CHAPTER 6: FINDING INFORMATION
- The information required by users of the Transport Scotland website varies substantially across different stakeholders. Meeting the needs of the diverse user base is one of the greatest challenges faced when considering the design and content of the website.
- Among the online survey respondents, 31% of visitors came to the website on the day they completed the survey to look for details of a specific transport project.
- First time visitors to the website were more likely than regular users to look for information on concessionary travel.
- Providing clear, easy to follow links to the most commonly sought information would help users of the website. In particular, recognising that first-time visitors are most likely to be looking for concessionary travel information, it is important to provide an easy to follow link to this part of the website from the homepage.
- Forty-six per cent of those completing the online survey reported finding all of the information they were looking for, with a further 22% finding most of it. However, 26% reported finding only some, or none, or the information they were looking for. Among those who did not find all they were looking for, most sought information that should exist on the website, indicating that some content is difficult to find.
- The primary navigation menu, located above the banner image, is most often used to navigate around the website from the homepage. There was a good understanding about what content would exist under each link, although most users expected to find links to road projects and reports under the ‘Road’ link and rail projects and reports under the ‘Rail’ link and many navigated to the wrong part of the website when looking for this sort of information.
- Most users successfully used the secondary navigation menu on the left hand side of the screen to drill further down into the content of each section.
- Just over a third of visitors (37%) had made use of the search tool on the website. Just 8% of those who had used the search tool reported that using it had always led them to find the information they sought. A further 43% said it helped most of the time.
6.1 Information needs among users of the Transport Scotland website varied substantially across the stakeholders, from highly technical and detailed information needed by those working in the transport sector, through summary information on the impact of planned or on-going road and rail projects, to information on concessionary travel and latest news about Transport Scotland. Meeting the diverse needs of the users is a key challenge in developing the design and content of the Transport Scotland website.
6.2 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 project. This is followed by looking for an item of news displayed on the Transport Scotland website (20%) and information related to rail (17%), information on concessionary travel (16%) and general information related to roads (16%) (Figure 6.1).
Figure 6.1: Information sought on day of survey completion among respondents to the online survey
Q. What was it that you came to the website to find today?
Base: 496 users of the Transport Scotland website (8 July -26 August 2008)
Source: Ipsos MORI
6.3 Those who had visited the website before were more likely than first-time visitors (37% compared to 20%) to have come to the site the day they completed the online survey to look for information on a specific transport project. On the other hand, first-time visitors were more likely than average to look for information on concessionary travel (31% of first-time visitors do so).
6.4 Encouragingly, the online survey results indicate that visitors were largely successful in navigating to the correct area of the website. Almost all (94%) of those who came to the website to find information on concessionary travel visited that section of the website, while most of those looking for rail information (82%) and road information (73%) found the relevant sections. However, those looking for specific project information were less likely to visit the ‘Projects’ section of the website, with only 67% saying they did so. Fewer still (46%) of those looking for specific reports stated they visited the ‘Reports’ section.
6.5 As would be expected, older respondents were more likely than younger visitors to visit the concessionary travel information (40% of those aged over 55 compared to 11% of those aged under 55). First-time users were also more likely to access concessionary travel information (39% of first-time users compared to 11% of frequent / irregular users) indicating that many one-off visitors to the website were looking for concessionary travel information.
6.6 Providing clear, easy to follow links to the most commonly sought information would help most users of the website. In particular, in recognition that first-time visitors are most likely to be looking for concessionary travel information, providing a clear, easy to follow link to this content would be particularly beneficial.
Success in finding information
6.7 Visitors report that they are generally successful in finding the information they had come to the website to look for, as shown in Figure 6.2. 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.
6.8 Among those completing the online survey who did not find all they were looking for, most were looking for types of information that should be available on the Transport Scotland website. This included road or rail project information; concessionary travel information; more detailed or up-to-date information on the Forth Replacement Crossing, M74 or M80 extensions; specific reports or documents; contact details of Transport Scotland employees; traffic flow information, or job vacancies. The fact that they could not find what they were looking for indicates that some information on the website is difficult to find.
6.9 Fewer of those reporting difficulties in finding information were looking for items that do not exist on the website, for example maps of projects, travel information and information about, or pictures of, new trains.
Figure 6.2: Success in finding information among respondents to the online survey
Q. Did you find all the information that you were looking for today?
Base: 496 users of the Transport Scotland website (8 July -26 August 2008)
Source: Ipsos MORI
6.10 Given that frequent users of a website are likely to have learnt their way around any major usability barriers on previous visits and may have a better expectation of what information is available on the website, it is unsurprising that those accessing the website at least once a week were more likely than infrequent and first-time visitors to report finding all of the information they came looking for (57% of frequent users versus 45% of infrequent users and 41% of first-time visitors).
6.11 Few of those completing the online survey identified problems with the navigation on the Transport Scotland website, as shown in Figure 6.3. Half disagreed with the statement "It usually takes me a long time to find information" while 60% disagreed with the statement "I have difficulties finding my way around the website".
6.12 Among those who had visited the website previously, 65% agreed with the statement "I remember where to find information I have looked for previously".
