Approximately one-third of U.S. adults report using an app or the Internet to access information provided by their state government in the past 12 months. Indeed, state government websites are some of the most popular sites on the Internet. The state of California’s primary website—ca.gov—ranks among the top 150 most popular websites in the United States. Unfortunately, despite the importance of online government services, many states’ government websites are failing to meet best practices. Only one, Virginia’s website for hunting and fishing licenses (dgif.virginia.gov/licenses), passed all the tests. State governments clearly need to improve their websites to provide the public with easy and secure access to e-government services and information.
This report assesses four criteria: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility. For page-load speed, we reviewed both desktop page-load speed and mobile page-load speed. For desktop page-load speed, 77 percent of state government websites passed the test. State government websites for registering businesses passed the desktop page-load speed test more than any other type of state government website—88 percent passed. For mobile page-load speed, 50 percent of state government websites passed the test. State government websites for fishing and hunting licenses passed the mobile page-load speed test more than any other type of state government website—62 percent passed. States can improve their page-load speed by compressing images and avoiding the use of page redirects (where one webpage redirects to another).
Many state government websites did not perform well on the mobile-friendliness test—only 67 percent passed. Common problems included content not configured to fit mobile screens, and small buttons and links. State government websites for taxes passed the mobile-friendliness test more than any other state government website type—76 percent passed.
Most state websites did not score well on security. In this report, we review two security features: the use of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), a standard protocol to encrypt communications between web browsers and websites; and Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC), a set of protocols used to verify the IP address associated with a particular domain name is authentic. We used a tool that analyzes Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates, which are used by most HTTPS connections, to test that the websites had enabled and properly configured HTTPS. Only 44 percent of the state government websites passed the HTTPS test, which means users cannot privately and securely browse most of them. State government websites for obtaining information about driver’s licenses performed the best compared to other types of government websites—54 percent passed. In addition, we used a tool to determine whether the domain of each state government website used DNSSEC. We found that only 13 percent of state governments websites had properly enabled DNSSEC for their domain name. Just 4 percent of state websites passed both the HTTPS and DNSSEC tests. The low percentage of state websites enabling DNSSEC is one reason why only one website passed all the tests. Excluding the DNSSEC test, 90 percent of state government websites failed at least one other test. States can improve their security by having their web servers properly enable HTTPS and DNSSEC.
Finally, 59 percent of state websites passed the accessibility standard. State government websites providing access to vital record information passed the accessibility test more than any other type of state government website—74 percent passed. State government websites can improve their accessibility by using larger text, providing greater contrast in colors, and offering alternative text to images. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 offers an exhaustive list of best practices for accessibility.
While some states have much better websites than others, every state can significantly improve the web experience they provide to the public. To provide citizens fast, secure, and accessible web experiences on both mobile and desktop devices, state policymakers should do the following:
- Mandate government websites implement security best practices
- Require government websites to be mobile friendly
- Consolidate websites to create a single face of government
- Find local partners to test accessibility of government websites
- Adopt a web analytics program