Navigation, Search, A-Z
People come to websites to do things and want to get to that point as quickly as possible. Councils keen to achieve channel shift don't want visitors to abandon the website because they can't find what they are looking for fast enough. As most people now come to sites via Google or another search engine, Better Connected starts its task surveys this way, and marks sites down heavily if these searches result in dead ends (eg the search result leads to a pdf from where there is no route to the website). Once on a site, visitors may navigate via site menus, links, and ‘calls to action’, or turn to site search or (possibly as a last resort) the A-Z list.
Date of assessment
All UK councils
Reviewers were asked to test the three key means of finding their way to information and services once a visitor is on a local authority website. To test navigation, they scored sites on how quickly they could achieve five specific tasks. ‘Find my councilor’ and ‘find out about job vacancies’ were tested on all sites, and a set of three other questions that varied depending on council type. Search and A-Z were tested with the same tasks, with reviewers noting not just whether they could access the information, but also what the experience was like. Sometimes reviewers were able to find the information but it was not easy, or the information was poorly presented from an editorial or design point of view. So some sites that scored highly on our ‘Yes/No’ questions still got a poor score overall.
Find your council report
Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2015-2016 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
- 4 stars (Very Good)
- 3 stars (Good)
- 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
- 1 star (Poor)
Different topics were sought depending on council type since not all services are delivered by all councils
|Search and A-Z||Percentage answered correctly|
|• Does a site search for the task 'find a list of councillors' (by ward or postcode) return the correct result listed in the first five results?||75%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||66%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'check if there are any current vacancies' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||94%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||74%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'report a pothole' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||90%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||51%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'get a copy birth certificate' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||88%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||58%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'apply for a blue badge' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||97%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||69%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'apply for a taxi licence' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||87%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||66%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'find out if my student son qualifies for council tax exemption' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||84%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||72%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'report anti-social behaviour' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||82%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||59%|
|• Does a site search for the task 'apply for a dog licence' return the correct result listed in the first five results?||50%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||58%|
|• Does a site search for the task ‘report noisy neighbours’ return the correct result listed in the first five results?||25%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||33%|
|• Does a site search for the task ‘get copy birth certificate’ return the correct result listed in the first five results?||50%|
|• Does the A to Z list include this task?||33%|
|Navigation||Average score all councils (0-3)|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find a list of councillors by ward or postcode?||2.5|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I check if there are any current vacancies?||2.7|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to report a pothole?||2.4|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out if the council can provide a copy of a birth certificate?||2.2|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to apply for a blue badge?||2.2|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to apply for a taxi licence?||2.2|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out if my student son qualifies for council tax exemption?||2.4|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to report anti-social behaviour?||1.6|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to apply for a dog licence?||2.4|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to report noisy neighbours?||1.1|
|• Navigating from the home page, how quickly can I find out how to get copy birth certificate?||2.1|
|Percentage answered correctly|
|• Does a list of commonly used tasks shape the design of the home page?*||71%|
|• Is the top task concept applied throughout the site beyond the home page?*||68%|
|• Confirm that news or promotional items DO NOT dominate home page *||63%|
|• Confirm that the home page offers NO MORE THAN ONE navigation route to top tasks (excluding search and A to Z)? *||58%|
|Overall||Average score all councils (0-3)|
|• Based on what you have observed during task completion, how would you rate the A to Z list?||2.2|
|• Based on what you have observed during this review, how would you rate the site search?||2.5|
|• How do you rate the usability of this website overall?||2.3|
|• Would you recommend this site as an example of good usability practice across search, A-Z and navigation?||22%|
This year’s navigation test was scored only on the five ‘how quickly can I find’ questions. 388 councils (93%) passed this test by scoring at least 1.5 on a scale of 0-3. Given the importance of the topics covered by our question set we should perhaps have set the bar higher.
However easy the test, it created plenty of commentary from our reviewers. One issue that caused some surprise was that the Local Government Navigation List (LGNL) is still being used.
Better Connected has for some years been pointing out that LGNL, in its attempt to cover everything that councils do, prevents the promotion of top services and tasks. While statistics show that things like council tax, waste & recycling, and libraries are major reasons for people to visit websites, LGNL obscures their visibility behind portmanteau headings like ‘your council’ (council tax); ‘environment’ (waste & recycling) and ‘leisure and culture’ (libraries).
A number of councils are using an approach similar to that of GOV.UK, and presenting home pages with lists of carefully selected and simply labelled service categories in the body of the home page, with two or three top items within each category underneath. The ‘menu’ of top level categories then reappears at the bottom of each page visited, and there may be a breadcrumb at the top of the page as well.
Key to the success of these pages is that categories and lists are limited and carefully chosen so that text can be easily scanned and links easily clicked.
Highly minimalist homepages that include say, six specific top task links but no links for services known to create heavy traffic for all councils - council tax, waste & recycling, schools, libraries, etc – are not easy to use unless you happen to be seeking the specific tasks listed.
