'Sloppy' council websites need improvement, says Socitm

Council websites are "sloppy" and improvements this year were only "marginal", says Socitm.

Council websites are "sloppy" and improvements this year were only "marginal", Socitm's Better Connected report has said.

The organisation's annual report on the state of public sector websites says councils still have a lot of work to do on their sites.

Standard of content is getting worse, content is lengthy with too much technical jargon and too many PDFs, not enough progress has been made in increasing the variety of online transactions, and information structures are "sloppy", according to Socitm.

The report says, "Local authorities and others should be moving much faster to put services on the web, because it is much cheaper."

But it warns that unless web sites are well put together, transactions on the web have very low levels of customer satisfaction. "Councils need to invest much more in getting the web channel right," the report says.

Comments from the report's authors add up to a general picture of "stagnation and lack of focus for improvement".

Comments on 2008's performance include, "Generally, the standard of content appears to be getting worse. The poor content often relied on excessive use of PDFs, or was very lengthy or full of technical jargon."

Other criticisms focused on the growth of the number of transactions available online and cumbersome navigation.

"It does not feel as if much progress has been made in increasing the variety of online transactions.

"Many sites are still organised along department lines and still use council terminology. The underlying information structure is often sloppy, with lists of subjects seemingly dumped under one of the main headings. Now sites are large, this is making navigation very cumbersome. So often there is still too much text to read, much of which does not provide useful citizen-focused information."

The society also pin-pointed problems in website management, saying, "Management appears to have fallen by the wayside sometimes".

A researcher said of one council, "It seems to me highly unlikely that the council considers the website as the main channel of communication. It seems that often providing information for the website is either viewed as an added task, or that it is sufficient for a copy of paper information to be 'thrown on.'"

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