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State of the Web

September 2007

Using the web to accomplish HUD�s mission

12 Years of Staying True to Our Mission

The last two years saw a tremendous boom in new internet technologies. Web 2.0 hit its stride with a variety of social media, new gadgets, and tools. It would have been easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of “Web 2.0” technologies--YouTube, MySpace, blogs, wikis, and podcasts--and lose track of the needs of our core audience: ordinary citizens looking for information about housing opportunities and community resources. So, while HUD visited new technologies in the past year, in doing so, we remained true to our purpose: delivering the best housing and community resources online to our customers in ways that make sense to them.

Improving Our Content, Expanding Our Audience

In Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07), the Department’s Internet websites reached more than 19.2 million visitors, up 6 percent from the previous year. Of particular note are the increases in the number of visitors looking information on home buying, renting and foreclosure information.

  • Home buying. Last year, 3.3 million potential homebuyers came to HUD to find information on buying a home (a 37.5 percent increase over FY06). We retooled the “Buying a Home” page this year, reorganizing it to more efficiently communicate information on HUD’s home buying programs, including spotlighting FHA loans. We launched FHA.gov this year, providing better consumer information on FHA programs and mortgage products.
  • Renting. Interest in our Renting pages showed the most dramatic, up 61 percent over FY06 to 1.5 million visitors. We redesigned, streamlined, and rewrote the renting page to make it more useful for visitors.
  • Foreclosure. Our Foreclosure page has seen steady increases in the number of visitors over the last several years. Three years ago, the page didn’t rank in our top 25. This last year, it was consistently in the top 15, and is now one of the top 5 “content areas.” The Foreclosure page had 1.1 million visits in FY06 (a 17 percent increase over the 971,000 visits in FY05).

In addition to home buying, renting, and foreclosure information, we launched new features targeted to specific users.

  • Espanol.hud.gov. The number of Spanish-speaking visitors looking to HUD for information is continuing to rise. This year we saw a 6 percent increase in visitors to espanol.hud.gov, reaching 671,000 visitors.
  • Fair Housing. Our Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) introduced their first-ever mascot, Franklin the Fair Housing Fox, providing education and outreach about housing discrimination via HUD’s Kids website. Designed to appeal to children and their parents, Franklin the Fair Housing Fox, will encourage the public to "Dare to Be Fair" by promoting the message that "Fair Housing Is Not an Option; It's the Law."We have received positive feedback about Franklin, including with requests for “Franklin” materials and permission to link to his webpage.

The award winning “Accents”, part of the FHEO fair housing ad campaign, was posted on YouTube.com last October and has been viewed 4,381 times. It is the number one Fair Housing PSA on youtube.com.

  • Affordable Communities. We launched new content for the America’s Affordable Communities Initiative’s (AACI) National Call to Action /Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse website. HUD's National Call to Action is a campaign to enlist states, local communities, and affordable housing advocacy groups across the nation to commit to producing affordable housing through public participation in a national network for regulatory reform.
  • Slide Shows. We conducted a study of the most frequently-visited pages across all states, which concluded that HUD’s photo slide shows consistently appear in the top five most visited pages. We used the popularity of the slide shows to market HUD programs to specific audience groups. As a result, photos not only display examples of HUD funds at work in communities, but link to important and frequently-requested information regarding the relevant programs. The redesigned slide shows can be viewed in on our state pages.
  • Online Registration. Use of our online registration system surged, with 23,988 people using the tool to conveniently register for 342 HUD-sponsored events. This new system allows HUD staff more time to manage their events, instead of performing tedious and error-prone data entry.
  • National Housing Locator. We also published the National Housing Locator (NHL), a web-based system which assists state and public housing authorities and other first responders into rapidly identify available housing during a disaster. The NHL combines federal housing resources with three commercial apartment locators and housing websites to offer one platform that allows housing agency personnel and emergency responders immediate access to available rental housing resources nationwide.

Delivering Customized Content

Really Simple Syndication. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a web tool that automatically delivers new web content to you from all the sites to which you have subscribed. It saves you from having to visit all your favorite websites, one at a time, to see if anything new has been posted. HUD implemented Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds on hud.gov, and to date we have three feeds available to customers: Press Releases; Fair Housing; and a regional feed about Multifamily Housing in the Northwest.

Mailing Lists. HUD’s mailing lists (listservs) let web users subscribe for updates or to help managers generate mass e-mailings to a routine set of customers. During this year we managed 115 active lists with 279,403 subscribers. We reduced the number of unused lists by 7.26 percent and increased the number of subscribers by 18.79 percent.

In addition, we increased the HUD USER News and the Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse mailing list subscriber base by 15 percent in comparison to a year ago. HUD also introduced electronic subscription capability for dissemination of ResearchWorks.

Streamlining and Efficiency

Downloads, Documents, and Forms. We updated our forms library, HUDClips, to make it easier to find HUD forms and handbooks, as well as bringing the HUDClips library into the hud.gov domain, per Office of Management and Budget (OMB) policy.

Downloads from HUD USER, the Department’s research and policy analysis library, were at 7.4 million document downloads per year.

We streamlined the hud.gov website by reducing the number of obsolete and duplicative pages. In the last year, we evaluated and removed approximately 25 percent of orphaned and obsolete content from our servers. We continue to review and update our entire website four times each year, to ensure that our site provides the most up-to-date information for our customers. Quarterly certification received 99 percent compliance.

Metrics. We upgraded our statistical software to give us improved website metrics and help us determine whether website visitors are successful in finding the information for which they are searching. Once in full swing, the new metrics will help us improve our navigation and website organization, so our website visitors can complete their tasks and find the information they need.

HUD USER continued to implement its ongoing metatag project, attaching 8 to 10 descriptive phrases into the coding of to each of our 150 most visited web pages, making it easier for search engines to locate these resources. 120 web pages have been tagged so far.

