Taking a mobile-first tact, the state of Texas announced on May 1 an enhanced Texas.gov. The website, which receives more than 20,000 daily users and fields more than 72,000 daily searches, will continue its focus of being search-centric, while adapting to the needs of its users. Because the user is so important, said Erin Hutchins, director of portal operations, their team began by looking at analytics to see what they were doing right, what they were doing wrong, and how their website could better serve their constituents and internal users.

“Since 2010 we’ve presented a pretty lean site in terms of a statewide portal,” Hutchins said. “We put search first, we got ourselves down to only four real primary navigation characteristics and had a few other things you could do.” While designing the new website, Hutchins said, they found that many of their main offerings, while offering a simple experience, were not what their users were looking for. Functionality such as vehicle registration, which is now the website’s most prominently featured service, was not as easily accessible before. “It’s kind of been an ongoing thing. We never really stopped designing,” she said.

The new site features an intentionally simple design, with very little color. "The predominantly black and white theme and modern typography keeps the design simple, enabling users to quickly locate what they need," according to Texas.gov Marketing Manager Jennifer Klempay. "Subtle iconic Texas images exude beauty in the background without detracting from the content or distracting the user," she added.

The new Texas.gov still features a search bar, but further streamlines usability by showcasing the top five most accessed services. There’s also a tab for agencies, which allows users who know which agency they need to quickly navigate that way. An “info near you” tab provides map-based data dependent on the county selected by the user. The website also uses HTML5 geolocation functionality that allows users to opt in to having their location read so the website can provide better service. Responsive design supports the state’s mobile-first policy, while allowing functionality on many types of devices.

The idea behind all the changes, Hutchins said, was to provide users what they were looking for. They did that by looking at their analytics and consulting with their customer advisory council, which consists of both constituents and agency employees. What they found was that the top five services now featured on the website made up 75 percent of the three million clicks on the website in 2012.

“We think refreshing technology on a fairly regular basis is always a good idea anyway, but one of the things we really started to see in terms of our analytics and user trends is we were getting a greater percentage of our population accessing us via mobile devices,” she said. Rather than build a separate mobile website, as they did with their previous design, Hutchins said, they opted to redesign the website to be mobile compatible, which would provide a better foundation for their vision of the future.

After adding a mobile version of the website with their previous design, Hutchins said, they saw a big increase in mobile users. Making their main website mobile friendly meant keeping their design simple and keeping an eye on analytics, according to Hutchins. “We wanted to really highlight all those efforts and keep driving them to the things they wanted the most,” she said.

The state has not yet looked closely at their feedback following the new website’s release, but after 30 days, Hutchins said, they may begin taking a closer look at how people are using the website, evaluating feedback and making changes as needed. Though financially things aren’t as bad as they once were, a good website can improve efficiencies, save money and provide service to the public, Hutchins explained, so there’s no reason to stop designing the best website possible. “We’re always trying to look at the next new thing that’s coming,” she said, adding that whatever new technologies appear, such as Google Glass, the state will see if there’s a way those technologies can help improve the services offered to site visitors.

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com