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Give great web

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Your web page is the front door to the public and to your customers. It’s the first thing that most people see. Your web pages creates impressions and brands your agency. I agree with Candi Harrison that we must strive to create a positive image and provide great customer service.

To create a powerful, positive brand as a caring, proactive customer oriented agency we must create government web pages that follow these rules:

1. Audience – specify your audience – in the first sentence if possible:
a. Citizens/Industry/Agencies/Contracting Officers/Attorneys/Industry can find . . .
b. If its unclear – use “Are you looking for . . . ?”

Boring pages start with xxx agency provides aaaa services to bbbb. Defining your audience puts your customers first – where they belong.

2. Task – identify the tasks someone can complete. Make easy for your users to register for an event, sign up for a newsletter, buy your products/services, contact you, or fill out a form. Easy means just that – a user unfamiliar with your page should be able to figure out who its for and what they can do on your page within ten seconds. Usability testing is available from GSA’s First Fridays. Also refer to usability.gov for guidelines your pages should follow.

3. Readability – your pages should be readable at the 8th grade level – use the SMOG index to check them. Do this now as all federal web pages will have to be written in Plain Language by Oct 2011.

4. Brevity – are your web pages concise? Short so users don’t have to scroll? Be considerate of your busy user’s time.

5. Current – are your web pages up to date? Check to be sure that announcements within news releases, publications, powerpoint presentations, speeches and/or blog posts are also included on your web pages. This is also an OMB requirement.

If your web pages meet all of the above – congratulations! If not, don’t worry about it – do something about it. Take steps to address these problems. Most web pages are constantly evolving. Call it continuous improvement, agile, six sigma, or whatever you like – but do keep working on your web pages to ensure that your customers get the very best that your agency and you can give.

And yes – federal web policies, best practices and guidelines – apply to all web pages including yours. Everyone appreciates an easy to read page. No one has ever read a web page that gave guidance on an important issue and thought – “Wow, I wish that was harder and more complicated.”

We all search for information, stumble upon pages and need to quickly decide if we are following the right information path. Help your customers, and help your agency make a better impression on how well it delivers great customer service.

Usability Testing: Getting surprised by our users

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Since Oct. 2010, my team has conducted four usability tests on our government website. What we have found astounded us. I’m now convinced that usability testing for all government websites should be required because:

1. Our users did not read our homepage to navigate or follow links. Instead, they just searched. We’ve spent so much of our resources on crafting navigation paths and menus. Our users want only quality search results.

2.  When our users searched, the search results were not optimal. We need to reallocate our resources to ensure our search results help our users complete their tasks.  Now that we know how important search is – we need immediate resources dedicated to ensuring search engine optimization.

3.  Users scanned our pages, looking for keywords that made sense to them. Their keywords were not our keywords. We assumed that users used our jargon but users searched using simple words and not our program names. If the information was at the bottom of the page the users questioned why it had been put there – it seemed that they thought important information (to them) belonged in only one place – at the top of the page.

4.  Users sometimes didn’t trust the links on our pages even when it seemed that it was the correct one for them to select to complete the task. They would look at us and ask if they should click it. Why wouldn’t they just follow the link? Why were they hesitant? We don’t know the answer to this question.

So we’ve learned a lot from our users, and need to put the information together in a presentation for our program managers. I’ll write more about that in my next blog.

Twitter Strategy

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

How GSA FAS ITS has been using New Media – specifically, Twitter

(excerpt from an at work “Brownbag” working lunch. Presented via this blog to take advantage of links to real time conversations – which is part of the attraction of Twitter).

Twitter: ITS’ Twitter account is GSA_ITS.

Background and experience: I became acquainted with practical uses of Twitter – vs. the useless ways – when I used my personal Twitter account – joyrenee – to publicize GSA regional events. This strategy was so successful that we formally adopted Twitter at GSA FAS ITS, and as of March 2010 it is the third most followed Twitter account at GSA.

Best uses for Twitter: Outreach, search engine optimization, brand awareness and surveillance.

Outreach: To promote events, training, conferences, conventions, speeches by senior management, news releases,  job openings, blog posts by senior management, and other noteworthy GSA or GSA-related people and activities. Not everyone will come to your website to learn about these things – but millions of people are on Twitter. Fish where the fish are.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): tweets show up in a Google search. Tweets also show up in a Twitter search. So by tweeting you are exponentially increasing the possibility of this tweeted information to be found. NOTE: you must tweet a url for this to work. Hint: tweet the url with a link shortener that will provide a count of the number of times users clicked through your tweets. Include the appropriate hashtag(s).

