CHAPTER 7: THE WEBSITE CONTENT
- Given the wealth of information available on the website, it is important that the content is written clearly and concisely to ensure it is well understood. Most respondents to the online survey considered this to be the case, with 75% agreeing with the statement "the information is useful to me".
- However, members of the general public and even some transport professionals did not understand the jargon and acronyms used throughout the website. Jargon should be minimised and terms that users are likely to understand should be used. Abbreviation and acronyms should always be expanded the first time they appear on a page.
- This problem is made worse when the jargon, abbreviation or acronym is used as a link to further content because users are unclear what the link leads to.
- A considerable number of respondents to the online survey (27%) felt that some information on the website is out of date. This has a negative impact on the trust that stakeholders have in all of the content provided on the website. Regular auditing of the website to ensure content is updated should take place.
- The main pages of the website were considered to be very text-heavy, particularly those containing information on road, rail and concessionary travel. Users rarely read the text in detail, but instead simply scanned through the words. Stakeholders described how they expected to read a brief summary of basic information with links to more detailed pages.
- All users who successfully navigated to the ‘Projects’ page identified the eight major project images as links to further content about them. However, users had more problems when searching for a project which was not one of the eight displayed.
- The level of detail required about projects varies considerably from some basic information about the background to the scheme, the cost, the timetable and the benefits on completion through to very detailed technical information. However, all stakeholders were agreed that the basic information should be made available clearly for each project, with links to the more technical information for those who need it.
7.1 Given the wealth of information available on the Transport Scotland website, it is important that the website content is written clearly and concisely to ensure that it is understood by all visitors to the website. To an extent the website content is already meeting this challenge. Among those who completed the online survey, 75% agreed with the statement "the information is useful to me", while a slightly smaller proportion (71%) agreed that "the website content is clear and easy to understand" (Figure 7.1). 55% agreed with the statement that "the information on the website is specific enough to meet my needs".
7.2 Another important issue in relation to website content is whether it is up to date. As Figure 7.1 shows, a proportion (27%) of respondents to the online survey agreed with the statement "some of the information on the website is out of date". Among frequent visitors to the website, 41% agreed that some information is out-dated. It is very important to ensure that all content on the website is up to date as users will lose confidence in all the material if they find inaccuracies.
Figure 7.1: Views on the website content 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)
Source: Ipsos MORI
7.3 Issues relating to website content were also explored during the qualitative part of the research (the usability and accessibility interviews and the stakeholder discussions) and overall stakeholders were satisfied with the existing content. However, when probed further on their perception about specific pages, a number of issues were identified. These findings are presented in the remainder of the chapter.
Use of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms
7.4 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. Examples of jargon that were not widely understood include: ‘Voluntary Purchase Information for Promoters’, ‘Service Quality Incentive Regime’ and ‘Scottish Transport Analysis Guide’. Meanwhile, examples of abbreviations and acronyms that were not widely recognised are the ‘AWPR Project’ (Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) and the ‘SAK Project’ (Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine) both found on the ‘Projects’ landing page. The use of jargon should be minimised and terms that users might be likely to be looking for should be used. For example, "concessionary travel" could be replaced with "free bus travel". Abbreviation and acronyms should always be expanded when they first appear so that they are understood by all users.
"What does SAK mean?"
Member of the general public, non-user of the website
7.5 This problem is made worse by the fact that the above examples serve as links further into the website. Where the use of jargon or acronyms is unavoidable, these should not be used as titles for links. Users should always be given a clear indication of the type of information provided by the link.
7.6 With regard to the acronyms used in the ‘Projects’ landing page, users had to click on these in order to find out what project these refer to. Users said this could be frustrating when their internet connection is slow.
7.7 As reported in Chapter Six, none of those participating in the usability sessions looked at the ‘Glossary’. The content needs to be written based upon the assumption that users, rarely, if ever, will look up terms in the ‘Glossary’.
‘Road’ and ‘Rail’ landing pages
7.8 All stakeholders considered these 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 basic road or rail information on these pages and be able to link through to find details of current and planned projects. Those taking part in the usability and key stakeholder interviews described how they expected these landing pages to contain key details about Transport Scotland’s role in the trunk road and rail sectors and then provide links to more detailed technical information, to be explored by those who needed greater detail.
7.9 Those participating in the usability tests all looked at the six secondary navigation links on the rail landing page, although two users did not notice them immediately, as they scanned across from the page content, rather than above it. While understanding of most of the links was good, most expected the ‘Improving Railways’ link to lead to a list of rail projects, while only a minority of transport professionals understood the term ‘Service Quality Incentive Regime’, with most unaware of what this might be. Amending this link to ‘Rail Performance Statistics’, or similar, will help visitors better understand what information this leads to.
7.10 The lack of visibility of the tertiary navigation menu was also apparent from the ‘Rail’ landing page. Although several users visited this page looking for a link to the projects, their attention was drawn to the content on the page and the secondary navigation menu. As a consequence, very few users noticed the link to rail projects available from the tertiary menu.
7.11 All of the participants in the usability interviews among the general public and stakeholders identified the list of links from the ‘Road’ landing page. However, the sheer number of links meant few looked at them in detail and instead simply skimmed through the list. As described further in Appendix Four, this led several users to miss the link to the winter maintenance programme, despite them looking in the correct place for the link to this. Reducing the number of links in the secondary navigation menu will help users to locate the most important links.
