The number of high-quality local government websites has increased by 65% over the past year, according to the local authority IT managers group Socitm.
Research into 468 local authority websites by Socitm, published in the report Better Connected 2005, found that 30% of sites had improved their position in the four-level ranking system.
Top-rated "transactional" sites are significantly interactive and customer-centred, the report said. These sites have increased from 23 in 2004 to 38 this year. Socitm ranks the remaining sites as content plus, content and promotional, in descending order. Only 23 sites remain promotional only, the study found.
A key focus for councils in the future will be marketing the services that are available on their websites, in order to exploit potential efficiency gains, the report said.
Transactional sites can help councils meet the needs of the central government efficiency review, because they can transfer interaction from staffed council departments to automated self-service websites, said Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight and author of the report.
"This shift will not take place unless websites have transactional capacity, really do work in practice and start to attract business in sufficient volumes," he said.
"Councils need to collect more evidence about usage and potential usage of websites in their areas," said Greenwood.
They also need to dedicate their efforts "to getting the quality of the product right at a more detailed level than before in order to make self-service a truly attractive option that works in practice and will be repeated", he said.
Finally, said Socitm, councils need to use sophisticated marketing to drive up usage by target groups.