Bracknell Forest Digital Services


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Visit our beta!

beta-image-blog

We have launched a beta version of our new website.

The beta includes:

Please take a look and let us know what you think.

What is a beta?

A beta is a great way to test our new website. It’s like a demo – it allows us to test a few new sections as well as being able to show the design and layout of our new website.

You can use the beta like any other website, but it’s not a finished product yet. You may be re-directed back to our existing website where services have not yet been redesigned.

Beta services will sometimes be available at the same time as existing ones. When a beta version of a service is running alongside the current version, you can use either.


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How the beta came to life

We began this blog not quite 2 years ago – in April 2015, to be exact – though the project had been going prior to this. We took a look at some of the work we did in 2015 in our end of year roundup post.

We’ve come a long way in 2016. Here’s a quick look at the 4 main areas:

Content

In 2016 we carried out a further 25 discovery workshops with service teams. These tended to be smaller sections, having already tackled the giants.

Re-writing content continued in earnest, reaching fever pitch in the last half of the year. Our content review process is extremely thorough – each piece of content goes through several stages of review before final sign off. This included over 30 formal content review meetings.

Design

Visually, the website came to life in 2016. The homepage was designed, and with it an array of icons that were tweaked multiple times.

One example where the icon changed is the ‘planning and building control’ icon.

floorplan-iconThe original design was based on a floorplan. User testing showed that customers were unsure what this was supposed to represent.

person-with-hard-hat-imageThe new design was based on an image of a person in the building industry (wearing a hard hat) but there was concern in the team that it should be more gender neutral.

gender-neutral-person-with-hard-hat-imageWith a slight narrowing of the shoulders, and removal of the tie, we felt the final design was more inclusive. 

Within the site, 2 main designs were chosen:

  • a standard, information-based design
  • a promotional design for sections such as leisure

The promotional design includes a wide range of pieces (almost like LEGO) which are available to build in sections. Using these, we can tailor parts of the website so that they have their own unique identity, whilst remaining consistent with the rest of the site.

Technical

Alongside all this activity, the kicking and breathing part of the website was created too. This involved the development, in Drupal, of every functioning part. Of course, this links in very closely with the design, which ties in very closely with the content, so lining all 3 up together is the real trick.

User testing

We did plenty of user testing, using in-person testing as well as Treejack surveys. We tested the homepage navigation and wireframes with different groups of people. We also tested different design options, from overall page designs and colours to icon details.

Our next round of testing is the beta. There’s no better way of testing the website than actually putting it out there for people to use – and we’re really pleased to announce it is coming soon – so watch this space!

 


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My way or the highway; creating new content for roads

Roads icon

My first experience of creating structure and content for the new website was for the roads section.

We had two workshops about this section. One was with Highway Network Management (which has several teams within it) and the other was with Highway Asset Management.

For customers, these teams do one overall thing: look after roads. So it’s not relevant to them that there are different teams, and teams within teams, some of which deal with traffic flow, others which deal with potholes. Instead, the customer journey needs to include the services offered by both these teams without breaking that journey into two parts.

Secondly, both these service areas are pretty keen on the word highway. It’s important to them – and it’s what they are all about. But, from a user perspective, we’re really talking about roads. Okay, so it’s actually roads, pavements and even some verges, but that’s getting complicated which is the opposite of where we want to be.

Keeping our content crystal clear is a priority – our current website was highly rated by the Plain English Campaign just this week. What I’ve noticed, is that you can always review content for the better. So let’s use the word roads, where roads makes more sense in the context.

 

Guide pages

We sourced the idea of guide pages from GOV.UK; the format is an overview or introduction page with related (numbered) pages that you can clearly see at the top. If it’s a process, you can go through them in numerical order, or you can click straight to the content that’s relevant to you. Here’s a snippet taken from GOV.UK:

Snippet taken from GOV.UK of an example guide page

There were two instances where I re-structured content into a guide page. One was a PDF about gritting and one was a page about abandoned vehicles that was so long I’m not sure anyone but me has reached the end of it. For both of these, I changed the content into the new guide page structure so they had a short intro and simple, associated pages.

In terms of making sure the content was in Plain English, turning the bottomless page into more manageable pieces of information was pretty straightforward as it was already written for a web audience.

Much more editing was required with the PDF, which raises yet another problem with PDFs – not only are they generally not very accessible – they tend to be created without that keen focus on a web audience. If they are serving no purpose and no-one is looking at them (over half of our PDFs currently get no views at all) – get rid of them. If they are important – consider changing them into web pages instead.

 

Make things better

If our content team had a tag-line, this could be it. T-shirts anyone?

Image of a tee shirt with the words: Make things better


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Design testing

Last week we went out into key areas of the borough to ask members of the public what they thought of our initial website designs.

We visited libraries, sports centres and shopping centres to find a range of people to talk to.

We had flip charts with print outs and clipboards with questions; nothing hi-tech about it but enough to get the quick feedback we were after.

User testing guerrillas with clipboards at the ready!

User testers with clipboards at the ready!

The below infographic presents some of the key findings from the testing we carried out. Carrying out the survey was a great learning experience and has given us good ideas on how to improve the next one. Overall the results are really positive and affirm that we are on the right track with out initial designs.

Key statistics around flat design user testing.

 

Overall, everyone was very positive. Participants really liked the clean and simple design with the increased emphasis on services. Some participants felt that perhaps it was a little plain but that this aided it’s functionality and improved their ability to find the information needed.

Next steps are to go back to the design team with a few changes, and then we will push on with building our beta site. We’ll be back out and about in the borough over the coming months to carry out more testing so keep an eye out for us.


