Info bites. Some little known. Others blindingly obvious. But all useful.

In this blog:-

  • Does your site accommodate Mobile visitors?
  • What does position in Google search results mean to your click through rate? Does it really matter?
  • Is your site fast or slow and does it matter?
  • Do people read what you have written?
  • Does it matter if content is  ‘below the fold’?
  • Bounce Rate. What’s that and does it matter?
  • Quick tip.
  • Some useful links

Does your site accommodate Mobile visitors?

Mobile use of the web is growing faster than the initial web take up in the 90’s; accounting now for around 50% of web usage. At first that may seem surprising but when you consider the options now available for web browsing; smart phones, TV’s and tablets, it should come as no surprise at all.

Check your analytic software to see what level of mobile visitors you have. And ask yourself are you ready?

n.b. If your site is not accommodating mobile visitors, that’s a major failing.

What does your position in the Google search results mean to your click through rate? Does it really matter?

We all strive to be in the number 1 spot in search results but what if we don’t achieve it? What affect does that have on the traffic from the search results?

The difference between First at 42.13% and second at 11.9% shows just how important it is for your link to be number 1 on that topic. Other results are shown on this pie chart. (I’m not quite sure the percentages stack up with the ranking but despite this the indication is clear.)


Moral of the story… strive for number 1 spot.

Is your site fast or slow and does it matter?

Some would argue that for a local government site this isn’t as important as for a commercial site where there is competition. The argument being it’s better to deliver good and complete information than it is to be just ‘quick’, and to risk the possibility of inferior or incomplete information.A reasonable argument, however, fast sites are another issue to be  considered in customer service evaluations. Indeed Google downgrades sites in it’s rankings if the pages are slow i.e. over 2 seconds.

For commercial sites the faster the pages load the better the conversion.  A one second speeding up of the page load adds 7% to conversion. So speed is important to our clients.

Do people read what you have written?

My experience of dealing with internal clients showed brevity was not their strong point.

Huge amounts of pointless data, some of which is just ego massaging, is being displayed on web pages. And it goes unread by clients – and that’s who we are trying to satisfy (not the manager of a particular section who wants to tell the world how great he or his team is).

Sadly people don’t read web pages in the way the writers would believe or even hope. They scan for keywords and skim around those. Rarely if ever do they read long text, especially if it’s about you, the council.

Dross and flannel. Skim off the dross and throw out the flannel. Froth and bubble. Scrape off  the froth and prick all the bubbles. It’s just so much pointless verbiage that gets in the way. Cut to the chase and provide the data.

Put yourself in the clients place and say ”what’s in it for me”. Evaluate all your content that way and remember the average reading age for web users is 14 (maybe higher for local government pages because of the market sector but dont assume high levels of literacy for your readers) so keep it simple.

If you want to test some pages to see if you really are interested in customers,  go here… put in a url for a page to test whether that’s so.

Does it matter if content is  ‘below the fold’?

75% of clicks occur without people scrolling down! Blimey that’s going to come of bit of a surprise to those 10 page scrollers on some local government sites.

You can test your site to see just how many people can see what parts of your site. Go to to see how much of your page is below the fold and is therefore unseen and by what portion of visitors.

Bounce Rate. What’s that and does it matter?

Bounce rate is loosely the percentage of people who view your site, or a single page if you are set up that way, for whom the landing page is also the exit page i.e. they go nowhere else.Your site did not interest them enough to induce them to dig deeper or browse.

Now this may be entirely appropriate. e.g. you may hav e provided a link to a page with a specific piece of information for a specific set of people. They look at that page and ‘job done’ off they go somewhere else. However, generally, if your bounce rate is above 40% – that’s a sort of average in commerce – then something is wrong.

High bounce rate has been crudely likened to “I came, I saw, I puked.” Graphically cruel but accurate and we’ve all done it.

Quick tip.

Pages with forms embedded deliver better results than those with a link to a form.

What does this mean? Say you had a page where you wanted clients to register to a newsletter. Don’t link out to a complex form requiring a large to medium number of fields to be completed. Put a small form in the top right of the request page with something like…

Register here to receive hot news.

And construct a small form in that box to do just that.

BTW incentives to register i.e. free swim at the local baths etc really lift the percentage of registrations.

