In October 2016, web analytics firm StatCounter reported that worldwide data showed mobile and tablet browsing to have exceeded desktop browsing for the first time, accounting for 51% of visits against the desktop’s 49%. In the UK, the desktop was still predominant at nearly 56%, but the trend to mobile is clear. GOV.UK data show that in May 2017, desktop visits to its site stood at 51%, down from 54% in May 2016, with tablet use also declining a little at 9% of all visits. If these trends were not sufficient motivation for councils to ensure their sites were easy to use from mobiles, it is also well known that Google favours mobile-purposed sites in its search results. While this may be less of an issue for gov.uk sites than for others, it is also the case that sites not purposed for mobile can be inaccessible to users with disabilities, something explained in more detail in our accessibility report.
April and May 2017
All UK Councils
Our research shows that 89% of council sites now present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone. This compares with 80% in 2016 and 57% in 2015. The overwhelming majority of councils are opting to create responsive websites rather having a separate mobile site. In terms of quality of the visitor experience, 52% of sites have been awarded three or four stars. This compares with the 68% that passed our mobile test in 2016. But the figures are not comparable because the test this year was much more demanding. Within the overall result, county councils and unitary council did better that the less well resourced shire and Northern Ireland districts, but not significantly so. What the test did show up was significant numbers of councils that have responsive sites but rely on non-responsive third party software to deliver transactions and interactions. Our first survey question, about consultations, often took reviewers direct to a non-responsive consultation application. Our separate Better Connected accessibility test highlighted use of third party payment modules that are non-responsive and therefore not accessible by people using some assistive technologies. Please note that Better Connected does not continue with its access from mobile surveys where sites are found to be not purposed for mobile use.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2016-17 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
NB Question highlighted in green is an ‘essential question’ that must be answered correctly for the council to meet the standard for this task. Questions highlighted in red affect star ranking
|Questions to be answered "Yes"|
|• Enter <council name> CONSULTATIONS into mobile device search. What type of site are you presented with? (If you are offered a mobile option, accept it)||N/A|
|• When you enter the council URL into your web browser, what type of site are you presented with? (If offered a mobile site accept it)||N/A|
|• Is it easy to access services from the home page?||75%|
|• Is site search obvious/explicit?||68%|
|• How quickly can I find a page with information about the council's 2017/18 budget?||2.1|
|• How quickly can I find an online form to complain ?||2.3|
|• How quickly can I find my nearest local park find using a postcode OR a map ?||0.5|
|• How quickly can I find my nearest library using a postcode OR a map ?||1.3|
|• How quickly can I find band C charge for 2017-18?||2.5|
|• How quickly can I find a list of local primary schools ?||2.6|
|• How quickly can I find a corporate contact phone number for the council||2.8|
|• How quickly can I find out where to register a new baby ?||2.6|
|• How quickly can I find out about Neighbourhood Planning in the council area ?||2.0|
|• Is the complaint form optimised for mobile (x if no online facility)||58%|
|• Confirm that your browsing of this site on your mobile device WAS free of errors that prevented you completing ONE OR MORE QUESTIONS ?||80%|
|• Confirm that your visit experience did NOT include being taken to the desktop version of the site||74%|
|• Confirm that during your visit you did NOT need to zoom in (eg to see/use a link or other feature)||68%|
|• Overall, how would you rate the mobile experience?||2.6|
|• Were you ever offered an app on this site ?||4%|
|• Would you recommend that other councils look at this implementation as an example of good practice?||14%|
We do not continue with our access from mobile surveys if the first two questions reveal that a site is not purposed for mobile. These sites are scored 0 for mobile.
Sometimes the first question would lead us to a non-mobile consultations facility usually provided by a third party. In these cases, if entering the url ‘XYZcouncl.gov.uk’ led to a mobile purposed site the review would continue.
Thereafter, reviewers were asked to use navigation only to find their way around sites to complete the survey question set.
The test was intended to evaluate the findability of content and whether functions like forms or maps worked properly on mobiles. Reviewers did not evaluate the quality or accuracy of actual content found, since this aspect is tested in our service-specific surveys.
