Blog Insights
Federal Government Websites Need to Help Users Find Their Way

While many government services are run at the local and state level, most online users go to federal websites to find the information they need. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service just launched their new site and making it easier for Americans to find what they need was a major priority.

A common theme for federal programs is that they give often give money to states to implement programs. As a result, while funding remains at the federal level, it is, in fact, the state or local governments that run the programs themselves. This is the case with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — also known as Food Stamps, WIC, Medicaid, and many other programs. But while services are regional, Americans seeking help often end up on federal websites. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) assists more than 1 in 5 Americans by alleviating hunger and improving food security. Their 15 programs include WIC, SNAP, school lunch programs, programs for the elderly, and many others. So it is no surprise that many Americans seeking these services end up on the FNS website. The problem is that FNS does not directly serve individuals; their main audiences are merchants, state governments and other federal government agencies.

Why are users ending up on the federal site?

When people search online for food stamps (because many people don’t know it is called SNAP) they often start with the federal government. They may know it is a federal program, and, if you search for “I need food stamps” then you typically end up on USDA’s FNS website. People searching for SNAP services shouldn’t need to know who funds the program in order to receive help. When redesigning the FNS Website, FNS wanted to make sure they were still helping those looking for program- and service-level information.

Presenting a clear path

Our challenge was, therefore, to quickly and efficiently help those seeking help, while still keeping the site extremely useful those who really need to use it (i.e., merchants, state governments, and other federal agencies). We, therefore, prioritized ensuring that all key audiences could find the information they need easily. In this case, we allow users to now select their audience: If you select “Applicant/recipient”, you then choose your state and are efficiently redirected to the specific page for your state where you can find details on how to sign up for the service, and who to contact. In the case of SNAP, there is also a direct link to the online application form. In this way, the new website streamlines and simplifies the process and treats program recipients as customers.

How this applies to other Federal agencies

If you find that your website attracts many visitors outside of your target audience, then it’s still very much in your interest to help them. Instead of simply ignoring them, provide them with a quick and efficient way to get to the detailed information that they need. This is often as simple as a link to the state or local implementor, or collaborating with a key association or nonprofit that may already have the state and local details people are looking for. By working collaboratively, you’ll provide a customer-focused solution that everyone benefits from and is in the interest of your agency’s overall priorities and goals. Rather than leaving people frustrated, you’ll be helping your fellow citizens get on the right path.

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