HHS launches ‘mobile-first,’ streamlined website

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If the Department of Health and Human Services’ newly unveiled HHS.gov looks like a mobile site, that’s because it is one.

The redesign, launched Tuesday, was developed with a “mobile-first” mindset and then adapted to the traditional desktop and laptop models later, in response to the growth in Web traffic from mobile devices. Richard Stapleton, senior deputy director for digital communications at HHS, told FedScoop the new HHS website upends the model of building federal websites for desktop users first.

“Up until now, as people have become aware of the need to be mobile, they have taken a desktop design and adapted it for mobile,” Stapleton said. “This is the first time we’ve ever actually designed a website for mobile and then adapted it for desktop.”

Google’s recently updated algorithm for mobile searches has made mobile-friendly Web design more of a priority. Now, sites that aren’t mobile friendly will be penalized on Google searches performed on mobile devices. Search engine experts are calling the move “mobilegeddon” because of the way it disrupts search engine optimization.

“Google’s knocked the apple cart over,” Stapleton said

This change is important to HHS and all federal agencies, as about 25 percent of traffic to most government websites comes from mobile devices, according to the federal analytics dashboard.

HHS has seen an increase in mobile device users who visit its website, Stapleton said. “We have a fairly large body of information that people want or need when they’re away from the desktop,” like information on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, vaccines, and medical questions that can arise during a visit to the doctor.

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The new mobile-first HHS.gov website displayed on different devices. (HHS)

During this phase of the redesign, HHS also focused on information hierarchy, moving the most critical information to the top of its pages. “People are impatient, and they’re extremely impatient on smartphones … they don’t want to have to go down five swipes to get to the essence,” Stapleton told FedScoop.

He explained that this also meant positioning the search box more prominently. “People more and more use search as their means of finding information as opposed to page navigation or an index. So we really beefed up our search application,” Stapleton said.

While commercial websites talk about metrics like clicks and page visits as measures of success, he said agencies would be foolish to do the same, and this new website is a model of that.

“The fewer clicks, the more successful we’ve been,” Stapleton said. “The less time that [visitors] spend on the site, the more successful we’ve been. It’s exactly the opposite.”

To make its information even more navigable, HHS also cut out “a whopping 154,000 obsolete files” on the back end to make the site lighter, faster and streamlined, according to a blog post on the redesign.

Stapleton said HHS and its “in-house contract support” will continue to work on the website into 2016, with three more phases of redesign scheduled this year and a total of seven into next year. The next phase, which he said is already in development, is planned to launch Aug. 1.

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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Departments, mobile and wireless, Tech
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