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Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

The purpose of this day is to get people all around the world talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and users with different disabilities.

Digital accessibility involves ensuring that people are not excluded from using and interacting with the web, regardless of ability and technology.

We have worked with an organisation called the Shaw Trust to ensure that the council’s public website can be used by people with a range of disabilities.

Some examples of the testing carried out include:

  • blind and partially sighted users who have web pages read aloud using a screen reader
  • users with cognitive or motor impairments who rely on a keyboard or joystick instead of a mouse
  • users with Dyslexia or difficulties with colour contrasts

Digital accessibility is very important to us and this will be a priority as we build the new website. The new website will also be responsive to assist users visiting on a mobile device and we are looking to reduce PDF documents as these are generally not very accessible.

The GAAD website has some great ideas on how to participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day – such as going mouseless, or using a screen reader for an hour. Why not give it a go?


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Publishing website statistics

Last month Public Service Digital published an article around the data that council digital teams share and how, this being 2016, we really ought to be making better use of the tools available for doing this. Further, the article raised the idea that perhaps there ought to be some form of standards around the publication of the data in order to make it comparable.

This raised some discussion in our team around what we are currently doing, and how we could improve the provision of data for our public website.

Like many councils, we use Google Analytics to monitor our website performance. We already publish some basic statistics on a monthly basis, but it is limited.

GOV.UK have some really interesting presentation of their website statistics, and whilst we are not there yet, it is something to aim for in terms of data publication.

Instead, we have opted for something quicker and simpler to get us moving in the right direction. We have used the Google Analytics Spreadsheet add-on to put together a new website statistics page.

This page currently shows some of our key website statistics in the shape of interactive graphs, like the one below.

 

We’ve added what we think are some of the key metrics for looking at website performance, but we would be interested to know what others publish, and whether providing more information would be useful. It would be great to have a discussion around what data councils should be publishing in this area and whether there ought to be some form of shared standards for publication so making comparisons becomes easier.

Finally, thanks has to go to Croydon council’s web team as their website statistics page and spreadsheet really helped us understand what we needed to make this work. Using this, plus the tutorial videos available from Google, we managed to put this page together quite quickly. The whole process is simple and these videos are a great starting point if you want to make something similar out of your statistics.

Over the coming months we will look to improve on this initial offering and share further data for our website performance. Is there any particular data you think we should share on this page? Let us know in the comments!

Orange and blue lines on a graphy


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Home sweet home? – a look at homepage usage

Last week Brighton published a great blog post about their homepage, and how really, Google is their homepage.

This prompted me to take a look at our homepage to see how it performs in relation to the rest of our website. What we found out was pretty interesting stuff (if you like this kind of thing anyway!)

Looking at a standard content report for our website shows that our homepage was the top ranked page in March.

Table showing the top page views in March

However, this presents a slightly misleading interpretation of homepage usage as when we look at homepage visits in comparison to all other visits, we can see that actually, over a year, 82% of sessions on our website did not visit the homepage at all.

Graph showing sessions with and without homepage visits

Where is home?

Approximately 15% of sessions start on our homepage. What about the other 75%? The table below shows the top ten pages that customers started on for March.

Top ten landing pages (excluding homepage)

Unsurprisingly, given it’s popularity, and the current work going on, Coral Reef is the most popular landing page, followed by The Look Out Discovery Centre.

All of these pages are some of our most popular pages on our site so it is not a shock that these pages would be entry points. However, this doesn’t tell us how customers are getting to these pages.

Do they Google it? Do they have a direct link? What about other sources?

According the the numbers, Google is the most popular starting point, and direct links follow.

User flow diagram

Even more interesting, and something we should probably explore at a later date, is that when we add the homepage as a landing page back into the figures, we see that large numbers of customers are actually still coming to it via Google rather than by other means.

Diagram showing usage of homepage as a landing page

Using the homepage

Let’s now take a look at those sessions where there is a visit to the homepage after looking at other pages. Why are the majority of our customers not doing this, but some are?

To help us understand, we can look at where customers were before they ended up on the homepage. The following table shows the top five pages that people navigated from.

Pages used before homepage

What is it about these pages that mean customers decide to head to the homepage after using them?

Is it because they do not find the information they want, or is it because they did find that information but wanted to do something else?

These pages are generally well used, but perhaps they are failing customers in some way that results in the backtrack to the homepage. Some focused user testing may be in order to see if we can work out why this is happening.

Another key indicator we can look at in relation to homepage usage is time spent on the website.

Graph showing average session duration

In March, the average time spent on the website when the customer did not go to the homepage was 1 minute 46 seconds.

If the session included the homepage this jumped to 3 minutes 41 seconds, suggesting that those customers who go to the homepage navigate around a lot more before they find what they want. They may also be interested in more than one thing.

Again, we need to be monitoring how our customers navigate much more closely in order to understand this.

What next?

What should we take away from all this? How can we make our new homepage more useful for those customers who have ended up on it? I think there are two key things we need to consider:

  1. We shouldn’t over engineer the homepage. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it does need to provide customers with a simple way to get to the information they need. Customers should also be able to find what they need quickly.
  2. We must focus on the content and ensure that customers can get to it through the channels they want – for example, let’s make sure that customers can find our content easily through search engines.

We’re already doing some of this for the new website.

We’re trying to keep the homepage as simple as we can, with clear navigation into services. In our first wireframe testing last week, users really liked this, and found it clear and easy to use. Once we have some stats on our new homepage, it will be very interesting to run a comparison.