Mobile First Government: What Agencies Need to Adapt in 2016

Posted by Brian Paget, Technical Director for Content and Analytics

Mobile access is quickly becoming the primary way over 93 million U.S. citizens get online. Three in five Americans use smartphones to access the internet, and one in three of them has no other way of getting online.

However, only 37 percent of federal government websites are mobile friendly, and an even lower percentage of applications and forms have been optimized for mobile. (Infographic here: mobile-first-infographic) This means a substantial number of American citizens’ access to government services is severely limited.

Before transitioning to a new mobile design and optimization approach, it’s important to understand the difference between a “mobile first” strategy, and one that is simply mobile friendly.

To Go Mobile Friendly or Mobile First—What’s the Difference?

“Mobile friendly” refers to a site that loads efficiently on a mobile device, and is defined by Google as a site that:

This is helpful in ensuring there are no major usability issues, but it’s barely scratching the surface. A site can check off all the Googlebot boxes, but can still have a subpar mobile user experience: menus could be redundant, certain features could be out of focus or the content could be in an unreadable format.

Enter “mobile first”: a design and optimization approach that prioritizes mobile behavior (e.g., tapping, swiping or scrolling within a 4-inch width) as the primary focus. It encourages us to take a step back, and create a strategy for a very specific mode of consumption, then add new features and content to enhance it for the desktop.

For example, here’s a screenshot of’s new website redesign – the largest overhaul project happening in government today.

This mobile first approach makes the site more readable, functional and quickly learnable for new users.

It successfully creates a focused, frictionless user experience within a limited space.

Why Investing in

Mobile First

Matters for Government Agencies

With mobile usage becoming the preferred method of information consumption online, government agencies are responsible for quickly aligning with and accommodating the demand.

Here are three key reasons why government agencies should invest in a “mobile first” strategy:

1. User Experience is Your New Brand

Why do you shop at Amazon instead of a local Walmart, or take an Uber over a taxi? Because the experience is simpler, faster and more responsive. The not-so-fun necessities like payment and logistics fade into the background, so all you focus on is the action and reward of what you’re trying to accomplish.

A website is your virtual office with millions of people visiting per day—and is often the most important representation of your organization’s brand. It may not be a physical environment, but the consumer expectations are the same. The faster the public can accomplish their task, the happier they feel during and after they experience your brand. On top of that, they expect (and demand) rapid customer support online and offline, available when they need it.

The U.S. Army has adapted a mobile first strategy to great success, and has ensured that its virtual office – – is not only mobile-optimized, but has the most recent and important news and information available on the home page. It even goes a step further in meeting the needs of its audience by allowing content to be shared on social feeds with only one touch.

Today, the experience you provide to citizens is a direct representation of how much you as an organization prioritize serving your people in a convenient way. The more you invest in ease-of-use for citizens and businesses can lead to more citizens wanting to move to your district, more businesses opening up, more jobs, more tax revenue and more respect and admiration for you as a government organization. This is best accomplished through a mobile first approach.

2. Improved Accessibility Goes Beyond ADA Compliance

Government agencies often talk about accessibility as ADA or 508 compliances, ensuring people with disabilities have access to all of our services.

According to The Pew Research Center, seven percent of all U.S. adults can only interact with the internet using smartphones on their data plans. Not servicing our mobile users would be ignoring the needs of 18 million people—a large majority of which are lower income groups who more frequently require government assistance for basic necessities.

It is vital for government agencies to avoid accessibility gaps for all citizens, which includes allowing them to find, apply and check the status of government services from their smartphones.

3. Lower Costs and Distribute Taxpayer Dollars in Smarter Ways

Mobile first is a key way to lower the government’s cost to serve citizens. The forecasted savings surpass the cost of implementing new mobile services.

A recent Deloitte study examined various Australian government bodies to point out the discrepancies in face-to-face vs. online interactions, and the savings afforded by digital tools. The study found that face-to-face interactions cost the government around AUD$16.90 per transaction. However, online transactions cost only $0.40 each.

Robust mobile strategies will drastically reduce the need for time and resource consuming in-person interaction. Physical paperwork will be replaced by online forms, and secure electronic signature technology makes it easy to complete tasks from home.

Digital Experience is the New Battleground

Our government agencies need to be equipped with the right tools to participate, and provide the best experience that serves all their people appropriately, based on their evolving needs.

The way we search for and consume information today has disrupted and transformed all major industries, not just shopping and transportation. It’s time to ensure that our government’s brand—as a country, state, county or city—is modern, citizen-focused and made intuitive enough to be used with ease by people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups.

Ready to implement a mobile-first approach to your website? Learn more at