FDA.gov: Search Enhancements Mean More Satisfied Visitors

By: Chris Mulieri

In 2013, the Web and Digital Media team at FDA set two very challenging goals for FDA.gov: launch a mobile version of our website and improve visitor satisfaction when searching for information on our website. In my last blog post, FDA Takes a Responsive Approach to Mobile Web, I described how we applied best practices in web design and development to meet the needs of our mobile visitors – who now represent more than 25 percent of visitors to the site.

Chris MulieriI want to share how we implemented changes that resulted in better search results on FDA.gov – and more satisfied visitors.

Why Focus on Search?

Like many other government agencies, we use a customer satisfaction survey, ForeSee, to measure our visitors’ experiences with our website. The data from this survey and the write-in comments from visitors help us identify and address their needs.

Based on this information, we first “refreshed” the FDA website to improve the overall site navigation and usability, as our visitors requested. The next important area to address, according to the data, was the search function on FDA.gov.

Recipe for a Better Search

What does it take to provide a better search experience for visitors? It requires a lot more than just putting a search box on a site and calling it a day! There are many ingredients that go into the search function on a web site, and enhancing ours required several collaborative programs involving our FDA.gov web staff, the web staff for each of our centers and program offices, and our Office of Information Management.

Together we targeted three areas for improvement:

  • Adding search filters: This was the search improvement most frequently requested by our visitors. They wanted to be able to limit their search results by product area, such as drugs or food, or by type of document, such as warning letters.
  • Archiving older pages: Sometimes, a search on FDA.gov would yield pages of links to documents from years ago, which visitors found frustrating. Thanks to a new archiving approach, we were able to remove thousands of these older pages from the main search. The good news is that those pages are still available by searching the FDA archive.
  • Improving search usability: We updated both our search page and our search results page based on the latest best practices in web usability.

The Result: Increased Satisfaction

After we implemented each of these improvements, we monitored the customer satisfaction data for changes. From late 2012 to the end of 2013, the satisfaction score for the search experience increased from 69 to 78 and the overall site satisfaction increased from 70 to 78.

Web Search Chart

What do these scores mean? In short, our visitors were much more satisfied with our search tools and the site as a whole. According to Foresee, FDA.gov had the third largest increase in satisfaction among government agencies in 2013. We also have one of the highest levels of overall satisfaction among regulatory agency websites.

In the end, though, the goal of our website improvements is not a higher score here or a higher ranking there. Our goal is to meet the needs of our visitors – consumers, patients, health professionals, and companies – who rely on FDA.gov as an authoritative source of information about the products we regulate.

Looking to the Future

In 2014, our goal is to continue building on these recent improvements to ensure we are providing the information our users need – when and where they need it.  We are continuing to develop additional mobile friendly content, and these pages will be available soon. In addition, we continue to monitor the feedback we receive through our satisfaction survey, and when appropriate, we are prepared to act on this feedback to ensure we are providing the experience you deserve.   

Learn More about FDA’s Web Enhancements

Chris Mulieri is the director of web and digital media for the Food and Drug Administration

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