CDC cuts the digital fat as part of its website redesign

Carol Crawford, the director for digital media at the CDC, said the website redesign reduced the site’s content by about 65%, making information easier to fin...

Over the last decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website became bloated, making information hard to find.

An 18-month long effort, called Clean Slate, helped the CDC cut the digital fat by 65%.

Carol Crawford, the director for digital media at the CDC, said the agency used a customer-first approach to modernize its website, which relaunched yesterday.

Carol Crawford is the director for digital media at the CDC.

“It was a complete overhaul of the whole user experience, and of course, a new look and feel,” Crawford said on Ask the CIO. “Coming out of the pandemic, we really looked at what we wanted to improve and what we wanted to do different. This went also along with CDC’s moving forward effort and, combining that, we launched what we call ‘Clean Slate’ and a big cornerstone of that project was starting over with a clean slate for So that meant we were able to reduce about 65% of our content, which gave us more time and more energy to put toward improving the content that we had. We made a number of other updates that we thought would better improve the experience on”

Crawford said some of changes to the website are basic like ensuring consistency in formats on all pages. Other changes are focused on the user such as CDC added page summaries to the top of every page so the citizen can quickly see if the page meets their needs.

“We’ve also really streamlined the navigation. We call it content first navigation that will guide a user through the journey of the content that they’re looking for,” she said. “ We organize the content by three primary audiences just to make it a little easier to spot the content that is just for just for you, or just for what you you’re looking for. And of course, we worked on the readability and the scanability of the pages on your desktop, mobile, iPad device. We’ve improved the fonts, for example, to make it easier to skim, kept our page length shorter, so that you can read quickly, and there is so much more.”

No IT upgrades needed

One factor that made the website revamp a little easier was the CDC didn’t have to upgrade the underlying technology.

Crawford said this let the CDC improve the existing technology stack, adding functionality like using metadata to automate pages where they used to manually update pages.

“We’ve expanded our application programming interface (API) use. We’ve expanded our data functionality and data visualizations,” she said. “We’re thinking about using AI, machine learning, natural language processing and some generative AI to really think about how to improve the quality of our content.”

Through a series of surveys and other feedback approaches, the CDC found that citizens and other users were “overwhelmed” by the amount of information on the website. Crawford said that stopped users from finding what they needed.

“We evaluated are these pieces of content that a user needs or ever looks for, are these old content and a number of other criteria, and really, it allowed us to just keep our highest performing content and the content that people really need each day,” she said. “We really looked across our site to see where we could improve on duplicate content. We definitely looked at what people were getting from other servers or sites, but we also looked internally, like many people, we also had duplicate content that we wanted to fold together and make it easier for people to find it all in one place on our site.”

The CDC’s website revamp comes as the Office of Management and Budget is emphasizing specific improvements across all agencies. Just recently, OMB said the Digital Experience Council completed the first federal website inventory and found more than 10,000 across the government. Clare Martorana, the federal chief information officer, said recently through this inventory, agencies will have a better idea of their entire ecosystem and what they need to do to secure it and improve the user experience.

The inventory is part of a bigger effort to improve the digital experience of users through the requirements laid out in OMB’s September memo and the 21st Century IDEA Act.

OMB also recently issued new guidance for how agencies should improve accessibility under Section 508 requirements. The December memo, the first from OMB in more than a decade, requires agencies to design and develop “accessible digital experiences,” by taking a number of steps.

CDC kept users front, center

Crawford said CDC used the U.S. Web Design System standards and leaned into human centered design tactics.

“We worked together across all of our communicators at CDC. The entire group in my digital media division worked on this project along with our web council,” she said. “Human Centered Design was absolutely the cornerstone of what we’re doing. We made every decision thinking about what the users needed. We did extensive research on our audience needs. We included many steps during the process to collect information from our audiences. This included surveys, lots of user testing, things like a new rate this page feature. We also introduced a beta preview so that we could get lots of feedback from users and all in all we received about input from about 6,000 users so evolving, the audience was central to what we did.”

Like all agencies, the CDC had to take steps to make sure it was serving its diverse customer base. Crawford said that meant narrowing down their content around three particular audience areas:

  • The general public
  • Healthcare providers
  • Public health professionals

“We’ve tested specifically with those groups, and then with a lot of diversity within those groups,” Crawford said. “We had to work across every content type CDC had and create ways that we knew would work for people. This meant engaging with people in the programs, the needs for audiences around flu might be different than the needs around audience around an injury topic, so we had to really work collectively. They have done the hard work of rewriting and reformatting content based on these best practices and the results of our testing.”

Going forward, Crawford said CDC will continue user testing and collecting user feedback. She said the agency is considering at least quarterly user testing with real people on the site as well as pop-up and email surveys.


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