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A Digital Strategy to Redefine Dane County

Dane County

Dane County, Wisconsin, is home to more than 500,000 residents across more than 60 cities, villages, and towns. The Department of Administration (DOA) relies on the Dane County website to serve the needs of residents, workers, and visitors. It is intended to be the conduit to hundreds of government, business and recreation websites.


The Challenge

The DOA took notice of other county website’s sophisticated branding and ease of use and wanted to take their own site to the next level. What they didn’t realize, however, is the ripple effect this project would have across all the county’s government departments. After stakeholder interviews with 16+ departments, we illuminated a long list of challenges:

Website Users’ Difficulties

  • Too much content
  • A lack of intuitive navigation and guidance (people get confused and opt to Google instead)
  • Finding specific forms or submitting forms or payments
  • Uninviting imagery

County Employees’ Difficulties

  • Not all departments are on the same Content Management System (CMS)
  • Little congruity from site to site
  • Not all permits or payment databases connect to the website
  • Finding information
  • Uninviting imagery 

Getting Bearings

Ascedia reigned in the entire project and all its moving pieces. For our first project with Dane County, we needed to immerse ourselves into the various departments and get to know their audiences.

Focus and Prioritization

This project was of tremendous scale. Before we could implement any technical changes, we needed to get to the bottom of the operational efficiencies. We began an in-house evaluation of the current department websites and mapped out the following:

  • What content to keep, update, or trash of over 50,000 pages we uncovered
  • Clear user personas and user journeys for residents, visitors, businesses and vendors
  • Clean, cohesive wireframes and visual design templates to use across departments
  • The order in which we would implement department changes 

Improve Searchability

After completing keyword research, we combed through their pages to determine which pages added value, which didn’t, and which could be combined for a better user experience.

  • After going through the pages, we also went through the copywriting to make sure copy was on brand, included keywords, and included no broken links or information that needed to be regularly updated.
  • Using the Azure search tool and putting it front and center on the Dane County Government portal homepage, everyone, no matter what they’re looking for, will have a highly-intuitive starting point for their on-site searches.

CMS Development and Integration

  • Dane County Government uses an internally developed CMS. To help increase cohesiveness across most of the department sites, websites that were not previously on the CMS are being carried over. 
  • However, in some cases this change could cause more confusion and SEO disruption than it’s worth. These sites, like the Henry Vilas Zoo, will remain independent and separately branded to avoid confusion. 

Compliance and Maintenance

  • We crossed off the tiny details like ensuring the site is ADA compliant and has the ability to send emergency notifications to people in the area.
  • We created templates that can be used throughout all department sites, so that employees can easily create their own pages and edit content.


The benefits of Dane County’s new website have already impacted operations. Phase one of this project is focusing on navigation and how users will be able to start on the Dane County Government portal and then easily navigate to whichever department site they need to find. The user experience, workflow and page updating process is already feeling more manageable and has been approved by the County Executive Joe Parisi. This is a huge leap in setting new standards and tones for the county and the way they communicate to their constituents.

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