89 per cent of council websites make transition to mobile

According to the latest survey released by Better Connected, 89 per cent of council websites now present a responsive or mobile site when accessed from a smartphone.

This figure shows an improvement on 80 per cent in 2016 and 57 per cent in 2015.

For the Better Connected survey, carried out in April and May 2017, a team of reviewers visited all 416 UK council websites from a smartphone. Starting from a Google search and then direct entry of the corporate url (XYZCouncilname.gov.uk) reviewers identified all sites purposed for mobile.

These sites were then further tested on ease of use, findability of content via navigation, and whether functions like forms or maps worked properly on mobiles. Reviewers did not evaluate the quality or accuracy of actual content found, or the quality of the search function since these aspects are tested in other Better Connected surveys.

Of the 373 mobile-purposed sites tested, 60 per cent were found to provide a good or very good experience. Counting non-mobile purposed sites, which score 0 in the Better Connected test, 52 per cent of all council websites provide a good of very good experience when accessed from mobiles.

The group maintained that the trend towards mobile and mobile only use are important factors driving councils to redevelop their sites since this is something affecting government websites along with all other websites.

It also cited data from GOV.UK for May 2017 which showed desktop visits to its site at 51 per cent, down from 54 per cent in May 2016.

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, the additional fact that sites not purposed for mobile can be inaccessible to users with disabilities is extremely important - something highlighted in another, recently reported Better Connected survey.

One significant issue identified in the research was the number of councils that have responsive sites but rely on non-responsive third party software to deliver transactions and interactions. 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.

Furthermore, the role of icons in council website design is questioned in the survey report. These can adversely affect the user journey on a mobile, especially where icons are oversized for a small screen and much scrolling is needed to get to key content. Web editors and managers should be clear about the value added by icons and, like other aspects, should subject them to user testing.

Commenting on the survey findings, Vicky Sargent, Better Connected programme director, said: “Its been good to see how quickly councils as a group have re-purposed 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.”