Today’s website show and tell

Hi, I’m Will and I’m new to the council’s Digital team. I’ve been here a couple of weeks looking at our offering to businesses big and small across to the city. More to follow when my feet are properly under the table.

I’ve just emerged from a packed 4th floor meeting room at Bartholomew’s House where we held today’s show and tell about the council’s beta website. You can find out more about the beta website in our earlier blogpost.

Ben and Thomas talked about the reasons for launching a beta, the design patterns developed by Clearleft (which look great!) and a new analytics tool, Hotjar, that will help the team take its understanding of the site’s users to new heights. I’ll leave it to Thomas to share more details.

Beta Hotjar show and tell

Did I mention the turnout? Standing room only – as you can see from the photo above.

Thanks Annie for organising and the invite. If you work for the council and would like to attend a future show and tell, or have an idea for one, please post in the comments.

A new beta website for Brighton & Hove City Council

As part of the work we’re doing to transform our digital services, we’re looking at the current Brighton & Hove City Council website.

The site has over 5,000 pages and can sometimes be difficult to navigate and find what you’re looking for. Some of the pages are also too long and not written clearly enough.

Improving the user experience

To improve the experience for our users, we’ve been looking at:

  • the number of pages on the site
  • the sections of the site
  • the navigation around the site
  • the analytics about how people use the site
  • the content that’s on the pages, and
  • the design of the site.

We want to create a new website for the city of Brighton & Hove which is:

  • well written, using plain English
  • task-focused
  • user-focused
  • transactional (allowing users to self serve online)
  • simple to navigate, and
  • accessible on a range of browsers and mobile devices.

    Our new beta website
    Our new beta website

As part of this development of a new website, we’ve launched a new ‘beta’ website.

What is a beta website?

GOV.UK state that “The ‘beta’ label means you’re looking at the first version of a new service or web page”.

To create this beta site, we worked with a local agency to conceive a new design.

The design is based on the concept of ‘patterns’. Patterns are a repeatable solution to commonly occurring issues, tasks or functions that can reused across multiple sites.

Our patterns will be used across a variety of sites and other digital channels, such as the new ‘My Account’ site.

The new site is a work in progress, and currently only has limited content.

Over the coming months we will start to create more content on the new site.

Tell us what you think….

We’re always keen to hear what you think, so please either:


No place like home – how people use our website, and what we need to learn

When we look at new designs for websites, it’s common to go straight for the home page. This is the shop window, the first thing people see, our first impression. It’s important to get that right, to set the tone of the experience. Laying everything out clearly so people can find exactly what they need to.

Except, well, it’s not actually what happens.

In the real world, Google is our home page.

We use Google analytics to find out how people are using our website, and after having read and said ‘every page is a landing page’ so many times, I wanted to look at the actual numbers.

Because numbers are convincing.

Sessions graphIn February, 88% of sessions on our website, did not include a single visit to our home page.

Just under 9% started on the home page.

Our home page is the home page in less than 10% of visits.

Not only that, but we can also tell that people who aren’t visiting our home page are probably having a better experience, finding what they need quicker, with less work, how can we tell?

It’s the analytics again.

People who use the home page are 12 times more likely to use search.

We tend to see site search as an indicator of bad content, as it means people can’t find what they are looking for. This isn’t always the case, as sometimes people just prefer to search than navigating through the website, so we probably need to do a bit more research here, but it’s an interesting bit of data.

We can also see that people who don’t use the home page spend half the time and half the pages on their visits. This is probably a good thing for them, as it implies they’re finding what they’re looking for quickly.

We’re making assumptions here, but actually, we can check these assumptions by thinking about our own experience and how it matches with user testing, by us and across the sector.

There’s no place like home (except everywhere else)

We need to remember we’re building all of our web pages to be the first page people look at.

We need to be sure our page titles are precise and particular, and our content is focused enough that people find the right page when they need it. Fancy people call this SEO, or search engine optimisation, I prefer to think of it as good, clear content.

We can’t rely on a good page structure or a clear home page to make our website work, it’s about making every page good. Every page linked to other relevant content. Every page clear and easy to use.

Without being mentioned, this was made really clear in our first beta website designs, which didn’t even include a design for a home page. The home page isn’t the first thing to get right, it’s one of the last.

We can see this in other organisations. The NHS alpha website launched it’s content without a home page, writing:

In NHS Choices, 1.4% of total visits start at the homepage. The vast majority (78.6%) come via search. (Data period: 11/2014 – 11/2015). For a high traffic site like NHS Choices, 1.4% isn’t an insignificant figure as it translates to 8.7million visits. Therefore, the homepage is still relevant, but it’s all the more important to get right what it navigates to first.

Another interesting example is Quartz. They’re a news organisation, and even with digital variants of these, it’s hard to find a sector more obsessed with the front page. Both Reddit and Digg claim to be the front page or home page of the internet. The old newspapers are all clamouring for their home page to be your home page.

But Quartz came along with a new idea (probably the right idea).

Quartz launched without a homepage. If you went to, you just went straight to their most popular article at the time. They know that news is being shared directly by people on social media. Why would you want one home page, when you have the home page built by your own personalised stream of recommendations from friends, influencers and interesting people. Everyone is trawling the internet and sharing the best bits. Who has time for a home page, when you have that?

In an interview with Fast Company design Quartz’s executive editor said:

The idea of a strictly traditional homepage that people bookmark to find stories is, we think, outdated. But at the same time, we don’t want to be defeatist about it. There’s still a large number of people coming to the homepage each day. So we’ve asked ourselves, ‘If you start throwing out the old conventions, what can you do instead?’

So they started with nothing, and have iterated new and different home pages since then. (Though I think they were bolder when they went without).

We aren’t a news company, but we can take inspiration from them.

The way social media is disrupting news is similar to the way google has disrupted how we find information.

The key is, it’s not about home pages, it’s about users. We need to put the information exactly where people look for it, rather than trying to push people towards it.

It’s a big job, but we’re up for the challenge.