Some useful links

This site provides really useful information.

Browser testing Tests you site on a number of browsers

Uptime and link testing.   Tests web uptime and performance for your site. Xenu Link Sleuth. Tests the links on your site.

A/B & Multivariate Testing constructs alternative landing pages and provides stats too. does what it says.

Visitor tracking constructs heat maps of visitor interactions with your site. visualise where your visitors are going.

Usability testing Does what it says.  Usability and user experience testing.

User surveys and feedback  Carry out surveys. I’ve used this in the past and found it to be excellent.  Feedback from your site. on line survey tool. Free for 15 days.

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to Local Government organisations on all things web.

Contact details:

Peter Barton

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596


Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

What price ‘Better Connected’ when the money has gone.

Budget cuts howl through the previously warm and snug corridors of local government like the arctic blast the country  succumbed to during the latter part of 2010. Minus 12 degC outside and chilling decisions being made inside.

Despite being the major means of dealing with councils, cuts are being made to web budgets. Lincolnshire, for example, cut budgets for web services before I left in early December and there’s probably more to come.

In my opinion it’s a short sighted view taken by some who are digitally and customer service illiterate. The web has proven to be the most cost effective method of dealing with the public. Moreover it’s the way that an increasing number of customers want to deal with councils.  Is it foolish then to curtail web provision’s ability to continue to grow as the main focus of customer service provision? Yes, especially as currently calls made to call centres are falling and web interaction with councils steadily rises .

I don’t suppose Lincolnshire will be the only council slashing web budgets, be that in development or in publishing power. Others will similarly make those chicken-licken style decisions and will leave the public all the poorer for it. That’s sad.

Having said that, just like any other service there must be things the web provides – or that are provided on the web – that are a luxury. Each web manager should take a long look at what is provided on their sites and make cost/value judgements on whether those fripperies  should stay.

British LG web sites are thought of as being amongst the best, if not the best, LG web sites in the world. And in some part ”Better Connected”, the yearly review by SOCITM, has been responsible for raising standards. There does come a point though when you’re near the top of the game, where raising the standard ever so marginally  – to meet some imagined need of SOCITM’s and thereby fulfill their requirement for Better Connected to exist and to make money – is just too expensive, and cannot, surely, be cost justified.

I would argue, especially in these trying times, enough is enough. Care not what SOCITM, in their desire to make a profit, say about you. It’s just too expensive a price to pay.

  • If you are providing good quality, up to date information via a readily navigable and/or easily searchable web site;
  • if your ethos is to be open and transparent and your web site demonstrates this;
  • if you let your site be driven by your clients by asking them to complain about a bad service or even lack of service  (remember you learn nothing from those who compliment you. It’s only the complainers who really drive you forward – read ‘What would Google do’ by Jeff Jarvis);
  • if your council, particularly officers,  think of  the web as the first method of dealing with the customer and provide the services and information accordingly,
  • generally if you think first about what the clients want, as opposed to what the council- members and officers – want, and deliver that via your web site, then you will have the basis of an excellent site – no matter what SOCITM may say to the contrary.

SOCITM would argue they have been the ones who have driven up standards. As I’ve said I lean towards agreement. However, having got us up to the top of the tree lets see how they can lead us down to more cost effective branches. If indeed you really need any leading. I would argue you don’t.

Peter Barton

Birmingham DIY web site was free wasn’t it?

Iron man statue

Gormley's Iron Man, Victoria Square, Birmingham

I declare an interest here. I’m a Brummie and proud of it. Imagine then my feelings about the furore over the cost of the web site and the setting up of the FREE! DIY site by a bunch of web coves eager to prove a point.

I was disappointed of course; the largest authority in Europe spent the largest amount of cash on it’s web site and some said it wasn’t very good either. As a Brummie my shoulders sagged.

Having ran a large local government web site for the past – too many years – I am fully aware of the problems besetting every web architect / manager/ content editor etc from out of date data to “I’m just too busy darling to bother with YOUR web site” (your web site?) type attitudes of the care-less folks across the organisations. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair. They have their jobs to do too.  Nevertheless content is a pain and the churn rate is so high that… well it fair makes your head spin.

