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.)

Source. http://www.blogstorm.co.uk/google-organic-seo-click-through-rates/

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… www.futurenowinc.com/wewe.htm 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  www.foldtester.com 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.

http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/clickstream/

Browser testing

http://browsershots.org/ Tests you site on a number of browsers

Uptime and link testing.

http://www.pingdom.com/   Tests web uptime and performance for your site.

http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html Xenu Link Sleuth. Tests the links on your site.

A/B & Multivariate Testing

http://unbounce.com/ constructs alternative landing pages and provides stats too.

www.google.com/websiteoptimizer does what it says.

Visitor tracking

http://www.clicktale.com/ constructs heat maps of visitor interactions with your site.

http://www.crazyegg.com/ visualise where your visitors are going.

Usability testing

http://www.usertesting.com/ Does what it says.

http://whatusersdo.com/  Usability and user experience testing.

User surveys and feedback

http://www.surveymonkey.com/  Carry out surveys. I’ve used this in the past and found it to be excellent.

http://kissinsights.com/  Feedback from your site.

http://www.4qsurvey.com/ 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

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

“YOUR” web site! It makes you think doesn’t it?

Now that I’m no longer actively involved in managing a website for a Local Council I’m freed of the bonds of the daily arguments and angst.

Being outside allows me a  certain clarity of view, but in some ways that’s false too. It’s really easy from this position to throw brickbats. You only have to read the Better Connected Review to see how those with no responsibility, no pressures – political or otherwise can take  a view on what is outside of their purview. Better still listen to Jonathan Davies commentating on 6 nations rugby. Why didn’t he play like he talks? The answer is simple. It just isn’t that easy when you’re inside; in amongst it as it were.

The point of this piece is to attempt to throw some light onto ‘why the differences’ in what is being delivered. You’d think all councils would be same wouldn’t you? As you know that isn’t so.

Here goes. A stab at a very simplistic approach:

Is your council open, transparent and essentially honest? I mean really open and honest. Not just full of spin. If so then you’re in with a chance of providing a site which is truly ( and I hate the term) ‘Engaging’.

If, on the other hand, spin, gloss and obfuscation are endemic in your organisation then you stand little chance of getting data out to your clients. Probably, because it would be politically damaging to do so, you will be blocked or at best ‘slowed down’  when wishing to publish flat unambiguous, clear data.
Just as a test; were you forced to publish the ‘over £500’ spend by the impending governments deadline or did you publish well before you were obliged to?If you were forced by the deadline or you haven’t published them yet… sort of answers itself.

So councils web sites can, and I would argue do, provide some evidence of the innards of the council; the ‘type of council you are’ sort of thing. Publish everything = open, honest and transparent. And of course the reverse is true.

Is it just the politics of the situation though? Probably not. Large Councils are multi departmental, multi disciplinary and comprise a heady mix of service delivery, back office and of course, the politicos. That makes for teams and even tribes and that means it’s difficult for any web team to get at data embedded within those groups/tribes/departments.

Seamless delivery assumes all managers are equally up to speed with the processes and benefits of electronically delivered data. I’d like to bet that any of you reading this will know somebody who is still firmly paper-based. I can certainly name a few, so wresting information from them and making it electronic will be hard, if not impossible until they get their heads out of the filing cabinets and drawers or after they have fell, or have been pushed, off the twig.

We see therefore, a functioning, seamless and ( here’s that word again) engaging council web site is subject to many forces and pressures, usually from outside  the control of those who are supposed to manage, or even be responsible for, the process. Paradoxical isn’t it? But how do you resolve such a situation?

  • The political will has to be there to be open, transparent and honest.
  • Tribal barriers need to be removed or overcome in some other way.
  • Staff responsible for holding data have to be aware and switched on to the idea of doing so electronically.

A difficult nut to crack?  Difficult but not impossible. Ways of resolving the issues flow from the Chief Executive and the Leader, certainly the first point can’t be overcome without their conscious and conspicuous buy in and action. And the underlined term is crucial.

Additionally, their conspicuous involvement – applying large amount of pressure if needs be – to remove the second and third obstruction will put web produced information front and centre. Which is where it should be because it’s more cost effective to do so. It’s the first place you should put the information. It should not be an afterthought or a bolt on.

This is so obvious I’m surprised it’s not taken up everywhere. I know from experience it isn’t. As an example a head of service said to me one day “I’ll see if I can get you some information for your web site”.

“YOUR” web site! It makes you think doesn’t it?

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

My lad could build a web site for £50

The public are rightly concerned with how much Local Government spend. Me too! After all it’s my money as well.

So it is with a curious mixture of agreement, at least with the sentiment of prudence,  and chagrin that I greet that statement which we all must have heard or read, about our web efforts… “My lad could’ve built that for £50. Why do you need to waste so much of my money?”

Commenter’s on your web site utter this phrase. Members of staff in the council where you work mumble something similar. Councillors have it in their eyes when they ask you questions.

I agree we spend lots of money on web sites, either by paying outside suppliers to do the work or our own IT development staff.  Simply put, building and maintaining local government web sites isn’t cheap.