Figure 6.3: Views on website navigation among respondents to the online survey
Q. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Base: 496 users of the Transport Scotland website (8 July –26 August 2008)
*324 users of the Transport Scotland website who have visited it before (8 July –26 August 2008)
Source: Ipsos MORI
Navigating from the homepage
6.13 The primary navigation menu (see Figure 6.4) located above the banner image is used most often to access the website content from the homepage. However, a small number of users click on links within the text. Some, who are familiar with the website, click the image of the train on the left hand side of the homepage to go directly to the projects index page.
6.14 Many stakeholders commented that the primary navigation menu was not very visible, with users’ attention first drawn to the main page content, below the banner image. This problem is exacerbated by the small font size used and the blue font on blue background, which does not offer sufficient contrast. It is possible that those who click links in the text do so because they are unaware of the primary navigation menu’s existence. Indeed, some of those who participated in the usability sessions began by ignoring the primary navigation menu and used the links in the text. However, once they noticed the menu they proceeded to use this navigation method instead. To increase the prominence of the primary navigation menu, we recommend it should be repositioned below the banner image and the font size increased to raise its visibility on the website.
Figure 6.4: Navigation menus on the Transport Scotland website
1 – Primary Navigation Menu
2 – Secondary Navigation Menu
3 – Tertiary Navigation Menu
4 – Organisational Menu
6.15 The homepage (Figure 4.1) provides several links to the same page content. For example, the ‘Road’ landing page15 can be accessed using the primary navigation menu, a link within the text and from the summary box at the bottom of the page. These multiple links actually confused visitors to the website, who were unclear whether the links went to the same content, or to different pages.
"There are links on both sides, down the bottom and the main menu that doesn’t stand out that much."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
"There are several routes in to rail information. Which is the best one? You have to try them all."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
6.16 Reducing the number of links from the homepage will actually make it easier for users to find their way to the content they are looking for, as they are less likely to get confused about where each link goes.
6.17 The links to external websites on the right hand side of the page are prominent and do successfully help to re-direct users who arrive at the Transport Scotland website in error. Several stakeholders recommend broadening the range of external links publicised in this way. In particular, several stakeholders argued that links to other transport providers or major transport projects should be included in the list, because the name, Transport Scotland, indicates that agency’s remit might be broader than it actually is. Linking to airports, ferry companies and major projects that Transport Scotland is not involved in, such as the Edinburgh Tram scheme, were suggested.
6.18 The links to external websites are actually more prominent than the primary navigation menu and some users were unclear that they will be leaving the Transport Scotland website when clicking on them. Renaming the ‘Links’ title ‘External Websites’ may help to alleviate this issue.
"Am I still on the website? I’m not sure. No, I don’t think so. This is something different."
Member of the general public, non-user of the website
The primary navigation menu
6.19 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.
6.20 This issue was observed many times through the usability tests, with users expecting to find details of road projects under the ‘Road’ section, particularly as all read across the primary navigation menu from left to right and came to this link first. Having clicked this link, users tried to look for a link to a list of projects and often ended up deep in the ‘Road’ content, having clicked various sub-menus before giving up.
"When looking for information on the upgrading of the M8, I am never sure whether to go into roads or projects."
6.21 This issue could be resolved by reducing the links in the primary navigation menu. If the ‘Project’ link is removed and instead a link to ‘Road’ projects and ‘Rail’ projects is positioned prominently in those sections, users would be less likely to encounter substantial problems while looking for specific project related information.
6.22 Encouragingly, the structure of the website seems to be intuitive and easy to learn. Over the course of the usability tests all users quickly began to understand how the website was structured and where information was likely to be found. The successful completion of tasks was noticeably higher once users had spent some time using the website. This reiterates the findings from the online survey, which indicated that few visitors experienced serious usability problems, as shown in Figure 6.3.
The secondary navigation menu
6.23 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. Some of those taking part in the usability and disabled user sessions actually expressed their surprise when they finally noticed, or were made aware of this menu. This was particularly the case, as in the example shown in Figure 6.5, when there were only a small number of links on the secondary navigation menu and none were aligned with the top of the site content. Attention was drawn to the site content and users simply did not appear to notice the links that ended in line with the banner image. The use of grey font on a pale blue background does not provide a great contrast, which reinforced the lack of visibility.
6.24 Aligning the secondary navigation menu with the top of the page content, rather than the top of the banner image will increase its visibility. The colour scheme employed for the secondary menu should be changed, to one that provides greater contrast.
Figure 6.5: ‘Reports’ landing page
6.25 The number of links in the secondary menu needs to be considered. If the list is too long, users simply scroll quickly down it and may miss the most relevant link. For example, one of the usability tasks was to identify details about Transport Scotland’s winter maintenance scheme. Some of those undertaking this tasks successfully navigated to the ‘Roads’ section landing page, and scanned the secondary navigation menu, but did not see the ‘Winter Maintenance’ link16. Lists with around six to eight links are manageable for users, but longer lists are liable to be skimmed at best.
