How Local Governments Can Make Services and Information More Accessible Online
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven an increased reliance on local government websites for information and online services. But not all of these websites were developed to be the first point of contact for residents, let alone the primary way of sharing information.
So, it’s vital that they are now assessed to check that the information they contain is easily accessible to all members of the public.
What can local governments do to ensure their services and information are accessible online?
At a recent Local Government Association of South Australia event, Peter Krieg, our Global Head of Creative & Consulting, delved into this - offering South Australian Councils five simple steps to improve their websites:
1 - Start with the end in mind: satisfied users
Making a website available to all is about more than simply meeting the minimum requirements in an accessibility checklist. It should be tailored to the specific needs of your audience.
To offer the most effective solution to every website user, it’s crucial to understand them better. The more information you have about your council’s website users the better, as this will help you understand what kind of information and outcomes they are seeking.
Ultimately, most users are not visiting council websites to browse, they are there to get a job done. So, the relevance and accessibility of all information is key to ensuring they leave satisfied. Whether they are using the website to better understand something about the local area, or take a very specific action using an online service, even small changes to the way the content and actions are delivered, can make a big difference.
Helpful questions to consider, include:
- Which pages do users navigate to most?
- When are users visiting the website?
- What are users searching for?
- What devices do people use to visit the website?
Google Analytics will shed light on all of these questions (among others), and provide a good sense of what your users need from your website. Of course, if you want to take your understanding to the next level, nothing beats gathering real-world user insights through testing.
2 - Ensure that all website users have equal access to information
The design of a council website is crucial. It needs to cater to people from diverse backgrounds and be as inclusive as possible. Around 1 in 5 Australians lives with a disability, which highlights the importance of focusing on accessible design.
Here are two key points to keep in mind when improving the accessibility of your website:
Point 1: Accessibility is partly about colours and graphics
Be mindful of colour choices for text, graphics, and charts. Colours like yellows, light blues, and light greens can be tricky, especially when used with white. These colours can still be used if they form part of your council’s brand palette, but use them primarily as accents, and ensure text, graphics, and charts always contrast strongly with any background colour.
To perform an audit on the visual accessibility of your council’s website, you can use free tools like:
Point two: Content and layout also contribute to accessibility
The most obvious point to consider is whether each webpage presents well - ask yourself, does the content seem too wordy, dense, or intimidating? Also look at whether the information renders well on a computer screen, tablet, and mobile device.
Ensure the font type and size used is easy to read, and the flow of text on the page is simple to follow.
Examine calls to action. Would they still make sense if they did not have the support of the visual elements around them?
Writing strong link text will help too. The Nielsen Norman Group has a great framework to bear in mind for this. They recommend creating calls to action which are specific, sincere, substantial, and succinct.
3 - Write readable content
People typically don't read webpages, they scan them. Jackob Nielsen’s eye tracking study from 2008 indicated that only 20-28% of the content is read on the average webpage.
This shows that people don’t read every word on a website, they simply scan the page, which is why having simple and concise content is so important. The easier it is to understand the message, the better. Wherever possible, write for an audience of Grade 8 or 9 readers.
Take the approach of the inverted pyramid model - lead with the essential information at the top, and work down to secondary info.
Clear headings and bullet points can be used to make webpages easier to digest. Proper use of H1 – H6 headings will ensure people using screen readers can make sense of the information too.
At the same time, avoid the use of jargon, policy speak, and legal language in the website content.
4 - Review the structure of the information on the website
The information architecture (IA) is the backbone of the website - the way pages are organised to make the most sense to most people. When it works well, people can use it to understand what the site offers and find what they need.
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to the IA is continuously adding pages to a website’s navigation without giving the flow of information much thought.
At Squiz, we have seen many examples of this, with some websites having as many as 100,000 pages and hundreds of links in the navigation bar.
It’s a great reminder of why establishing content governance for council websites is so important.
This doesn’t have to be a daunting process. Many content management systems allow users to export a website’s IA into a spreadsheet for easy review. Here you want to look for duplication and any language that may confuse users (like internal jargon).
5 - Consistency is key - fight fragmentation
In large organisations, it is common for content to be created by people from different departments. This can lead to the website being fragmented - with the tone of voice, look, and feel being inconsistent as a result.
To check for this, perform a quick audit. Take screenshots of recent and popular documents or posts, and paste them into an online whiteboard, such as the free version of Miro or Google Slides. Examine whether the pages appear consistent.
Once this is completed, consider the tone of voice of these pages. Ideally, they need to match your corporate style guidelines.
When it comes to ensuring a local government website offers accessible information and services, it is important to remember that you do not need to wait for an entire website overhaul before improvements can be made. Instead, council staff who are responsible for website management and content updates can make incremental improvements. By following the steps covered above, small but meaningful adjustments can offer substantial results.
The pandemic has significantly increased the need for government entities at all leve...
In order to stay at the forefront of citizen service delivery, throughout this period...