Hitwise has announced that government website visits were up 10.4% year-on-year in March 2009.

According to the company’s new ‘Online Government Report, this growth suggests that the community is finding online government services increasingly useful.

Australian visits to government websites also outstripped US and UK usage during the same time period.

However, government agencies need to ensure that the online delivery of their services is meeting the needs of the community, particularly as the internet becomes a primary point of contact between organisations and users.

One of the key findings from the report was that government agencies should benchmark their websites against similar departments and industry players. The Bureau of Meteorology was the leading government website nationally, with 44.8% share of visits, and was also the leading news and media website ahead of major publishers.

“As times get tough during the economic downturn, government will play an increasingly important role in providing vital services to the community. The effective delivery of these services through the online channel can result in cost-savings for government and potentially improve community well-being,” explained Hitwise senior analyst, Sandra Hanchard.

Other findings from the report included results showing Victorian bushfires searches dropped off four weeks after the crisis, and that SEO should be used by government websites to compete effectively with the commercial sector.

Also according to the report, social media can be used by government to connect with a broad spectrum of the community, as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia all ranked among the top websites visited by Australians in March.