Local councils turn up the UX heat
Local councils are actively making improvements to their platform’s user experience, according to Socitm’s newly released ‘Better Connected’ survey – an annual assessment covering 418 local authorities across the UK. These improvements will be particularly noticeable to users accessing local council platforms via mobile or with the aid of assistive technologies.

The assessment identified 182 council sites (44% in total) offering a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ user experience, based on a number of surveys carried out between October 2015 and April 2016.

The team actually conducted 3,328 surveys over this period, to test the quality of local authority websites throughout the UK. Every council was tested through:

  • Four task-based surveys (paying your council tax, applying for a secondary school place, finding out how to apply for housing etc.)
  • Surveys on navigation, search quality, A-Z and FAQs
  • A survey to assess the usability of each site when accessed from a mobile device

The results show that task performance tends to vary, with common actions, such as ‘Finding opening times for council tip’ and ‘Applying for a secondary school place’, typically achieving the strongest scores.

Poor task performance is generally associated with the following; cumbersome third party software, clunky maps, circuitous or dead-end customer journeys, unnecessary requirements to login to access services, forms not purposed for mobile and officious or missing content.

The assessment shows that councils are doing well with site search, with 52% achieving top marks in testing, with 89% achieving a pass score for this element. Visibility for task-based actions on Google is also improving – boosting organic referrals for many local authorities.

19% of council sites have now abandoned the A-Z feature, a navigational aid which is traditional within local authority websites. The reason cited for abandoning the facility is that the cost of maintaining it far outweighs the benefit where it is not well used.

In addition to this thorough testing, the Digital Accessibility Centre carried out a series of tests to measure each site’s accessibility for people with physical and cognitive impairments, a proportion of whom use assistive technologies.

Accessibility has improved significantly, with 59% of councils passing the accessibility test, compared to 43% in 2015 and 26% in 2014. This trend is largely associated with the demand for simpler, less cluttered websites built with mobile in mind.

The results show that 80% of councils now have websites purposed for mobile. This is a huge change from just two years ago when only 26% of councils had implemented a responsive site or a dedicated mobile variant. 68% of sites provide a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ mobile experience, according to the Better Connected assessment.

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