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While the average usability score for local council websites has improved over last year, there is still plenty of work to be done to improve the user experience, according to a new report.

Webcredible's Local Council Websites report (registration required) gave an average score of 59.9% for usability, an improvement on last year's average of 56.6%.

The report awarded marks out of five across 20 best practice guidelines, with South Oxfordshire top-scoring on 73, while Walsall council was botttom of the class.

Most of the websites managed the basics, such as making contact details easy to find, and providing an A-Z of local services, but many fell down when it came to transactional processes such as taking council tax payments.

Paying council tax online

The study awarded an average score of 3.0 for this, something which should be provided to reduce costs for local councils which are involved with taking payments in person or by telephone.

The worst offender here is East Sussex, which doesn't even offer the option of paying online. Of those that do, Surrey Heath scored just two, thanks to a combination of making the payment option hard to find, and a poorly designed payment form. The fact that it charges 1.5% on credit card payments and uses Verified by Visa doesn't help either.

Error handling on forms

Users will make typing and data input errors when using forms online, and the key for usable websites is to make it easy for customers to identify and correct the mistake they have made.

Just 14 of the 20 sites studied achieved more than two out of five for this criteria, with poorly positioned error messages and unclear wording among the problems.

South Derbyshire's website was the biggest culprit here, scoring no marks at all, thanks to this message, which simply lists all of the fields that need to be filled in, even if you have made just the one error, which is very unhelpful:

Navigation

Sites performed better on average for providing clear and consistent navigation throughout, though this was a mixed bag. While Bristol scored five for consistent, well labelled and easy to use navigation, Barking and Dagenham was handed a zero, with red links, inconsistency and long lists to browse through contributing to a poor user experience.

The websites that Webcredible studied were taken from the top 20 Socitm websites, and represents the cream of local council websites in the UK which, considering the quality of some I have looked at, suggests that there must be some pretty poor examples that didn't make it into the top 20.

Graham Charlton

Published 8 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (3)

Ben LaMothe

Ben LaMothe, Web & Social Media Strategist at Renaissance Creative

Unfortunately this may be an instance of not improving usability because it's a service people need. There isn't exactly an alternative. So they aren't going out of their way to impress people. 

over 7 years ago

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Mark

I really don't undertsand what the big issue is with everyone and Verified by Visa. I use it everytime I buy plane tickets online or for concerts with ticketmaster and I've never had a problem.I actually only shop with merchants who have it because I know they're ultra security conscious.

I enrolled my MasterCard after my Visa, which I don't use that much, and the one time I used my MasterCard a while ago I had forgoten the password and just reset it while I was checking out and my Maestro card is already enrolled and I just submit my pin number instead of a password.

Pretty simple for me.

over 7 years ago

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Rop kiplagat

I guess for us on the other end of the digital village, online payment is still way ahead leave alone online applications. What I think is important especialy for us in the developing countries, where exposure to ICT for a majority of the population is still very low, simplicity in navigation is the key.

We have built an ultra simple website for  a rural council (www.makuenicounty.go.ke) in Kenya with the basic bare info of the council. Services are still being done manualy but provisions for online services are being encouraged.

over 7 years ago

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