A setup checklist when launching a new website
This is a high-level checklist of tasks for setting up a new USDA website (or redesigning an existing one). It incorporates official USDA policies, as well as the legal requirements of the 21st Century IDEA Act, which new and redesigned websites must follow.
IDEA Act requirements say that websites must:
Comply with Section 508 accessibility requirements
Have consistent appearance
Not overlap with or duplicate legacy websites
Have a site search feature
Use industry-standard secure connection (https)
Be designed around user needs based on qualitative and quantitative data
Have an option for a more customized digital experience
Be fully functional on common mobile devices
Comply with U.S. Website Standards (the U.S. Web Design System)
You can also find additional step-by-step instructions and resources within the rest of this site.
Office of Communications (OC) Approval
When you’re creating a new USDA website (or web page for an initiative or program) or redesigning an existing one, work with your Communications Coordinator and the OC early in the process so that we can review your design drafts and make recommendations or edits before you start your development phase.
OC will need to clear your website three times:
First, to approve your initial designs
Second, to approve your completed prototype
Finally, before you launch your website publicly
You cannot continue development or publicly launch your website without OC’s approval. (If you follow the USDA Digital Strategy and coordinate with OC, approval is usually quick and easy.)
What OC Will Review
OC will check to make sure all new and redesigned USDA public-facing websites and web-based applications follow USDA’s look-and-feel guidelines. We will:
Check that your Agency branding and identity follow USDA’s department-wide look and feel. USDA websites should embody the values outlined in the OneUSDA Regulation.
Work with your Communications Coordinator to ensure your new site’s content and scope fits your broader communications objectives.
Review your draft and schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss any issues.
To Request Clearance
Unless otherwise noted, please email Peter Rhee, Director of Digital Communications (email@example.com)
You should have a defined web governance structure that defines who is involved in creating and managing content, developing and supporting technology, marketing the products, and all the activities associated with the websites (consulting, marketing, reporting, budgeting, managing technology, etc.).
USDA's web policies document the governance structure, including the functions, roles, and authorities of each person (position) in the structure and the rules that each member of the structure must follow to work together. See Digital.gov for a Digital Governance Policy Outline.
Use existing .gov websites and infrastructure as much as possible. If you need a new sub-domain for an external-facing website (for example: newinitiative.usda.gov), you need to get approval from the Office of Communications. We will review all requests and only approve them after close consideration. We will only make exceptions if there aren’t any other viable options.
We will review all USDA domain name requests on a case-by-case basis. USDA websites must follow the proper syntax:
For agency domains, the agency (in this example, FSIS) is typically a subdomain preceding usda.gov:
For new initiatives, we using the initiative name as a top-level directory on the agency domain:
In certain cases, the initiative name will be a subdomain preceding the agency subdomain:
Partnerships and Interagency Websites
There are instances where USDA partners with external Federal Agencies to develop a web site that is co-managed by two or more Departments. We will review all of these types of domain name requests on a case-by-case basis.
Note: OMB guidelines prohibit the use of non-government domains such as .net, .org, .tv, or .com.
Agencies must make every effort to ensure users can access their websites with or without ‘www’ in the address. For example, users should arrive at the same webpage whether they type www.usda.gov or usda.gov.
You can do this by adding both the www and the non-www addresses to the DNS, one as the A-record, and one as an alias. For sites that use Akamai, the non‐www URL should be DNSed to the Origin web server.
OMB guidance says that federal websites must use HTTP Secure (https) connections for website services. For more information, see The HTTPS-Only Standard.
Accessibility (Section 508 Compliance)
According to Section508.gov, “Accessibility is about more than compliance with standards. It’s about developing solutions to meet the needs of all users, with and without disabilities.”
To make sure you’re creating accessible experiences, you must understand the needs of each disability type and build your site from the beginning with universal access in mind. Doing so minimizes the barriers to your audience and maximizes their ability to engage with your website.
All USDA websites must undergo 508 testing and assurance that the website is 508 compliant. In addition to initial testing, maintenance of that website and content (PDFs, Word documents, etc.) must be 508-compliant.
Review our Accessibility Web Guidelines for more information.
For more information on the Section 508 clearance process or to find your agency’s Section 508 Coordinator, contact Angela Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you require assistance or wish to report an issue related to the accessibility of any content on the USDA website, please email email@example.com.
Website usability is the measure of the quality of a customer's experience when they interact with your website, including if they’re able to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process. Usability is a combination of factors including:
Memorability: Can users remember how to use the system or do they have to start over again learning everything?
Ease of learning: How fast can users who have never seen the user interface learn it sufficiently well to accomplish basic tasks?
Efficiency of use: Once experienced users have learned to use the system, how fast can they accomplish tasks?
Error frequency and severity: How often do users make errors, how serious are these errors, and how do they recover from these errors?
Subjective satisfaction: How much do users like using the system?
You should follow basic usability principles and techniques when you manage your website. Get started with this list of usability resources:
Responsive Mobile Design
Responsive web design refers to a fluidly constructed web page layout that scales to work whether you’re using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. By using responsive design, you’ll ensure that all of your users have a good experience, regardless of what they’re using to see your site. See more in our Responsive Design Web Guidelines or check out Digital.gov’s guide to creating mobile-friendly websites.
Your website should follow USDA’s Design and Brand Web Guidance, to show users that they’re on a USDA website. As a rule of thumb, between the USDA header and footer, you have flexibility to design a site that creatively fulfills the mission of your agency… as long as you maintain a consistent appearance and follow best industry practices. OC will review your website for consistent appearance (as well as address your website’s goals to see if it overlaps with or duplicates an existing site).
USDA websites must have site search. For more information, see GSA’s search product for federal websites.
USDA websites need to follow federal guidelines on plain writing. Generally, you should use the simplest, clearest language that gets your message across. This includes following best practices like using active voice and avoiding long sentences. Evaluate your content for plain language using our web guidelines, and for full guidance, see USDA’s Plain Writing page and PlainLanguage.gov.
External Linking Guidance
You can only hyperlink to a website if it’s sponsored, supported, or partnered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; is educational in nature; or is another Government website, including those sites sponsored by State or local governments. If your agency determines you need to link externally in the proper performance of an agency function, you must take reasonable steps to ensure the presentation is accurate, relevant, timely, and complete. Agencies must reasonably assure suitable information and service quality, consistent with the level of importance of the information. Reasonable steps include:
Clearly identifying the limitations inherent in the information dissemination product (e.g., possibility of errors, degree of reliability, and validity) so users are fully aware of the quality and integrity of the information or service,
Taking reasonable steps to remove the limitations inherent in the information, and
Reconsidering linking to the information or services. Agency links to commercial organizations or interest groups present special challenges with respect to maintaining agency objectivity and thus must be used judiciously.
You need to determine how much information you need to provide in other languages, based on an assessment of your website visitors. For specific OMB requirements and resources on how to implement, see the Multilingual Community of Practice.
This page was last updated July 31, 2019.
Tell Us What You Think
The USDA Digital Strategy is being produced iteratively and relies on feedback from you to tell us what content you need to see, as well as what is and isn’t working. To send feedback, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.