Brand awareness: often organizations have a name or image that is problematic – one that doesn’t fully convey who they are or what they do. Tweeting regularly with noteworthy accomplishments, did you know? factoids, that link directly to web pages about those programs can help deepen understanding and awareness.

Twitter strategy: An organization should create its own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for tweeting, retweeting, and responding to tweets and direct messages. Generally tweets should:

1. Include a url so a user can accomplish a task (register for an event, training or conference, learn more about an organization (be a donor, buy something, find their address or contact information, etc.) or attend a speech or press conference). Use URL shorteners that provide tracking of how many times a user clicked on the link that was tweeted.

2. Be scheduled all at once by 9 a.m. with tweets occurring every half hour. The earlier you tweet in the morning the more likely it is to be retweeted.

3. Be funny, snappy, and personable. Boring tweets that are blatant advertisements are a waste of your time and your users’.

4. Follow those with an affinity to your organization and many of those followers may follow you back. Advanced Twitter users create lists of Twitter accounts and curate those lists. For example, @GSA_ITS has Twitter lists: Cybersecurity, Cloud, Telecommunications, Government Agencies. @GSA_ITS is itself listed on over 100 Twitter lists. This topic deserves its own blog post.

Surveillance: involves searches twitter conversations to find out what is being said about one’s organization, program, or self in the twitterverse. GSA = http://search.twitter.com/search?q=gsa Corporations and organizations such as DHS and the Air Force mine Twitter for rumors and disinformation.

I have a personal example of how Charter cable reacted to my tweet that my cable service was out =

Screenshot of Charter's conversations to me on Twitter

Twitter, as you can see, is not a one way conversation, but more of a collection of many multi-threaded conversations.

Hashtags: an illustration of a conference currently underway now and using the hashtag g2e

Twitterfall: an illustration of a GSA Expo Twitterfall

Biz case for Events – after the GSA.gov home page was revised in Jan 2008 and the listing to all GSA events disappeared.  Regions became inundated with calls from people looking for events, specifically the “How to get on a GSA Schedule” which is offered monthly by almost every one of the GSA regions. Almost magically, when these events were tweeted, the attendance at the events increased, and sometimes exponentially. Small business training courses at NCR, which usually had 40 – 60 attendees, zoomed to over 100 attendees.

Metrics:Link statistics from URL shortening service http://go.usa.gov

# Clicks Link title URL Date created
26 Outreach Europe & Africa 2010 http://go.usa.gov/3iZ 18-May
64 Joint Alliant and Alliant Small Business – 6/16/ webinar http://go.usa.gov/iuA 13-May
73 Joint Alliant and Alliant Small Business – 6/16 webinar http://go.usa.gov/iu7 13-May
71 Joint Alliant and Alliant Small Business – 6/2 webinar http://go.usa.gov/iuG 13-May
170 Alliant Outreach http://go.usa.gov/iuf 13-May
106 Joint Alliant and Alliant Small Business – 5/26 webinar http://go.usa.gov/iuw 13-May
82 joint Alliant and Alliant Small Business  – 5/19 webinar http://go.usa.gov/iud 13-May
191 JOB: IT INFOSECSEC http://go.usa.gov/ios 6-May
73 Mganagement Analyst, 0343, GS-7/9, Fairfax http://go.usa.gov/ioo 6-May
33 Mgmt/Program Analyst, 0343, GSA-14, Fairfax http://go.usa.gov/io7 6-May
79 Outreach Europe & Africa 2010 http://go.usa.gov/3×4 20-May

Link statistics from URL shortening service http://bit.ly

# Clicks Link title URL Date created
4 out of 9 GSA Slams IT Modernization bit.ly/cVu8Ji 25-May
8 out of 19 World congress 2010 bit.ly/b7iwzB 20-May
9 out of 97 6th Annual Natl Vets SB Conference bit.ly/bX0YeE 20-May
10 out of 10 Inst for Entrepreneurial Studies/Dev (Ike Skelton procurement conf) bit.ly/d6lI77 20-May
10 out of 10 Tech council of Maryland calendar bit.ly/d5dWn9 20-May
6 out of 6 Environment, Energy Security & Sustainability Symposium bit.ly/ca7Tl0 20-May

Changes to the ITS Twitter approach: recently we reached out a team approach where poc’s can tweet directly through the GSA_ITS Twitter account. This was announced on Tuesday and we look forward to proving usernames and passwords to poc’s so the GSA_ITS Twitter account outreach reflects the wisdom of the hive.