1. This report presents the outcomes of a review of the Transport Scotland website, commissioned on behalf of Transport Scotland by Scottish Government Social Research. The review comprised an online survey of visitors to the Transport Scotland website, usability testing with users and non-users of the site including disabled users, depth interviews with key stakeholders and an accessibility audit of a sample of pages from the website.
2. The Transport Scotland website (www.transportscotland.gov.uk) was launched when the agency was created in 2006. After two and a half years following the agency’s launch, it was considered appropriate to reflect upon whether the role of the website had changed and whether the emphasis of the website should move towards providing information about the work and projects that Transport Scotland is responsible for and what the agency delivers, rather than informing people about the organisation. In addition, it was recognised that information on particular projects or reports may be difficult for users to locate and that some recent content does not fit easily in the current navigation structure.
Aims and Objectives
3. The overall aims of the research were to review the existing Transport Scotland website and to provide suggestions for improvement, based on the research findings, which will inform the next stages of the website development. In particular, the objectives were to:
- Explore users’ and key stakeholders’ use of the website and views on it
- Review the content of the site to assess if the information is useful, up-to-date and understandable
- Review the homepage
- Review the ‘Projects’ page
- Review the navigation and information architecture of the site
- Review the design of the website
- Identify whether users and stakeholders would like information presented in other formats
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of different aspects of the site, and provide recommendations on how the website could be improved
- Undertake accessibility tests, to ensure it meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Priority 2 accessibility standards
4. The review comprised the following methodologies:
- an online survey of 496 visitors to the website
- 10 usability interviews with members of the general public eligible for concessionary travel or affected by Transport Scotland projects, comprising 5 interviews with people who had previously used the site and 5 interviews with those who had not
- 10 usability interviews with transport professionals, MSP (Members of the Scottish Parliament) researchers and representatives from transport special interest groups
- 10 depth interviews with key stakeholders: MSPs, journalists and senior employees from Scottish Government, Local Authorities and Transport Scotland
- 8 usability interviews with members of the general public who have a disability
- An accessibility audit of a sample of 20 pages from the website
5. Fieldwork took place between 8 July and 12 November 2008.
Profile of visitors to the website
6. The vast majority of respondents to the online survey were male (76%), while 24% were female. Twenty three per cent of respondents were aged 34 or under, 43% were aged between 35 and 54 and 32% were aged 55 or over. It should be noted that, due to the self-selecting nature of survey respondents, the results from the online survey cannot necessarily be generalised to the wider population of website users.
7. Most (85%) respondents to the online survey lived in Scotland. Across all respondents, 32% lived in Glasgow and Strathclyde, 20% in Edinburgh and Lothians, 15% in Central Scotland and Fife and 19% in other areas of Scotland. One in ten respondents lived in other parts of the UK and 5% were from outside the UK.
8. Twenty-two per cent of respondents worked in the public sector while a similar proportion (20%) worked in the transport sector. Twenty-nine per cent were employed in other sectors while 19% were retired and 4% were students.
9. Nineteen per cent had used the website at least weekly over the previous six months and the same proportions had used it once or twice a month. Twenty-eight per cent had previously used the website, but only once or twice in the last three months or six months. A third of all respondents were using the Transport Scotland website for the first time.
Role of the homepage
10. Stakeholders (a general term used throughout the report to describe all users of the Transport Scotland website) strongly agreed that the Transport Scotland website should continue to provide a concise explanation of the remit of the organisation. Many stakeholders believed that there is a lack of understanding, particularly among the general public, about who is responsible for what areas of transport in Scotland.
11. It was apparent from the usability interviews that few people read the current text on the homepage in any detail. Most of those who participated in the usability sessions scanned the page very quickly, without taking in details. It is important to keep the description of the role of Transport Scotland brief and consider using bulleted lists rather than paragraphs of text to highlight the agency’s responsibilities.
12. Stakeholders also agreed that the website needed to provide a clear route into the main website content. Visitors to websites rarely read large amounts of text, but want to click links to explore a website. The navigation needs to recognise and facilitate this, by providing clear links to the content that most visitors will be looking for.
13. The homepage design generally met people’s expectations, although a small number of stakeholders commented that the website was not particularly engaging or compelling.
14. The Transport Scotland homepage currently has some highly visible links to external websites, aimed at re-directing those who have landed on the website in error. Stakeholders agreed that these links should be retained in any new design, because there was an assumption that some people do visit the Transport Scotland website in error, when looking for traffic information or for help in planning a journey. Some stakeholders wondered whether additional links might be useful, such as information on ferries and airports, which are transport-related but fall outside the remit of Transport Scotland.
15. Stakeholders agreed that the website homepage should feature latest news. This is one of the key reasons why stakeholders visit the website and it should be easy for them to find. In addition, providing some content on the homepage that is current and frequently updated ensures that visitors think that the site is up-to-date, which is important in generating trust for the content on the website.
