On March 15th, I was trying to locate some information on the State Department's passort website for my 18 year old nephew. After going through multiple walls of words I finally located the form and clicked on it. I was taken to a page that listed several dozens forms in small type. I got really angry and swore "This really sucks". Apparently someone at State heard me because their passport webpages are totally reorganized. Thank God for that.
However, not all is forgiven
I have not posted on this blog for awhile, but that doesn't mean that I have abandoned it. It just took a high degree of frustration and anger to get me going again. But I am back. So fasten your seat belts because I still think that most government websites suck, big time.
Why Most Government Websites Suck
I think that most government websites suck because the people at the top of these government agencies don't feel the pain of the businesses and citizens who use them and rely on them. Notice I am not totally blaming the web content managers or those who are trying their best on websites like www.webcontent.gov. Oh hell I guess I am blaming you, because the heads of most agencies don't use their websites and could really care less (unless a member of Congress or the Administration complains about it). If you don't get it right who will.
Really folks, you government web content managers need to speak to your customers and users. Quit playing around with us and asking us to be patient for the next round of usability tests or the redesign. We no longer have patience. In fact, we'll start telephoning you if you don't get your act together. OK, calm down, I am now certain that the threat of telephoning you has gotten your attention.
If you really feel like checking in with the real people who use your websites, start with your spouses or significant others. Ask them to do something on your website and please don't coach them. Ask them to give you some honest feed back. Tell them that they can not leave the website until they find what they need. If they don't slap you up the side of the head than you have a good website. If they get phsical, please seek medical attention if they draw blood.
Six Deadly Sins of Government Websites that Suck
I am personalizing this because there is a team of people behind the website.
1. You Consistently Never Give Me What I Want
What I hate are websites that give you everything except what you asked for. For example, in my experience yesterday, I click on a page that says "Download the DS-11 Application." My expectation is that "finally I am getting somewhere." What do I get?! Another web page with instructions about the form. Is anyone at home? I want to download the "bloody form." Geez
Honestly, the mantra of websites like the above seems to be to give people more information than they want or need. You seem to be saying that I can't use your service or product or form unless I read every word or unless you put every word on the page. This is even true with the updated State web page. Go ahead, click on Application for Passport: DS-11
Now where is the download link? Scroll down to the very bottom of the webpage. See what I mean. I have to wade through these insrtructions to get to where I want. If the lawyers or your boss insists on providing this information then place the download buttons at the top well above fold and preferreable under the page title and follow that with all the things you seem to care about and I could care less about.
If some of you think that you are providing a disservice if you don't provide the verbage, just consider what you do when you see terms of agreement on a web page or service that you use. Of course, you read every word before you click the "I accept" button. Right?
2. You Drop Me Off in the Middle of No Where
On some websites, I feel like I have been sent into a Home Depot or Lowes that has no labels on the isles. At least in the these stores I can ask a sales associate for something and they will mumble hardware. Lucky me, Now I only have to find the isle and go through 25,000 individual products. With some website, it truly is that bad.
Web content managers have to determine what they major things that their users want to do. Please don't insult my intelligence by saying "everything" or that its impossible to find out. Ask peole or better yet, ask those poor souls who answer the phones at your agency and provide answers to real live people. They will give you an earful.
3. You Expect me to know Everything about Your Website
Listen if I come to your website, I'm only here to get what I need. I don't care about your web design or its features if I can't find or do what I want to do. If I am looking for a medicaire application for Grandma Millie, that's all I want. Your search engine needs to be prominently displayed because I am only going to look a bit and then resort to it. I'm not exactly expecting the search engine to take me directly to the web page I need, but it should at least get me into the right neighborhood or secton of the website. This is where your information architecture either kills me or saves me buy getting me close to related topics. If you can get that search engine to list the top pages that get me in the neighborhood so much the better.
4. You burden me with so much Verbage
The material on most website is not written for me but for other people who know the ins and outs of a program, service or product. The content that your web content providers give you is not suitable for me. I love executive summaries and press releases. Why? Because they have to concise and well writtem.
Consider using the press releases or executive summaries as web page content. Users like myself want to use your product or service, but to do so we don't need to become a program expert. Just give me enough to determine if the product or service or application is right for me.
Take a look at this website presentation that explains a new technogy called Lexel. I'm pretty impressed with the ease in which they very easily chunk there Lexel presentation. At the end of the presentation, I can either view a video to learn more, or go somewhere else if their technology is not for me.
5. You prevent me from easily talking to a real person at your agency
Some web content managers believe that the success of their websites are determined by reduced telephone inquiries to call centers. That's not entirely true. Your website may prepare me for a more intelligent conversation with someone at your agency. For instance, my converation may go something like this;
Hi, I just went to your website and read about the Boweevil Pesticide Entitlement Program. I am not sure if I shold be using the "Hard As Hell" Form or I can use the EZ-Form. Can u help me?
Sometimes I need to bail out of your site and talk to a U-Man, but you hide the bloodly link. It would be nice if you could time a session, and if after 3 minutes introduce an agent that asks if they can be of help.
6. No Focus on Understandable Content rather than Technology
Some websites are so focused on technology that they forget that their prme directives are to communicate policy, programs, messages, services and products to the public. As explain earlier their is too much verbabe not enough easy to understand content. Learning how to write is one step, but determining who your audience is an imperative. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet offers some Writing Tips since he writes Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report. Here's an excerpt:
"One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.
No siblings to write to? Borrow mine: Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie.”
In closing, I hope that this will be useful to some of you who manage content on government websites. Understand though that poor websites are symptomatic of agencies that are aloof, uncaring about us citizens and may some day be the subject of a consolidation that has taken place in the UK.
That's it for now. Comments always welcome whether you agree or disagree.