I’m guessing what Birmingham achieved is a good scaffold on which to build further services and data repositories and that costs money. But I’m not here to defend the eye watering figures mentioned.

What I am here to argue is that it’s really easy to pick. Pick, pick, pick, “Oh I wouldn’t have done this or that” or the ” I could do that for nothing” – as appears the case with the DIY site for Birmingham.

Also these DIY or cheap and cheerful sites don’t have the imposed standards hanging around their metaphoric necks. They can simply ignore them. Up-time being just one of those and from what I have heard here the DIY site for Brum wasn’t exactly stable, to say the least.

In a nutshell it’s pretty easy to to talk of the impossible but doing it is another thing altogether. And it’s even easier to whine from the sidelines without having any responsibilities for the finished product whatsoever.

Certainly my experience has shown that internal critics of a site, when sat down and asked what they would do to resolve the set of problems facing web managers, suddenly find the current ( though criticised) solution amazingly competent.

I have similar views about the so called “Free” open source software. What’s free about software that requires an unspecified amount of “techies” – and they are not free – within the council to build it so it works? It’s not free at all. I heard recently of one council that used  open source CMS software and then had 4 techies developing, running and managing it + those who actually ran the site and chased the content.

So all this “free” glistery stuff is not savings gold is it?

Flack jacket and helmet on at the ready. I sense incoming.

The worldly wise know the truth…

picture of Selfridges Birmingham


No matter what the economic climate – and in Local Government it’s witheringly bleak ( like the weather here tonight at minus 9degC) – there is always opportunity.

In this case the opportunity is to improve your web offerings even when budgets are being butchered by the politicos occupying the upper branches of the Government/Local Government forests.

However, you are going to have to be brave; turn your current thinking on it’s head, measure results, prove your effectiveness and above all hold your nerve.

Collective Responsibility is running a session in Birmingham ( the centre of the universe for us Brummies ) designed to offer advice, support and illustrations of just how others are doing it. Well worth a look.

The event is scheduled for January the 25th 2011 It’s called…

Council Websites: Creating & Finding Opportunities in an Arduous Market.

You can read all about it here

You have to attend to help  you and yours survive the next few years and of course to see this amazing building.

We’re all useless. The Guardian says so. It’s the silly season.

Guardian piece

Local Government spends far too much on web site design when it could all be done for £15,000. That’s the gist of a couple of conjoined reports from the Telegraph and the Guardian this week here and here.

The Guardian drew these conclusions and figures from a piece of work by a journalist, a “datajournalist” no less, who, after sending an FOI request to all councils, ‘discovered’ councils spend money on talking to their clients via a cheaper  more cost effective channel.

Birmingham, it seems, spent over £2m on their new web site design. By analysing data the Guardian’s researchers deduced it could be done for £15k on average. So why the excessive spend?

I’m not here to defend Birmingham’s spend ( though as a rabid Brummie I have a view) but the set of questions sent out in the FOI was flawed as it allowed folks to provide answers – or not, as the case may be – which made it impossible to compare like with like.

The Guardians conclusions  seemed to depend on how much we each spent on external suppliers. If you didn’t use one then it showed your costs as nil. And if you did… well the slewed results are obvious.
No mention was made, because the question wasn’t asked, of how much was spent internally on staff to design, construct and manage the site (not the content). I heard recently of a council who has 5 full time members of staff working on their site and developing it to meet changing needs. That has to be £125,000 a year in anybody’s money.

Telegraph piece

Telegraph piece

This shows  it’s simply not possible to compare Apples with Apples from the data collected. Comparisons can be made but will be flawed.

It got worse as  inaccuracies in the way the data was used became evident. For Example the data provide by my own council showed a cost of new web site design (one of the questions asked) as being about 18p per head of population. The guardian declared it as being £1.11 per head using  a population of over 1million. We don’t have a population of over a million, let alone that sort of budget. I thought journalists, especially data ones, checked their facts. To get the facts wrong and then to compound that with arithmetical errors is simply sloppy. All they had to do was divide the amount of spend by the population.

Our comm’s department complained to the Guardian so they corrected the offending figure. To £18.20. What!

Our comm’s department complained again and this time the Guardian, after much red faced appologies, got it right. I wonder how much of the manipulation of others data was similarly mishandled?

