Bracknell Forest Digital Services

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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.


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Wireframe User testing

Last week we held a user testing session on our initial website wireframes. With 10 participants at the session, we were able to test the wireframes across desktops, tablets and mobiles, giving us an insight into how the website would perform across all devices.

The participants were recruited through our Open Learning Centre, and as such they had a range of technical ability. Some had come from a course about learning to use an iPad, whilst others were recruited from our ‘English language café’ where they attend to improve their English. Others were from an IT open session, and had more of an understanding about how to use a computer. This gave us a wide range of participant skill level which helped us check whether the site would be usable for a variety of customers.

BFC-User-Testing-Round-one.png

As this was our first in-person user testing for the re-development, we were all pretty nervous about how it would be received. Thankfully, it all went off fairly well and we got some great positive feedback that proves that the path we are on is the right one.

Examples of feedback include:

“Very clear website”

“Straight to topic”

“Very straightforward”

“Good to have all the key information near the top of the homepage”

However, the testing wasn’t all positive and it did highlight several issues with the website that we will need to consider how to resolve.

The 3 main usability problems which everyone had were:

  • The “More Services” button is not visible enough. Most of our participants couldn’t find it without prompting.
  • Most participants expected to find “register a birth” under “family information”.
  • Most participants struggled to find local news.

It was also really interesting to see that no one used the main drop down menu. As such, the users testing the mobile version could not find “My account” button because it was hidden in the drop down.

Having carried out this initial wireframe testing, we will now hold some internal testing with some of our councillors and staff. This should help us double check the issues raised through the customer testing.

Diagram showing routing to birth information


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Homepage navigation survey: the results

Our recent homepage navigation survey produced some interesting results. In all, 281 people took part, with 201 participants completing all of the tasks. Whilst we are analysing these in our team, we thought it might be interesting to share what we learnt about our proposed navigation with you.

We will take a look at the overall results, as well as the breakdown of results and what we have learnt from running the survey. It’s quite a long read, with lots of diagrams, so it might be worth getting that cup of tea first!

Overall results

Taking a look at the overall results provides some positive indications that our suggested navigation is on the right track.

Chart showing success and directness ratings

The success rating shows that 89% of tasks completed by participants ended up at the correct answer. The directness rating shows that for those tasks completed, 78% found the correct answer without having to backtrack.

This is good news for us as much of the proposed navigation seems to work. We can confirm this, and check where there are issues or changes needed, by looking at the task results in more detail.

The tasks

1. Council tax

Our first task, about setting up a direct debit, was very successful, and participants found it easy to find with a 96% success rate and the information being found in under 12 seconds. Comments on the survey back this up:

“Seemed very simple and user friendly. I was surprised how quickly I located things.”

Council tax task information

The ease of finding this information is highlighted when we look at where participants navigated to from ‘Home’. As we see below, other than some outliers, most participants went straight to the right page.

council-tax-task-pie2. Births

Our second task, about registering the birth of a child, proved more challenging for customers and had the lowest success rate for a task within the survey. We can see from our analytics that whilst customers managed to complete the task 70% of the time, they often did not directly find the answer.

births-task

To explore where customers went instead, we can take a look at the routes they took.

Diagram showing routing to birth information

From the chart above, we can see that many customers looked within children and family services for this information. This was backed up by participant comments.

“I would have registered births under children’s service and social care, but I didn’t get this option.”

“Birth registration should be under children and families not ‘other services’. I had to go there as a last resort rather than actually wanting to find it there.”

In order to account for this within our navigation, we should make sure that we link to this information from within the Children and Families section, as well as with the Births, marriages and deaths section.

3. Housing

Our housing benefit task had a 97% success rate. The directness rating was a little lower than council tax at 90% but still indicates that the content was easy to find.

Information relating to housing benefit task

Looking at the navigation routes taken for this suggests that most customers are not actually taking the direct route via ‘Benefits’ but rather are navigating through ‘Housing’. This indicates that putting it within the main housing section was a good assumption, whilst also accounting for those looking for ‘Benefits’ first.

Diagram showing routing to housing benefit information4. Trees

Our tree task scored a little lower than most of our tasks, with a success rate of 82%. However, only 73% of participants got there directly, suggesting that they were looking for it in a number of places.