Recently I had cause to look at something that was constructed on the basis of “why can’t we do this? It’s cheap and it looks good”.

Here is the list of problems with that “cheap and effective” set of pages I looked at…

Review of web pages…

Accessibility

No skip links

Non symantic markup e.g. empty <ul> (index page line 39) and <div> (index page line 41)

Index page – Orphaned <label> tag for ‘Order by:’ text

All textural information is included within the <form> tag meaning that a screenreader (in forms mode) wouldn’t read any of the relevant information on the page.

Forms – ‘Required’ text unreadable for visually impaired users due to red text on lighter red background.

Validate Code

Index page failed on:

Line 9, Column 56: Bad value X-UA-Compatible for attribute http-equiv on element meta.

Line 36, Column 44: Element br not allowed as child of element ul in this context. (Suppressing further errors from this subtree.)

Browser Checking

A number of issues eg.

CSS3 border-radius used extensively which doesn’t render in IE.

Layout issue in IE7 – Just a simple hasLayout fix would be required

Miscellaneous

HTML 5 DocType used, though not yet widely supported.

No Meta Data for page content etc.

Site doesn’t appear to work fully e.g.

  • ‘named section’ doesn’t have any data
  • <div> which is meant to hold suggested search terms doesn’t have any data

These are just the first glance issues without considering the usability of the pages at all.

This piece is not intended to knock others developers. It’s merely to highlight the differences.

Local Government sites are poured over by all and sundry from the SOCITM crew with their electronic ‘testmeisters’ marking us down for any slight misdemeanour let alone major infractions. RNIB  seeking to jump on people for  non compliance and the government with their recommendations. All are critical and admonishing if we get it wrong.

Commercial sites are relatively free of these encumbrances and it shows. They don’t have to be hidebound by the requirements of others in quite the same way. And yet it’s these very sites we are compared with when it comes to cost – not that I necessarily believe all commercial sites are cheap. They are not, but when you are compared to the 5 bob sites knocked up by the next-door neighbours 16 year old lad who doesn’t give a fig for compliance with standards, usability and government requirements it gets just a bit irksome.

Organisations like local and national newspapers are keen to point and shout if we dare spend money – sorting out these issues and complying with all the ‘papier-rouge’ inflicted on us by some self-seeking quango’s and central government.  I suppose it shows their ignorance and consequently we should take no heed, but it stings, no matter how ignorant the  critic

Why? Because it’s a cheap shot and  we’re an easy target? After all, the average individual – let alone a journalist – has no terms of reference on the other things councils do like building roads, providing education, providing social care or collecting rubbish etc. They’ve  never done any of these themselves so there is no comparative information…but they may have knocked up a web site and in their view it was easy.

So why so much? After all it’s just a piece of ‘electronic media’. It’s not real and so it can’t have cost much can it? And yet… HOW MUCH!

“My lad could’ve built that for £50”.

Ohhhh  Sighhhh….

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

…………………………………………………………………………………..

pauldjones

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.

So, do you think you are worth your money?

Socitm’s Better Connected boss, Martin Greenwood, recently admitted that there’s no news in good news so he simply spins the very small bad end of a fact so Socitm make the headlines. And he is not alone. Recent FOI’s (Freedom of Information) requests have been probing the costs of  local government web sites and wishing to pitch that against how many users there are of those services. I suppose to arrive at some sort of cost per visit or page impression. All very galling for the hard working web managers.

That aside for a moment… there is a huge amount of chatter in the system about ‘channel shifting’ where the intent of managers is to drive users to a cheaper channel to deliver the service, and there is none cheaper than the web with it’s pence per use as opposed to the many pounds per use of phone and face to face.
Nobody is suggesting, at least not yet, you can hold an old persons hand via the web. I suppose that will come at about the same time as somebody wins the challenge of delivering a pint of beer across the web. Lets face it there will always be the face to face and the phone call requirement. And so it should be.
Where the web can help is the provision of information and support. A colleague at the Lincolnshire County Council produced a good visual for this in her attempt to prove another fact. If I may paraphrase what she said… she suggested that our major services were like christmas baubles in a jar where the supporting and separating media was fine grains of sand. For me that sand is the web. Granular, connected and supportive with the ability to shift in any direction at the first sign of movement in any of the substantive services.
Back to your worth. It was suggested in an article on Lincolnshire County Council’s ‘waistline’ blog (July 2009) the way to measure the worth of the web to any organisation was to (mentally) turn it off and to measure the impact on the organisation. Just what would you have to put in to replace what the web provided. The answer was not surprising. Millions of pounds of investment and service would need to be installed to replace even a small part of what the web does for a council.
You can see the article here…

So the next time you are asked to justify your existence or the council’s expenditure in the web, use this as a template for your own calculations. You and your service are cost effective to a level that may surprise even you. Doing this will also make you feel better when you see incorrect and biased things written about what you do. Now that can’t be bad.
btw… the picture is of Lincolnshire County Council’s web manager, Jean Trahearn. The switch really was that big. It was in a shop in Regent St. Photoshop put the wording on.
Imagine if there was such a switch. It doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences of the switch being flipped does it?