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Council websites are showing marked improvement in the user experience for people accessing them from mobile devices or with assistive technologies, says Better Connected, Socitm's annual assessment that covers all 416 UK local authorities websites.

Overall, Better Connected has designated 182 council websites (44% of the total) as providing a good or very good user experience based on a series of surveys carried out between October 2015 and April 2016.

The Better Connected team of professional reviewers carried out 3,328 surveys over this period to test the quality of UK local authority websites. Every council was tested through:

  • Four ‘task’ based surveys (eg ‘pay council tax’; ‘apply for a secondary school place’; ‘find out how to apply for housing’)
  • Surveys on the quality of each site’s navigation, search and A-Z facilities
  • A survey to access the usability of the site when accessed from a mobile device

In addition, the Digital Accessibility Centre carried out a series of tests to measure every site’s accessibility to people with physical and cognitive impairments, a proportion of whom will be using assistive technologies.

The survey results show that 80% of councils now have websites purposed for mobile phones. This is a huge change from just two years ago when only 26% of councils had a responsive site or a separate mobile version. 68% of sites provide a good or very good experience from a mobile devices according to Better Connected.

Accessibility of sites to people with disabilities has also improved significantly, with 59% of councils passing the Better Connected  accessibility test, compared with 43% in 2015 and 26% in 2014. This trend to improvement is associated with the simpler, less cluttered websites being designed to accommodate access from mobiles.

Councils are doing well with site search, with 52% achieving top possible marks in the search test and 89% achieving a pass score for this element.  Findability of tasks from Google searches is good too. Better Connected ‘task’ reviews all start with this test and in only a handful of cases were reviewers unable to use this route to access information directly.

80 sites (19% of the total) have abandoned the A-Z feature, a navigational aid traditional within local authority websites. Typically the reason cited for doing so is that the cost of maintaining the facility outweighs the benefit where it is not well used. 12% of council sites were found to be A-Z free in 2015 and 7% in 2014.

Headline results for all 416 council websites free-to-view on the Better Connected website.