how effective is your home page?

Every year SOCITM publish their Better Connected report into how local government websites are faring. Spending all your effort on your homepage?  

by John Fox 

The way that website visitors are led to the tasks they require is fundamental to achieving a successful website design. Better connected 2015, published today by Socitm Insight, includes an analysis of the effectiveness of council website home and landing pages.

The layout of the home page must be simple and clear and it must provide easy access to the tasks that users are looking for. These factors are equally important for all the service landing pages, since many website visitors bypass the home page, by using an internet search engine such as Google. It is still important to get home page right. Indeed, the home page can often be indicative of what is right or wrong about the site as a whole. Is it cluttered or clear?

We tested each site with just two questions that might indicate how well the site has adopted the top task approach, combined with the reviewer’s rating for navigation. According to these criteria, 37 per cent passed our standard, four percentage points higher than last year’s 33 per cent, using the same criteria.

One of two critical questions assessed the design of the home page and the other the consistency of the design on all landing pages.

Since we introduced the top tasks concept in 2011, we have criticised the design of many websites for being too cluttered and complicated to manage this concept.

For Better connected 2015 we set out to quantify the degree of clutter and complexity, by asking a number of supplementary questions. We did not use them in the ranking of sites, but simply to support our commentary about good and poor practice.

The design of navigation around top tasks is the crux of the issue in achieving a high quality of online experience. This year’s report summarises what constitutes poor practice and focuses on the many councils that we believe have got it right.

For example, 337 council websites (83 per cent) have at least two navigational devices on the home page (excluding use of search and A to Z index). The average is over four for each site, and, astonishingly, eleven sites have 10 or more different navigational devices on the home page. No wonder some sites are cluttered and confusing!

Better connected 2015 provides this checklist of pitfalls to avoid to ensure your home page is effective:

  • ·       Have you ignored top tasks in the design of any of your service landing pages?
  • ·       Have you used too many navigational devices?
  • ·       Have you really taken care about the naming of your links and tasks?
  • ·       Are you still using the LGNL classification as a navigation mechanism (SNL in Scotland)?
  • ·       Have you used the ‘Pay for it, Report it, Apply for it’ structure, inappropriate for desktop navigation?
  • ·       Have you taken up too much prime space for news, events and press releases, etc?
  • ·       Have you resorted to below-the-fold navigation?
  • ·       Have you used hovering menus for tasks?
  • ·       Have you misused carousels as a navigational device?

About Better connected

Better connected 2015 can be accessed free of charge by any employee of a council that subscribes to Socitm Insight. Around three quarters of UK councils subscribe to Socitm Insight (you can access a list of subscribers at www.socitm.net/paid-up-insight-subscribers). Non-subscribers can buy a copy of the printed report, available from www.socitm.net.

John Fox is a reviewer for Socitm’s Better connected reports. Socitm is the professional membership body for leaders of IT and digitally-enabled services delivered for public benefit.

Picture credit.