This year’s best government websites shared in common a simple vision of user-centric content, a desire to iterate and collaborate more quickly than in years past, and to watch the market for the latest trends and standards.
1st Place: Maryland // maryland.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 7 million
This year’s winning state is Maryland, racking up record-breaking traffic (84 million in 2015) to its cleanly designed, responsive portal. The state’s Enterprise Widget Platform helps agencies easily develop new Web tools using standardized code that ensures a consistent look and feel across all state pages. For example, the mapping widget is used by the Motor Vehicle Administration and the Natural Resources Department, providing custom geo-location tools for visitors of those sites. An API library encourages use of Maryland’s open data resources, while continuously updated content is offered by more than 300 agency social media channels. Like most states, Maryland’s e-government partner is NIC, which uses a transaction-based funding model that requires no upfront capital investments for site upgrades. According to the state, the arrangement has produced cost avoidance savings of $40 million over four and a half years. Agile development principles drive site development in Maryland, which now has 275 online services available to residents.
2nd Place: Utah // utah.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 1 million
A longtime digital government leader, Utah is never content to rest on its laurels. Its Extended.Gov strategy demonstrates a commitment to move beyond the core (responsive) website and offer information and services across connected devices. The IT team has worked diligently in the past year to refine the search process for visitors seeking state information. One method was the addition of structured markup into the base code of the site, which shortens the path between a query and a valid result for searchers using search engines as well as digital assistants. Utah was the first state to create a “skill” for the Amazon Echo to help users of the digital assistant study for their driver’s license exam. As further evidence the state is continuously on the lookout for what’s next, an annual “innovation session” is a forum for exploring new technologies with the potential to improve the customer experience online. Improvements are then implemented using agile methodologies in close collaboration with agency business representatives. Results from this comprehensive approach include the fact that 1,300 online services are available (67 were added in 2015), nine of which have saved the state $46 million in the past five years.
3rd Place: Mississippi // ms.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 88,000
Third-place Mississippi’s site is also citizen-focused, relying on user analytics and engagement data to drive decisions on the fully responsive portal. The personalization tool MyMS, linked on the home page, has gotten some impressive upgrades in the past year, including integration of voice-controlled technology with the addition of an “Ask Alexa” skill for Amazon’s digital assistant. Other recent enhancements include statewide alerts and the MyTacks function, which lets users gather relevant links in one place to ease future access. The site is developed in partnership with Mississippi Interactive, a division of e-government provider NIC. The self-funded model led to approximately $450,000 in savings to the state in fiscal 2015. Ms.gov’s mobile traffic now stands at one-third of all site visitors, and 37 new online services went live this year, bringing the state’s total to more than 200.
4th place: Texas // texas.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 435,809
Since launching a single page portal in May 2015, Texas.gov has made significant upgrades, such as introducing a personalized visual experience in which visitors select a “theme” that gives them a sense of identity and state pride while conducting government business on the Web, and allowing visitors to select their preferred language — English or Español de México, a feature that takes seconds to load. The site’s new social media hub, which uses smart server caching and smart image caching to show dynamic content from both Texas.gov and government agencies in one place, loads almost instantly and improves interaction and user involvement. Case in point: A recent Texas.gov Facebook post that promoted online vehicle registration renewal saw a 5,000 percent increase over the typical share rate. And looking further into functionality, which received Best of the Web judge approval overall, to promote the dedicated open data section, an informational fly-out loads directly in the site’s footer, offering relevant information and links. In addition to openly offering state data, IT officials use website visitor information to continue delivering a usable experience. Based on this data, Texas.gov’s one-page design with its prominent search tool (that sees about 5,500 queries per day), direct access to more than 1,000 online services (which see more than 50 percent of clicks on the portal), and its mobile-friendly design (making its 28 percent of mobile visitors happy) is considered a quite a success.