16. Nineteen per cent of those who completed the online survey strongly agreed with the statement "the website looks and feels well designed", while 47% tended to agree with this. In contrast, just 10% disagreed with this statement.
17. The colour scheme used on the Transport Scotland website was generally considered to be what was expected of a Government agency. A small number of stakeholders, while in agreement that this was what they had expected, felt that the blue and white colour scheme used was very traditional and showed a lack of originality in design.
18. Among those who completed the online survey, 31% came to the website on the occasion they undertook the survey to find details of a specific transport project. This is followed by looking for an item of news displayed on the Transport Scotland website (20%) and general information related to rail (17%), information on concessionary travel (16%) and general information related to roads (16%).
19. First-time visitors were more likely than average to look for information on concessionary travel (31% of first-time visitors did so).
20. Visitors reported that they were generally successful in finding the information they had come to the website to look for. Forty-six per cent of those completing the online survey found all of the information they were looking for, with a further 22% finding most of it. However, 26% reported that they found only some or none of the information they were looking for.
21. The primary navigation menu at the top of the main page content was the route that most people used to enter the main website content. Generally, there was a high level of understanding about what content would be expected under each of the links, although some duplication was felt to exist. In particular, many stakeholders were unsure of the differences between ‘Projects’ and ‘Reports’ and why these sections are separated out from the more general ‘Road’ and ‘Rail’ sections.
22. Most users successfully noticed and used the secondary navigation menu on the left hand side of the page to drill further down into the content of each section. However, a minority of stakeholders simply did not see this menu and so failed to find further content within each section.
23. Thirty seven per cent of visitors who completed the online survey had made use of the search tool on the Transport Scotland website. Of these, just 8% reported that the search tool helps them to find all of the information they are looking for, although 43% state that the search helps them most of the time. However, 34% of those who have used the tool say that it helps them only some of the time and 12% say that it does not help them to locate information on the website.
The website content
24. Generally, members of the general public did not understand the jargon and acronyms used throughout the website and this gave them the impression that the website was mainly aimed at professionals working in the transport sector. However, a number of transport professionals and key stakeholders also experienced this.
25. All stakeholders considered the homepage and the main road, rail and concessionary travel pages to be very text heavy. Across the usability sessions, transport professionals and members of the general public only scanned this content and very few read these pages in detail. Rather than long pages of text, stakeholders described how they expected to be able to read a brief summary of information on these pages and be able to link through to find further details.
26. Reports are widely used by transport professionals and those working in the public sector. Those participating in the usability sessions were able to successfully navigate to the reports section, although there was a widespread expectation that after selecting the ‘Reports’ link in the primary navigation menu, users would be presented with a list of all the reports available, and not have to click further into the website. Indeed, some users were stuck for some time on the ‘Reports’ landing page, as they could not see how to progress, with the three links in the secondary navigation menu not visible to them, as they were aligned with the image at the top of the page and not with the content that the users were looking at.
27. There was a lack of understanding of the three links in the secondary navigation menu, which caused problems for stakeholders. Few understood the difference between ‘Consultation Papers and Responses’ and ‘Publications and Guidelines’ and so were unsure which to click into when looking for documents. Merging these two sections into one will remove this challenge for website visitors.
28. The news section of the website met expectations of users, by providing links to the latest news stories and an archive of older articles, searchable by date. The number of news stories displayed during the period of this research was never high, so it was easy for those participating in the usability sessions to read through them.
Interest in website enhancements
29. Respondents to the online survey were presented with a list of different enhancements and asked to indicate whether each is something they would like to be able to do when using the Transport Scotland website. 49% of respondents stated that they would like to be able to download reports, 36% stated that they would like to be able to download or watch videos while 30% said they would like to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter. Only 15% answered that they would be interested in downloading or listening to podcasts. It is also worth noting that a proportion (20%) stated that they were not interested in any of these features. There is considerable interest and support among stakeholders for the development of the Transport Scotland website and ideas for new ways of displaying content and new functionality were positively received.
30. The website generally meets expectations in terms of the design, content and functionality and users can successfully navigate it to access the key content made available.
31. A number of key usability and accessibility barriers exist, which impact upon the ease with which users can locate information. The website has a number of accessibility problems and there is much work to be done before the website meets the AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published by the World Wide Web Consortium. Without this work being undertaken, some users with disabilities will continue to find it difficult to access the web content.
32. The content on the website is generally well-received by stakeholders, with material being considered specific, useful and easy to understand. However, the content provided on the website is primarily text-based, which means that users skim through it and miss important details contained within the material. The website also uses a lot of jargon and acronyms, which few users understand.
33. A series of prioritised recommendations for the future development of the Transport Scotland website are included in the final chapter of the report.