I’m not against FOI requests per se. They do lend a transparency to the processes in Local Government which should be welcomed but when they are used in such a confusing, dogmatic, and yet, inept manner I find it difficult to defend their use; and indeed defend the masses of time spent on making the replies.

Looking at the gaps in the Guardian’s listings; surely the real story is how many Local Authorities didn’t answer the FOI at all. That would be 96%.  No.09%. Argh… I give up. I’ll leave you to work it out for yourself in true Guardian style.

One comment on the Guardian page seems to grasp the issues we face



17 Aug 2010, 12:58PM
This information is not only wrong, it is very missleading – the results of FOI questions that were not specific and the answers to which have been adapted and false representation has resulted in wrong details being printed.

Local authorities have to follow very strict rules on use and access to all, accessability guidelines are among the toughest in the world in the UK for authorities.

To display the hoem made site for Birmingham council as being cheaper and better value is wrong, a simple look at the site shows errors all over, a poor amaturish look and not developer skill anywhere. There is no usability, accessability or user experience considerations at all…
The site has 3 errors making this site at present illegal under DDA laws and would be served a 90 day penalty notice to close. Newspapers seem to liek to glamorise facts and figures, but the wrong ones.

As a designer/developer I am fully aware of these laws and considerations that MUST be taken daily by LA web staff.

Local Authority websitea have the widest target audience anywhere – everyone!
The laws in place make it a requirement to develop and redesign sites on average every 3 years -this is never mentioned!

Why not print the truth and the reallity of this?


I have only a miniscule amount of knowledge of publisher  websites but from the little I know perhaps I could suggest these journalists discover how much their own sites cost to design construct and manage before taking a shot at a sector which probably ‘talks’ meaningfully  to more people on a daily basis than the whole of the sites in the newspaper sector. If they were to do that they may begin to put local government spending on web sites into perspective, but of course that wouldn’t sell newspapers.

Lets turn off the web

p.s for a considered look at how spending on Local Government web sites benefits councils and their clients  take a look here.

This certainly raises the profligacy bar.

I read an article on the BBC web site today which left me breathless. It related to the cost of public sector web sites, one in particular; One that has cost £105 million pounds over 3 years.

What! How much! Birmingham – bless ‘em ( my home city you see) – was lambasted for their, seemingly now paltry, spend of around £3 million.

I have supported expenditure on local government web sites here where I suggested how the costs of them could be evaluated by conceiving of them being turned off. Yes Switch them off, at least in your imagination, to establish just what you would have to put back in place to replace even part of the interaction you are currently having with your clients.

Anyway, I digress. Just who is it that spends so much money and why have I not seen them splashed about everywhere? At that spend I would expect them to be ubiquitous.

The article is here .

It’s by Rory Cellan-Jones who ‘outs’ the high-spending outfit in his article. So who is it?

It’s none other than Business Link! Yes Business Link, that organisation who formerly advised all sorts of companies on how to run their business! Given that slab of money you have to ask just how many businesses could they have helped in more practical ways? Anyway lets not go there.

For that spend you would imagine Business link are dealing with huge amounts of visitors per month; but no. They have just over 1 million unique visitors on average a month, so thats about £2.90-ish per visitor. To put some comparison to this, Lincolnshire County Councils costs would be around 9pence per visitor.  Against £2.90! Breathtaking.

But should you be surprised? Possibly not. I worked with Business Link for a while some 13 years ago. I’m sure much has changed since – at least I had hoped so – but this seems to have put that hope to the sword. Back then they were a byword for inefficiency and mediocrity, at least in the business community. They showed little ability, apart from being an unnecessary but essential channel to government grants.  Some of their advisors grasp of running real businesses seemed out of step with the day to day reality and now they’re demonstrating  that inpetitude again.

Give the average web manager that sort of fire-power, with the development ability that’s inherent in that budget and things would be very different. Or would they? I’m not so sure because no web manager I know would be daft enough to spend that sort of ‘pounds per visitor’ money without the possibility of any serious justification or better still some sort of return. And if they did they would be put out quicker then a bonfire in a thunderstorm.

Are we all tarred with the same brush? I don’t think so  but try telling that to the average Council tax payer.