This evening I checked out the new Lancashire County Council website which has adopted a ‘Google’ style home page – just a search box and little other navigation. Unless of course you go to the ‘classic view’, which is a link on the relatively discreet navigation bar at the top (highlighted with blue elipse below).
Although it’s a bold move and I applaud any Council willing to step away from the category style navigation enforced by the Local Government Navigation List (LGNL) for many years, I am really not sure this is a good decision. I think Lancashire could find that a significant number of their users find the site much harder to use. I may well be wrong, but it will be very interesting to find out what user testing results they get and what their website analytics show. But I have a hunch based on my experience of moderating user tests and what I’ve learnt about how different users behave.
When I’ve carried out user testing I’ve often found that participants are fairly evenly split between ‘expert’ users who like to search for information using a search engine and ‘novice’ users, who are less confident and like to browse and click on links. Some people just happen to feel more comfortable when they have some hints about what to click on. Even better if the links they can click on are relevant to their goals. In comparison to Lancashire’s site, the Westminster site does place popular tasks under the search box.
Google has a distinct role – as a search engine. Whilst a County Council website might contain a considerable amount of diverse information and transactional services, citizens have some clear goals. Popular tasks include renewing a library book, contacting the Council, applying for a blue badge, finding schools information etc. For your novice users, placing top tasks on the home page can help users get straight to the relevant place.
To put the site to the test I carried out a search that relates to a typical user task on a County Council website. My first search “library renewals” found no results. No results? Really no results?
Hmm, so I tried another. ‘Apply for a Blue Badge’. This time the results were more promising, but it does prove that the search will have to be top notch for those users who are comfortable using search. For those users who are not comfortable with search, I do hope they figure out what the ‘classic view’ is.
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