Training

Web Clinics. We conducted more web clinics for HUD partners, continuing our award-winning series of workshops about how to develop and maintain good public service websites. We also added a module especially for HUD employees to share with them an overview of the HUD’s websites and new tools, technologies, and content to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

Webcasts. HUD has long been at the forefront of using the website, including webcasts and other online training tools, to train staff across the country on a variety of topics.

This year we produced 156 new webcasts, reaching thousands of grantees, public housing authorities, and citizens. In particular, HUD pre-registered 2,500 people to view the Energy Awareness 4-part training series.

HUD unveiled a pilot program to introduce the world of opera, and all its employment opportunities, to young residents living in public and assisted housing. HUD and the Washington National Opera simulcast via satellite and webcast the live performance of La Bohème to young audiences living in public and other assisted housing developments in eight cities: Dallas; Los Angeles; Memphis; New York City; Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Jose, California; San Diego, California; and Washington, DC.

The Office of General Counsel used our intranet to provide ethics training to all staff, training for Financial Disclosure Filers, notification of Hatch Act restrictions on political activities by federal employees, updates of ethics officials, and compilation of federal ethics laws and links to other federal ethics information.

Upgrading Our Kiosks

Statistics show that our Government kiosks reach a community that otherwise would not receive the type of information we make available on our website. Our kiosk program has been a success for several years, but rapid changes in technology had made our original kiosk equipment obsolete. We upgraded all the kiosk equipment throughout the country, so underserved people are able to quickly access apartment listings, homeless shelter information, and lists of HUD Homes available in the area. We modernized 72 kiosks with current technology and new cases. The kiosk communications were also updated, from dial-up modems to DSL. In FY07 the kiosks received 274,087 visitors.

Remaining a Leader in the Federal Community

HUD’s Web Managers are actively shaping federal web policies and procedures to ensure the U.S. Government’s websites are among the most customer-centered in the world. Several web managers held leadership positions in cross-agency task groups, including the U.S. Government Web Managers Advisory Council and the Federal Intranet Content Managers Group. The Web Managers Advisory Council is a network of top-level Federal Government Web Managers who develop government-wide policy recommendations, and provide leadership and guidance to over 1200 federal, state and local government web managers across the country. HUD also helped to develop a Strategic Plan for the US Government web community which addresses improving usability, quality and organization of all U.S. Government web content.

The Intranet Content Managers Group is an interagency network of intranet web managers who share best practices in content management. The group became reenergized this year with a new steering committee after a year-long hiatus.

HUD web managers participated in management reviews of six field offices, giving them the opportunity to provide hands-on training to web staff and employees on web basics and new web developments. We trained employees to make better use of the web, so they are more efficient and can provide better service to our customers.

What’s Next?

Each year brings new technologies and new challenges for government websites. What’s on the horizon for bringing citizens the information they’re looking for in ways to make sense to them?

More RSS Feeds
We’re planning to expand the number RSS feeds we offer. We’re also planning to use RSS feeds to keep employees up-to-date on staff bulletins, training, webcasts, and news.

Expanded Online Registration
We will be expanding our online registration system so that web managers will be able to create events and delegate to an event owner. We will be able to tie in event data, such as number of registrants and the date of the event, with each Office’s strategic goals. We will be able to schedule individual sessions within events; add customized questions; categorize and search events by location, program area, or event; have a cut-off number of registrants and create a waiting list; send email notifications, and more.

Redesigning HUD.gov

  • Identifying Critical Tasks on HUD.gov: Next year we will focus on improving our website content by identifying the “critical tasks” that our users come to our website to complete. A critical task is something that a large number of people need to complete online and that is essential for them to accomplish quickly and easily. We have started identifying our critical tasks by first identifying our main audiences and thinking about why they visit our website.
  • Peer Review: As part of an ongoing effort to redesign www.hud.gov, a peer review committee looked at other government websites to glean the best elements and ideas. The committee developed a website review checklist and reviewed 29 websites based on the site's home page; categorization of content; functionality; plain language; navigation; use of technology and overall look and feel. Watch for the committee's "best of the best" recommendations in the new hud.gov!

Podcasts-We plan to launch podcasts as another medium for SuperNOFA training, press conferences, and other short videos or audio about purchasing a home, avoiding foreclosure, reporting discrimination, finding rental housing. Podcasts allow more portability by delivering video/audio content directly to an mp3 player, but they can also be viewed on a regular computer.

While podcasts at first might be most beneficial to our business partners seeking training on-the-go, low-income users and those with slower internet connections showed a notable percentage of increased podcast use from February 2006 to August 2006, according to the Pew Study on the Internet and American Life.

YouTube-YouTube and other video outlets could give HUD another avenue for delivering content to users. FHEO has already experimented with posting public services announcements on YouTube. Because it is more user-driven, videos posted there get a different level of exposure than if it were just posted on HUD’s website. Because people usually circulate videos through their own distribution lists, users are more likely to be informed about a video from a friend or trusted connection than by searching for it on their own or receiving it from an impersonal government source. Videos are also searchable using traditional search engines.

Social media
A small working group has begun exploring the use of blogs, MySpace, Facebook and other social media to further enhance our ability to provide information to our different audience groups in ways that make sense to them.

The next year will be exciting as we explore new options for delivering our most critical information to our audiences in new, more efficient and engaging ways. Even as we investigate the impact new technologies, new media, and new tools will have on our ability to communicate better, we will continue to rely on tried and true methods of providing critical content, never sacrificing quality and accuracy for the next popular thing. HUD has built a great website by focusing on citizens and their basic need for housing and strong communities. As we move forward, we will stay focused on the mission.

Content Archived: March 2, 2011

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