Information about the tree task

As the diagram below shows, whilst the majority of participants made it to the trees section, there was a lot of variety in how they got there. Looking at the analytics, 153 participants made it to ‘Trees’ via ‘Environmental issues’ and only 13 made it via ‘Parks and countryside’. So whilst trees have traditionally sat within the parks section, the results suggest that customers will not look for it here. Further, 96 participants went to ‘Planning and building control’ for tree information, suggesting that tree information needs to be signposted here as well.

Diagram showing routes taken to tree information

5. Councillors

Finding out who your local Councillor is, is an important task for local democracy. Our survey results show that participants were, with the exception of a few outliers, able to successfully find this information.

Information about the Councillor task

The diagram below shows that most customers went to ‘The council and democracy’ to find this information, whilst our signpost back to this from elections helped those that did not.

Diagram showing routes taken to Councillor information

With regards to this question, we received several comments regarding the use of the term ‘The council and democracy’. We are now investigating other options for what we call this section, including ‘About the council’. It is likely that we will do more testing on this to find out what works best for our customers.

6. Fostering

The task relating to fostering was one that participants found straightforward.

Information about fostering task

The diagram below highlights that the majority of participants (196) found fostering information under ‘Children and family services’. Most of the remaining participants found it through ‘Health and social care’ where fostering information is referenced for those looking for it there.

Diagram showing navigation route to fostering information7. Graffiti

We were interested in looking at graffiti as a task because of where it sits under the heading ‘Environmental issues.’ As a team we had debated the use of this term and we wanted to test it out. The success rate was 94% which is great, but there were some issues with directness. 75% of participants got to the task directly which means that 25% of participants didn’t manage to find it straight away.

Information about the graffiti task

This was backed up with feedback on the survey. For example one participant commented:

“I found the … task particularly difficult – ‘Environmental’ is a broad term and it took me quite some time to discover the Graffiti branch.”

So, where did participants look for this task? As we can see from the diagram below, they looked in a range of places. The most notable was that they checked under ‘More services’ for this task, although ‘Housing’ was also popular. This may be because we referenced the task to graffiti outside a house. This suggests that we will need to investigate how we link key tasks around the website, rather than feature them exclusively in one area.

Diagram showing routes to graffiti information

8. Licensing

When discussing the initial navigation to test, we struggled with where to put licensing information, so it was interesting to see where customers looked for this. This test, whilst having an 86% success rate, shows that having licensing information under ‘Business information’ was not where participants were looking for it. We can see this because only 54% of participants went directly to the task.

Information about the licensing task

In order to work out where else we might locate licensing information, we can look at where customers went before they made it to ‘Business information.’

65 participants went to ‘Planning and building control,’ whilst 62 went to ‘More services.’ This suggests that, at the very least, we need to reference licensing within ‘Planning and building control,’ and perhaps even consider having licensing as its own section. Again, this is something that we will need to carry out further user testing on.

Diagram showing the routing towards licensing information

What next?

Having carried out this survey on our main navigation, we will now take the results and look at how we can improve how the navigation works. For example, we will make sure that the licensing section is easier to find and that births information is linked from children and family services, among other changes.

Thank you once again to everyone who took part in the survey.

 


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How to make an enormous website seem simple

Coming from a private sector marketing background, I’ve been involved in the launch of two new websites, one for a shopping centre and one for a niche B2B company in the airline industry. I thought these were decent sized projects, until recently…

Redeveloping the council website is a bit like having to do 10 shopping centre websites all at once, because the breadth of services that we offer is so huge. The challenge is to make your journey through our site, as clear and simple as possible, so that you won’t even notice how large the rest of the site is.

On 16 Feb, we spent a day focusing on the Information Architecture of the new website, and a simple user journey was our top priority. This part of the process is not linked to the design of the site (which will equally need to pay good attention to the user journey), so the picture below is not design – rather it’s a way of capturing steps in the user journey.

Homepage IA

Once these wireframes are refined, we can then test them and improve them. One of our goals with the new website is to strip everything down to be as simple as possible, whilst continuing to follow the approach that the GDS (Government Digital Service) have developed for GOV.UK.