Some councils use a top-level division as part of their navigation system –Living/working/enjoying/council or variations on the same theme. Some require site visitors to define themselves as a resident or a business.
This sort of segmentation can make it more difficult to focus on top tasks/services if these are initially hidden behind these tabs. Before they can go any further, the user must stop and think about where the topics they are seeking are likely to be. It is more straightforward to pick from a longer (but not too long) list of more explicit categories. The exception is where sites make explicit on pages the top tasks/services people can expect to find behind these headings.
‘Report’ and ‘Apply’ links can be useful, but if used they must link to a comprehensive list of options. Very often sites were found to have many ‘report it’ forms, but only a few on the page that should have listed them all. Top task methodology can still be applied if the report it list of links is too long – simply highlight those that are the most popular.
It is not helpful if navigation is repetitive – the user has no idea what to try first. On one site, highlighted by a reviewer, all the following were provided in the main menu:
- Top services
- Online services
- All services
- Forms for all services
- Quick links
Generally speaking, if you have to label a panel as ‘top tasks’, ‘quicklinks’ ‘jump to’ ‘straight to’ ‘most popular’ ‘favourite pages’ etc, it does suggest that top task/topic methodology has not been properly developed. Possibly the site still uses the LGNL or some similar navigation that stops it being able to promote genuinely top services/tasks and make them clearly visible.
Dropdown and flyout menus can cause problems. The dropdown menu must not be so long that it disappears off the bottom of the screen, and flyout menus become fiddly and annoying if they have more than one level of navigation.
Enormous homepage images that take up the whole visible section of the homepage may look attractive but the user then has to scroll down to see anything useful – which is hard to justify.
Carousels that can’t be paused not only cause accessibility problems for people using assistive technologies (see our accessibility report), but remove control for all users. An obvious pause button to switch off the movement should be available. A bigger question is why have carousels at all? If this is meant to increase the amount of space for content, then a better approach might be to spend more time thinking about reducing content altogether.
Moving from home to landing pages, these have improved enormously, with much clearer, explicit listings of tasks and services. Council and Democracy landing pages were identified as still being poor at promoting top tasks.
Good presentation of top tasks/service on the landing page helps prevent the need for more than three clicks to get from the homepage to, for example the ‘find your councillor’ page. If it is taking four, five or even six clicks to drill down through the site to get this sort of information, there is something wrong. Similarly if it’s more than two clicks to get from the Council & Democracy landing page to the contact details for your councillor, that is poor.
Generally speaking search performed very well, with 89% of sites passing search and 52% getting top possible marks – ie all five searches we made providing satisfactory answers listed in the first five results, and the search being rated 3 out of 3 overall.
This compares with 71% that passed a similar search test last year and a similar percentage the previous year. Site search continues to be the most effective route to find content (compared with navigation and A-Z).
There remains some bad practice. Users should not have to click a magnifying glass icon to activate the search - hitting the return key should be sufficient. Nor should users have to have to click into the search field and manually delete default text manually before they can start typing. Reviewers also remarked that some search boxes are very small and this does affect usability for some people.
Searches should be able to cope with more than two search terms. Many site searches perform poorly when the terms ‘find my councillor’ and ‘copy birth certificates’ were used.
Sometimes there was no result or the right result was far down the list of results returned. The search ‘report pothole’ was also problematic where search results listed numerous ‘report’ documents rather than things about reporting potholes.
Some councils have searches that promote ‘top task’ when a particular entry is made – eg typing ‘bin’ will produce a list of related popular tasks, online forms and suggested information pages, rather than a traditional list of search results.
This year’s survey shows that 80 sites (19% of the total) have abandoned the A-Z feature. This is an increase on the 12% found to be A-Z free in 2015 and 7% in 2014. Anecdotally, the main reason are getting rid of the A-Z is that the cost of maintaining the facility outweighs the benefit – especially where the data show it is not well used.
Better Connected does not penalize websites that have no A-Z providing their search and navigation functions really well. However, data from this year’s survey show that only 33% of sites without an A-Z do in fact have really good navigation and search functions.
Of sites that continue with an A-Z, well fewer than half (40%) achieved a top score for this feature, although 78% achieved our ‘pass’ mark of 3 out of 5 ‘yes’ questions and an overall score of 2 on a scale of 0-3.
Some of the shortcomings in A-Z indexes were a little surprising. For example, reviewers found indexes with entries that do not start with the right letter. The whole point of an A-Z index is that it is alphabetical, so under letter A, all the terms listed should start with letter A and be listed in alphabetical order. If an A-Z is not alphabetical it becomes pointless
In many cases, entries for a single letter were split over multiple pages. This can be a particular problem with the letter ‘C’ when many entries start ‘council’.
The solution is to rationalize these entries rather than make one huge page. In the case of the word ‘council’ it is important to overcome the tendency to start every service with the word ‘council’, and care needs to be taken with automatically generated lists.
