your website... who cares?

The Likeaword Consultancy report into council websites throws up some fascinating data. You can learn more in SOCITM's revamped Better Connected website which you can look at council websites authority-by-authority.

 by Vicky Sargent

According very recent data collected and published by the Likeaword consultancy, there were 658,544,076 visits to local government websites in Great Britain in the year to 31 July 2015.

That’s 10.5 visits for every woman, man and child in our population, and by any measure a lot of people ‘visiting the council’ and forming opinions about it, through the website.

Do those running local authorities care enough about the sort of experience these huge numbers of visitors are having? Do they appreciate the sheer numbers involved? Or the pressing need to getting even more people doing their council stuff online?

Concern that they don’t has been a major driver behind the recent opening up of data and learning from the long-running Better connected research.

Better connected, as some readers will know, has a team of reviewers assess every UK council website each year from a customer perspective, testing how easy it is to carry out ‘top tasks’ like finding the location of the council tip, applying for a blue badge, or getting a school place for your kids. Testing exposes where websites make things difficult for users, through poor navigation, badly implemented search, obscure, over-wordy content, or pages that are hard to use from a mobile device.

Findings from Better connected, previously published in a ‘doorstep’ pdf with supporting spreadsheets, are now available online, through a new website.

Every UK local authority has its own results page on the site. All site visitors can see headline results for their council in Better connected 2014 and earlier, as well as a range of contextual and open data published for all councils including visit numbers, schools admissions online, deprivation data, and social media stats.

The public area of the site also has reports on digital performance in key areas covered by Better connected, like planning, social care, highways, libraries and leisure, well as ‘all council’ reports and results for accessibility, usability, access from mobiles, and digital engagement and management.

Any employee of a council that subscribes to Socitm (the not-for-profit organisation that owns Better connected) - that’s around three quarters of all UK councils – can register for a free account and login to see detailed results for their council in the latest surveys. The detail gets down to individual question level, so that if you want to find out if the online form offered for reporting a missed bin is one that works for mobiles, you can do.

Along with the new online presence come a number of other key changes to Better connected.

Individual service areas will, from 2015/16 surveys onwards, be given ‘star rankings’ based on the outcome of tasks surveyed. These rankings, where 4* denotes an excellent website and 1* a poor one, have previously only been awarded for whole sites.

The aim here is to better engage service managers with the performance of their online services. There is a tendency for service managers to deny responsibility for service users’ web experiences, overlooking the fact that items likely to be under their control, including service design, specification and management of software, content and navigation of their pages, is absolutely central.

A further development that will raise the visibility of the performance of different service areas online – as opposed to the performance of the council website as a whole – is that surveys will be carried out and reported separately over a series of months, rather than being bundled into a single ‘website’ report published once a year.

Reports on the first survey in the 2015/16 series, Transport & buses: apply for an older person’s bus pass will be published in the next few days, followed in November by Parking: pay a parking, and Schools: apply for a secondary school place (primary in Scotland) other surveys in the programme (you can see what they are on the website) will be rolled out between now and March.

Surveys about usability elements including search, A-Z, navigation, access from mobiles and accessibility will be carried out and reported after the service area surveys have been completed.

Sites will also be given a star ranking covering usability, and this, together with the service area rankings, will count towards an overall site ranking for each council announced after the end of the survey cycle in April.

A final innovation worth mentioning to readers of Comms2Point0, is that in putting the Better connected results online, we have taken the opportunity to give councils the ‘right to reply’ to what we write about the user experience of their websites.

Every council web page has a comment feature that can be used to respond. Perhaps you have spotted a mistake? Maybe the your website is in the middle of a re-design and you want tell people that problems identified in the survey are being sorted. Or you might argue that there is a good reason for doing something the Better connected reviewer has taken issue with. Or maybe you just want to ask a question.

The Better connected team has always responded to feedback, whether received directly by email, via Twitter, or our Knowledge Hub community. Now we have this highly visible comment facility, we are looking forward to an even more direct and open dialogue.

Vicky Sergent is owner of Boilerhouse Media Group.

Picture credit.