Best practices for workforce organizations
Creating and maintaining a dynamic online presence that engages career seekers and businesses is a common challenge for workforce organizations. Approaching a website as a ‘living’ communications tool means frequent evaluation of the content to ensure it stays current and relevant. This task is made much easier if the underlying structure of the site supports security, monitoring of key metrics and usability.
Additionally, workforce organizations need to observe the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) recently released policies and guidelines for Federal Agency public websites and digital services. This comprehensive guide, OMB Memorandum M-17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services, while directed specifically to organizations under the Federal government’s purview, contains several key strategies that are applicable to workforce organizations at the state and local level and which should be considered for implementation as best practices. These are: 1) analytics; 2) accessibility in design and user interface; 3) verified third-party platforms; 4) user experience and 5) URL security.
Measuring the volume, source, and activities of visitors to a website is a best practice for all websites whether public or private sector. The use of analytics is critical to inform design, content, and development decisions. The General Services Administration has released the Digital Analytics Program, a proprietary analytics tool that is required for all public-facing Agency websites, and is maintaining a list of agencies currently using the tool. Agencies are also allowed to use other analytics programs such as Google Analytics tracking to supplement the data received through DAP. Workforce organizations should, at a minimum, have Google Analytics installed and monitor website traffic monthly to establish patterns and identify trends.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility is addressed in the programming and coding of a website. It ensures content sections are “landmarked” as headings or body text, and that images are described using “alt-text” in the source code of the site. Accessibility can be measured using a number of online evaluation tools, such as this free Functional Accessibility Evaluator from the University of Illinois. Workforce organizations should consider conducting an evaluation to determine whether their websites are accessible to those with disabilities, especially the visually impaired, and should identify areas where changes to colors, design, and underlying website code would improve the user experience for these individuals. Once the website is in compliance, an accessibility statement on the website demonstrates a commitment to meeting the needs of all users, especially those with disabilities.
Third Party Platforms
Many workforce websites incorporate the use of third party tools, platforms or apps to enhance their website content and user experience. Examples of these include search tools, widgets to pull in social media feeds, embedded players for video or audio such as YouTube or SoundCloud, calendar plug-ins, and links to download apps from various online app stores. The OMB guidelines state that any third party platforms or tools should have Terms of Service that are in compliance with federal law. To make it easy to identify tools that have negotiated and approved terms of service agreements, the OMB has released this list of approved tools. While it is tempting to use free widgets or the most popular tools on a website, these may not always be the most secure, and they may gather user data that is against privacy regulations. As workforce organizations are selecting tools and platforms that will be used on their websites, it is advised that they make sure the tools and platforms are recommended for use on public sites.
There are a number of factors that contribute to user experience, including the way the website is written, the overall look and feel, and the ease of navigation. The new OMB guidance addresses all of these areas, requiring the use of a search tool that allows users to find information easily, and recommending that agencies operating multiple websites maintain a consistent look and feel in the design across the sites. The use of insider jargon and language that is difficult for the public or a layperson unfamiliar with a topic to understand is strongly discouraged. Workforce organizations often struggle with creating clear and concise messaging that can be easily understood by someone who has never used their services, while also incorporating the use of key words and website writing strategies that enhance the site’s ability to be found by major search engines. A communications audit can help workforce agencies determine how well their website has incorporated best practices for structure and content.
At the Federal level, the use of .mil and .gov URL extensions adds credibility to official, public facing websites. All Federal agencies are being asked to migrate to .gov if they are currently using .com or another extension. At the same time, the General Services Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy will vet all new .gov and .mil domains to make sure that those who own them are authorized. Additionally, if an agency is operating a domain under another extension (.org, .net, etc.) they have been asked to document it in an online registry. Similarly, the U.S. Digital Registry requires Federal agency sites to submit the URLs of their social media and public-facing collaboration accounts, mobile apps and mobile websites to confirm the official status of these accounts and help prevent exploitation from unofficial sources, phishing scams or malicious entities. Workforce organizations should maintain an inventory of URLs they own and should consider purchasing the URLs for other extensions (.net, .com, .org) using their names to secure their brand identity and avoid creating confusion if these are purchased and used by a competing or unrelated entity. Included in this inventory should be the URLs and handles for all social media accounts, mobile websites, apps, and other public facing websites or tools.
While the new OMB guidance is specific to Federal websites, it contains valuable advice and food for thought for workforce agencies that are modifying their websites to reflect changes implemented as a result of the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA).