February 04, 2013 | Dave Lewan

Usability Best Practices for e-Gov Mobile Web Experiences, Part 1


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Many federal government agencies do not yet have mobile versions of their websites. Although that might be ok for now, it won’t be for very long.

In a series of three posts, I will explore the best practices of providing a great mobile experience for citizens and consumers.  Today’s post covers the early questions you should be considering when thinking about mobile, and what that experience should be.

Mobile Site or Not Yet?

Not every e-gov visitor may need, want, or expect a mobile experience at this time, but that need is increasing ever more quickly. And sites not offering or, at the very least, preparing mobile experiences now risk falling behind the curve, especially as the mobile web becomes the primary means of accessing online content by some visitors.

So for U.S. federal government websites, just having a mobile website is, in some ways, an achievement.   Below are just two examples of government agencies offering mobile experiences to citizens.  And if your agency or department has a mobile site, congratulations – you’ve invested in the future that is rapidly becoming the expected present.

e-gov mobile best practices

Site vs. App

A common question we hear often is: “should I build a mobile site or a mobile app?”  The answer isn’t as simple as you might expect. The decision really depends on YOUR site’s content and YOUR visitors’ needs.  Actually, the question really should be: “should I build an app in addition to having a mobile site?”   At this time, all content-heavy government sites should think about developing a mobile website first and then consider adding a mobile app for some dedicated functionality that specific users may want or need to revisit often.

But, for those agencies that already have apps: do not interrupt your visitors with a layer that advertises your mobile app as soon as they arrive at your site.  Instead, display a prominent link to a page about your app, so visitors can learn about it and decide to download it.  BarackObama.com takes advantage of iOS 6’s app advertisement bar that takes iOS users directly to the app:

e-gov mobile app best practices 2


Redirection is the concept of sending your visitors to your mobile site when they type in your regular site’s URL into their mobile device.  The server automatically detects the device and sends them seamlessly to the proper mobile experience, which is best practice.

Some sites choose to advertise their mobile site at the top of their full site.  While this is a prominent place to do so, it requires visitors to first wait to download the full website and then struggle to navigate the shrunken page in order to even determine that there is a link to the mobile site.  Visitors should not have to decide which experience is right for them, and therefore should be taken directly to it.

e-gov mobile best practices redirection

This doesn’t mean that visitors should not be able to get to the full site if they choose. Therefore a link to the full site should still be present—typically in the footer—of mobile sites.

e-gov mobile best practices  redirection site app

That concludes the first part of this three-part series on Usability Best Practices for e-Gov Mobile Web Experiences. Next time I will cover the type of content that is appropriate for mobile sites and how visitors navigate through it.

About the Author

Dave Lewan is responsible for managing the organization focused on the public sector, including federal and state government departments and agencies, non-profit organizations, associations and higher education institutions. He is charged with defining strategy and leveraging internal resources to initiate new business opportunities while delivering to existing ForeSee public-sector clients. Dave is also responsible for ForeSee’s growing Canadian business including public and private sectors. In 2016, Dave will serve as ForeSee liaison with the Partnership for Public Service for the Center for Presidential Transition, in an effort to educate some 4,000 appointees who will enter into the federal government from the private sector as part of the new administration. Prior to joining ForeSee in 2009, Dave led in key strategic areas at ADP, SalesLogix, Ultimate Software and Ceridian. Dave graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech communications.

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