Government Web Sites – Better, But Good Enough for a Coming Mandate?

This post is a bit of an intro to an upcoming contribution to For Immediate Release that will air on Monday, but I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the role of social media in government from the consumer perspective.

Last month, ForSee Research released their annual survey of government Web sites. The good news? Perception of the usability of government Web sites is on the rise. The bad news? Most still fall behind sites in the private sector.

Like the old “Family Feud,” survey said:

  • Citizen satisfaction reaches an all­ time high. Satisfaction with e‐gov rates a 75.2 on the ACSI’s 100‐point scale, the highest aggregate score ever recorded by the E‐Gov Index.
  • E­gov that satisfies citizens is still the most efficient and cost­ effective channel. The federal government can save overhead costs related to call centers and localized office locations by meeting citizens’ online needs and expectations. Citizens who are highly satisfied with a federal government website are 86% more likely to use the website as a primary resource (as opposed to other, more costly channels), 79% more likely to recommend the website, and 52% more likely to return to the website.
  • Functionality remains the top priority for improving federal government websites, in aggregate. Citizens are looking to federal government websites with expectations for features and functions that are not yet being fully met. Functionality, look and feel, and navigation are the top priority elements for a large proportion of sites. In addition, 88% of the subset of sites that measure citizens’ opinions on their search feature found it to be a top priority element. Improvements to these satisfaction drivers will have the largest impact on overall satisfaction with federal government websites, in aggregate, and therefore could increase a citizen’s likelihood to return to the sites, recommend them, and use them as a primary resource.
  • Satisfaction increased for all four measured website function categories, but citizens are most satisfied with e­commerce/transaction government websites, which had a notable quarter‐over‐quarter increase from 77.6 to 81.5 as a category, as did career and recruitment websites. These two categories are the smallest, however, so it is important to note that increases were also measured in the much larger portals/department main sites and information/news categories.
  • Satisfaction with e­gov is catching up to satisfaction with the private sector. Aggregate citizen satisfaction with e‐gov still lags behind satisfaction with e‐retail and search engines, but e‐gov outperforms online brokerage and online news. At the individual site level, a larger proportion of e‐gov websites score over 80 than do e‐retail websites. Some sites from the Social Security Administration and from Health and Human Services surpass even those of the private sector stalwarts like Netflix and Amazon.

So why is all of this important?  Two BIG reasons.

  1. Even with the health care debate raging in Washington, it is reasonable to think that some form of health care reform will pass.  This will move millions of citizens from private sector Web sites to government Web sites.  We have to keep up;  this will not only be new Web properties, but likely an entirely different way of interacting with the federal government.  Think about the point above of citizens carrying out transactions with the government on the Web”  “Citizens are looking to federal government websites with expectations for features and functions that are not yet being fully met.
  2. We are approaching — or at — retirement for baby boomers.   More than ever, this flood of people will be accessing sites like social security and Medicare with questions (and the good news is that the Social Security Administration ranked #1, #2 and #3 in the survey for some of their micro sites).  There will also be an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the “greatest generation” to their offspring — the largest in American history — in the coming years.  Hello,

My two cents is that “good enough” is not “good enough.”  If the federal government requires, or offers the option to sign up millions of Americans for services, we have to have the absolute, number one, best-in-class, most usable Web sites.  Period.

Disclaimer:  I am Director of New Media for the Securities and Exchange Commission.  This posting in no way reflects the views of the Chairman, the Commissioners or my colleagues at the SEC.  Or probably of the two people who will read it.




  1. Perhaps if the government did less it could do what it does better?

    OK, let’s set aside that philosophical argument for the moment since we aren’t likely to resolve it anytime soon.

    For better or for worse, modern government web sites are becoming customer service and e-commerce portals — albeit one that relies on rules and mandates to generate business rather than compelling products and effective marketing.

    Therefore government must learn the same lessons that private companies have as far as delivering effective customer service and efficient transaction processes.

    One way to do this is for the government to find a way to better integrate private sector thinkers into its approaches. Whether through advisory committees, consultants, or new hires, those lessons and perspectives would be valuable additions to government web planning.

    Come to think of it, that’s sort of what the SEC did with you, right? Goes to show what happens when private sector sensibilities can be merged with public sector service values.

  2. Mark Story Says: December 12, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Thanks, Chip.

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