SCC

How Surrey County Council achieved four stars from Better Connected

Following another commendation for digital services, Surrey County Council's Web and Digital Services Manager, Louise Halloway, highlights the importance of user experience.

There seems to be increasing discussion around the fact that our brain connections are changing due to our use of digital technology. From looking at websites and researching information, to the use of smart phones and the Internet of Things, digital is impacting our lives in many ways.

The way that we read content is changing. Our attention span is much lower and we are often distracted and flit between things online. Even as I am writing this article I am flipping between my mail box, my next online meeting and am responding to a text message!

I manage Surrey County Council’s website and, being a council website, we are unlikely to compete with interesting and exciting content that other online and digital experiences may offer. We know that most users coming to our site are carrying out tasks or find out about council activities. Yes, I am passionate about our site but I understand that many may not be!

Therefore getting people to where they want to be as quickly as possible, and making it easier, is more important now than it has ever been. I feel fortunate enough to have managed websites for ten years and to have seen the change in user behaviour - and our entire approach to online - shift hugely.

Take councils for instance. Ten years ago, the approach was to get as much content as possible for each service online so that they were all represented. Now the opposite is true - the focus is around the customer's needs and what they want.

It sounds easy to say “we are focusing on the customer”. It's something that a lot of people would agree with. What we have learnt, however, is that this is simply not enough.

Instead of assuming that you have written a clear piece of content, or thinking that your design is based on good customer principles, you must test it within the context of someone using your website or application.

This article first appeared in PublicServiceDigital. To view the results from Better Connected, click here

We have found there to be a big difference between some well written text compared to the journey and experience a user has when trying to actually use the site.

It sounds easy and obvious but I challenge anyone to run a user testing session on their site or application and not find anything that they can improve. I often sit with my head in my hands due to how problematic parts of our site are, despite Surrey having one of the leading council websites.

User testing is one of the big areas that we have been focusing on over the last year. We are trying to embed a user testing culture across the organisation so that everyone who contributes to our website takes the time to test it. This can be formal user testing – we often go out to libraries and ask people to help test our site, but grabbing colleagues or even asking our friends and family has led to significant improvements.

There is always room to improve but we are really pleased that Socitm have recognised us again (last year we were credited as being the best local authority website in the country) and has given us the top four star score for their most recent survey.

We have taken on a web copywriter this year to try and improve our most visited pages. This will hopefully contribute towards the best possible user experience and help those who are easily distracted in an increasing digital world. If our users don't find our site a pleasure to use at least we will ensure a quick and easy experience so that they can then get on with placing their Amazon orders!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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