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Usability

This section provides access to overall results from the Better Connected surveys (on this page, below) and to results of our surveys on search, navigation and A- Z; access from mobile devices; and accessibility to visitors with disabilities (use menu in right hand column).

Overall results and commentary on the 2016-17 survey cycle

As in 2015-16, all 416 UK council websites were tested by Better Connected’s team of professional reviewers on their performance from a visitor perspective. Each council was subject to:

  • Four ‘service task’ based surveys (eg Sign up for library e-resources; apply for a resident's parking permit; request care assessment for elderly relative, etc)
  • A survey on the quality of site navigation, search and A-Z facilities
  • A survey to access site usability when accessed from a mobile device

In addition, the Digital Accessibility Centre carried out a series of tests to assess sites’ accessibility to people with physical and cognitive impairments. The home pages of all 416 sites were tested at ‘stage one’. Of those that passed, sites belonging to Better Connected subscribers were tested in a ‘stage two’ test that included three service tasks from the main set, and a fourth on the site’s top level pages.

The testing process provides a set of results and commentary for every UK council, available from their own set of pages accessible from the ‘councils’ section of this website. Results comprise:

  • A star ranking (1-4) for each task, with a total possible score of 16 stars
  • A star ranking (1-4) for navigation, search and A-Z
  • A star ranking (1-4) for access from mobiles
  • A rating on a scale of 0 – 3 for accessibility (all sites at stage one, Better Connected subscribers only at stage two

Performance in each of these elements is combined to arrive at an overall Better Connected ranking for each site on a scale of 1 – 4. See box opposite for details of how scores are calculated.

Star rankings 2016-17 and 2015-16

2016-17 No % 2015-16 No %
4 36 9 4 44 11
3 190 46 3 136 33
2 144 35 2 146 35
1 46 11 1 88 21
  416 100   416 100

36 councils have been awarded 4 stars overall in Better Connected 2016-17, and a further 190 have been awarded 3 stars, indicating that 55% of UK local government websites provide a good or very good experience from a user perspective.

The percentage of 3 & 4 star sites has risen by 11 percentage points since 2015-16. Although individual tests were different this year, overall they were comparable, and this is an encouraging result for UK council websites.

Key points of interest from the 2016-17 results:

  • There has been a further increase in the number of council websites that present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone. Our research shows that 89% of sites now do so, compared with 80% in 2015-16 and 57% in 2015.
  • In terms of the mobile experience delivered, 52% of sites achieved three or four stars compared with 67% in 2015-16 based on a significantly more rigorous and demanding mobile test
  • 68% of councils passed (ie scored 3 or 4 stars) in our test of the key tools for accessing content – search, navigation and the A-Z function.
  • In terms of these individual functions, 26% of councils have now dropped the A-Z function altogether (up from 19% in 2015-16). Of those that retain the function, in 82% of cases, it works well or very well.
  • 79% of sites pass the tests on navigation but only 70% search, compared with 89% last year. Our search test was more difficult this year, as noted in the search, navigation and A-Z test report, with some sites needing to make their search function better able to cope with a wider range of search terms
  • Councils do well in terms of the findability of most council services and tasks from Google searches. All our service-based surveys (eg ‘find out about roadworks’ start with a Google search – as do the vast majority of user sessions on the Internet.
  • With most of the ‘top tasks’ we are seeking via Google for Better Connected, between 0% and 3% of sites can’t be found using our search terms. But some tasks performed much worse this year. More than 10% of sites were not found by our search phrase ‘XYZ council social care assessment for elderly person’ and more than 8% of sites were not found by our search phrase ‘XYZ council housing’. Very often these high failure rates were associated with information being presented on third party sites poorly linked to the main council site.
  • 69% of council sites tested passed our test on their accessibility to people with disabilities. This year we tested 195 councils only (see accessibility report for further details), and of this cohort, 77% had passed a similar test last year. However, the tasks test were arguably more difficult this year, and the more directly comparable top pages task was passed by 88% of this year’s test cohort compared with 82% of the same group in 2015-16. Simpler, less cluttered, mobile-responsive websites are doing better in accessibility testing, but continue to let down by third party software that is not purposed for use on mobile devices.
  • Performance in tasks varies considerably, from 85% of sites achieving three or four stars for ‘find out about roadworks’ and 67% for ‘apply for residents’ parking permit’, to a series of results in the low 40s for libraries (sign up for e-resources); building control/building warrant applications and housing (find out how to apply for housing).
  • Results in social care, although hovering around the 50% mark and regarded as ‘concerning’ by our survey partner Independent Age, are better than they have been historically. For example, only 35% passed the 2014-15 task Find out about breaks for carers of adults
  • Performance of council websites in service based tasks, where reviewers look at the whole customer journey and process for tasks, as well as the quality of information content and the way it is presented, is generally less good than their performance in the mobile and search, navigation and A-Z tests which focus on the findablity of content and the performance of site tools. This suggests that web and digital managers, and those they report to, still have work to do to engage service managers with the task of creating properly digital services, as opposed to simply putting a service ‘that has always been delivered that way’, online.

