Central government websites score higher than local government ones in terms of visitor satisfaction, according to new Socitm research.
The local council IT managers’ association found that despite this, however, users are more likely to find what they are looking for on a local website than on a central website.
Socitm outlined its findings in a report, ‘Use of the web – local government compared with central government’. The report compares data from Socitm’s Website take-up service, which surveys users when they visit local authority websites, with data from central government websites collected by the Central Office of Information in April.
On average, visitor satisfaction averaged 45 percent for central government sites, compared with 31 percent for local government sites.
In contrast, when it came to how successful visitors were at finding what they were looking for, the average for local government sites was 54 percent, compared with 38 percent for central government sites.
The figures were calculated by subtracting the number of dissatisfied responses from the number of satisfied responses. The local government data is based on returns from 122 councils, while the central government data is based on 18 websites. Users visiting either type of site were asked the same questions.
Socitm believes that the ability of visitors to find what they are looking for on a website is the most critical performance indicator for websites.
“Visit failure is likely to lead to costly avoidable contact as people have to resort to the phone to access missing information. Whereas the cost of a web enquiry may be 23p or less, phone enquiries will cost upwards of £2.50 each,” it explained.
However, it added: “For this reason, Socitm believes that even the local government average of 54 percent for visit success is much lower than it should be.”
In its study, Socitm also found that 38 million unique visitors used 46 central government websites in March 2010, of which 82 percent were users of the top 10 sites. These include Directgov, Business Link, NHS Choices and HMRC.gov.uk.
This compares to the 23.5 million unique users Socitm estimated accessed the 122 local government sites included in the survey during the same period.
Although Socitm said it was useful to compare the performance of central and local government websites, the association was unable to get as full a picture as it wanted.
Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight, said: “It is a shame that some important citizen-facing central government websites, like HMRC.gov.uk and NHS.UK (NHS Choices) have not reported on user satisfaction. And it is frustrating that the true cost of major sites is not known because staff costs are obscured by outsourcing contracts.”