There is no doubt that both the present and the future of government is digital. From streaming city council meetings to paying taxes online, the modern citizen treats government websites like a virtual city hall. But unlike city hall, they expect it to be accessible from wherever they are.
Today’s website visitor is taking the next logical step in the digital transformation: to a mobile-first world. Nearly four out of five Americans now own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. And a recent survey found smartphone users in the U.S. use their phones to access the internet at home more than or as much as a computer.
Making local government websites mobile friendly is no longer a nice-to-have because “customers” — residents, businesses and visitors — expect to be able to find information and access government services anywhere, any time and on any device. If you’re not already providing mobile-optimized content, you’re behind not just the private sector, which has been serving up responsive or customized mobile webpages for years by default, but also many of your public sector peers.
If your digital journey to mobile is not yet complete, it’s not too late. Just get to work and keep in mind the following four points:
Today is Mobile Friendly. Tomorrow is Mobile First.
While desktop and laptop computers still generate the majority of visits to government websites, mobile is quickly closing the gap. In the 2018 Granicus Benchmark Report, we found that desktop/laptops composed 55 percent of local government website visits, compared to 45 percent for mobile devices. Within the next few years, we expect mobile visits to take the top spot. With a nearly even split today, it’s important that you already have mobile infrastructure in place on your website — perhaps specific pages that are optimized for small screens. But your organization needs to be working toward the rapidly approaching day when mobile is the default means of accessing the Internet.
That means designing your website primarily around mobile navigation and then finding ways to also make it desktop friendly.
Mobile is an Urgent Issue for All, More Urgent for Some
The shift to mobile is occurring across all levels of government, but it’s happening more quickly for some than others. For instance, when we examined Granicus govAccess clients, we found near parity in desktop (51 percent) versus mobile (49 percent) for city government websites. But on the county level, there was a larger gap, favoring desktop (59 percent) over mobile (41 percent). The tipping point for mobile first is likely to be 2019, and yet many municipal governments are not prepared.
Tasks Performed on Mobile Differ from Desktop
The device a website visitor uses to access a government website is likely influenced by the information or services that they’re seeking. For example, the most-common task on city websites for both desktop and mobile users was looking up parks and recreation information, according to our research.
But searching for parks and rec information was twice as likely to be performed on a mobile device (32 percent) versus a desktop computer (15 percent). Desktops were most popular for more time-intensive tasks like looking up planning documents or applying for building permits. The trend also showed up when we looked at county government: people were more likely to use a desktop computer to pay property taxes, while looking up jail information was more commonly performed on a mobile device. Why does this matter? As your website transitions to mobile, the most-visited pages on mobile should be addressed first and given the most attention. While the examples above come from our research, it’s best to examine your own website analytics to find out which pages are getting the most mobile traffic and concentrate your efforts there.
Delivering Service-Centric Websites is a Must
While embracing mobile, you should not lose sight of the overarching need to design a service-centric website that delivers on your organization’s mission. That means your site shouldn’t be designed around the needs of people in your office, but instead on the needs of your website visitors. Create a user experience study that leverages both qualitative and quantitative research to find out what your customers want from your site and then deliver on that.
Like their private-sector counterparts, government websites need to work for everyone. With customers rapidly shifting to mobile devices for most, if not all, of their digital needs and content management systems that offer out-of-the-box support for mobile-friendly websites, there’s simply no excuse for not delivering a great user experience.
The mobile-first era is at our doorstep. The most successful government organizations will be those that embrace it. Is your organization ready? If not, now is the time to get started — catch up before you get left behind.
About the Author
Martin Lind is vice president of business development for Granicus, which offers the industry’s leading cloud-based solutions for communications, meeting and agenda management, and digital services to more than 4,000 public sector organizations.
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