Public Services > Local Government

Socitm expresses usability concerns over council website updates

Neil Merrett Published 11 July 2017

Better Connected study looking at websites overhauled during 2016/17 found over half were not passing tests for mobile usability and navigation


Socitm has said that under half of 91 council websites redesigned between April 2016 and March this year have passed usability tests looking at navigation and mobile device compatibility.

The findings form part of public sector IT managers group Socitm’s Better Connected survey, which is devised to research and measure the online performance of UK local authorities based on mystery shopping-style tests.

According to the study’s most recent findings, websites revamped during the last financial year were tested on two separate factors.  These factors were the usability of a website when accessed by a mobile device, and the effectiveness of a site search and other navigation functions.

“Results showed that 45% of the 91 new sites scored three or four stars for both tests, compared with 41% of all council websites achieving three or four stars for the same two tests,” noted Socitm of the testing.

Top rankings of four stars were given by reviewers to six councils for their website revamps.  These authorities are Chelmsford City Council, Eden District Council, Harrogate Borough Council, Herefordshire Council, Midlothian Council, and Warwick District Council, all of which received accolades at the Better Connected Awards.

Based on the findings, 39 councils, amounting to 43% of the survey group, had not had their sites purposed for mobile access before their revamps during 2016/17.

With a majority of councils reporting that over half their visits online now come from mobile devices, Socitm argued that sites that are not designed to support such technology can undermine the user experience.

Particular concern was noted around the impacts of failing to optimise sites for mobile devices for users with disabilities.  Authorities failing to accommodate mobile were unable to gain above a one star ranking in the Better Connected survey, according to Socitm.

The latest study concluded that 44 council websites across the UK were not purposed for mobile.  Of the 91 authorities studied for the Better Connected usability research, two councils that have revamped their websites were found to not have built solutions fit for mobile access.

Better Connected Director Vicky Sargent argued that the findings showed that the recently redesigned websites were “only just outperforming” older solutions in use by other councils.

“[The results indicate] that councils may not be getting the value they might from their investment in upgrading sites, including new content management systems and other software, changes in site information architecture and visual design,” she said. “While user experience is only part of the story, and judgement of RoI requires analysis of user numbers and productivity gains, these results should be the cause of some concern.”

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