I reached out and here’s his responses.
Why did you do it? What was the impetus to move forward with a redesign?
SAMHSA’s publication distribution center maintains over 1,000 science-based behavioral health publications and ships over 13,000,000 products annually. Many of our customers are repeat visitors who order and redistribute our products via state and community level organizations.
In essence, SAMHSA serves as a platform from which resources and information can be accessed, as needed, by those working directly to with individuals facing behavioral health challenges. As such, we really wanted to focus on personalizing and customizing the experience for this core group.
Now, when users create an account, they can:
• Enter their personal information only once, instead of each time they place an order.
• Access their account information anywhere, anytime.
• Store favorite addresses in a personal address book.
• Track, cancel, or repeat an order from their personal order history.
• Create a favorites list and store it for future visits.
In addition to these new features, the new publications site was expressly built with the flexibility to incorporate additional features such as publication-level rating and commenting and API development.
Where did you look for inspiration in the redesign? Other favorite gov’t websites or commercial/non-profit websites?
The store certainly derives much of its inspiration from Amazon.com. It is a pretty high bar for us to shoot for but the reality is that government websites are (and should be) compared to the successful, user-friendly sites that people visit on a frequent basis. The fact of the matter is that if our content and our online presence is not engaging, people will not come to our sites or hear our messages.
What did it take to execute? Time/budget/staff?
The redesign was part of a larger, long-term project to consolidate previously duplicative efforts so it is hard to pull out the web component alone. The goal though is to create overall increases in efficiency so that not only are we providing a better product and service to the public but we are also doing it at a lower cost.
Do you have tips for other agencies attempting a redesign? Key success factors? Things you’d change if you had to do it over again?
It can be very tempting with all of the new tools and channels government has available for public engagement to lose focus but it is critical to pay attention to the fundamentals – what is your agency’s mission, who is your audience and what are their top tasks. The key now is to try to build something that will be able to leverage these new tools in a meaningful and that will be able to incorporate changes that we have not yet imagined without requiring significant re-engineering or reinvestment.
Moreover, everything we do now must be done in a way that will facilitate and support collaboration and coordination beyond our own individual agencies and silos. For us, the taxonomy and knowledge management system that were developed as part of this project and that run behind the publications section of our site (and soon our entire website) help us achieve both these goals.
What are some of the most popular activities on SAMSHA.gov? What do people use it for?
Ordering publications (and other materials) is one of the primary tasks for people visiting the site and this initial effort is a big step forward for us. However, this is only the first step of a long term process. Grants and substance abuse and mental health data sets are other important drivers of traffic to our site and we are looking how to address those areas as well. The relaunch of the site is really only day one of a renewed effort on the part of SAMHSA’s web and new media team to better address our visitors needs.
I love the landing page promoting the redesign with people being able to sign-up when launched and spread the word about the launch. Reminds me of a lot of consumer websites that have a landing page before launch. Can you talk about the concept and why you decided to go with this approach?
There are actually several reasons why this has value. First, it provides our existing audience and regular visitors insight into the coming change. Our core group of repeat users are really part of an extended SAMHSA community and keeping these organizations and individuals in the loop about upcoming changes is just part of being a good member of the community. Second, success in the era of social media is very much based to making your content sharable. By including sharing tools on the placeholder page, we are tried to make it as easy as possible for people to help us get our message out. Finally, from a more practical perspective, the placeholder page allowed us to establish a url prior to launch that was able to help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts for the new site.
Finally, I would add that we are also being more proactive in adding value to our community AFTER the launch as well. We are proactively using our social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to solicit (and respond to) feedback about the new site including offering to help find material or content that may have moved because of the change. One of the most underused aspects of social media in the federal government is as a tool for customer service and the launch is providing the opportunity to change and improve how we interact online in new and exciting ways.