We also want to extend the range of accessibility options and discussed ideas around creating an easy read landing page which is easier to read (as well as creating more of this content in the first place). We challenged our current approach to accessibility – and agreed that if something isn’t helping we will remove it and use something that is.

Flexibility is key in other areas as well, which is why using new open source software is such a big advantage for us. How can we promote important things at certain times of the year – such as school admissions or elections – whilst retaining the bread and butter parts of our site?

Although the day opened up new questions for us to investigate, we now have a very clear direction for the back-end build of the website, which has been informed by the service area workshops (read about a particularly fun one at The Look Out). The new site will be responsive so it doesn’t matter how you access it (over 50% of our website visitors aren’t using a PC), and I am certain it will be really quick and easy to use. Next stop, design workshop!


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An end of year round up

With Christmas and 2016 just around the corner (it is Christmas Eve Eve, after all) we thought it would be a good time to take a look over some of the work we have done over the past year, as well as look ahead to some of the work we will do in the first part of 2016.

A look back at 2015

2015 has seen us carry out a lot of preparation for our new website across the content, design and technical work streams. All of this work should put us in a good place to really get going with the re-development in the new year.

Content

In 2015 we did the following content work for the re-development:

  • held 30 workshops, across the five directorates, each one producing a discovery report and key user journey
  • re-wrote 11 sections of content, including bins and recycling, school admissions, and elections
  • launched 10 Treejack surveys
  • drafted our updated content standards

Design

In 2015 we did the following design work for the re-development:

  • drafted 8 sections worth of wireframes
  • completed the procurement of web design services

Technical

In 2015 we did the following technical work for the re-development:

  • set up the Drupal hosting infrastructure
  • migrated 9 of 11 microsites across to new web hosting

Looking forward to 2016

2016 is shaping up to be another busy year for us. We will be continuing the workshops, and have about another 30 to run. We will also continue to re-draft content, working to make it as clear to the customer as possible with guided user journeys.

Excitingly, we will also be commencing work on the design, as well as launching our newsroom site in beta.

In terms of the main public website, we hope to launch our council tax beta early in February, when we will also commence user testing of this section to get feedback as to how it is working for our customers.

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who has helped us with user testing so far through our navigation surveys. If you’d like to be informed when we start user testing for our beta site, sign up now!

The last workshop of the year was supported by Darth Santa himself!

The last workshop of the year was supported by Darth Santa himself!

Have a very happy Christmas  from all the team and we’ll be back next year!


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Moving on

 My year as a Digital Content Officer has come to an end!

I applied for this job as an English Literature graduate straight out of university. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to start my career, aside from knowing that I wanted to write, and I wanted to help people. I saw the advert for Digital Content Officer, quickly Googled what Drupal was, and applied.

Since I got the job, I have learnt a huge amount about how people think, how people use digital technology, and what we can do to make compulsory government processes easier for people to complete. I have spent a lot of time reading about and considering usability and accessibility, and reworking my writing to make it as useful as possible. This has meant getting rid of academic writing or anything remotely poetic, and sticking to words and phrases which everyone can understand. A key element of usability is that no one should be excluded from what you build or write, and this is something I will remember for the rest of my career.

business-rates-workshop

Drafting a user journey

There have been many times during the year when I have found this job really fulfilling. We took a team to meet and work with the Nepalese community from Sandhurst for some user testing, and I saw how difficult it can be for some people to use the websites I take for granted. Being able to offer help and solutions to some of the digital issues they faced was great.

nepali

User testing with Nepalese community

As expected, the part of this job I have enjoyed the most is putting together the content for the new website. I have been working on the new content for areas including Schools Admissions, Business Rates and The Look Out Discovery Centre. In the content workflow, I have learnt to take constructive criticism. The first time someone changes what you’ve written, it feels like a bit of a blow. But I’ve taken to reminding myself that we’re all working toward the same goal, and in correcting each other, the content will only get better.

I’ve got to know a great team while I’ve been here – they’ve set the bar high as the first proper colleagues I’ve had! I will be sad to leave, but hope that my new team in Bracknell Forest’s Democratic Services will offer similar challenges, fun and encouragement. I hope to bring my new-found awareness of accessibility and openness to the democratic process. Many thanks, Colin and the Digital Services team, for taking a chance on an inexperienced but enthusiastic graduate!

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Leaving lunch