5th Place (tie): Indiana // in.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 322,124
Visit Indiana’s state portal with responsive design, and you immediately begin video tours through various landscapes and locales (determined by the visitor’s detected location), while a search bar remains front and center. Watch those views long enough and a chat window pops up to assist you, something this year’s judges noted as a proactive and well executed feature. In addition, if a slow connection is detected, users will be shown a photo instead of a video tour. Judges also referenced the way search results populate: The pop-up window separates results into five categories, including Pages & Documents, Online Services, News & Events, State Employees and Forms. Location-based services have been added to the portal, a feature previously reserved for users who logged into my.IN.gov. Judges also made note of two virtual reality tour videos with 360-degree cameras that are tied to Indiana’s bicentennial, which occurs on Dec. 11, 2016. These videos, which can be viewed on a desktop or mobile device, let citizens who can’t make it to the Capitol learn the history of the Statehouse Rotunda and the Indiana Supreme Court. The transparency portal is highlighted on the home page and offers 1,855 data sets, many of which have been recently updated.
5th Place (tie): Nebraska // nebraska.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 37,791
As soon as the Nebraska.gov portal loads, visitors are flown through various county and cityscapes in the state, offering a small taste of what Nebraska has to offer. For those unsure about what’s new to the site, they can take a two-minute video tour of the portal to get a feel for how it operates. Designed using a mobile-first strategy, Nebraska.gov renders well on mobile devices and traditional browsers. The open data portal includes a catalog of available information from state agencies, making it easy for users to find what they seek. Also available is a set of GIS-based interactive maps of libraries, fire departments, parks and recreation areas, public schools, hospitals and state agencies.
Finalist: California // ca.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 16 million
The state of California’s website supports a population of 38.8 million. Not surprisingly, Web traffic numbers are significant: Nearly 30 million visits per month (including 16 million unique visitors monthly) as well as 358,000 mobile visits every day. Given the size of its user base, you would expect a conservative approach to its portal. But the state gets high marks for its user interface, visual design and integration of statewide data sources. The site is also taking on innovative initiatives that are improving search capabilities and the user experience. The state launched an open data pilot, which has already put more than 400 data sets online, including APIs for applications and tools. An example is HHS Open Data. As for online services, the state offers many, but a few standouts include: tax refund tracking; state job applications; a mobile-friendly health-care enrollment service; a one-stop site for professional license verification and consumer complaints; and, especially for California, a service for reporting water waste during the drought.
Finalist: Iowa // iowa.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 66,321
Iowa likes its website simple but effective. Using off-the-shelf software, such as Drupal for easy publishing of content, Iowa recently redesigned its website, focusing on simplicity, but providing good navigation tools so visitors can easily find information or one of the more than 140 services that are available online. The site is also a good example of how to integrate social media. For example, there are more than 41 Twitter feeds from agencies available from the site. Iowa’s website is also strong with mobile. Its framework enables selective display of content and features based on media queries, including card-based content that’s tap-friendly on mobile devices. There’s even a live chat option for users who need additional assistance. As part of the state’s open checkbook initiative, Iowa.gov is the first state website in the nation to list the various fees it charges.
Finalist: Michigan // michigan.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 2.9 million
In 2016, Michigan’s portal came under cyberattack, resulting in sporadic service disruptions. Learning quickly from the crisis, the state beefed up its defense, but then went a step further. It assessed the Web design of its most sought-after services and information and then made improvements. The result: Access to the most in-demand services, such as jobs (more than 100,000 listings) and events, can be accessed faster than ever. The portal has a clean, modern design with user-centric service channels. The portal also stands out for its interface and easy navigation to and from secondary pages and most agency websites. In addition, it has an effective search function, which visitors will appreciate. The dashboards are excellent and open data is readily available. Given the fast rise of mobile access, Michigan has responded with a sophisticated mobile app called MiPage, which can deliver time-sensitive information. Overall, Michigan has a well designed, responsive set of platforms that provide valuable online services as well as keeping its citizens informed.