Performance in tasks

Better Connected 4 star websites in 2016-17

  • Aberdeenshire
  • Angus
  • Basingstoke & Deane BC
  • Chelmsford City
  • Cheshire East *
  • Chesterfield BC
  • Doncaster
  • East Renfrewshire *
  • East Riding of Yorkshire *
  • East Sussex CC *
  • Eden DC *
  • Haringey *
  • Harrogate BC
  • Herefordshire
  • Hinckley & Bosworth BC
  • Huntingdonshire DC
  • Islington
  • Kent CC *
  • Lewes DC
  • Lichfield DC
  • Midlothian
  • Milton Keynes *
  • Mole Valley DC *
  • Oxfordshire CC
  • Richmond upon Thames *
  • Rochdale BC *
  • Rugby BC *
  • Runnymede BC
  • Sandwell *
  • South Tyneside
  • Telford & Wrekin
  • Wandsworth *
  • Warwick DC *
  • Waverley BC *
  • West Lancashire BC
  • Wyre BC

* denotes 4 stars in 2015-16 also

Overall results and commentary on the 2015-16 survey cycle

Between September 2015 and April 2016, the Better Connected team of eight professional reviewers carried out 3,328 surveys to test the quality of UK local authority websites. Every council was tested through:

  • Four ‘task’ based surveys (eg ‘pay council tax’; ‘apply for a secondary school place’; ‘find out how to apply for housing’)
  • Surveys on the quality of each site’s navigation, search and A-Z facilities
  • A survey to access the usability of the site when accessed from a mobile device

In addition, the Digital Accessibility Centre carried out a series of tests on every site’s accessibility to people with physical and cognitive impairments.

The testing process provides a set of results and commentary for every UK council, available from their own set of pages on this website. Results comprise:

  • A star ranking (1-4) for each task, with a total possible score of 16 stars
  • A star ranking (1-4) for navigation, search and A-Z
  • A star ranking (1-4) for access from mobiles
  • A rating on a scale of 0 – 3 for accessibility

Performance in each of these elements is combined to arrive at an overall Better Connected ranking for each site on a scale of 1 – 4. See box opposite for details.

Star rankings 2015-16 and 2015

2015-16 No % 2015 No %
4 44 11 4 35 8
3 138 33 3 149 37
2 146 35 2 109 27
1 88 21 1 114 28
  416 100   407 100

44 councils have been awarded 4 stars overall in Better Connected 2015-16, and a further 138 have been awarded 3 stars, indicating that 44% of UK local government websites provide a good or very good experience from a user perspective.

The totals are very similar to those in 2015, although there have been some changes in the tests carried out (not the methodology) and the aggregation of results between the two years. Fewer sites were tested in 2015 because surveys excluded Northern Ireland Districts, that only came into existence on 1 April 2015.

Highlights from the 2015-16 results include:

  • a sharp increase in the number of council websites that present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone. Our research shows that 80% of sites now do so, compared with 57% in 2015. In terms of the experience delivered, 67% of sites achieved three or four stars compared with the 32% that passed a comparable test in 2015.
  • The accessibility of sites to people with disabilities has also improved significantly, with 59% of councils passing this year’s accessibility test, compared with 43% in 2015 and 26% in 2014. This trend to improvement is associated with the simpler, less cluttered, responsive websites being designed for access from mobiles.
  • Councils are doing well with site search, with 52% achieving top possible marks, and 89% passing in the Better Connected test.
  • Councils are also doing well in terms of the findability of tasks from Google searches. All our ‘task’ reviews (‘pay council tax’, ‘find out how to apply for housing’ etc) start with from a Google search and in only a handful of cases were reviewers unable to use this route.
  • Performance in tasks varies considerably, from 78% of sites tested achieving three or four stars for ‘find out opening times for council tip’ and ‘apply for secondary school place’, to just 22% for ‘register a food business’ and ‘object to a planning application’.
  • The same causes of poor performance in tasks continue to be seen. These include: poor functionality and integration of third party service management software (especially planning and libraries); headings and labels that are confusing and/or inconsistent; poor choice/implementation of mapping software; complicated customer journeys; badly written and overlong content; requiring users to register and log in when this is not necessary to deliver the service.

Performance in tasks varies considerably:

Service area Task 3 &4 stars
Rubbish & Recyling Find out opening times for council tip 78%
Schools/youth Apply for secondary school place 78%
Leisure Find out about keeping fit 72%
Parking Pay parking fine 71%
Council tax Pay council tax 62%
Housing Find out how to apply for housing 58%
Transport & buses Apply for older person's bus pass 48%
Libraries Renew a library book 45%
Rubbish & recycling Report missed bin 41%
Schools/youth Apply for primary school place 41%
Planning Object to a planning application 34%
Business Register food business 22%

Better Connected 4 star websites in 2015-16

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