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Mobile friendly websites put government in the public’s pocket

Modern websites are optimized for handheld devices to ensure a high-quality experience.

More than 75% of U.S. adults use their phones to browse the internet, and a growing group of younger users (21%) rely completely on their mobile-formmobile devices for internet access. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of smartphone users use their phone to look up government services.

Websites that adapt to work well on any device are described as “mobile friendly”.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. Devices come in all shapes and sizes. Mobile friendliness means that the text, images, and all other elements resize beautifully, no matter the device.

And it’s not a binary. It requires all elements of a website to work together in harmony.

Research shows people are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile responsive. As people increasingly rely on a mobile phone for internet access, mobile responsiveness will be a bridge or barrier for citizens to access government services online.

As mobile technology continues to integrate with the rhythms of our lives, having quick access to information and services at specific times is already dictating whether citizens reach for their laptop or their smartphone.

Insights gathered from the OpenCities Analytics Dashboard show that citizens are up to 2 to 3 times more likely to visit their City website on their mobile during peak hours — 7am to 9am and 5pm to 8pm.


An analytics dashboard for City of Orlando showing traffic flow via desktops, smartphones and tablets.

User behavior has shown that citizens will attempt to reach their City online just as they would any other online service. During peak hours this means using their smartphone because it’s the only device they have with them while they are commuting, taking children to school, or picking up groceries. Their focus is divided between completing essential tasks and reaching their destination.

Brick and Mortar to Thumb and Tap

Mobile friendly sites offer an opportunity for government to create convenient interactions that replace the need for multiple trips to City Hall.

OpenCites audited over 5,000 US City and County websites, and 550 Australian Council websites, for a range of performance criteria. This included performance on smartphones and tablets using Google’s industry leading analysis tool to determine the extent of the mobile service delivery deficit.

We found that across the US and Australia, more than half of City websites scored highly for mobile friendliness. Delivering hundreds, if not thousands, of government services through the tiny window of a phone screen requires a thoughtful, strategic approach to doing digital and valuing the satisfaction of their users.

Conversely, in both countries, approximately ⅓ of City websites have failed to embrace mobile design best practices. Citizens trying to access essential services on their smartphones and tablets are finding the digital front door to the City has been boarded up.

Whether you’re embarking on a complete website redesign, or simply designing highly usable digital services, considering mobile is paramount.

Here’s 3 things you should consider to ensure you provide the best possible services for your citizens:

  • Minimal scrolling — Bring the most pertinent information to the surface. Eliminate any unnecessary text to avoid users from skimming past important details. Where possible reduce clutter including extraneous decision points, images, even website navigation.
  • Comprehendible — Ensure your content is easy to digest on small screens without needing to zoom in by choosing larger font sizes for headings and body text (this is also an accessibility requirement). Wherever possible reduce the amount of jargon used and write your text in plain language that anyone can understand.
  • Fast and smooth — When pages load quickly you greatly improve your chances of keeping goal-oriented users focused on the task at hand. It also reduces traction when navigating through multiple pages of your website, and helps content render quickly to improve satisfaction with the experience.

It’s the growth of mobile browsing that’s responsible for the ubiquitous, always-on quality of the modern web. By ignoring mobile friendliness, government is forcing people back to their desktop. In a world where people are turning to their phones first, Cities trying to engage the public online won’t be able to get a word in edgewise.

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