Finalist: Rhode Island // ri.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 104,938
Rhode Island’s portal — updated in May — focuses on user-driven features that were highlighted through analytics and testing. The use of responsive design was deemed a necessary feature as analytics showed that more than 20 percent of users were accessing the site with a mobile device. And user testing led to the search-centric functionality, as search was found to be the preferred way that people locate information on the site. A streamlined home page with large, clear fonts aims to improve readability, while the site adheres to Section 508 accessibility standards. Since 2015 new online services have been implemented including Empower RI for comparing the rates of energy suppliers and a pilot launch of eGov Express, which allows users to store their payment information for future use. A chat function from AskRI.org puts users in touch with a librarian to help them access state information. In addition, the transparency portal is linked from the home page for easy access. Annual user testing helps measure the effectiveness of any changes, and both the public and government employees are asked to review the portal’s features before and after a redesign. RI.gov now offers 150 online services for the state’s residents and businesses.
1st Place: Denver // denvergov.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 938,911
Denver implemented a cloud-based CMS years ago to help deliver a seamless user experience and ensure its site stays up-to-date for the city’s growing number of residents and businesses. A global tagging system allows agencies to share content across the platform, instead of in department-based silos, and the CMS’ drag-and-stop functionality simplifies the process for updating pages. In addition, a new responsive framework enhances site access from a variety of devices. A mobile-friendly Web app, Pocketgov, has new address-based functionality that provides customized information for the user in addition to interfacing with 23 GIS services, an enterprise payment system and the ability to report issues to the city. The app’s 311 function is credited with reducing contact with the call center by 25 percent.
2nd Place: San Diego // sandiego.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 1.7 million
San Diego’s recently redesigned site boasts some impressive stats above and beyond its traffic counts: Nearly 6,000 citizens contributed input to the new streamlined look and feel, which came in at 50 percent of its budgeted cost. The site was completed using three-week sprints and scrum methodology, topped off by a beta launch to both internal and external users in advance of the official go-live date. The new user-friendly navigation is function-based, no longer requiring site visitors to understand the city’s departmental structure to find the information or service they need. San Diego’s use of Drupal, the open source CMS gaining ground in government, positions the city to keep up with evolving Web trends in the future. The site is also mobile responsive and features a public records portal and an interactive budget tool to support its transparency goals.
3rd Place: Hayward, Calif. // hayward-ca.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 47,593
In a move that both improved functionality and effectively rebranded the city, the Hayward website underwent a dramatic overhaul completed in March to place third in this year’s Best of the Web competition. Adding nearly 150 government services online and advertising itself as the center of the Bay Area, Hayward began using the dual-meaning phrase, "You are Here and So is Everything Else." Using the Drupal 7 CMS platform, each department was given control over what would appear on the site and charged with maintaining and updating relevant content. When contemplating the portal redesign, city officials put themselves in the shoes of their constituents, asking, “What do I want to accomplish, and how can I do that?” This "pain points" method led to the creation of a fast and clear way to access permits and forms. Improving on both the aesthetics and functionality of the site has proved to increase both the number of visitors to the site as well as actions taken. The city’s “Access Hayward” traffic increased 18 percent in the first month after the redesign.
4th Place: Tampa, Fla. // tampagov.net
Average unique monthly visitors: 203,600
Visitors to Tampa’s website are greeted by a streamlined, responsive page with a function-based navigation structure and prominent search. Social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are fully integrated, and the city offers a variety of other avenues to keep citizens up to date with everyday information and emergency alerts. Tampa’s Customer Service Center (CSC) is also available around the clock, and activities are tracked to help staff quantify the effectiveness of services like the website. In addition, the city puts numbers to the savings enabled by the CSC, which it estimates at 180,000 hours for city staff, based on 197,000 self-service payments, 2.5 self-service research sessions and 58,000 service requests. In one unique feature, a calculator on the site allows residents to estimate their own savings for conducting transactions with the city online. Tampa is well positioned to serve mobile audiences, with mobile-friendly online services and a feature-rich mobile app. In the most recent site redesign, beta testing was used to engage residents and gather feedback on proposed changes before updates were adopted sitewide.
