If 2011 was the year of search-centric websites in state government, then 2012 might be shaping up as the year of website analytics.

The past few weeks a number of states have launched new versions of their official website, ahead of the annual Best of the Web contest that recognizes excellence among the Web portals of U.S. cities, counties and states. (The contest is run by the Center for Digital Government, which is operated by Government Technology’s parent company, e.Republic.)

One readily apparent trend this year is that many of the leading governments are pushing out interesting numbers and statistics on their main page — particularly back-end website analytics.

California’s newly updated CA.gov, for example, has added a new data dashboard that shows the number of visitors to CA.gov sites at the given moment. On a weekday afternoon, that can be as many as 35,000 to 40,000 users. The dashboard also reveals that there are 2.4 million visits monthly from mobile devices to CA.gov, and that 12 percent of all website visits come from a mobile device.

In fact, California has posted the Google Analytics stats of CA.gov here and done some simple analysis of its 71 million monthly page views. Unsurprisingly, given California’s 11 percent unemployment rate, the most website visits (5 percent) and search queries are going to the state’s Employment Development Department.

California isn’t the only place where this focus on numbers is happening. The trend may have started last year in Arkansas, where officials launched an “eGov this Week” ticker that shows the number of various e-government transactions — from concealed weapons permits to vanity license plates. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is now doing the same thing with a new “OK Stats” widget that show the number of website visitors from the previous day as well as more granular data — such as the fact that someone recently purchased a camera dock and photo printer from the state’s surplus auction website, or that the last word searched on OK.gov was “capitol.”

Why are states publishing such detailed information? It’s likely another effort to promote transparency and increase citizen engagement, explained Joseph Morris, the Center for Digital Government’s lead analyst.

“States are looking to better serve the needs of their citizens by delivering information in a variety of formats including real-time data feeds, local-based services and through social media,” Morris added.

Many states certainly are using Web metrics to justify choices and pick new e-government projects. The new Utah.gov unveiled on May 1, for example, is using its website analytics to make a growing number of design decisions. Utah CTO Dave Fletcher blogged that that state officials continue to learn from users' activity “and a primary goal has always been to increase the total number of unique visitors to the site.” The aim is to ensure the state website’s content has been seen as many of Utah’s businesses and citizens as possible, he said. “Since 2007, this number has increased by an average of over half a million unique visitors every month.”

Last year, Utah launched a radically different state portal that made the search bar the central piece of the website’s layout and functionality, delivering results based on the user’s geolocation data. State officials made the switch after finding search was by far the most utilized feature by website visitors, used more than two times as often as anything else. In the 2012 version of Utah.gov, search appears to be even more prominent than it was a year ago. California is now taking a similar search-friendly approach.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor