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VISITORS TO COUNCIL WEBSITES UP SHARPLY - BEFORE GOVERNMENT CAMPAIGN IMPACTS

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Visitors to council websites increased by 40% over the 12 months to December 2005, demonstrating that take up is on...
Visitors to council websites increased by 40% over the 12 months to December 2005, demonstrating that take up is on a rising curve even before the government's two take up campaigns take effect this spring.

The figures are published in the latest report from the Website Take-Up Service run by Socitm Insight for local authorities. The service provides information to participating authorities about the total number of unique visitors to their sites, why people are visiting, how they got there, what the experience was like, and whether they are likely to visit again. The information is collected through a short exit survey added to participating authorities' websites and launched as every fifth visitor leaves the site.

This third report published by service, launched in 2004, is based on 7,667 surveys completed in February 2006 from over 2,142,000 unique visitors to a sample of 46 council websites covering all types of local authority across the UK. Key findings published in report are:

- 11.4m visitors came to local government websites in February 2006, amounting to about 15% of the population and more than 20% of those who use the internet.

- local residents are the largest group of visitors to council sites (42.2%).

- Job vacancies remain the most popular reason for visiting council websites (14%), but their dominance is decreasing as other applications have each increased their share of visitor interest. Examples are library information (now 8% of enquiries); planning applications (5%) and sport and leisure facilities (5%).

- Nearly half the visitors came to council sites via a search engine like Google, a method of accessing council sites that has increased significantly over the last year. In contrast, just 12% of visitors came via council promotion or referral by council staff.

- 80% of visitors find the information they are looking for, or at least part of it. They are generally very well satisfied with the experience.

- more than three quarters of visitors say they are likely to return to the website they visited in future, and this high proportion is on a rising trend.

Analysis of the results from February 2006 across the subscriber sample, has allowed Socitm Insight to draw some conclusions about website take-up which have general application for councils across the UK.

These conclusions are set out in the briefing alongside case studies from two councils that have been promoting take up in different ways. One based on Hampshire CC's Hantweb Awards initiative, and the other is about the efforts Hertfordshire CC has made to boost online schools admissions.

According to Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight, it is more important than ever for councils to get to grips with who is using their sites, for what purposes and how they find the experience. 'The government's advertising campaign which breaks in May will have a significant impact' he says, 'given that usageof council websites is already on a sharp upward curve. What will be important is for councils to maintain the levels of satisfaction we are seeing and the surveys available through the Website Take up Service are an important contributor to that end.'

Also published in the report are some examples of commentary and feedback, in their own words, from users captured through the take up surveys. The comments give excellent

insight into attitudes about councils and in effect offer a very effective customer satisfaction survey that extends well beyond views about the website. A number of users express their satisfaction at the council asking for their feedback.

Building usage of council websites: summary of findings from the Socitm Insight website take-up service Issue 3 is now available as a 'pdf' to Socitm Insight subscribers. The 16pp printed version, available from early April, costs£25 to non-subscribers (£20 to Socitm members) from www.socitm.gov.uk

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