Redesigning for trust and efficiency


General Services Administration (GSA) is a free-to-use search engine for the federal government, built by the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services. It was created to help federal government web teams and search administrators set up and maintain a high-quality, relevant search experience on their agency websites.

When configuring their site search, search administrators will often use help documentation found on When user research showed that users had difficulty navigating the site, Ad Hoc, along with prime contractor Fearless and in partnership with 18F, set out to redesign to increase its navigability, clearly articulate the advantages of using search engines, and strengthen agencies’ trust in the product.

The challenge

One requirement of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, which aims to improve and standardize the experience across federal websites, is to use the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) to maintain a consistent look and feel across any .gov site a member of the public may access. Knowing we would need to update our informational help site to conform to these standards, we took the opportunity to identify other improvements we could make.

Through our initial research, we found that federal agency teams felt was difficult to navigate, and locating information on how to set up their search pages was neither easy nor intuitive without support from our team. Still, we saw significant use of this tool.

In 2021 alone, using

public queries
2100 +
federal websites
≈ 33%
of all federal domains

And even though difficulty existed, these numbers showed us that web teams were successfully using to power site searches and that the public was actively engaging with those websites. However, we wanted to simplify the setup for participating agencies and make it an appealing option for those not yet on board.

We also knew we needed to redesign the site for increased self-service.’s support team is small, and we needed to enable’s customers to learn how to configure and manage their search experience through the website. Making sure that all processes, tasks, and commonly asked questions were addressed on the site helps the team reduce the burden of answering one-off questions via the email helpdesk.

What we did

We focused on the agency teams’ priority needs. Our research included card-sorting techniques with users to identify the top tasks that they wanted to be able to accomplish in setting up their search experience. We also incorporated usability testing throughout the redesign process on both the mockup and prototype. This helped to confirm we addressed the most pressing needs in the new design.

We built the site using the Federalist publishing platform, a well-supported architectural foundation. To provide a look and feel consistent with other federal government websites, we used the U.S. Web Design System.

After finalizing the site development, updating and supplementing existing content, and going through an extensive review process with administrators that included site accessibility, readability, and navigation, we were able to produce a redesigned website with several new features that addressed specific needs. The site:

  • Caters to both existing customers looking for help documentation and potential customers looking to understand what we offer.
  • Features a navigational structure designed around our users’ intent.
  • Includes surveys on every page so that users can better report issues and provide feedback.
  • Uses NetlifyCMS for easier content editing and that encourages fresher content.


To determine if we indeed made the site easier for our customer base to use, we analyzed the 3-month period after launch (Jan 20, 2022 - April 20, 2022) compared to the same period in the previous year (Jan 20, 2021 - April 20, 2021). Here’s what we found:

Encouraged trust

By using familiar government design patterns (USWDS), the site now appears in line with other, trusted government experiences that users have encountered. A more modern, standardized experience and look gives users more confidence that the content is accurate and maintained.

Increased reach

We saw an increase of 63% in page views. This could be attributed to more excitement and use of the website after launch, so we’ll want to monitor and see if this trend holds past this 90-day mark.

Improved content

We saw an increase of 21% in the average time a user spent on the page.’s website is primarily focused on informational and instructional content, so if readers are truly absorbing the information, we would expect longer time on pages.

Improved navigability

The site’s bounce rate decreased by 1.64%. While a decrease in the bounce rate (the number of users visiting our site who only viewed a single page) is a good sign, we did expect this number to decrease with some additional tagging we added in this launch. We’ll continue to monitor to see if this trends positively as time goes on.

Improved overall experience

75% of responses to our site surveys indicated a positive experience. Generally, the feedback we’ve gotten both from surveys and from our users directly has been positive. We’re soliciting additional feedback from our customers to understand how the newly added content is serving them.

Areas for improvement

One benefit of this redesign was renewed interest and buy-in to review our help site analytics on a regular basis. Through this 90-day analysis, we’ve identified opportunities to improve some of our analytics tracking to better express the user journey through our website. This will also help us determine trends across the different traffic sources (direct traffic, organic search traffic, and other referral sources) so we can focus our improvement efforts where they really matter. We also will report on these metrics on a quarterly basis, as we do metrics for our overall product.

Put our expertise to work for your agency

Interested in bringing proven methods to your agency to elevate your digital services?

Talk to the team