Users to FirstGov: We'll be back

Efforts to build a more user-friendly FirstGov are paying off. Visitors to the redesigned government portal are giving it much higher marks than its predecessor earned, said Web analyst Larry Freed.

A survey designed to rate customer satisfaction shows that first-time visitors to the FirstGov (www.firstgov.gov) are much more apt to return for additional visits than were first-time visitors to FirstGov before its February overhaul.

Repeat visitors say it is easier to find what they want on the new site, Freed said.

And a substantially larger number of FirstGov users now say they would recommend the site to others, said Freed, who is president and chief executive officer of Foresee Results Inc., a Michigan-based company that specializes in Web site user surveys.

"We think it is critically important for us to measure visitors' reactions to the Web site," said Michael Messinger, FirstGov's marketing and communications director. "We know that traffic has been going up on a monthly basis" since the redesign.

Messinger said the survey results are likely to lead to more refinement of the site, but he said FirstGov managers have not studied the results enough yet to know what changes are warranted.

FirstGov was "relaunched" in February, about 18 months after the original site debuted.

The new site arranges government information in three "user channels"— for citizens, businesses and other levels of government. The new design also attempted to place government information so that users can find what they seek within three clicks.

Since the relaunch, overall satisfaction scores are up "somewhat significantly," Freed said. Satisfaction among first-time users is up "very significantly" and the number of FirstGov users has increased "significantly," he said. Freed and FirstGov officials declined to provide actual numbers gathered by the user survey.

The survey is an online questionnaire that can be reached through a "Customer Survey" button posted on the left side of the FirstGov home page. Customers are asked to rate items such as "ability to find information you want" on a scale of 1 to 10.

The most noteworthy change was among first-time users, Freed said. Before FirstGov was redesigned, many first-time visitors said they were unlikely to visit again. Visitors said they planned to use the site again in "alarmingly low numbers," he said.

Satisfying first-time visitors is obviously important for commercial Web sites that depend on repeat traffic, but it is also important for government sites, Freed said.

For instance, if taxpayers don't get clear tax filing instructions from the Web, it costs the IRS money to answer questions by phone or correct mistakes after taxes are filed.

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