10 steps to building a better government website


10 steps to building a better government website

Public engagement is a top priority for the federal government, but despite even the best efforts by many agencies, customer experiences with federal services shows that satisfaction rates are at an eight-year low. The American Customer Satisfaction Index's most recent Federal Government Report shows that satisfaction with the clarity and accessibility of agency information and the process for obtaining federal services declined from the prior year’s results. This does not bode well for agencies when resources continue to be limited, yet customer expectations for how government information and services are delivered remain high.

Citizens expect their government interactions to rival similar experiences in the private sector. Because trust tends to erode when customers are dissatisfied, it is paramount that agencies improve upon the delivery of information and services. One important way an agency can improve customer satisfaction is through a better website design. Here are 10 steps for enhancing the online user experience during the website redesign process:

1. Interview stakeholders
A website designed for everyone will ultimately please no one. By conducting interviews with both internal and external stakeholders – employees, partners, other government organizations, businesses and citizens – agencies can pinpoint their audience, define accurate user profiles and further refine agency goals.

2. Administer extensive user surveys
Agencies often build their websites from the “inside out,” reflecting the organization’s needs, instead of “outside in,” which considers the user perspective. User surveys reveal what real-life visitors want to accomplish through an agency website. By understanding user goals, audience preferences and the types and number of tasks a website visitor hopes to perform, an agency can reach informed design and development decisions.

3. Review web analytics
A web analytics review provides insight into user behavior, content value, specific entrance and exit points and the types of devices used to access the website. Agencies should dive into these metrics to gain an understanding of user goals and construct a better user experience. Web analytics can also  pinpoint opportunities to increase form submissions, subscriptions, downloads and other user tasks that support agency goals.

4. Perform card sort testing
The public does not necessarily expect to find information the same way agency insiders would imagine. Website navigation must be organized in a way the audience understands and expects. With card sort testing, agencies can identify patterns in how users categorize and prioritize information so they can structure content to require less cognitive effort, which improves customer satisfaction.

5. Conduct rapid prototyping and user testing
The best way to evaluate a new design is to allow users to interact with it. By quickly mocking up how a system should look and behave, and then having users evaluate how well it meets their needs and expectations, agencies can gather valuable feedback that can improve the final design, ensure that forms and other processes are simple and functional and reduce the need for changes during development.

6. Create a task-oriented home page
Citizens visit government websites to accomplish a goal, not to admire the graphic design. By strategically positioning the most important and frequently used topics, features and functions, agencies can create a home page that serves as a clear roadmap to help users quickly and efficiently locate information and complete desired tasks.

7. Employ UX design principles
To keep up with citizens’ rising expectations for government websites, agencies must consider the user experience (UX), which encompasses the look and feel plus the usability of a site and focuses on how users interact with a website design. With UX design, agencies can create websites that deliver a consistent UX that is on-brand, in line with business objectives and provides outstanding digital customer service.

8. Embrace responsive web design
Citizens expect to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime and on any device in a secure manner. Rather than creating a separate website version for each device, agencies should employ responsive web design, which enables a site to respond to a user’s preferences with flexible layouts that automatically adjust for the screen size, platform and orientation of the device used.

9. Ensure accessibility
Agency websites must be free of barriers that make it difficult for citizens with disabilities to access. An accessible design ensures that all potential visitors, including those with disabilities, will have a pleasant user experience. By making content accessible through screen readers, voice commands and keyboard-only access, agencies can ensure that all users have equal opportunity and access to government information and services.

10. Optimize for search engines
The information on any website is worthless if potential visitors do not know it is there. Government agencies must use search engine optimization techniques to ensure that citizens can easily find their sites and the information they contain. By strategically using keywords, descriptive page titles, clear language and other SEO best practices, government agencies can help users more directly find the information they need.

By following this 10-step approach to building a better government website, agencies can meet their mission of delivering vital government services, engaging citizens and improving customer satisfaction levels, while efficiently using financial and personnel resources.

About the Author

Jose Carlos Linares is president and CEO of the Open Technology Group.


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