Vegas' updated Web site bets on better usability

Cities and counties typically design Web sites the same way they structure their governments: by department. Visitors to government Web sites must know which department handles the services they need before they can find the information they’re looking for.

But Las Vegas has organized its Web site around functions and services. Rather than providing links to departments or categories that would identify a user as a businessperson, resident or visitor, the city’s home page lists commonly used terms or verbs.

For example, if a user wants to pay property taxes, a sewer bill, or a ticket or citation, he or she would click the link that says “pay” then check the menu. Additionally, users can:

  • Apply for boards and commissions, grants, jobs or licenses.

  • Check the status of permits, licenses and service requests.

  • Find emergency information, maps, meetings, agendas and other items.

  • Register or enroll in activities and classes.

Greg Duncan, the city’s e-government manager, said agencies collaborated, consulted usability experts and went through extensive testing with a group of residents navigating a prototype Web site. That input was valuable, he said, because it helped officials understand how users view and navigate the site.

For example, when city officials asked the testers to register for a swimming class, none found the link under the term “leisure services,” which Duncan said was associated with senior citizens. But when officials changed “leisure services” to “activities and classes,” testers were better able to find the link they needed.

“It was a light-bulb moment,” he said.

In designing the Web site, Duncan said officials realized they needed to understand scenarios to present the right features. For example, the city has an interactive map users can click on to view their property addresses, find relevant public information about the location, see an aerial view of their property and find information about their elected leaders.

The old Web site did not have many of those features. Tourists staying on the Las Vegas Strip might not know that it is located in Clark County, not in the city, so they are likely to visit the city’s Web site when looking for information.

Duncan said the city’s site has a new feature that allows visitors to enter an address and cross street to find to the appropriate place in the city or county to register a complaint, contact animal control or get a marriage license.

Darren Guarnaccia, director of technology at RedDot Solutions, which provided Las Vegas’ content management system, said the city is ahead of many other municipalities of its size in serving constituents digitally.

He said city Web sites will eventually offer customized content and services. For example, if residents need to get water service, odds are they will also need some other service or want automatic bill payment.

“Look at Amazon in the commercial space as the classic example,” Guarnaccia said. “You buy books, and they suggest other things that would be helpful. At the end of the day, cities are trying to retain constituents and customers just like everyone else.”

Las Vegas’ new Web site has yielded some interesting statistics. For example, online sewer bill payments are up 65 percent in the first quarter of 2006 compared with the same time period last year. Similarly, online parking ticket payments are up 32 percent, while online service requests regarding potholes, animal control and graffiti are up 289 percent.

People aren’t just wandering around the site but are getting better hits, Duncan added. They also file far fewer complaints about navigating the site than before, he said.

The city began revamping the site about two years ago, partly because the city, which has a population of about 500,000, is growing by 5,000 to 8,000 residents every month. By adding more functions and information to the Web site, Duncan said city officials hope to reduce the cost of interacting with residents.

The site’s original launch cost about $143,000, he said, adding that the city continues to improve the site and has a list of 67 projects for Phase 2 of the site.

Duncan said city officials are also collaborating with RedDot to make it simpler for employees to update content on the Web site.


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