LOCAL COUNCIL WEBSITES FAILING THE PUBLIC
The websites of local councils in the UK are failing the public because they are difficult to navigate and do not make critical information easy to find. Key tasks, like paying council tax online, are made unnecessarily difficult because of inadequate attention to basic web usability practices. These findings come from a survey of sites by Webcredible.
In a web usability survey examining 20 of the UK’s leading local council websites, only four achieved a score of more than 60%, with more than half of those sites scoring less than 50%. An average usability rating of 45.5% across all 20 sites suggests local authorities need to review the online service they provide to the public.
The Webcredible study benchmarked the Socitm Top 20 local authority websites against a set of 20 best practice guidelines for ensuring optimum user experience. These guidelines were developed by Webcredible specifically for local authority websites. With a growth of 27% in council website usage between 2005 and 2006, councils are in a strong position to use their websites to improve their communication and access to services, as well as achieve significant cost savings.
Visitors struggle to find telephone numbers for local councils. Most of the websites analysed faired poorly when it came to providing a prominent link on the homepage to contact information and opening hours. The average rating across the 20 websites surveyed was 2.3 out of 5. With approximately 75% of users currently unwilling to carry out council transactions online, such as paying parking fines, council tax, making applications, users typically visit websites looking for information and opt for the phone and face-to-face meeting as their preferred means of contact.
Accessibility for visitors with poor vision was another area in which all 20 councils fell well short. Providing text resizing tools at the top of a web page is a recognised solution for supporting users with poor vision and who don’t know how to change the text size using their browser controls. Yet only 3 out of the 20 councils offered this tool in a prominent location on the home page.