Study: Government Legislative Websites Not Up to Industry Par

The ever-growing shift away from stationary computing for everyday Internet access underscores the need for websites that can keep up with on-the-go users.

by / August 6, 2015
A recent study ranked legislative websites based on speed, data and usability, and the California State Legislature site topped the list. legislature.ca.gov

An in-depth look at state legislative websites across the country came up with some not so surprising results: Government sites are behind the times when it comes to their online infrastructure.

FiscalNote, a legislative intelligence platform provider based out of Washington, D.C., evaluated 54 legislative websites across the country and determined that there was substantial room for improvement in many cases.

Adam Nekola, a marketing Web developer with FiscalNote, said the company’s study looked at the several factors, including server technology, user security, mobile usability, analytics, content management and site speed. 

Researchers found substantial deficiencies when compared against the leading industry practices.

“I wouldn’t say these are necessarily shocking findings,” he said.
 

 Best, Worst Legislative Websites

The FiscalNote report ranked the best and worst of the legislative websites in the study based on speed, data and usability:

The Best

California State Legislature  / Web Speed: Good, Data: Good, Usability: Good
Michigan State Legislature / Web Speed: Good, Data: Average, Usability: Average
Tennessee General Assembly / Web Speed: Average, Data: Average, Usability: Good
West Virginia Legislature / Web Speed: Good, Data: Average, Usability: Good
Virginia Legislature / Web Speed: Good, Data: Good, Usability: Good

The Worst

Alaska State Legislature / Web Speed: Bad, Data: Average, Usability: Average 
Arizona State Legislature / Web Speed: Average, Data: Bad, Usability: Bad
Florida House of Representatives / Web Speed: Bad, Data: Average, Usability: Bad
Kentucky State Legislature / Web Speed: Average, Data: Bad, Usability: Bad
New Mexico State Legislature / Web Speed: Average, Data: Bad, Usability: Good

For the majority of the 54 websites, frameworks were built using ASP.NET; a sharp contrast to the 972 software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies they were compared to, which fell back on slightly more popular PHP frameworks. 

While the PHP framework is often the popular choice for high-traffic sites, the legislative websites favored ASP.NET frameworks, which seem to be a popular choice for government Web contractors.    

In addition, the FiscalNote report cites that mobile users were often left in a lurch when trying to access the majority of the legislative Web pages. Failures to adjust to tablet and smartphone screens made navigation difficult.

“The vast majority were lacking mobile-friendly usability,” Nekola said.

In May 2015, Google announced that mobile Web access had surpassed desktop access for the first time. The ever-growing shift away from stationary computing for everyday Internet access underscores the need for websites that can keep up with their on-the-go users, he said.

According to the FiscalNote report, only four of the 54 legislative websites featured mobile-responsive designs.

While many of the government websites offed little in the way of modern Web “comforts,” Nekola said overhauling websites from the ground up isn’t exactly the solution.

Simple changes, like the addition and use of analytics and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) security on the backend of websites, would go a long way to improving operations for the end users, he said.

The simple ability for administrators to clearly see what information users are trying to access would improve the overall experience in a line of code and allow for reactive, as-needed modifications.

Only around half of the legislature group relies on a measurable form of analytics on their websites, compared to roughly 80 percent of SaaS companies.

As for speed, Nekola said the bland, text-heavy appearance of some Web pages allowed for quicker loading times. Only six websites of the 54 took longer than six seconds to load, falling several seconds behind the ideal industry maxim of three seconds. 

Nekola said while some users were surprised their state legislature’s website did not make the cut, he said function took precedence over form for the purpose of this particular study.

Eyragon Eidam Assistant News Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the assistant news editor for Government Technology magazine, and covers legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.