When we set out to do a Digital Experience Review™ of US and Canada government websites, my colleagues and I started by checking to see which sites were most heavily used and how they’re accessed. I can’t rightly say when the balance tipped in favor of mobile access over desktop, but we’re here now — which meant that when Rick Parrish, Senem Guler Biyikli, and I started our reviews, we whipped out mobile devices to get the job done.

Mobile presents some interesting opportunities and challenges. These devices are designed for use wherever you want to be, a stark contrast to the desktop device that tethers the end-user to, well, a desk. That portability comes at the cost of potentially larger screens that make it easier to navigate complex forms and large amounts of written material. With all of that in mind, here’s the starter pack of issues we discovered with several US and Canadian government mobile websites:

  • Desktop-only forms and apps that are hard to use on a mobile device. As we stepped through common user journeys, we found multiple instances where the user would have to input information into an app or form that wasn’t available in a mobile-friendly format. This puts an unnecessary barrier between the user and accurate data entry, requiring pinch-and-magnify to read instructions and form field labels and making it hard to tap on buttons to advance to subsequent steps.
  • Search engines lacking functionality to speed the user along their journey. Multiple agencies’ mobile websites had search engines that lacked critical usability capabilities, such as sorting and filtering of search results. This was more pronounced in the Canadian government sites, as many of the agencies rely on a single web platform to serve as the common back end. Missing best practices, such as real-time results filtering and autocorrection, reduce the speed and accuracy of search experiences.
  • Minimal support for magnification. Even when the form or page is formatted for a mobile device, the user may need to magnify to 200% or more just to be able to read the content. We encountered very few cases where the mobile websites (for either country’s agencies) supported magnification properly, which left us with a lot of scrolling side to side and squinting at line-wrapped headers.

Not all is doom and gloom; these websites do demonstrate some best practices for usability, such as good color contrast. And in the intervening time since we conducted the actual reviews, busy government web teams followed the same path as their private sector peers by developing improved experiences (such as the US Bureau of Consular Affairs’ pilot of online passport renewal).

To learn more about our findings, check out the reports — which were a labor of love for me, Rick Parrish, and Senem Guler Biyikli:

Whether your organization is in the public or private sector, Forrester can produce a digital experience review to guide your hand with identifying and prioritizing the best practices you’re already doing or you need to adopt in your digital properties. Reach out for assistance if you’d like to learn more!