Because of the different responsibilities of councils in the two-tier system, and those in Northern Ireland, there was some variation in the questions set. The three district council-specific questions were in retrospect more testing than those for counties and unitaries. However, the weight these questions carry in the overall star outcome is relatively low and shire and Northern Ireland Districts have done almost as well as county councils and unitaries. Overall, 52% of all councils provide a good or very good experience from a smartphone, a result depressed by the 11% of all sites that are still not purposed for mobile use.
The best performing sites in this test designed their sites around services, with uncluttered home pages, precise labelling and good links to sub sections / sub tasks visible on the home page giving access to well-used services in just one click. Sites that put imagery, promotion and council messages above usability, with too many, too prominent notices, twitter feeds, pop-ups, disclaimers and more, scored less well.
Reviewers commented that a comprehensive, explicit list of services on the home page provides an easy start to finding content. This list should not be too short or leave out well-used services. A ‘more services’ button may be considered essential, but it adds a further step to customer journeys. Top tasks labels, if used, need to be genuinely researched as such, and using the space to allow a longer and more explicit service listing may actually work better.
Better Connected has been marking down the unexplained ‘hamburger’ menu icon for some years now, since the lack of labelling may mean less experienced mobile web users may not realise that is where the menu is hidden. But the hiding of key content is a problem itself – one that also arises where there is overuse of dropdowns.
Given the number of users now accessing council sites via a mobile, councils should be taking a mobile-first approach to writing and designing content. Ruthlessly concise and well-formatted content is probably the single biggest single factor that will improve a site's usability.
Do icons have a role council website design? Many are using these, especially on home pages, and this can adversely affect the user journey especially where icons are oversized for a small screen and much scrolling is needed to get to key content. Icons can also make content less scannable. Web editors and managers should be clear about the value added by icons and bear in mind that they are no substitute for words and that they take up space at a premium on mobile sites.
One council provided labels for the symbols on the desktop site but users were unassisted on the mobile site. People do often use more than one council website and with no widely recognised icon library in existence, visitors may find an icon used for one thing on one council site may be used for something else on another. Careful user testing should be the deal-breaker here.
Some councils need to take care with the number of mailing list invites, disclaimers and so on that they're presenting on their site, which can become intrusive on the small screen. Whilst the cookies message is mandatory, they are sites where users have to deal with the cookie message, an invite to sign up to updates, and feedback requests before even starting to look for content.
In a similar vein, permanent links to feedback or browsealoud hovering around the page can hide content and impede the user journey. The latter is a beneficial feature but does the proportion of visitors that will use it justify its being a permanent presence that can obscure other content?
In terms of the findability of the specific content our question set required, reviewers commented:
Complaints: placing this under ‘Your Council’ is fine but isn't nearly as intuitive for users as putting it under ‘Contact us’ – and at the very least it should be linked to from Contact us. The best sites enabled swift navigation to a simple, responsive form. Councils should avoid going into detail about their complaints procedure ahead of enabling the resident to lodge a complaint, and should not create barriers like requiring people to use non-digital channels only to lodge a complaint or to sign up to an online account first.
Budget information: it was surprising how difficult it was to find this on many sites. Where there was a clear finance / money / budget section it was easier to find, whereas labels like ‘open data’ or ‘data transparency’ or ‘accountability’, which were difficult for our expert reviewers would be even harder for the general public. In general, ‘Council’ or ‘Your Council’ with ‘budget’ in the sub menu provided the clearest route. Mentions of budgets suggesting a good path too often turned into a dead end with no links to further pages or documents with ‘budget’ in the title.
Neighbourhood Planning: most councils seemed to put this in planning policy but this is not intuitive. Content was easier to find from titles such as ‘Policy and local planning’ or where Neighbourhood Planning was a separate section within the planning pages. See Chelmsford for a good an example.
Register a birth: this was sometimes found under the vague category ‘Community and Living’ that was once in vogue on council sites – this is not intuitive. Or sometimes under ‘Council’ – why? It could often be surprisingly difficult to find the address for the Registrar’s office, even once the general registration information was found, requiring a search in a different section. Why not just put the registrar’s office details near the book-an-appointment information? Lambeth does this well by stating that registration can be at the nearest children's centre and then providing a link to a postcode search.
