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Usability from mobile device

Why important

In the first three months of 2016, nearly half (48%) of all visits to council websites were from mobile devices (tablets as well as smartphones), according to data from Socitm’s Website Performance Service. This is a rise from 42% in 2015, and is not far behind figures for accessing the Internet for any purpose, based on data from Ofcom’s August 2015 Communications Data Report. This showed a that 52% of UK Internet access was from mobile devices, including a third from smartphones and nearly 20% from tablets. Clearly, councils need to ensure a good experience for the large and growing proportion of their customers using a mobile device to access information and services.

Coverage

All UK councils

Overview

Councils are certainly rising to the mobile challenge. Our research shows that 80% of council sites present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone. This compares with 57% in 2015 – a huge change over just 12 months. Our figures for instances of responsive or mobile council websites are in line with Google’s numbers for ‘mobile friendly’ sites - with one or two exceptions. The vast majority of councils are opting to create responsive websites rather having a separate one for mobile visitors: we found just 7% took reviewers to a mobile version. This compares with 12% that had a separate mobile site in 2015. In terms of quality of the visitor experience, the 68% of sites awarded three or four stars is a good result compared with the 32% that passed a comparable test in 2015. The test is, however, somewhat limited. Unlike the rubbish and recycling tasks that were carried out on mobiles, reviewers did not have to find detailed information or attempt to complete any forms. We did not complete the survey for councils that did not present either a mobile responsive site or a mobile version.

Find your council report

Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2015-16 results

Headline Results

68%*

Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey

Better connected rankings

41%
27%
6%
6%
20%

*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off

Key
  • 4 stars (Very Good)
  • 3 stars (Good)
  • 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
  • 1 star (Poor)
  • 0 star (N/A)

Questions

Information Questions - not scored Percentage answered correctly
What type of site are you presented with? (If you are offered a mobile option, accept it) 71%
When you enter the council URL into your web browser, what type of site are you presented with? If offered a mobile site accept it 72%
Is there an easy way to find a contact telephone number? 62%
Is the navigation obvious/explicit? 68%
Is site search obvious/explicit? 57%
Were you ever offered an app on this site ? 5%
Would you recommend that other councils look at this implementation as an example of good practice? 21%
Scored questions

Different topics were sought depending on council type since not all services are delivered by all councils

average score all councils (0-3)
How quickly can I find a list of councillors by ward or postcode? 1.7
How quickly can I check if there are any current vacancies? 1.8
How quickly can I find out how to report a pothole? 2.1
How quickly can I find out if the council can provide a copy of a birth certificate? 2.0
How quickly can I find out how to apply for a blue badge? 2.1
How quickly can I find out how to get a taxi licence? 1.9
How quickly can I find out whether my student son needs to pay council tax? 1.9
How quickly can I find out how report an anti-social behaviour problem? 1.6
How quickly can I find out how to get a dog licence? 1.9
How quickly can I find out how to report noisy neighbours? 1.2
How quickly can I find out how to get a copy birth certificate? 1.8
Was your browsing of this site on your mobile device free of errors that prevented you completing the task ? 75%
Overall, how would you rate the mobile experience? 1.9

Task report

Those designing the mobile experience should not assume (as some did in the early days of mobile) that mobile users are in a rush, on the move, want local information only, are using the the latest devices, or have a choice of mobile or desktop to access content.

Internet use from mobiles is now mainstream, and site users need to be able to get to the same content and facilities, and use them with the same ease, as desktop users. This should not be seen as a burden. In fact far from it: simplifying content and navigation hugely benefits desktop users too.

Our mobile assessment this year did not require reviewers to find anything other than top level information, or attempt to access and complete forms or other online interactions, and if it had, the overall result would almost certainly have been much less good than the 67% good or very good experience we recorded.

Those who doubt this should check out our task report on the experience of reporting a missed bin. This found that 41% of websites provided a good or very good service, whereas when the task was last tested on desktops, in 2014, 57% managed the equivalent score. Those who scored badly in the missed bin test were picked up on forms not designed with the mobiel user in mind, ‘mobile’ sites that quickly reverted to the desktop site, hard to use navigation, limited content, and more.

Furthermore, many sites that were technically responsive had text and links that were far too small. There is a great deal of difference between a site that’s been crammed onto the screen and one that is genuinely mobile first.

Better Connected frequently criticizes sites that put key information into a PDF. These might be regarded as an inconvenience on a desktop but are an absolute no-no for the mobile - fiddly to download and try to read on a tiny screen. No essential service information should be contained in a PDF. Sticking to this rule will also greatly benefit desktop users. Content editors should think very carefully: how much of that information is really needed?

Care needs to be taken with links, including lists, clusters of links and links wrapped across lines. When links are positioned close together they are hard to scan on a desktop. But on a mobile they are both hard to scan AND click. Groups of links should be:

  • Thought of as signposts – so they need to be prominent
  • Spaced out so there’s some white space and they’re easy to read and easy to click
  • Not wrapped across lines
  • Free of non-essential words e.g. instead of ‘Disabled Blue Badge Permits and parking’, use ‘Blue badges’
  • Unbundled: where sites offer ‘Council tax and Benefits’ as a single option and the resulting page simply asks you to choose one  of them, wasting a click

There is a significant trend for ‘concertina content’ devices that contain and hide content beneath headers that can be clicked to reveal the content and clicked again to close the content. Their usefulness of this feature is not always obvious – does it really add to the user experience - and designs should make it clear how the device works.