5th Place: Louisville, Ky. // louisvilleky.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 875,600
Data reigns supreme for Louisville. Undergoing continuous website updates, the Louisville government has had a busy 2016. Initiatives included launching a new data portal and partnering with the traffic and navigation app Waze to provide real-time commute and road-work information. More than 170 data sets have been uploaded to the portal combined with GIS software that creates a map for users to visualize where crime primarily takes place or where building permits have been issued. The city also created a personalized option whereby users can input their address for relevant government services based on their location, including: waste management services, City Council representation, law enforcement and the option to subscribe to text/email notifications. All of this was done while converting the main site to a more secure https: service. The city site is in compliance with nine different security standards and regulations protecting both constituent and government data.
Finalist: Anaheim, Calif. // anaheim.net
Average monthly unique visitors: 168,600
Anaheim launched a new website in August 2015 aiming to make it easier for residents and business owners to find information online. The redesign also focused on making the site mobile friendly for viewing on different devices, as well as grouping information by services instead of government department. Feedback from surveys, neighborhood council meetings and focus groups influenced the new site’s features and focus, as residents told officials how they use the site and what would make it easier to navigate. A beta site was launched and tested by community members who work with different local organizations and led to updates to improve usability. Another major change was the move to a CMS — in the past city staff members had to go through the webmaster to make changes to online content. The Open Data and OpenGov portals are categorized for easy use by the public and provide visualizations to aid understanding of the information. Anaheim is home to Disneyland, which contributes to 25 million annual visitors to the area, so the city uses Google Translate enabling the portal to be translated into more than 100 languages.
Finalist: Durham, N.C. // durhamnc.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 95,987
Durham launched its streamlined website in August 2015 with a focus on providing better access for constituents and customers. In keeping with the city’s strategic goal of being an “innovative and high-performing organization,” the new site enabled citizens better access to commonly used services, online payment capabilities and improved routes to important content. The cloud-based website overhaul not only made the portal easier to navigate when looking for city services, but it also allows direct input from the public through the Community Voice feature. The feature lets constituents engage in direct conversation on the site by publishing their own content on a number of topics. By leveraging data analytics from the previous website, the Web team was able to tailor the new site to better meet the needs of those who use it. The municipality also pays careful attention to accessibility and assesses progress on a monthly basis. Google Translate is embedded into the footers of each page, uploaded PDFs are run through text recognition software and the site is mobile responsive. As a result of the substantial redesign, Durham officials estimate an annual savings of approximately $30,000 and more than 520 hours of personnel time. Weekly design sprints and effective deployment of the agile project management enabled the city to bring 100 services online for its citizens.
Finalist: Fort Collins, Colo. // fcgov.com
Average monthly unique visitors: 215,000
The new Fort Collins website went live in April 2016. The team behind the update to the portal focused on four key areas: usability, accessibility, security and privacy. The importance of mobile access was a prime consideration for the team as it wanted to provide a site that did more than simply scale to screen size. So that users have the optimal experience on their tablets and smartphones, the design team worked on varying degrees of the page load — above-the-fold load and time-to-full-page load. This allowed for quicker and more responsive mobile access on the generally slower mobile networks. By utilizing agile methodologies, officials were able to adopt frequent changes, rather than relying on more time-consuming traditional methods. The new website was developed in-house within six months. The cross-functional team ensures clear communication with leadership and that the website adheres to best practices across the various departments. Other innovations undertaken include the use of a search autocomplete feature, one-time passwords, emergency messages on all pages, highly visible contact information for all departments and automatic local weather notifications. Citizens have access to 50 city services through the new portal.
Finalist: Fort Lauderdale, Fla. // fortlauderdale.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 114,210
The city of Fort Lauderdale website features more than 40 services through its newly redesigned site, which launched in December 2015. The responsive and clean design allows users to navigate through services and the various departments without having to click through cluttered indexes. Additionally the portal is optimized for mobile phones and tablets, and features a feedback option on every page. A sign language translation option is available on each page and translates Web text to sign language for improved ease of use. A custom-built Ethics Trac application offers better transparency in the city by tracking the details of government/lobbyist interactions. This feature eliminates the need for manual logging and expedites public noticing. The implementation of a citizen request management system lets residents request services and report issues quickly and easily. By using Scorecard, citizens can track progress on key initiatives and look at the city's larger strategic plan.
