We surveyed the users of the DH website recently, as we're obliged to each year by the Public Accounts Committee.
We asked the standard questions - the same ones being asked on every government website - and added nothing else except the ability to add comments. Whatever your reservations about the usefulness of the survey, asking them like this does at least mean that we can compare the results with the answers to the same questions last year, and - when they're all published - with the results from the surveys carried out by other government departments and public bodies.
To be honest, I'm a bit disappointed with the results of our survey. They don't show the leap in the levels of user satisfaction that I would have liked given all the changes we've made to improve our site in the last year. In fact the results don't show a marked difference to our results last year.
Overall we were rated ok for attractiveness of design, easy to understand information, and up to date information, and much less well for ease of finding information and usefulness of site search.
There are definitely things we can do to act on the things we found. Here are some of the problems people identified, and what we're doing now to solve them:
1. Can't find content using on-site search
I know there is a lot of information but the site search is really very poor. Talk to google - see how they do it!
Comments about on-site search accounted for nearly half the free text comments in the survey results. Our on-site, cross dh.gov.uk search engine, powered by K2, does find everything, but it doesn't rank the results well enough, meaning users have to struggle through pages of results from our archive to find what they're after. We're not going to make a big investment to improve this but we may not need to - we're testing integrating some alternative results now. You should notice an improvement in a few weeks.
2. Can't find content using navigation
Very hard to find things without having to scroll through pages and pages of lists of posts
We're reviewing how we provide subject landing pages on our corporate site at the moment, using the example set by the Inside Government beta as a guide, and the DH business plan to ensure that the site reflects all the current priorities of the department. I don't think we're that far away now, with pages aggregating content about active areas of priority like dementia. But expect to see improvements over the summer.
3. Can't find up to date information
Please, please, please, please (as many times as necessary) bring back the What's New page where all the documents, announcements and so on were listed by title and by date
I'm not sure what to make of this one, since the changes we made to the site last year effectively create "what's new" pages throughout the site. But enough users mentioned that they missed the old "what's new" page, so we've had a think about how we could meet the need, and added explicit options to browse by month or year, and a more visual aggregator of the 30 most recent posts from dh.gov.uk and 10 most recent tweets from our official twitter channels.
4. Don't like the content
All that I seem to be able to find is politics, political positions and political initiatives - I want evidence based decision making.
We had a few comments like this. They are interesting, not necessarily a problem, and the subject for a separate blog.
5. Journeys through the site are confusing
Visually the site also looks terrible, with a bizarre mixture of the old site and the new. The picture at the top of the site is also incredibly annoying. Sort it out!
We did half a job last year. We changed the way we published new content, but froze lots of old-but-still-current content, leaving it exactly where is was. This was a pragmatic decision on our part, but is has created ongoing issues for journeys through our content.
There are things we can do: First, we can put a ban on making any updates to old style pages. Second, we can check and then archive all remaining old style content (everything that isn't an official publication). Third, we can extract all the structured content that describes old-but-still-current official publications - which will be all that's left in the old style - and put it somewhere else, where we can guarantee a user journey that makes more sense, and ensure that all our publications are still findable through persistent urls and search. Ultimately we'll add the old-but-current content to GOV.UK, but this is a problem now, so we'll fix it.
There were some positive comments too, like:
Generally I would rate the site above average when compared with other Govt sites.
...which is nice.
This is probably the last time we'll publish our costs, quality and usage in this way. There are certainly better, more useful ways to assess and act on user feedback.
But if you're interested we've published our full return, where you'll also find that dh.gov.uk received about 15 million visits last year, is expensive to run, and meets all the standards asked of us in this exercise. Most of this information is already available elsewhere through our blogs and our answers to parliamentary questions and FOI requests.