Where a word is descriptive of a service, it is important to avoid starting multiple entries with that word. We provided advice on this in Better Connected 2015, suggesting that the A to Z index include first a link to the key service landing page, followed by two ‘top tasks’ for that service.
Applying this to council tax, users would see three entries, first ‘council tax’ followed by, for example ‘council tax payments’ and ‘council tax benefits’. Users looking for something else to do with council tax would simply click on the council tax entry to go to the council tax landing page where they would be able to access further ‘top tasks’ within the section.
Similarly, looking for libraries tasks in the A-Z would lead to a list starting with ‘libraries’ and followed by ‘libraries – renew book’ and ‘libraries – join’, or for planning, the first entry ‘planning’ would be followed by just two further entries, ‘Planning – view an application’ and ‘Planning – comment on an application’. Under no circumstances should there be an entry ‘view a planning application’ appearing under the letter ‘V’.
- Make top tasks central to the design of service landing pages
- Take great care with naming of key service categories and top tasks within them and test with real users wherever possible
- Rigorously prune menus and lists of top services and tasks using visitor data to support decision-making
- Make clear ho searches can be made using more than one word
- Offer simple tips for using the search facility
- Allow for alternative spellings or offer a 'do you mean?' facility with search
- Search results should provide a meaningful title and description or extract that indicates the page content clearly
- Only include entries that are meaningful in the A-Z; avoid multiple entries starting 'report' or apply
- Too many navigational routes on home and landing pages
- Using a pay/report/apply for device and failing to make it comprehensive
- Taking up too much space on home and landing pages with news, events, advertising etc
- Fiddly drop down or flyout menus
- A-Z indexes that run to many pages per letter
Sites that we recommend
Barking & Dagenham
The search was very reliable in getting me to where I needed to be. The majority of the entries had useful description. There are a good number of very useful tasks on the homepage. Illustrated with icons at this level, however the content is prioritised and displayed as square blocks at the next level down. I actually found this much clearer. This way the site was simply designed and structured has left me with a positive feeling to being able to find the information I needed swiftly. I managed to get to what I wanted very quickly and it just gave a feeling of very easy and straightforward to find what I wanted every time.
This is a very modern, slick website which has clearly put usability and speed at the forefront of its design. Top tasks can be reached at break-neck speed and innovations like the two-tier A-Z feel very natural. The council is clearly not worried about offering a flowery, picture-heavy site and have instead gone for blocky, functional and basic. Which, it turns out, is fantastic news for usability. Excellent.
I liked the clear presentation of search results. I liked the way the home page and service landing pages were clearly designed around top service areas and tasks.I thought the design was really good and usability was excellent. Good service landing pages and very easy to use search facility. I loved the clear fonts and layout.
Search results give 'Recommended links' - very useful Clear and concise titles and descriptions. Initially the home page appears muddled and confusing but the page is easy to scan and to navigate around. The drop-down menus from the Service tabs are very easy to use and accessible - once the user has found them! An attractive site with a good range of content. Excellent
Considering the challenge of catering for the needs of the county council and 6 district council, this A-Z is admirable. It is not over-populated and entries are appropriately titled. A useful route to information and services. Search offers alternative terms for common mis-keyed searches. Clear titles and abstracts. Fast response. However, confusing to have both 'Online services' and entries in the menu and in 'Popular services'. Would be improved by rationalising this and by giving tasks more priority on landing pages.
Great search results, comprehensive a-z and a good use of familiar keywords signposting to useful areas of the website, I found this site very simple to use.
Kensington & Chelsea
Search results are presented really clearly and the titles are very concise. They were very specific to what I needed which gave me the confidence that they were going to take me exactly to the information that I needed. As you drill down the website, apart from difficulties I had following the links about parking permits as there were so many different sorts of references about it, all other areas of the website were so easy to find as the content was prioritised so well and some things were featured at the top of the pages. Very reliable.
Well populated and well presented list of links from A-Z. Easy to use search engine that gave me the results I needed. Great home page - very easy to spot top tasks and then the service landing pages are also consistent and well designed. The whole website is focused on providing really simple navigation.
Excellent website providing easy access to online services.Well populated and easy to use A-Z. Search very easy to use and gives good results. Really good home page and service landing pages.
Very reliable search results - I liked the "recommended" results which always seemed pretty accurate. Impressive focus on top tasks throughout the site, from the quick links under the sections of the homepage through to the landing pages offering "popular services". A nice clean layout with minimal clutter
This site is really well structured in prioritising the content that people want to find. This really was truly reflect in the fact that I was able to navigate so easily. Clear signposting from extremely useful key words and this pattern ran throughout the site as I drilled down. I did not find myself having to scroll to get to further content down the page. It was just so simple. Great navigation and a good reliable search, not having an a-z on this site really does not effect the user experience.