Eight top tips on serving your citizens online

Stuart Kennaugh, Digital Services Manager at Agilisys, draws on his experience of developing a top-rated website to explain how a user-centred approach to website redevelopment reaped rewards

Earlier this year Kent County Council’s website section received the maximum rating in SOCITM’s digital performance survey. That’s a huge achievement and is testament to the hard work put in by the council and the team at Agilisys, who manage the site on behalf of the council.

Other public sector organisations have asked how we achieved this. A few years ago, we decided to completely rebuild and rewrite our website, putting our customers at the heart of every decision. Reflecting on our approach, there’s no magic formula, but we can share what we’ve learnt.

I will start by saying, no website is perfect. They are ever evolving and never finished. But there are ways you can invest time wisely to make the biggest changes for your customers.

  1. The platform alone won’t solve your problems

A platform alone won’t improve your customer’s experience, or meet your channel shift targets, despite what a convincing sales pitch might say! Your content management system needs to be easy to customise. This will future-proof your website as you evolve your approach to designing online services. Speak to your supplier and find out if they have worked with other organisations on similar projects. Ask how they prioritise improvements and whether there are any hidden costs for any bespoke changes you might want to make.

  1. Set some clear objectives for your project

Make sure they are tangible and can be measured. Avoid ‘we want a new website’ or ‘we want a better design’. Be specific. What needs to be better and how will it benefit you and your customers? our objectives can be big or small, but they must be measurable.

  1. Know your top tasks

Understand why customers visit your site. You will likely find, as we did, that a handful of pages account for much of the traffic. For us, the 20 most viewed of our 7,000 pages accounted for 80% of visits. These are your ‘top tasks’. Understanding this will give a clear indication of where your efforts to re-write and redesign will yield best results.

  1. Tell everyone

You have more chance of success if you have buy in across all levels of your organisation. You won’t win the battle alone. You will need champions. Never miss an opportunity to talk about your objectives and what you’ve learnt about your customers. Use internal channels, like your intranet and employee forums, to spread the word. One way to get buy in is to show rather than tell. Make it visual if you can.

  1. The power of language

Whether your project covers a few pages or a few hundred, making sure your content is easy to find and understand is crucial. You are unlikely to achieve a website that is written in plain English and easy to navigate if your website editing is done outside of your web team. Write a set of content standards to use as a guide, or borrow from another source such as Government Digital Service and use these as the cornerstone for reviewing your content.

  1. Is it mobile? Really mobile?

Over 50% of our traffic comes from phones and tablets. Usage is climbing year on year across public sector websites. This won’t be news to you, but are you really adopting a mobile-first approach? If you want to go fully responsive make sure this applies to any platform that makes up part of your site. This may mean you need to engage with your IT team, external suppliers and your procurement team.

  1. Is it accessible?

Your website should be built for the needs of the people that use your services, and for the different technology they use to access online services. Building accessible websites is also a statutory requirement under the Equality Act 2010 – by law you must not discriminate in the way information and services are provided. Accessibility should be a part of content standards, technical testing and user testing. It should be considered at every step of the process.

  1. Keep going

Websites aren’t once and done. Keep listening to customer feedback and maintain links with your contact centre to find out why people are calling. Make small improvements often and test as you go.

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