Bracknell Forest Digital Services


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New website launch

Our new website is now live!

It’s been a journey of almost two years from initial workshops and planning, to finally building the site over the last few months. The past six months have borne the brunt of the work, hence the radio silence on the blog!

We’ve put a lot of focus on redesigning the site to make our online services easier and faster to use.

We have also simplified it so that our customers can find the information they want without having to wade through large amounts of unnecessary information. We’ve removed documents where possible, taking off over 1000 of them in the process.

This is not to say the site is perfect. It’s not. It’s a work in progress.

We still have a long way to go to get the content perfected, to get the number of documents down further and to work out some of the issues with navigation and search. But in making the site live now, we will better be able to capture feedback and solve the problems that affect customers.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us with feedback and testing over the course of the project.

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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.


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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.


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Document growth and cutting back

We use a lot of PDFs on our site (2177 at last count). This isn’t always a good thing, as PDFs can be inaccessible, require downloading, don’t look great on a mobile device, and are much harder to keep updated (ever opened a document and found it was out of date or had broken links? How annoyed were you?) Checking today, we have some 300 documents that contain broken links. The worst of these has a whopping 43 broken links and was last updated in December 2012. Not good.

We want this situation to change. Whilst looking at the current site in workshops with service teams, we’ve been taking a look at the documents they have on the site in order to sort these issues out.

Some of these we have already been told can be removed, or placed less prominently. This is interesting as in the three years since our last re-development, the number of documents crept up. We did manage to get the number back down last year, owing to the hard work of web editors questioning the necessity of documents, but there still remains a substantial number of documents on our site.

Some of the growth in documents is related to times of year, such as at election time, much of the information we were required to publish was only available in a PDF format. A big reduction in documents came about when a lot of planning documents were moved off of the site.

We still have a long way to go to get the number of PDFs on our site down to a minimum, and they won’t ever disappear completely, but there are ways to ensure that those we must provide, don’t impact on the customer journey.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the figures:

Document growth infographic

In a year, 1276 out of 2177 documents were viewed less than ten times. This suggests that a lot of these documents are unnecessary, or hard to find.

We can do something about this though, by removing those that we can, and by making sure that the relevant information in them is easily available on a page. This is also the case for those documents with large numbers of views – the information is obviously key (and the statistics show that it’s often timetables and prices with the most views) so lets take it and make it readily accessible to everyone.

Currently, before uploading a document, we ask our web editors to look at whether a document adds any value, and whether this information could be on the web page instead. We give examples of where PDFs should be used, for example for official council documents or for information that is too complicated to translate into a web page.

Providing guidelines has not proved enough in itself to limit the number of documents added online. This will change with the new website but we will need web editors and service teams to get behind the drive to add less documents, and ensure that those that are added, are up-to-scratch. Meeting with service teams, and discussing the statistics behind the documents they already have, should help with this.

How do you minimise the usage of documents on your website? Let us know in the comments!


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Running workshops

We have now held our first three workshops (council tax, births and jobs). The first two workshops were test runs. The teams knew they were having the process tested out on them, which made it a little less nerve-wracking to stand in front of them and ask them lots of questions about their service. Hopefully some of those nerves will disappear during the course of the next 70 workshops!

The test runs have already helped us tweak the workshop process, and it is quite likely to change again as we get more used to running them. At the moment though, we are starting each workshop by asking some core questions:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What tasks are they carrying out?
  • How are they accessing your service?
  • Why are they accessing you service?

These questions make sure we are being as customer focused as possible, teasing out of service teams the information they have on their customers and their tasks that perhaps we don’t see through the website.

The example below is from our jobs workshop. One of the key bits of information we got out of this was that the service needs to be truly accessible out of hours. It needs as much self-service as possible as more often than not, customers are using the jobs portal outside working hours, around their current jobs.

Core questions - jobs

We are also looking to find out what impression a service team has on their digital situation. This means that we are discussing:

  • the key statistics, such as the top page hits
  • what type of content is available
  • what they think are barriers to making the service as online as possible

These discussions have been informing us as to what tasks we need to be focusing on to meet customer needs.

We have then been using the information gathered in the first part of the workshop to start creating a user journey on the key task for the service area. We are helping the service team map out the main routes of access to a task and looking at what, in an ideal world, the customer will see and do.

Registering a birth user journey mapping

I’ve drawn this out below to make it a little more legible – my board writing ability is obviously something I’m going to have to work on!

Registering a birth user journey

In the example of registering a birth, we discovered that new mothers in Bracknell Forest may have many routes into our website, such as from forums or midwife visits, as well as search engines.

Once they reach our website, the team were surprised at how formal the language we use sounded and want to make it more simple and friendly, with clearer calls to action.

At the moment, a customer must phone to book an appointment to register a birth, but the information surrounding this is online, so the journey brings them back to the site, where they can get the relevant information for the appointment, as well as signposts to other information such as passports and benefits.

So far, we have produced several of these hand-drawn user journeys, which we will now discuss further within our team and wire-frame, before building them into a beta site for customer testing to refine them. As soon as these are up and ready, we will post links for feedback.

If you want to take a look at how we are doing things now, why not take a look at our current jobs or births sections. We welcome any feedback on the current site so that we can take it forward into our beta version!


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3 years and counting

Over the past few months we have done a lot of stock taking on our existing website. This has helped us inform the way we want to move forward with the re-development.

It’s also a good way of benchmarking for the future. Our current site is over three years old. In this time, we have gathered a large quantity of statistics about usage of the site. We can see what people come to our site for, as well as what type of information we present to them when they do – from content pages to PDF documents.

By looking at where we are now, we hope to get a good idea of how our re-developed site has improved the customer experience.

We’ve put together an infographic to highlight the most interesting (to us, at least) key statistics from the last three years. If infographs are not your thing, the statistics are also available below with a little explanation of the figures.

Key statistics from the public website since April 2012

Content growth

The figures around content show that the site has grown, despite attempts to keep page numbers down. This has sometimes led to unnecessarily long pages, something we are going to be looking at during the re-development.

Year Number of pages
2012 996
2013 1208
2014 1191
2015 1244

Likewise, the number of PDF documents on our site has also grown, getting up to nearly 3000 at some points. We have managed to bring this back down through careful assessment of the need for a document, but we still have a long way to go.

Year Number of documents
2012 1874
2013 2840
2014 1197
2015 2170

Overall key figures

Page views 17,752,383
Visitors 2,841,258
Visits 5,898,175

Yearly key figures

These figures show us that in terms of visits and visitors, we have had a steady increase in both, reflecting the general trend towards online services. Similarly, the number of page views has also grown over the years.

2012-13  2013-14  2014-15
Visits  1,581,131  2,172,729  2,354,903
Visitors 793,654  1,097,603  1,227,738
Page views  5,097,905  6,144,779  7,028,221

For a more detailed breakdown of our statistics, we update our website statistics page monthly.

We’ll also be back over the coming weeks to take a closer look at what these figures have shown us.