big numbers on council websites: a guide for comms folk

A major piece of insight on council websites has been published by Ben Proctor of the Likeaword Consultancy. The numbers are impressive... more than 10 visits for every man, woman and child in the UK. But what do they mean for local government comms people? Isn't that just the web teams job? Actually, no. We asked Ben to interpret.

by Ben Proctor 

The report in question which you can read here is an analysis of some key data points about visits to local authority websites in Great Britain. I asked every council for a small number of figures about visits to their websites and drawn some conclusions as a result.

It’s not all about the websites (except it is)

I am very aware that comms these days isn’t about getting hits on your website. It’s about digital engagement, community development, Instagram and SnapChat.

But this report is about websites. It can’t tell you about digital engagement because I didn’t ask any questions about anything else. 


Do a lot of people visit your website? 

There are 659 million visits to local authority websites every year. That’s a lot of visits. Indeed that’s the number I’ve been leading with along with: that’s 10 visits for every child, woman and man in the country. 


Wow right?

Except, think of all your leisure centre, arts centre, and planning sites, and that beautiful digital press office you just commissioned, and that information advice and guidance service your social care team is so excited about. Actually Isn’t 10 visits per person a bit, well, disappointing? 

Or, to be a bit more positive, there seems to be significant room for growth. And, let’s face it, it’s going to you who has to get that number up. So rejoice, there is more work for you. 


How much difference does publicity make?

Not as much as you might imagine. 

There is a very close relationship between the size of the population and the number of visits to the council’s website. This may seem to be the world’s least surprising result: of course Kent County Council gets more visits than Taunton Deane District Council but you would expect variation around that relationship if marketing and communications campaigns are being more effective in some areas rather than others.

And there is lots of variation between London boroughs but for the rest of local authorities surprisingly little. It’s almost as though if you planted a district council anywhere in the country it would get a certain number of visits just because those people visit district council websites.


Mobile (and tablet) is important. 

Overall 56% of visits to council websites are made on desktop devices but this an area where there is a lot variation. 

But as a working assumption 20% of visits on tablets, 30% on phones and 50% on PCs is a good estimate. This is a great indicator for making your campaigns “mobile first”. It’s a brilliant discipline. Take a piece of paper, draw an iPhone screen. Put your whole marketing/PR campaign in that screen. No scrolling, no clicking, just there.

It’s hard isn’t it? But this is where you start to earn your corn.


You have loads of data 

Only one council in the country doesn’t collect web usage stats. Which means yours does.

Sitting in your council is a huge repository of detailed information about who is using your website, on what device, at what time, where they land, where they give up.

And if you aren’t using that in comms planning, well your comms planning isn’t very good.


If you aren’t using campaign tagging you have holes in your data

Google Analytics (used by the vast majority of local authorities) has sophisticated tools to track how people found your site. And it displays this nicely in its acquisitions reports. Unfortunately GA can’t usually tell if someone clicked on a link in an email or in the mobile app of a social network. It just says “dunno where they came from”.

Given that social networks and email are quite important tools and 50% of your traffic comes from mobile or table devices there is a big gap in your understanding. 

Luckily there is a solution. Campaign Tagging. It’s surprisingly easy to implement and it plugs this gap magnificently. 

Ben Proctor is founder of the Likeaword Consultancy. 

Picture credit.

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