Council websites not adapting to rapid growth in mobile use: Socitm

Results from the latest Better connected survey of council website performance suggest that council websites are struggling to adapt fast enough to the rapid growth in the use of mobiles to access online services. Socitm’s Website performance service shows that these grew during 2013 to average 31%.

This is the first year that testing of website performance on mobile devices has been fully incorporated into the Better connected assessment. Four of the 14 top tasks tested for the 2014 survey were done so exclusively on mobile devices (iPhone or Android smartphones), with 126 sites (31%) passing the Better connected standard for mobile access.

On average, results from tasks tested on mobiles were half as good as those tested on desktop devices, indicating that councils are currently finding it difficult to match the quality of experience on the desktop with that on mobile devices.

The Better connected assessment is built around the concept of ‘top tasks’. This approach to website design and navigation enables quick and simple customer journeys for website users from search engine or home page through to resolution. The survey also tested use of search engine, use of A to Z, and accessibility.

Better connected 2014 reviewers carried out the mobile survey first, starting with a Google search and then undertaking a ‘quickfire’ assessment to find out, using the site navigation, how easy it was to answer questions like: Who is my local councillor? Can pay council tax online? Is possible to report a problem with dumped rubbish? When do schools go back after Christmas?

Key results from this year’s survey are:

  • A drop in the number of four star sites (from 39 in 2013 to 31 this year), and of three star sites from 165 to 157, reflects the fact that website performance from mobile devices has been fully incorporated in theBetter connected assessment this year
  • Only 31% of sites achieved the Better connected standard for mobile access, despite the fact that nearly a third of visits to council websites are now made from mobile devices.
  • Feedback from Socitm’s separate Website performance service shows that during 2013, public satisfaction with the user experience from council websites has dropped by 12%
  • New entrants to Better connected’s top 20 list this year are: Blaby DC; East Renfrewshire; Guildford BC; Lichfield DC; North Ayrshire; Preston City; Sandwell MBC; Scottish Borders; West Dorset DC; Wigan MBC
  • On general measures of usability, there has been significant improvement in the use of search, but a significant deterioration in accessibility for disabled people.
  • 25% of councils with an answerphone message for out-of-hours calls are still failing to refer callers to the website, indicating significant lack of corporate commitment to self-service by these councils.
  • A survey of local authorities’ digital engagement reveals patchy but improving performance. Use of online customer accounts is 32%, e-mail alerts 36%, and social media is evidenced on 88% of home pages. 40 councils (10%) are rated good overall compared 4% last year
  • Better connected identifies and lists 69 ‘apps’ compared with 36 found in last year’s survey, an increase of 92%. This does not include council promotion of third party service apps, which were most frequently found for cashless parking, food hygiene ratings, taking payments, swimming timetables and library catalogues.

Writing in the foreword to Better connected 2014, Helen Milner, CEO of the Tinder Foundation, who run UK Online Centres, praises Socitm’s decision to make mobile a key area for assessment in the report, noting this as one “area where the public sector needs to ensure that they don’t get left behind…… for many – especially those on low incomes, and therefore most in need of accessing these services – it is the only way that they go online. There are some good exemplars for mobile delivery in this year’s report, and next year I’d like to see lots more.”

Better connected 2014 will be available to Socitm Insight subscribers from 3 March 2014, together with supporting spreadsheets.

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