Exploring the use of .gov.au during COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic can be described as a ‘mega disruption’, dramatically changing the way we all work and live. It also changed the way the community uses government services, especially the services that help Australians during a crisis.

With the upcoming refresh of the Digital Transformation Strategy, we looked back and explored how this disruption highlighted 3 key insights:

  • the importance of centralised information, especially during a crisis
  • once people understand the issue, there is an ongoing need for local information and services
  • crisis communications channels should be optimised for mobile devices.

This case study focuses on how the community used the government’s coronavirus communications channels, Australia.gov.au, the WhatsApp chatbot and the Coronavirus Australia information app. These channels were mobilised earlier this year as a response to the community’s need for centralised, clear communication.

Australia.gov.au – the Coronavirus one-stop shop

In March 2020, the DTA repurposed Australia.gov.au’s homepage to become a ‘one-stop shop’ for Commonwealth and State and Territory Coronavirus information and support services. To improve the site’s reach, the DTA worked with major tech companies to list the site as the authoritative place for Australian Government information. This action helped to drive 43% visits to the site during the year from search and social media.

Late March saw a rapid increase in Coronavirus cases in Australia and the introduction of travel restrictions. It also brought the first of a series large traffic surges to Australia.gov.au. The DTA also released the Coronavirus Australia information app and a WhatsApp chatbot, providing additional communication channels for Australians to use. To advertise these channels, the DTA worked with telecommunications providers to send SMS messages to all mobile users on 4 May, attracting over 975,000 people to the site.

In March and April, most Australia.gov.au visitors were new to the site, and the following months showed an increase of returning users. Though our main traffic source is normally organic search, during the pandemic over 40% of visitors came to the site either by typing in the address or using a bookmark. This is most likely due to the site’s easy to remember address, and details appearing on press banners during press conferences.

Search engines like Google and Bing still brought in around 29% of the site’s traffic.  Another major source of traffic has been referrals from other government websites. Commonwealth agencies have added a link on their home pages to Australia.gov.au. and these links have accounted for just over 22% of our sites traffic.

Australia.gov.au a quick route to local information

Traffic from Australia.gov.au to States and Territories sites has been consistent through the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, we saw significant traffic going from our site to other Commonwealth sites. As people understood the virus and the various Commonwealth services, the community’s focus shifted to wanting to know the critical information for where they lived.

As States and Territories differed on restrictions and support services, people preferred information that was specific to them. Even during the Victorian lockdown, most of the site’s traffic flowed through to state and territory sites. The Coronavirus App and WhatsApp chatbot also saw almost 60% of traffic flowing through to State and Territory sites.

The importance of mobile technology during a crisis

Mobile users dominated the sites during peak traffic periods. While this traffic increase could be attribute to the range of mobile friendly coronavirus services developed, we saw a similar increase across other gov.au sites from mobile devices. The key lesson from this behaviour is to make sure crisis communications and services are optimised for mobile devices. The Coronavirus Australia App and WhatsApp Chatbot exemplified this requirement. Built primarily for mobile devices, these services provided easy access to preconfigured information and links to Commonwealth, State and Territory services.

The Coronavirus WhatsApp chatbot continues to respond to over 1000 messages per day. By providing different ways of accessing information, users have been able to stay informed in a way they are comfortable with. The positive response to this service shows the power of mobile technology to reach more people. 

This graph shows how people used devices to access government websites during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was increased use of mobile devices, compared to desktop and tablets. The main increase was between April to June, with smaller increases in late July and August.

Users by device used for Australia.gov.au

What does it mean and what should we do next?

Australia.gov.au’s main user type was smartphone users across the country, who returned regularly seeking localised information. They also knew the site’s address  or had it bookmarked. We noted the following:

  • with a perceived user need for a ‘one-stop shop’, Australia.gov.au could fulfill that purpose
  • as our users understood the virus and Commonwealth support, they used the site to find State and Territory content
    • the value of localised, personalised content and information should be a key consideration when planning crisis responses
    • content is best coordinated across jurisdictions to avoid duplication of information or competition for users
  • in times of crisis, people rely on mobile phones to access information. Mobile-responsive content is critical and should be well maintained
  • WhatsApp, the Coronavirus Australia App and SMS communications, meant a broader range of mobile users engaged with our content
  • further research into the user experience would help agencies discover what role they played for people, and help further personalise responses for crisis events.

Traffic sources and percentage of traffic

Table 1. Traffic Sources to Australia.gov.au over the year

Traffic Sources

Percentage

None/direct1

41.8%

Organic2

28.7%

Referral3

22.1%

Paid Referrals4

4.4%

Other

1.8%

Social Media

1.2%

Definitions for Table 1 – Traffic Sources

  1. None/direct refers to the users who typed in the URL directly or had it bookmarked and went directly onto the site
  2. Organic refers to users who came through search engines such as Google
  3. Referrals include users who came through emails and other links like news articles
  4. Paid referrals are those who came from paid advertisements

Table 2. Percentage of traffic to each jurisdiction for the Coronavirus app.

This data is collected from early May to mid-November 2020.

Jurisdictions

Percentage

Commonwealth

41.8%

VIC

26.4%

NSW

14.3%

QLD

7.2%

SA

4.5%

WA

2.0%

TAS

1.5%

ACT

1.5%

NT

0.9%

Don’t forget to check if your organisation is signed up to the Google Analytics 360 (GA360) program through the DTA to start collecting your data too!

Please contact the Observatory team for further information about how to analyse your data with our data driven insights capabilities.