It is also common for site designs to hide navigation behind a ‘hamburger’ – typically three stacked lines – placed at the top of the screen. While experienced web browsers may recognise that the icon when clicked will reveal a menu, others will not. Our survey found 16% of the responsive or mobile sites we tested did not have their navigation clear and explicit.

Some sites also hide their search, expecting users to understand that a magnifying glass when clicked will reveal search. 29% of the responsive or mobile sites we tested fell into this category.

Another ultra-minimalist approach is providing hardly any navigation so that users are forced to search. Bear in mind, however, that on a mobile, it is easier to scan the navigation available and click with your thumb on a good link. It’s less easy to think of a search term and then thumb in ‘council tax payments’ and then thumb down a list of search results.

Make sure site navigation works in the same way throughout the site. If the site navigation uses dropdowns that appear on your mobile as radio buttons that you have to select and click ‘done’ to get to the next page – then that same method should be used throughout the entire site, including on third party systems for democracy, planning etc. If the navigation method changes in different parts of the site, then it’s very confusing for customers and they may think the navigation is broken.

Button links that use arrows/symbols can be problematic. This is a bit like the concertina content issue. Reviewers found examples of sites that have a button or banner-style link on the homepage that use the symbols < and >. Sometimes these seem to signify arrows and sometimes they signify ‘more’ or ‘less’ but it may not be immediately obvious to the user what they mean or how they work. If symbols are being used as ‘more’ or ‘less’, it would be better to use + and – signs instead.

It can be irritating where elements within a page have their own independent scrolling. This means that when you get to that part of the page swiping only scrolls that element and not the whole page. This happens on many sites with Twitter where the user ends up scrolling through tweets instead progressing down the home page. It also happens with maps and forms. It is usually possible to get past it, but it is off-putting and should be avoided.

Finally, Better Connected recommends that the council phone number is prominent when the site is accessed via a mobile. While councils may wish to discourage use of the phone as part of their channel shift initiatitives, many people still use a smartphone primarily as a phone and so finding a council telephone number should be as easy as possible. There are no right answers on this point. Each organisation needs to take a view on this that reflects the stage it has reached on its digital journey. Our survey found that 23% of the responsive or mobile sites we tested did not make their contact number easy to access.

Good practice

  • Key information is placed at the top of the page and reducing the need for scrolling
  • Forms are designed with mobile users in mind - desktop users also benefit.
  • There is no need to key in lots of text when completing forms because only genuinely essential information is requested. Handy shortcuts like postcode search are available so there is no need to enter a full address.

Poor practice

  • The home page has too much text and too many pictures.
  • Drop-down menus are overlong making them difficult/impossible to use on a small screen
  • Key information is only found in ‘pdfs’ (eg job descriptions) 
  • Users are asked, where it is not essential, to set up an account (especially if email validation is required) before they can use an online service
  • Forms have not been mobile optimised on otherwise responsive sites
  • Reporting forms require use of an online map to pinpoint location of an issue

Sites that we recommend

Braintree

A very positive experience - the site worked perfectly at all times and really felt like it had been designed with mobile in mind. From the key sections presented at the top, to the graceful implementation of a search button. Simple, uncluttered pages of content and easy to tap controls. Excellent.

https://www.braintree.gov.uk/

Canterbury

Fantastic experience - highly responsive, attractive website which presents top tasks nicely and keeps pages simple and uncluttered. One slight niggle was the Twitter widget which appears on the homepage - when I get down to that part of the page, swiping the screen results in scrolling the tweets rather than the page. It's possible to bypass but it's a little off-putting. But that's a small thing - overall this is a very good mobile site.

https://www.canterbury.gov.uk/

Cheshire East

I found the tasks incredibly easily from the homepage of the mobile site and all the pages visited were mobile friendly. The report it form for potholes worked well and I was able to use the map option to identify the pothole location and was also asked if I would allow the website to access my location so that my position could be automatically located. The homepage is not really pretty, but certainly very easy to use. Excellent.

http://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk

Chichester

A fantastic mobile experience - one of the best I've seen so far. A lovely responsive design that works really well throughout the site, with clever use of expandable sections, clearly labelled, to save space and avoid clutter. A very strong focus on task completion makes it so much quicker to move around the site. The pages are clean and simple with well written text, free of jargon for the most part. Excellent all round.

http://chichester.gov.uk/

East Devon

Absolutely excellent. Apart from being taken to a separate site for job vacancies, which was rather jarring due to a lack of mobile optimisation, this was otherwise a fantastic experience.

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/

East Renfrewshire

A superb experience for these questions - I flew through the survey. The consistency of presentation in the home page without any distractions allowed me to concentrate on the navigation options, and everything was there. Well done!

http://www.eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk/

Gwynedd

I found this to be an excellent experience browsing this site. There was a refreshing absence of extraneous content on the home page with the focus on the browse menu of topics, so it was easy to find all of the tasks we were looking for here. The mobile optimisation works well throughout the site, not just at upper levels. Well done!

https://www.gwynedd.llyw.cymru/en/Residents/Residents.aspx

Hinkley & Bosworth

Generally excellent - a nice simple, uncluttered page design which looks good on a small screen. Good emphasis on top tasks and the A-Z works well although the links could be a little bigger.

http://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/

Kensington & Chelsea

This mobile site is clearly presented. Links and contents is nicely spaced out so links are easy to select and content easy to scan. I was able to find what I was looking for so quickly without any fuss and bother.

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/

Waverley

Fantastic - very attractive, easy to use mobile design with a clear emphasis on top tasks and large, easy to press buttons.

http://www.waverley.gov.uk/site/

 

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