The tertiary navigation menu
6.26 The tertiary navigation menu on the right hand side of the page was rarely used, except on the homepage. It is generally not considered good practice in website design to provide links to site content on the right hand side of a page. Commonly, websites are designed with a primary navigation menu across the top of the page and a secondary menu on the left hand side and this is what web users have come to expect. In the usability tests, this right hand menu was rarely used. Users largely ignored it and relied mainly on the primary and secondary menus to navigate the website.
6.27 There is no clear purpose to the tertiary navigation menu. Instead, the tertiary menu sometimes contains links to external content, sometimes to internal content and at other times a link to the e-newsletter subscription, for example. Even among those who do see it, this changing role across the site means there is no consistency and so, in consequence, users can not rely upon it for a single purpose.
6.28 Indeed, on those occasions when it was used, it was as a last resort, when users could not find information through the alternative means. An example is when searching for a specific rail project. As described in the primary navigation menu section, many users clicked into the ‘Rail’ section to find this information and then skimmed the page content and the left-hand navigation for further links to projects. Only when these failed to provide the appropriate link did any users look to the right-hand menu and see the link to the list of projects.
6.29 As described earlier in this chapter, the tertiary menu does provide a useful function on the homepage in directing users to other sites had they arrived at the Transport Scotland website in error. It is visible here and should be retained. Throughout the rest of the website, unless a single purpose can be found, this menu should be removed.
The organisation menu
6.30 This menu, located at the very top of the website provides links to a range of organisational information, such as more about Transport Scotland, careers information and the glossary. This menu was not used by stakeholders, unless specific organisational information was being sought. On these occasions, the menu is positioned where users expected it to be and the content is also as expected.
6.31 The grey font on a white background makes the menu difficult to distinguish from the background. This is particularly important, as, at present, the site search tool is built into this menu and some were unable to find this easily when looking to search the website. Further information on the search facility can be found later in this chapter.
6.32 When completing a task that required users to find content in this menu17, most users were able to find the relevant links. Not one stakeholder explored the ‘Glossary’, or ‘Help’ facility, despite many commenting that there were a lot of unfamiliar terms employed on the website.
6.33 There is inconsistency in the ways in that links are displayed across the website, which can cause users to be unsure what is a link and what is just page content. Standardising the way in which links are displayed would make it easier for all users to navigate around the website. Following good practice in the portrayal of links, standard text colours should be avoided, links should be underlined and should be a concise summary of the destination. For example, ‘Find out who we are and what we do’ on the Transport Scotland homepage is a clear link to further information on the organisation.
6.34 As described earlier in this chapter, duplicate links should be avoided. Users are likely to be unsure whether the links will go to the same or different parts of the website. If duplicate links are provided, it is important to ensure that the wording of the links is identical.
6.35 Among respondents to the online survey, the ‘Links’ section of the website was the least visited part of the website. Just 5% had visited them on the day they completed the survey. Stakeholders expressed surprise at the range of organisations listed in the ‘Links’ section and did not expect links to non-transport organisations to be made available. Placing links to the Scottish Government and Department for Transport websites at the top of the first page of links meant those participating in the usability sessions were unclear that this section was generally listed alphabetically.
"The list of links is fairly random."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
6.36 A small number of broken links were found during the usability sessions. The broken links identified were to external project sites and placed at the ‘Rail projects’ page:
6.37 Broken links reflect very badly on how a website is perceived and it is very important to either repair or remove these.
The search tool
6.38 Just over a third of visitors (37%) who completed the online survey had made use of the search tool on the Transport Scotland website. Those working in the transport sector (55%) and the public sector (46%) are more likely to have done so. Those using the website weekly or more often (62%) are more likely than infrequent users (42%) and first-time users (18%) to have used the tool.
6.39 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 (Figure 6.6).
Figure 6.6: Success of finding information using the search tool among respondents to the online survey
Q. Does the Transport Scotland website search facility help you to locate the information you are looking for?
Base: 185 users of the Transport Scotland website who have used the search facility (8 July –26 August 2008)
Source: Ipsos MORI
6.40 Search tools on websites are commonly used as a last resort when there is no clear route to finding information using the navigation links on the website. The usability tests highlighted this, with several taking part in the sessions only using the search tool when they were unable to find information by navigating around the website.
6.41 Indeed, due to its position in the very top right hand of the screen, as part of the organisation menu, some users were actually unable to find the search box easily. The search tool should be relocated into the primary navigation menu to increase its prominence on the website.
6.42 The search tool itself fails to account for spelling mistakes in the searches. If a spelling mistake is made, the tool is likely to bring up no results, or irrelevant results. Providing a more forgiving search tool, which allows for spelling mistakes, based upon the Google design which has become to be seen as the benchmark by which other search tools are judged, will help better direct users to content on the website.
6.43 The content also needs to be referenced in a way that users are likely to search. For example, not all visitors to the site may be aware of the term ‘concessionary travel’ but might search on more commonly used terms such as ‘free bus pass’. At present, searching this term will not bring up links to the concessionary travel information among the top five returns. Since users are very unlikely to scroll beyond the first few results to see if a relevant result has been returned, this search is likely to leave them unable to locate the relevant information. Tagging content using terms that users are likely to search on will help improve the accuracy of search results.