Mobile shift feeds drop in council website ratings

Visitor satisfaction with local authority websites dropped by 12% last year, despite improvements in some areas, according to a major review by public sector ICT professional body Socitm.

Socitm’s Better Connected: a Snapshot of all Local Authority Websites combined results from user feedback with testing of specific tasks by a panel of reviewers.

This year’s report, for the first time, integrated assessments of mobile sites into the survey, and Socitm said this played a significant role in this year’s fall in ratings.

The report said: “The main factor in the drop in performance has been the poorer mobile experience.

“Only 33% passed our general assessment of the mobile experience and, in addition, tasks tested using mobile devices have performed half as well as those using desktop devices.”

The report found that an average of 22.50% of visits ended in complete failure, the highest level of failure since Socitm began producing its annual reviews in 2008.

Reviewers reported that only 33 per cent of council websites passed its standard for navigation for nine “top tasks” they examined.

Sites passing a specialist accessibility test dropped sharply from 195 councils (45%) to 105 councils (26%) over the past year, again attributed to a poorer experience on mobile devices.

A total of 31 councils achieved the top four-star ranking, compared with 39 in 2013.

Improvements in some areas

Socitm said that changes in some of the tasks assessed as part of the survey may have affected the results, but added that 17 sites which retained their 2013 four-star status were “able to succeed in responding to the different survey without a drop in performance”.

Despite the 12 per cent drop in public satisfaction, user feedback showed a rise of 27 per cent in satisfaction with search and a 31 per cent rise in satisfaction with mapping services.

Overall, reviewers found a slight overall improvement in the achievement of standards laid down by Socitm from 1,115 standards achieved for seven criteria across 410 websites, compared to 1,131 across 433 sites in 2013.

The use of mobile devices, smartphones and tablets to access online information is rapidly catching up with traditional access from desktops and laptops, according to the survey.

It found that 31% of visits to council websites in 2013 were made on mobile devices, reaching 37 per cent in December during severe weather.

However, reviewers identified a range of good and bad practice in the design of mobile web services.

Among criticisms, reviewers said that, even on fully responsive websites, forms often lacked any mobile optimisation.

The report said: “This meant that the user was taken from an attractive, usable page of information to a tiny, fiddly form.”

Another common issue was that forms often ask for a large amount of text to be keyed, which was less easy on a mobile device.

“The best sites alleviate this by only asking for genuinely essential information and offering handy shortcuts like postcode search instead of requiring a full address to be entered,” the review said.

And reviewers found said that many councils made registration mandatory before an online form could be completed, “a significant barrier for mobile users who may not wish to spend the extra time filling in several fields of personal data before they can complete the task”.

The report also identified problems with dropdown menus, functional limitations on form completion, unreadable CAPTCHA images, and a lack of care over the removal of website elements from mobile versions.

Responding to the findings, Helen Milner, chief executive of digital improvement organisation the Tinder Foundation, said: “For me, the area that councils really need to focus their energies on in the coming years is making their services accessible via mobile.”

She added that the issue was especially pressing because for some users, particularly those on lower incomes, mobile is the only way they access online services.

Colin Marrs

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to our newsletter