Feds give the term tune-up new meaning

Feds give the term tune-up new meaning

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

Sometimes it takes a mechanic.

Managers of two federal Web sites recently hired the Web equivalent to look under the hoods of their sites and see if they are meeting users' peak performance demands.

The Navy Recruiting Command's national recruiting site, at www.navyjobs.com, underwent massive renovation last May, and Navy officials wanted to know whether the new design was doing the service any good.

In contrast, the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, a group that promotes cooperation between government labs and industries, hadn't redesigned its www.federallabs.org site for some time.

The Navy recruiters and the lab consortium both hired Webjectives Inc. of Media, Pa., to evaluate their sites.

The Navy has lured job seekers via the Web since the mid-1990s. Before last spring's face-lift, the design had a dated look, said Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Dodge, director of interactive marketing in Millington, Tenn.

The lab consortium went through 'a long, drawn-out process to make sure our site is targeted to our customers' needs,' said Jana Smith, who heads the consortium's Marketing and Public Relations Committee. Smith is an analyst for the Energy Department's National Petroleum Technology Office in Tulsa, Okla.

The consortium's customers are federally funded national labs, industry, Congress and universities. Its current Web design features large amounts of text in a simple, sans serif typeface with links to members, patent and licensing information, and technology transfer success stories, all in two side-by-side scrollable frames.

Smith said the site format is 'OK right now, it works, but it's not the best it can be.'

Because the lab consortium promotes cutting-edge technology, its Web site should project a high-tech look and feel, said James Burdette, Webjectives' president and founder.

In general, Burdette said, he avoids hard and fast rules about use of frames and related issues. He does, however, recommend against posting an online image for the sake of having an image.

'It should add value, not just download time,' Burdette said.

Webjectives' site evaluation starts with meetings with stakeholders to define objectives. Then Burdette and his staff examine rival sites and install a pop-up user survey on the customer site.

For the Navy Recruiting Command, Burdette studied the other armed services' recruiting sites as well as private-sector job sites, including that of United Parcel Service Inc. of Atlanta.

The Navy is hunting for the same kinds of people as lots of other employers, Dodge said. 'There's a human resources war out there right now,' he said.

Webjectives compared the lab consortium's Web site against several other public and private organizations focused on technology transfer, such as yet2.com Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

The traffic reports that Burdette compiled for the Navy included number of hits, number of unique visitors, referring sites, visitors' top-level domains, browsers used and screen resolution. The last two items show whether a site displays well at the most common resolutions.

Burdette said he could have compiled user names and IP addresses instead of top-level domains, 'but the Navy gets nearly 1 million hits a month, so that information is fairly useless to them.'

The pop-up surveys asked visitors to describe what kinds of information they were looking for. 'It's not just our analysts' opinion, it's also the users',' Burdette said.

In coming months, Navy recruiters will make www.navy.com their primary brand-marketing site, though the www.navyjobs.com address will still access the same content, Dodge said. The site's look and feel is slated to change yet again on March 15, in conjunction with a new nationwide Navy advertising campaign called 'Accelerate Your Life.'

Navy.com will be a 'continuously evolving' site after March 15, Dodge said.

Burdette said Webjectives doesn't get involved in assessing compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal Web sites to be accessible to disabled users. That's more of a technology issue than a content issue, he said.

The lab consortium's governing board will review the Webjectives recommendations at its February meeting, Smith said. The revamped www.federallabs.org site could be up and running as soon as May, when the group will hold its annual meeting in Burlington, Vt.

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