Council websites show marked improvement in mobile and accessibility performance in annual Better Connected assessment
Headline results for all 416 council websites free-to-view at betterconnected.socitm.net
Council websites are showing marked improvement in the user experience for people accessing them from mobile devices or with assistive technologies, says Socitm’s Better Connected survey, the annual assessment that covers all 418 local authorities in the UK.
Overall, Better Connected has designated 182 council websites (44 percent 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 percent of councils now have websites purposed for mobile phones. This is a huge change from just two years ago when only 26 percent of councils had a responsive site or a separate mobile version. 68 percent 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 percent of councils passing the Better Connected accessibility test, compared with 43 percent in 2015 and 26 percent 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 percent achieving top possible marks in the search test and 89 percent 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 percent 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 percent of council sites were found to be A-Z free in 2015 and 7 percent in 2014.
Better Connected does not penalize websites that have no A-Z providing their search and navigation functions really well, and advises that if councils do provide an A-Z, then it should be both useful and usable.
Data from the Better Connected surveys show that only 33 percent of sites without an A-Z have really good navigation and search functions. Of sites that continue with an A-Z, well fewer than half (40 percent) achieved a top score for this feature.
Overall, 66 percent of council websites are assessed by Better Connected as having good or very good functionality across their navigation, search and A-Z facilities.
Performance in the tasks assessed by Better Connected varies widely, with ‘Find out opening times for council tip’ and ‘Apply for secondary school place’ achieving the best scores (both 78 percent) and ‘object to a planning application’ (34 percent) and ‘register a food business’ (22 percent) among the worst.
Poor performance in tasks was usually associated with poorly integrated third party software; clunky maps; circuitous or dead-end customer journeys; unnecessary requirements to login to access services; forms not purposed for mobile devices; over-wordy, officious or jargonistic content; and missing or out of date content.
Among the sites scoring four stars in 2015-16 are a number that also achieved this top rank last year, including: Adur and Worthing Councils; Bristol City; Calderdale; Dorset CC; East Riding of Yorkshire; Eden DC; Haringey; Kent CC; Rochdale BC; Sandwell; Staffordshire CC; Wandsworth and Warwick DC.
A series of Better Connected Awards for high performance task and usability surveys, as well as a series of ‘best council by council type’ will be presented on Tuesday 24 May as part of the Better Connected Live event taking place in Birmingham 24/25 May.
Vicky Sargent, Director, Better Connected Programme
Tel: 07726 601139; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors
Better connected has been assessing local authorities’ online performance since 1999. Today it evaluates a wide range of digital performance by local public service providers, covering websites, social media and customer portals, as well as takeup, satisfaction and management.
Better Connected surveys explore the ability of websites to provide quick and easy ‘customer journeys’ and successful resolution of a series of top tasks. ‘Top tasks’ may be informational (Find out about keeping fit) or transactional (pay parking fine).
Tasks are selected from service areas that have high web visitor numbers (based on data from Socitm’s Website Performance service) or which may be important for reasons of legislative or other change.
As well as performance in tasks, the survey evaluates site navigation, search, and A to Z; the degree to which sites are purposed for access from mobile devices; and their accessibility to people with disabilities. Testing the latter is carried out for Better Connected by the Digital Accessibility Centre.
Question sets for tasks and usability tests are available within the free-to-view ‘all council’ reports that appear in the services and usability sections of the site.
All visitors to https://betterconnected.socitm.net can see headline results from Better Connected surveys for all 418 UK local authorities, as well as a range of contextual data relevant to their web/digital performance (population, households, deprivation, web visits, Twitter followers etc).
‘All council’ reports on the sector’s performance in task surveys and tests on access from mobile devices, usability of navigation, search and A-Z, and access for people with disabilities are also free-to-view.
Socitm subscribers can further access full details and commentary on councils’ individual results from Better connected surveys, including those from their own organisation and for other subscribers.
The organisation of Better Connected and presentation of its results has changed significantly for the 2015-16 survey cycle, although the core survey methodology remains the same.
Better Connected now publishes individual reports and results for each service area task surveyed (eg planning, council tax, schools etc). This designed to better engage council service managers with the information Better Connected provides about the user experience of accessing ‘their’ pages and services on the council’s website. That experience is very often determined by decisions that service managers (not web teams) make about third party software procurement; about the way their services are described on the site; and by the customer journeys that site users have to make to access information and services.
Results are presented online with all 418 UK councils having their own Better Connected web pages. Headline results and ‘all council’ reports are accessible to all without log in, making key information accessible to all those who make decisions that impact council website users. This may include teams from IT, customer services, service management and communications. It is now much easier for web managers that use outputs from the Better Connected programme to push the information to all relevant colleagues.
By publishing task and test reports over a period (rather than as a ‘big bang’ on March 1, as in previous years) Better Connected is providing web managers with more time and focus when it comes to feeding back results and best practice to colleagues in service, IT, communications and customer service teams
Awarding stars for individual tasks and tests rather than just for the website overall provides further focus on the individual components that make up a high-performing council website
Providing access to non-subscriber councils’(about 25 percent of the total)headline results gives a more comprehensive picture of UK council website performance overall