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Majority of local government websites ‘could do better’ when it comes to content quality


The vast majority of local authority websites are claimed to be failing to meet the online levels of readability central government wants to see.

In its latest analysis of site ‘readability’, The 2016 UK Local Authorities Website Clarity Index II (gated link), content quality specialist VisibleThread claims that of the 191 UK local government sites it looked at, 82% didn’t come up to the standard of ‘plain English’ GDS wants from online communications.

These were set out in a 2014 guide from that team covering a range of criteria, from readability of published content to things like use of the passive voice and avoidance of over-long sentences.

But the company says that a look at an average of 100 pages per those 191 sites suggests Town Hall communicators haven’t taken the advice to heart.

Specifically, it claims only 18% met the GDS suggested readability score, a tiny 3.6% met the target passive language score and on some websites, over 30% of the sentences contained more than 25 words, breaking one of GDS’s cardinal content rules.

Is your authority a content sinner or not? 

The report also does some naming and shaming, with South Tyneside Council coming in at the top of its rankings, scoring very highly in readability and ending up consistently in the top 10 for three out of the four scoring categories. Eastbourne Borough Council, the London Borough of Hackney, Durham County Council and Huntingdonshire District Council rounded out its top five performers. 

At the other end of the scale, Malvern Hills District Council website fell “well below” target scores in all categories, with the study claiming to find nearly one in three of all sentences in its published cyber content running over the 25-word limit suggested by GDS. Malvern also came in “the bottom three” for the use of passive voice and sentence complexity. These three factors combined affected its overall clear writing score. 

Just above it in the list were Sevenoaks District Council, Worcester City Council, Chiltern District Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

“Despite [central] government taking a strong stance on readability, our analysis clearly shows that UK Local Authorities still have a lot of work to do,” said Visible Thread’s CEO Fergal McGovern.

“With the exception of a few, [local] government websites continue to confuse visitors, which leads to elevated customer support costs.”

The VisibleThread Website Index, United Kingdom Local Authorities 2016 – Q3 Update  (gated link)

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