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Most council websites now work well on smartphones


New Socitm survey indicates that the majority of sites are now responsive and providing a good user experience

Most local authority websites have now been repurposed for smartphones, with the majority also providing a good or very good user experience, according to the latest Better Connected survey by public sector IT association Socitm.

Its round-up of all 416 UK council sites, carried out in April and May, showed that 89% now present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone, up from 80% last and 57% in 2015. Most have taken the approach of making their websites responsive rather than creating a separate mobile site.

When tested for ease of use, 60% of the 373 mobile purposed sites provided a good or very good experience. None of those that had not been purposed for mobiles achieved a positive rating.

Those that performed best had been designed around services, with uncluttered home pages, precise labelling and good links to sub-sections on the home page, providing 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.

Software issue

One significant issue identified was the number of councils that have responsive sites but rely on non-responsive third party software to deliver transactions and interactions. The survey’s first question, about consultations, often took reviewers direct to a non-responsive consultation application.

The 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, making it impossible for them to complete tasks online.

The survey report also questions the role of icons, which can hinder the user journey when they are oversized for a small screen require scrolling to get key content. It recommends that web editors and managers should be clear about the value they add and, like other aspects, should subject them to user testing.

It also says that councils should be taking a mobile-first approach to writing and designing content since ruthlessly concise and well formatted content is probably the single biggest factor that will improve a site's usability. 

Other usability issues raised by reviewers included: poorly implemented generic calls to action like ‘apply’ and ‘report’ and the meaningless ‘do it online’; persona-based navigation, where visitors need to guess whether ‘resident’, ‘business’, ‘visitor’, or ‘council’ is hiding the content they want to access; and the unexplained ‘hamburger’ menu icon that may confuse the less experienced mobile web user.

User benefits

Commenting on the survey findings, Better Connected programme director Vicky Sargent said: “It’s been good to see how quickly councils as a group have repurposed their websites for mobile use. This benefits all website users in that a site that performs well on a mobile will be uncluttered, simple, and fast to use, from whatever device it is accessed.

“There is some evidence from our surveys that service managers, who are usually responsible for commissioning forms and other software for online service delivery, need to move faster to ensure third party software they procure accommodates mobile users.”

Image from Victorgrigas, CC 3.0 through Wikimedia

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