Finalist: Long Beach, Calif. // longbeach.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 131,257
Launching in time for the summer, Long Beach updated its municipal website to focus on user experience. Trying to optimize the experience of residents, businesses and visitors led to a dramatic overhaul of how the site is organized, featuring an easy-to-navigate services bar as well as a MapIt function using GIS software to help locate government agencies, public parks and care centers for the homeless. Visitors to the site are accustomed to online commerce, so in response, one of the key functions was to add and improve the capabilities for secure online payments. Currently there are 38 online services available with nine payment portals and one housing option. When redesigning the website, the city appointed an Innovation Team, which was vital to overseeing the open data portal, OpenLB, where users can find municipal transactions, public records and health indicators, among others. In order to make this data as universal as possible, the site phased out Flash and Shockwave players, eliminating any additional steps of updating or installing software and instead relying on open source programs.
1st Place: Baltimore County, Md. // baltimorecountymd.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 440,000
For some taxpayers, a government website may be their first and only contact. Baltimore County, which receives 5.5 million unique visits annually, gives its portal a high priority. Built with a responsive Web design to give it a consistent look and feel across platforms, the website does an excellent job channeling users to common services while providing a variety of key functions, such as applications, payments and reporting. For example, citizens can now report anything from potholes to concerns about taxes. Each citizen report is tracked by the website’s database. The county has automated the upload of five high-value data sets, as part of its open data pilot with partner Accela — at no cost to the county. In fact, the website has added various features, from migration of county videos to YouTube, to its responsive design, with an eye on cost effectiveness, saving the county time and money again and again.
2nd Place: Stanislaus County, Calif. // stancounty.com
Average unique monthly visitors: 87,081
Utilizing the latest trend in online government development, Stanislaus County found considerable success in its use of agile development. Taking the site redesign department by department, customizing the content and feel while maintaining the overarching county structure and design helped each agency fulfill its needs while creating a cohesive package for users. Launching a beta of the site also helped in understanding what the public liked and disliked, which helped the Web developers add popular online services to the home page. Residents finding and using Web services has saved money and time for staffers who are then able to focus on issues not covered online. Looking at the current residents, businesses and visitors, county officials were determined to create a uniform look of the site regardless of platform of access. The mobile site whether viewed on an Android, iOS or Windows phone, looks and feels similar to the experience on a tablet or desktop. This upgrade in experience has yielded positive returns through a 10 percent increase in site usage.
3rd Place: Anne Arundel County, Md. // aacounty.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 148,940
In 2016, Anne Arundel County redesigned its government website with improvements in several key areas: a better, cleaner look; improved access to service information; and better search capabilities and use of responsive design to create consistency across platforms, especially for mobile devices, whose users have increased to nearly 30 percent of the portal’s traffic. The county has also integrated its various social media streams into the website, which has expanded information sharing and marketing efforts for county events and programs. In addition, the county has done a good job of integrating GIS data with maps and has made its 75 online services function well, with good filters, contact information, forms and publications.
4th Place: Oakland County, Mich. // oakgov.com
Average monthly unique visitors: 341,700
With more than 40 percent of people accessing Oakland County’s website from a mobile device, it uses a detection service to identify the type of device being used to accommodate for different features like screen size and capabilities. To further streamline site access, the county enlisted a rule of three for site navigation — popular links, county departments and online services — to lead people to the info they’re looking for quickly from any platform. Best of the Web judges found the home page to be unique in that it makes a lot of information available in a clear manner in a small space. When developing a mobile-first policy the county also looked to simplify its Web development processes by implementing standardized models for in-house apps. Judges said the new design was integrated well into the site with nearly all pages using the same template. As the county looks to make future changes, it conducts user surveys to identify the features that the public and government employees would like to see integrated into the portal. In addition, site analytics are used to inform decisions and potential areas for improvement. Social media integration with the site continues, and record-setting numbers were set when the 2016 State of the County address was live-streamed on YouTube to more than a half million viewers. Web resources have been moved to the cloud as part of an effort to increase bandwidth and security.
