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Vicky is MD at Boilerhouse Communications and programme director for both the Better Connected Programme and the Connected Care Programme

@vickysargent

Council websites ‘go mobile’ with benefits for accessibility and usability

UK local authorities have moved rapidly to make their websites easy to use on mobile devices, something that has also improved their general usability, including for people with disabilities.

This is perhaps the most significant finding from the overall results of Better Connected, the annual assessment of all 416 UK local authorities websites carried out for Socitm, the Society of IT Management. Results of the survey can be seen at https://betterconnected.socitm.net.

Overall, Better Connected has designated 182 council websites (44% of the total) as providing a good or very good user experience based on a series of surveys carried out between October 2015 and April 2016.

The Better Connected team of professional reviewers carried out 3,328 surveys over this period 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 to measure every site’s accessibility to people with physical and cognitive impairments, a proportion of whom will be using assistive technologies.

The survey results show that 80% of councils now have websites purposed for mobile phones. This means they are either ‘responsive’ and adapt automatically to screen size, or provide a separate site when mobile use is detected.

This is a huge change from just two years ago when only 26% were mobile-friendly and shows councils adapting rapidly to the increase in use of mobiles to access the Internet. Better Connected says that data reported in Ofcom’s August 2015 Communications Data Report showed 52% of UK Internet access to be from mobile devices, while Socitm’s Website Performance Service indicated that in the first three months of 2016 48% of all visits to council websites were from mobile devices.

Testing of sites from mobile devices by Better Connected showed that 68% provide a good or very good experience. However, the assessment only required reviewers to find top level information, without the need to access and complete forms. Results from testing of Better Connected tasks from mobiles is still tends to produce far less successful results than from those tested on desktops.

The need to purpose sites for mobile use has focused council web managers’ attention on stripping down the content of sites, including the amount of text used to describe services, and this has generally made sites easier to use. The influence of the stripped down style of GOV.UK can be seen in a number of recently designed sites, and these have tended to perform well in mobile, usability and accessibility testing.

Testing of sites for the performance of their navigation, search and A-Z features showed 66% to provide a good or very good experience. Within this search performed best, with 89% of sites passing search and 52% getting top possible marks. 80 sites (19% of the total) have abandoned the A-Z feature, most likely on grounds that the cost of maintaining the facility outweighs the benefit if the facility is not well used. There continue to be many and varied approaches to navigation - not all of them successful as Better Connected reports.

Better Connected ‘all council’ reports and headline results for all 416 UK council websites are available free-to-view at https://betterconnected.socitm.net

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