What is trust in digital services?
Almost every interaction with government today has an online component, from looking up an agency’s phone number, to making an appointment or filling out a form, to completing an entire transaction online. Consequently, agency websites have come to represent the U.S. government. And because people tend to think about the federal government as a single thing, one poor experience with one agency website can diminish trust in the entire government.
Trusted digital services meet customer expectations, and they are easy to find, understand, and use.
Why is trust important?
Because websites are sometimes the only way the public interacts with agencies, it’s our duty to deliver a well-designed and helpful online experience. People expect government services to work well, especially online. When they don’t, it erodes public trust and reinforces negative perceptions of government.
According to a 2022 report by Pew Research, “Public trust in government remains low. Only about one-quarter of Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (22%).”
How to build websites that people can trust
There are practical steps you can take to meet the trust-related federal web requirements. Start improving in these four areas to increase the trustworthiness of your site:
- Improve design quality: Have a clear and meaningful navigational structure, copyedited writing, and a professional looking visual design.
- Upfront disclosure: Prominently display contact information and provide clear links to policy or documentation.
- Correct and current content: Knowledge and intention should inform the organization of the website, and users should feel that your site is knowledgeable and supportive of what they are trying to do.
- Connection to the rest of the web: Present links to other government sources to be transparent and inspire confidence in the services your agency provides.
Trust is hard to earn, and even harder to regain once broken. Federal websites must demonstrate that they can be trusted by working well, meeting customer needs, and delivering real value.
- USWDS design principles — Earn trust by following consistent design principles
- Get .gov — Host your site on a .gov or .mil domain to assure users it’s an official government site
- To build trust, aim for easy — Trust is built up with good experiences, and broken with bad ones
Connect with others interested in improving trust in government
The Web Managers Community of Practice is a group of government employees who manage government websites and digital services. They work to create a trusted, seamless online experience for all. Join the Web Managers Community.
Developed in collaboration with GSA’s Service Design Program, Office of Customer Experience.