Find my nearest library: many sites did not have a postcode or map search for their libraries. Some had a general ‘Find My Nearest’ tool which could be used for libraries but was rarely linked to from the libraries page. Where the library service was operated by a third party, the online service was sometimes not designed for mobile.
Find my nearest park: parks might be found in a variety of places - leisure, environment, or community were the most prevalent. Where a ‘find my nearest’ tool was offered, the best experience was where these listed exactly what information would available ahead of use, since it is very frustrating to access the tool and then find that parks, for example, is not a data layer.
Maps provided to help people locate services need to be checked for usability and errors, when accessed from a mobile, because this is still a problem area.
Other usability issues raised by reviewers included:
‘Apply’, ‘Report’: these generic calls to action are frustrating unless they are completely comprehensive in terms of what you can apply for or report, and sub-labels and listings provided are really easy to use. Unfortunately this is too often not the case.
‘Do it online’: this has long been a bugbear of Better Connected. The label has no meaning when used on a website.
Persona-based navigation (ie resident, business, visitor, council etc): many council website users have more than one persona/category of need, and there are plenty tasks (council tax? elections?) where people who do not use council websites regularly will not be clear about which to use. Even regular users will find that different councils put the same topic in different categories, in one case under ‘resident’ and in another under ‘council’. So these categorisations just impose an extra and often frustrating step in the search for content. The worst implementations are where the resident/business, etc options are hidden behind hamburger icons meaning switching from one to another after a false start meant clicking on the hamburger to chose the another option.
Not only are the general services exposed on the home page, so are sub tasks, meaning I could quickly and easily get to my destination in just one click for certain tasks (eg council tax bands). The home page is universal so I don't have to define what sort of user I am as we see on so many other council sites.
Generally excellent - a few little niggles but the mobile design is modern and well spaced out to make it easy to read the information and select the relevant links.
Excellent presentation on a mobile and the home page was entirely dedicated to navigation and no guff. This made it really easy to scroll and scan and find suitable topics to lead to the answers to our questions.
East Riding of Yorkshire
This is a very positive mobile experience with some excellent features and lots of thought gone into the customer needs.
What a great experience and a breath of fresh air. I could find everything really quickly, sometimes in one click from the home page. Most tasks took seconds rather than minutes, the sign of a great site. The home page is clean and clear, with priority given to services and key tasks well laid out beneath them and as I dig further into the site.
Top marks, a very fast review, and I don't think there is much I could suggest to improve the experience. Very clear layout and easy access to all relevant services from the home page.
Kensington & Chelsea
Lots of news on the home page but the services do take priority. I am impressed with how easily I find things on this site. There's a comprehensive list of services on the home page and the headings have been thought about.
A fantastic experience from start to finish - very easy to browse around the site and every aspect of it seemed to work a charm on my mobile. No hassles, quick to load and easy to scan. I especially like the single word links under each heading on the homepage - so simple and effective.
One of the best yet. A speedy review as it was easy to scan the topic headings on the home page and get to where I needed to be. i didn't use the segmentation by visitor as I don't tend to find it helpful, but the 'council' category there was useful for budget and complaints. Journeys were all straightforward and direct. The 'More' headings below the main categories were very clear and prominent. An exemplary site.
In terms of ease of use this is one of my favourite sites even though I don't always find quite what I am looking for. The design is so simple, the links are so easy to press on my phone, the headings are more or less jargon free. No menus are hidden! Everything is laid out for me to click. The home page is solely focused on services and tasks.
Easy to navigate with detailed information that is well presented.
Save for a few niggles, this is a really good mobile website with clean pages and easily browsed links and buttons. There are few images to clutter the pages, and the navigation is quick to use. Very user and task focussed - excellent.
A very usable and simple mobile site which is easy to move around with logical navigation and good emphasis on quick links to top tasks.
The mobile site was very easy to use; site menus with all the relevant info clearly displayed coupled with prominent icons at the top of the front screen.
Very well designed site. Particularly liked the tabs most popular and all services. The Navigation for all services was logical with information regarding topics easy to find.