Councils fail to boost overall online user experience, Socitm says

UK local authorities have markedly improved their websites’ accessibility for those with disabilities in the past year, but overall user experience has fallen slightly, a survey has found.

According to Socitm’s annual Better Connected survey, published on 4 June, 59% of the 416 councils assessed passed its accessibility test. This is up from 43% in 2015 and 26% in 2014.

The body, which represents public sector ICT workers, puts this down to simpler, less cluttered and more responsive websites being designed to improve access from mobile phones.

This is borne out in the results for councils offering a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone – 80% now do so, compared with 57% in 2015.

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The experience of using mobile sites has also improved, with 67% of sites gaining three or four stars in 2016, up from 43% in 2015.

However, the report, which is based on more than 3,300 surveys between October 2015 and April 2016, shows that there has been little shift in overall user experience.

In 2016, 44 councils were awarded four stars overall and 138 were awarded three stars. This means that 44% of UK local government websites provide a good or very good user experience.

This is similar to 2015’s results, where 35 councils received four stars and 149 received three stars, which indicated 45% provided a good or very good service.

Among the 44 councils achieving an overall rating of four stars in 2016 are Adur and Worthing, Cheshire East, Kent, Rochdale, Wandsworth and Wigan.

As well as assessing the navigation of the councils’ websites, the survey also tested the sites on a series of online tasks – for instance how to pay council tax – and found that performance varied considerably.

For instance, 78% of sites achieved three or four stars for finding out opening times for the council’s tip, but just 22% of sites did as well for guidance on registering a food business.

Poor performance, the report says, is caused by a range of factors, including confusing headings or labels, complicated customer journeys and badly written content.

Technical factors include poor functionality and integration of third party service management software – particularly in planning and library services – and poor implementation of mapping software.

However, the group praised the councils’ for ensuring it was easy to find such tasks from Google. The report says that the reviewers were unable to use this route to find the tasks in only “a handful of cases”.

Meanwhile, 52% achieved full marks in a test assessing how easy the site is to search.

Image credit: Flickr, CollegeDegrees360


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