Government Agencies Enhancing Website Usability Through Third-Party Research

Dave Glantz, Director of Research Services, Market Connections, Inc.

In an era where government agencies are fully leveraging their core websites as true citizen- and constituent-facing tools, many are now taking advantage of the right usability testing to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Much of this can be attributed to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) First Fridays usability testing program, which provides free usability tests to agencies’ websites.  From providing insights on navigation, content and contact information placement, this program has surveyed 450 unbiased users who have tested 26 agency websites.

As a result, the program has saved the government $1.4 million in educational and usability services.

Usability testing is vital to the success of any organization’s website – from government agencies to contractors to consumer businesses.   Much like the GSA’s First Fridays program, it is always important to tap into external experts to implement the actual testing to gain objective insights that can be used to enhance a web property.

Third-party research organizations can help government agencies in these efforts by evaluating the sites on a range of measures, including:

  • Intuitiveness:   From assessment of the navigation bar to specific instructions for completing a particular task, usability testing ultimately ensures that the user is able to accurately understand the purpose of the site and the steps they must take to achieve their site-related goals. This could include completing a transaction, accessing information, or for some other purpose.  One-on-one usability testing provides the means to enhance the overall effectiveness of the website (and often with positive spillover for the image of the agency itself).
  • Terminology:  To a greater or lesser degree, government agencies may be prone to use language and acronyms on their websites that may not fully resonate with the average citizen. The right website copy can create a completely frictionless experience for users and allow a web property to meet its intended goals, whether it is education or requiring citizens to sign up for a particular service online.  Users that encounter unfamiliar vocabulary may become frustrated or confused with the experience, and either seek offline clarification or else abandon the site.

These are just two aspects that usability testing can address.

For government agencies, the ability to gain objective insights beyond GSA’s First Fridays program can be tremendously beneficial. Third-party research by a provider that knows the government, but can offer an unbiased perspective, will provide a knowledgeable bridge between government and the wide variety of users that may rely on an agency’s site.

Although the era of establishing a website came to fruition in the late 1990s, core websites will continue to be the first line for interacting with citizens and customers.  Ensuring that your website is designed to meet your agency’s overall mission will continue to be paramount for the foreseeable future.

 

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