3), H4 (Heading 4), etc.: Further subheadings for more detailed breakdowns.
  • Body Text: The main content paragraphs.

Why Text Hierarchy Matters for Local Governments

Local government websites often contain dense, complex information that can be overwhelming for users. Clear text hierarchy acts as a lifeline, helping residents navigate through legal jargon, policy details, and service descriptions. It’s especially important for:

  • Accessibility: People with disabilities, such as visual impairments or cognitive disorders, and screen readers rely on text hierarchy to understand and interact with your content.
  • User Experience: A well-structured website is easier to scan and digest, leading to increased engagement and a positive impression of your municipality.
  • Efficiency: Residents can quickly find the information they need, reducing the burden on your staff and improving overall efficiency.

The Consequences of Poor Text Hierarchy

Ignoring text hierarchy can have serious consequences for your local government:

  • Frustration and Abandonment: Users who can’t find what they’re looking for will simply give up and seek information elsewhere.
  • Decreased Civic Engagement: Residents may miss important announcements, deadlines, or opportunities to participate in community activities.
  • Legal Issues: Websites that fail to meet accessibility standards can face lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

How to Implement Effective Text Hierarchy

Fortunately, creating effective text hierarchy is easily achievable with a few key strategies:

  1. Use Clear, Descriptive Headings: Your headings should accurately reflect the content of each section, making it easy for users to skim and find what they need.
  2. Break Up Text into Smaller Paragraphs: Avoid long, dense blocks of text. Aim for paragraphs of no more than 3-4 sentences.
  3. Use Bulleted or Numbered Lists: Lists can help organize information and make it more visually appealing.
  4. Vary Font Size, Weight, and Style: Use larger font sizes for headings, bold text for emphasis, and italics for quotes or specific terms.
  5. Leverage Visual Cues: Utilize white space to separate sections and create a clean, uncluttered layout. Consider using color to highlight important information.
  6. Prioritize Mobile Responsiveness: Ensure your text hierarchy adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes, as many residents will access your website on mobile devices.

Real-World Examples

Many local governments have successfully implemented text hierarchy to improve their websites. To make a user-friendly website that accomplishes the goal of encouraging civic engagement, we designed the City of Princeton website with text hierarchy in mind. The City Council page uses principles of text hierarchy in its headers and small paragraph sizes to make a large quantity of text easy to read and navigate.

Need a Helping Hand?

At Starry Eyes Media, we specialize in creating accessible, user-friendly websites for local governments. We understand the unique challenges you face, and we can help you bridge the digital divide in your community.

Contact us today for a free consultation and accessibility audit of your website. Our team can also assist with:

Let’s work together to make your online presence inclusive and accessible for all.

Meet Jordan


Lost in the Fine Print: Why Text Hierarchy Matters for Municipal Websites (and How to Fix It)

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Economic Development, Government, Learning, Web Design

Jordan is the Content Marketer and Designer at Starry Eyes, helping with creative projects as well as social media planning, market research, and SEO. He is obsessed with books, soccer, pottery, and various nerdy things. Jordan is a bit of a hipster and is still coming to terms with that. Big fan of trees.