DHS.gov Website Redesign and Content Migration

NOTE:  The following reflects my experience as a federal employee at the DHS.


dhs-dot-gov-beforeIn 2011, Secretary Napolitano’s Efficiency Review Initiative set the table for change of its web operations at the entire agency and for DHS.gov in particular.  The Efficiency Review office issued  an Action Directive on Web Systems Modernization, with a series of required tasks starting with an agency-wide data-call.

The data-call required owners of all public facing web sites across DHS to answer a series of questions about their site.  User experience, agency priorities, tools, metrics and web workforce were all open for review.

I compiled that survey, the analysis and results into a benchmark report.  This put everyone on the same page about known issues and the need to make changes. With this study DHS had its first accurate baseline of the assets and footprint of the DHS public web in the history of the Department.

I wrote a new content strategy for the Department, which the governance body adopted.  Soon after, the websites of every component began a significant transformation — including migrating to a common platform hosted in the cloud.

Known design and content problems with the DHS.gov website were myriad and typical to issues faced by other components:

  • The public got lost on the site (hard to navigate)
  • The site lacked consistency between departments, agencies and services
  • There was so much content it was confusing and unwieldy to many


To remedy these problems, the new DHS.gov had three goals:

  1. Simplify and unify our site
    • We curated a core set of new Topic pages to help tell the story of DHS to a global audience, and added robust resource directories to point users to the most important publications, products and tools related to these topics
      • The information architecture is new and improved, informed by heuristic best practices and user-centered design,
      • Concentrated on navigation via Topics and related resources in place of program
    • We included an easy to navigate “how do I” section which quickly lets users find the information they need to complete their tasks when they visit the site
    • We highlighted our engagement channels with a new “get involved” section
  2. Embrace customer service standards for the web
    • We adopted consistent page layouts by content type and standard functional modules; (Because the entire site will use template based and not hand-coded html page based publishing, staff now focused their time on adding value to content and not the mechanics of web design or web publishing)
    • We moved from org-centric to customer-centric structure (We restructured DHS.gov to offer a consolidated resource for priority topics in a unified voice)
  3. Enhance content quality, especially search
    • We eliminated duplication as well as content that was redundant, old or lower priority. We reduced about 20 percent of the original content under this standard.
    • We created new online directories
      • A self-service applications directory showcasing more than 60 applications from across the enterprise available in one place for users
      • A social media directory to showcase these channels from across the enterprise to promote public engagement
      • A website directory page for all top-level domains that are not redirect
    • We improved our searchable collection by adopting a new internal search engine (using the free USASearch Affiliate program from GSA, and enhancing our meta-data


dhs-dot-gov-afterThe redesigned website made interactions on DHS.gov faster, more convenient and easier to navigate. Plus, you won’t need to know the organizational structure or the mission areas of DHS to find what you are looking for.

DHS.gov was recognized, along with the State Department, as the two “best performing websites” of the 75 websites in an independent study, based on aggregate scores for quantitative and qualitative metrics chosen by evaluators.   In this study, DHS tied with the U.S. State Department with a score of five out of five (signifying excellent). (Best of the Web, comScore analysis of best practices among federal websites, by comScore)

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