Our Customer is Your Customer: Working Together to Improve Search on .Gov Websites

May 14, 2015

We know search engines aren’t Magic 8 Balls, but that’s still how we expect them to behave. We want them to answer our complex and burning questions based on just a few words. And we’ve felt that frustration when the top search results don’t serve our needs, and the results page itself makes us work.

At DigitalGov Search, we think a lot about how to make the public’s search experience on government websites better. And as a service of GSA, improvements that we make are amplified across government to the thousands of websites that use our search. Your content, our search service, your care and attention: together, we are working to deliver great customer service.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Computers will never work as fast as our brains. Even several seconds can seem like forever when we are waiting for an answer to a question, and research shows that sites and applications have only one second to deliver before users are starting to leave. Seemingly minor speed increases can have surprisingly large impacts on visitors’ engagement and happiness.

Our results page loads in less than 500 milliseconds, on average—that’s a half a second.

Speed is important for search engine optimization, too. Google uses your site’s speed as a ranking factor for its search results. How fast is your site?

Please Just Make This Easier for Me

There are plenty of search products that are hard to use. The search box is too small or hard to use. The search results page gives general, uninformative content unrelated to the search, provides too many options or puts them in the unhelpful places, distracts us with unclear icons, or buries content down the page; I could go on. A 2014 study of Google click through rates on 5,000 websites showed that over 70% of searches led to a page one click, and almost all of those clicks were in the top five results.

Our own data shows a similar focus on the top results.

So, we focus on bringing the most relevant results to the top, where users are likely to see them. And, if the main search results aren’t delivering the right content, our Best Bets allow our agency customers to boost particular results to the very top and make sure they get found.

Difficult to use search results pages are often complicated to manage on the back end, and systems that are hard to manage on the back end make it hard to deliver a good user experience. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation.

That’s why we work hard to make our results page lean and make it as easy as possible for content managers to configure their search and keep it fresh over time. We regularly add features to facilitate search setup, like localized configuration tips and access to our various help channels.

A Screenshot of DigitalGov Search contact information

We’ve also started up a monthly training series to get new users up and running, and keep long-time users apprised of the latest developments.

Plus, We Offer Real Humans!

In addition to all the searcher supporting features we build into our service, we have a dedicated team available to assist our agency customers. Whether you need help configuring your search, want ongoing training, need help troubleshooting an issue, or just want to know someone will talk with you—we’re here to help.

Our customer is your customer—let’s get them what they want to find!