5th Place: San Francisco City and County // sfgov.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 780,000
With an eye toward innovating the government website, San Francisco focused on streamlining service delivery through its portal. San Francisco moved more than 100 agency websites to the cloud and enabled the deployment of more flexible systems at lower costs and greater speeds. The three-tiered cloud solution enabled improved page response rates and better scalability across the 115 agency and program websites. More than 100 government services are also available, opening the gateway to the collection of more than $1 billion in online payments in 2015. The two-phase site redesign — part one in December 2015 and part two in April 2016 — leveraged agile methodology to deliver the website quickly and effectively. Additionally the portal has become a delivery mechanism for thousands of public records documents and has increased transparency throughout the local government. The use of free and open source software garnered 20 percent savings by reducing the fees and licensing associated with other software. In total, the portal allows constituents to access more than 124 services online.
Finalist: Bexar County, Texas // bexar.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 336,400
The new and improved Bexar County Web portal uses HTML5 standards exclusively, which means constituents can access government services on a variety of platforms, including mobile and desktop devices. IT officials in the county also made great strides in accessibility, ensuring content is available through assistive devices. The county’s GIS mapping services also have been redeveloped to allow for accessibility through all devices. The maps, listed under eServices, include a personalized community dashboard, flood projects and community venues, to name a few. Bexar County also introduced its commitment to transparency, TransparencyPlus, which is highlighted on the home page and includes direct links to the open data portal, county infographics, an archive of live broadcasts from the Commissioners Court and an open records request form. The county portal also allows for quick translation into numerous languages thanks to Google Translate, which stays visible while clicking and scrolling through the site.
Finalist: Hamilton County, Ind. // hamiltoncounty.in.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 51,543
The Hamilton County home page is clean, impactful and easy to navigate. The search bar is front and (nearly) center, and links to social media and direct access to county resources line the left side of the screen. On the back end, the county uses CivicPlus, a hosted, cloud-based content management system that offers about 30 features, including email subscriptions, activities registration and a document center. The portal also features fluid and responsive design so that all pages resize to fit whatever device a visitor is using. The overall site design appears to run deep; should users click on something that will take them outside the site, a pop-up alert lets them know.
Finalist: James City County, Va. // jamescitycountyva.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 35,223
James City County launched a revamped portal in January as part of an effort to update the site to accommodate modern online engagement and communication. The previous site was built and maintained on an outdated Dreamweaver template system, and the county called moving to a CMS an “extreme overhaul” that forced it to evaluate each piece of online content and all Web services. The portal has a streamlined homepage that features different images of the county and a menu system that was built around services instead of government departments. Best of the Web judges liked the “How Do I…” feature for helping users locate services. In addition, the website is now mobile responsive to meet the needs of the 45 percent of users who access it via a smartphone or tablet. New features also include a bid and procurement system, online payment system, and electronic plan submission process for contractors and developers. The county relied on analytics to identify strengths and weaknesses throughout the redesign process. Using data about the different departments’ Web pages, the team was able to delete more than half of the site’s pages and consolidate many more to streamline the navigation process.
Finalist: San Diego County // sandiegocounty.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 262,000
Since launching the San Diego County website in September 2014, the local government has been focused on refining the customer experience across its 50 departments and more than 4,000 Web pages. Realizing that 35 percent of visitors are coming from mobile devices, the county website team directed its effort to improve mobile access. This marked one of the more significant achievements in that all of the site’s content had to be moved to a new, responsive platform. The new design is used across all departments and marks the new Web brand for the government. Navigation through the portal was streamlined for the end user, and steps were taken to maintain accessibility, including the adherence to governance standards. Among the county's innovative efforts is the launch of Live Well San Diego, a resource for health and safety information for citizens and the community at large, and the County News Center, a one-stop source for public safety, disaster preparedness and other important information. Perhaps the largest achievement of the website team was the shift away from third-party contractors, which has allowed those funds to be put toward other projects.
Finalist: Travis County, Texas // traviscountytx.gov
Average unique monthly visitors: 206,351