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% 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 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 implemented a responsive site or a separate mobile version. A total of 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 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.
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%) and ‘object to a planning application’ (34%) and ‘register a food business’ (22%) 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 & 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.
Alistair Duggin, head of accessibility at the Government Digital Service, recently outlined how he intends to make GOV.UK as accessible as possible.