Citizen satisfaction with government Web sites dips

User satisfaction with U.S. government Web sites dipped slightly from last quarter, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The ACSI measures the online performance of a variety of sites.

While the decline was small, it continues a trend of relatively stagnant satisfaction with federal Web sites during the past year, according to Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee Results Inc., a sponsor of the ACSI, which is produced by the University of Michigan.

The latest results of the E-Government Satisfaction Index edged down from 74 on ACSI’s 100-point scale in the previous quarter to 73.7, said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results and author of the report. Given that other sites are making users happier, “Web sites staying [at the] status quo are going to continue to decline in terms of meeting customers’ needs,” he said.

Some sites and departments managed to stay ahead of the curve, despite tight funding for e-government projects, Freed said. “Twenty-five percent of measured sites experienced an increase in citizen satisfaction from last quarter, and 19 percent of sites fell into the category of ‘top performers’ as defined by having scores of 80 or higher,” Freed said.

The ACSI methodology allows for cross-industry comparisons of satisfaction. For example, the government sites can be compared with e-commerce sites, which scored a 79.6 in the final quarter of 2005, and e-business sites, which came in at 76.5 in the second quarter of this year.

While a number of elements drive overall satisfaction — including search, navigation, content and site performance — search features remain a top priority for users, Freed said. “In other words, citizens said improving search would have the biggest impact in improving overall satisfaction,” he said.

Some sites, such as FirstGov, have worked to bolster their search technology and improve navigation. FirstGov has embraced Vivisimo Inc.’s clustering technology to facilitate more accurate search results, Freed said.

Freed also noted that search was important for users of various departmental sites. “Search is the highest priority, which is due in no small part to the limited real estate available on the home page and the vast body of information available via the department sites,” he said.

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