How to Win a Gold Mouse Award, Part III – Keeping It All Organized

  • June 30th, 2009
  • Posted by Ken in CMF

Okay, we’ve talked about the Congressional Management Foundation’s Deal Breakers and requirements for Legislative Content and to wrap up this series we need to talk about keeping everything organized. A fundamental requirement for any web site is to make it easy to find all of its great information.

Here are three rules to help:

Rule #1 – Have a Standard Navigation
The most fundamental tool of a web site to stay organized is its navigation. It seems pretty basic, but CMF notes many Congressional offices “break Web Site design and layout standards that Web users have come to expect.” I am a big fan of trying to “break the mold” and have a unique web site, but it is important to maintain certain best practices. Your navigation also presents the opportunity to start categorizing your content with drop-down menus.

Rule #2 – Organize Around Your Audiences
This brings up another important rule in keeping your site organized: know your audiences. Your site is visited by a wide variety of consituents, media and other inside the beltway types. In order for your site to organize content efficiently, these audiences need to be taken into account. One of the most overlooked assets in keeping track of audiences are your web site’s statistics. Take a look at what types of pages are getting the most traffic and work backwards to establishing your key audiences.

Rule #3 – Rank & Prioritize Content
I think that the most common mistake made by House offices is to have to much content on their homepage. There are too many services, too many legislative issues and too many news updates for everything to be dumped on your homepage. Instead, rank your content with 1, 2 or 3 for the number of clicks you want to require visitors to make to find different content. It’s going to be hard, but you need to try to have more 3′s that 2′s and more 2′s than 1′s! Another component to these rankings is timeliness. This stuff can and should change. Your featured issues this week/month should be different that those on your homepage next month.

So go forth and win your Gold Mouse Award, but remember even if you are one of the lucky few to be recognized by the CMF that your job is not done. This series of tips has been structured around the CMF criteria, but the goal is for you to provide a valuable resource for your constituents 365 days a year.

Other posts is this series:

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The Fireside21 team would like to welcome @bridg_eeee to our ranks!

It appears we had some formatting issues- Thanks @NealKirby!

Welcome to Fireside21, @KennyAmes!

Just launched a completely redesigned website for @MacTXPress! Check it out:

Just launched a completely redesigned website for @TomLatham! Check it out:

Fireside21 on Twitter >>

Congressman Geoff Davis Launches New Web Site

Congratulations to everyone in Congressman Davis’ office. We look forward to working closely with you this year!


SSL Security in eManager (and how to disable IE pop-up warnings)

This week we enabled Secure Socket Layers (SSL) encryption on your eManager account. SSL is the same technology used by banks and online shopping sites like amazon to protect your personal information that is transferred between your computer and the website.

This is just one of several mechanisms we have been implementing to make your account’s content and constituent data more secure.

Unfortunately, we have found one annoying consequence to this update: users of Internet Explorer are getting lot’s of pop-up warnings about “mixed content” and other alerts. Don’t be alarmed, IE just wants to let you know that some of the content is coming from a different site, which in this case is usually images from your public site.

Here’s how to update your browser’s setting to make these pop-ups go away:

  1. In the IE menu bar, select “Tools” -> “Internet Options” (you may need to press “Alt” to view the menu bar)
  2. Click the “Security” tab
  3. Click the “Internet” zone icon and then the button for “Custom level…”
  4. Scroll down a little past halfway and you will see a setting for “Display mixed content”
  5. Click the radio button to “Enable” this setting
  6. Click OK, then Yes and OK again to save this new setting

You may need to restart your browser for the setting to take effect in your eManager account.  If you continue to get any pop-up warnings, please let us know.

Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite Launches New Web Site

Our long-time client, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, redesigned their web site to put a bigger spotlight on their video content. Looks great-congrats!


How to Win a Gold Mouse Award, Part II – Legislative Content

  • June 4th, 2009
  • Posted by Ken in CMF

I wanted to take a closer look this week at all the different types of legislative content that the CMF recommends you include in your web site. Before we get started, don’t forget about the Deal Breakers. None of this is going to matter if it violates those four Golden rules (get it? Golden Rules = Gold Mouse? I might have to work on that catch phrase).

Anyways, on to the CMF recommended legislative content!

How Congress Works

This is intended to be an educational section of your web site, but it needs to be structured for a wide audience. Many offices have a “Kids” section about how Congress works, but there need to be grown-up resources too. Here are some questions you should seek to answer:

  1. How does Congress operate?
  2. What is the role of a Member?
  3. How does a bill become a law?
  4. How do committees work?
  5. Who is in “Leadership” and what impact do they have?
  6. How does voting work?
  7. What are rules and how do they impact votes?

What Congress is Doing

What is happening right now, today? The Library of Congress, Clerk and Leadership offices are your friends! There is no need to keep all of this information up to date on your site if these external resources are clearly organizes (but be sure to test regularly in case these links break!):

  1. Floor Information – there are a couple of resources including the Clerk and Leadership offices.
  2. Vote Records – you can just link to the Clerk, but it would be nice to highlight a couple of your recent votes before offering the link.
  3. Legislative Bill Searches – provide embedded searches or links to Thomas.
  4. Congressional Record – hours of enjoyment.

Policy Information

This section is tough. No office like to say too much in writing about policy…it can only make people angry! At least, that seems to be the view of most offices. Nevertheless, this is the most common section of your web site that your constituent is going to visit. As the CMF says, “If constituents can’t find a Members stance or record on their official web site, they will find it elsewhere.”

You are going to need:

  1. National issue statements – these are often pretty generic, but the need to be updated regularly.
  2. Issues of importance to your boss – what are your office’s priorities? This often leads to committee or caucus pages too.
  3. Links to more information by issue, like press releases or CRS files. The more the better.
  4. Bill sponsor / cosponsor – there are external links you can use for both, but why not talk a little about all those bills that you are the lead sponsor?
  5. State/Local issues – just because we’re in D.C. doesn’t mean you can ignore what going on in the district. Again, links to state and local legislative resources are acceptable.
  6. Vote record – see above, but consider vote justifications.


Here are some ideas not in the CMF recommendations that you might to consider:

  1. Legislative Roadmap – what’s going to be debated this summer, fall and winter? What are the big reauthorizations this year? Sprinkle in some information about the appropriations calendar and your Legislative Roadmap could provide great insight to your constituents.
  2. Policy Surveys – hey how about some interactivity? I mentioned above that most constituents visiting your site go directly to your issue pages. What I didn’t mention is that they are usually unsatisfied and find their way to your contact form. What if you had a bunch of surveys geared to each issue topic? While you are at it, don’t forget to ask you constituent if they want to subscribe for email alerts.
  3. Video Issue Statements – get a Flip Camcorder and start recording short video segments of your boss on the issues. A little rough clipping and rearranging and you’ve got a 30 or 60 second segment to post to your issue directories.

Other posts is this series:

Fireside Email Audiences Refactored for Better Speed and Reliability

Last week we pushed up a refactored version of eManager’s audience tools. Refactored is fancy computer speak for taking stock of everything you have learned and then overhauling the code to work better.

That’s right – the code that powers your targeted audiences is brand new!

Why did we do this?

Well, Fireside Email is more popular than ever: we have sent over 20 million emails on behalf of our clients. This is actually the second time we have refactored the audience mechanisms. Each time was a result of learning from the systems we had in production to make things work faster.

I guess you could call it preventative maintenance. As a result, you should notice several pages in eManager loading more quickly and large email audiences will deliver more efficiently.

We also built this new code with several future enhancements in mind. Stayed tuned for some exciting new features!