Finding contact information for a federal department or agency is a top task at USA.gov and USAGov en Español. Our A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies directory is a popular feature and the result of many years of user testing and website user metrics.
Over time, we’ve noticed a pain point when people search to find a government agency on our site. If someone searches for a federal agency using the USA.gov main search box located in the header, our agencies directory content doesn’t always appear high in the search results. Search.gov powers that search box and many others across the federal government. We consulted with them to find out how to change the situation. There were no short-term changes we could make to improve the search results, so we began looking for other options.
We decided to try adding a second search box to our agencies directory pages. It would search our agency content only. But two search boxes on a page can sometimes be confusing instead of helpful to users. Before this additional feature went live, we did user testing with a working prototype in one of our development environments.
Our goals for the user test were to:
- Learn if people noticed the agency-only search box
- Find out if people were inclined to use the agency-only search box
- Discover if people thought the federal agency search was useful and effective
- Find out if having two search boxes on one page would be confusing
Based on testing, we found that users noticed the new agency-only search box and found it easy to use. Some research participants weren’t clear about the difference between our two search boxes on the page. This was particularly true when a user was on a government agency's directory page, for example, the Social Security Administration page, and they were asked during testing to search for something that was not a federal agency. To address this issue:
- We took a close look at website usage data to see if it was common for users on the agencies directory pages to seek information other than agency contact information. It turns out that it’s not common. Most people come to the agencies directory to get contact information, and then leave.
- We made some design changes to our prototype to give our users visual clues that the search boxes were different, and integrated the agency-only search box more closely with the directory navigation elements.
We also decided to add “previous” and “next” buttons to the bottom of our pages that listed agencies alphabetically. While a majority of people visit our directory to find contact information for an agency and then leave our site, many stay in the directory and browse around to learn about agencies and what they do. Since we launched the new design, our data shows that the people who stay and browse the agencies directory frequently use these “previous” and “next” buttons.
After successful testing, we officially launched the "Search for a Federal Agency" box in our agencies directory in February 2021. Since then we’ve been keeping a close eye on search queries entered into both of our search boxes and are reassured that we created a design that’s easy for people to use correctly.