‘Concessionary Travel’ landing page
7.12 Those participating in the usability interviews commented that this was a text heavy page. From observation of the actions of the participants, it is clear that few read the content of the page in any detail.
7.13 The page layout means that the visible content when the page is initially viewed ends just before the section on ‘Young Person’s Concessionary Travel’. Those visiting the website need to scroll down the page to read this information. The page looks as though there may be no more content other than that displayed and observation from the usability testing identified that not all visitors did scroll to read further information. This issue is particularly important because there is no information available about the young persons’ scheme available after selecting the ‘Who qualifies?’ link. It is possible that those looking for information on concessionary travel for young people may browse the website and not be made aware of the relevant content. Information on the Young Persons Concessionary Travel scheme should be made available under the ‘Who qualifies?’ link.
7.14 There was very good understanding of what information would be made available under the links available from the secondary navigation menu. Users most commonly selected the ‘Who qualifies?’ link for further information.
7.15 Following the usability and stakeholder interviews it was clear that users often struggled to navigate to the ‘Project’ section of the website, since initially they expected to find links to road and rail projects under the links for ‘Road’ and ‘Rail’. In the usability sessions, those who had never visited the Transport Scotland website before, instinctively clicked those links first, before trying ‘Projects’. Eventually, almost all users did arrive at the ‘Projects’ landing page.
7.16 On that page, users’ attention was strongly drawn to the eight images, which were correctly identified by almost all users as the key projects that Transport Scotland is involved with. In the usability sessions, if a user was looking for information on one of these eight projects, all clicked on the image and, correctly, expected to be linked through to further information.
7.17 Participants in the usability sessions displayed more problems when searching for a project that was not one of the eight major ones. A small number initially did not notice the panels providing a dropdown menu to access the trunk road projects, or the link to all of the rail projects and two resorted to using the search option at this point. All of the other usability participants did find these panels, with varying degrees of ease.
7.18 Those who had been asked to locate a rail project clicked the link and were able to scroll through the list of rail projects to find the one of interest. Several mentioned that the list of rail projects did not look to have been presented in any particular way and had expected a listing in alphabetical order. All users were able to click through into the rail project page, from the list of projects.
7.19 Further problems were displayed in the usability sessions when users were searching for road projects that were not associated with one of the eight images. Having found the panel, all users successfully used the dropdown menu to locate the project of interest. All found the listing by road number appropriate, and an easy way to search the long list. However, several commented that they would have expected the motorway projects to be listed above the trunk roads. Having highlighted the road project, most users did click the ‘Go’ button. However, several did not do so immediately and expected to be automatically taken to the project page. When this did not happen, all eventually noticed the button and clicked on it to progress. Providing a consistent drop down menu approach for both road and rail projects would enable those searching for a rail project to be able to link directly to the project of interest, rather than having to visit an additional information page.
7.20 The information required about projects varies considerably between the different website users. This varies from information at a basic level, such as background to the project, any expected impact on local residents and the completion date, which members of the general public would be interested in, through to very detailed planning and legal information required by transport professionals. Catering for these diverse needs on the one website is a challenge. Those participating in the usability tests expressed some surprise when re-directed from the Transport Scotland website to a project specific microsite18 on another website, such as the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (www.awpr.co.uk). Keeping projects within the design style of the Transport Scotland website would minimise user confusion.
7.21 The eight major project pages are full of text, which those participating in the usability tests did not read through in any detail. Users frequently missed links in the text that would lead them to completing the tasks set because they did not read the page content in sufficient detail. Similarly, few users spent time reading the links in the secondary navigation menu and often missed links that would have led to information they were looking for.
7.22 There is a lack of consistency in the links provided in the secondary navigation menu, which means users are unable to ‘learn’ where information will be across different projects. Producing a standard list of navigational links within the projects will help users to find specific project information.
7.23 There is an expectation from across all stakeholders that the project pages should summarise key information and provide links through to more detailed and technical data. Providing a summary box for all projects, including key information such as the background to the project, what the planned improvements will bring, the cost of the works, the timetable and progress against key milestones, and the potential disruption to local travel that might occur, will meet expectations. Indeed, a summary box containing these sorts of details is available for all local trunk road projects, but does not exist for the major projects.
7.24 Specifically, members of the general public and stakeholders conducting the usability interviews were asked to find where on the website the Strategic Transport Projects Review information was located, in order to understand if this was in an appropriate place on the website. These users were in agreement that its current position seemed to be appropriate and that there was nowhere on the website that would be more suitable.
7.25 The programme document is a regular publication produced by Transport Scotland to provide an update on progress of the roads preparation programme. One of the tasks (Task One) designed for those testing the usability of the site required the programme document to be accessed. As outlined in the Task Review in Appendix Four, this proved difficult to access. However, the document itself caused a number of problems for users trying to understand it. Initially, several stakeholders commented that the document was dated June 2007, some fourteen months before the research took place.
7.26 This led to distrust in the information provided, since it appeared to be long out of date. Furthermore, stakeholders commented that if information appears out of date on one part of the website, it calls into question the reliability of all of the content across the website more widely. It is important to regularly audit the website to ensure that content is kept updated. Even if the information has not changed, for example, if the programme document is still the latest version, updating a new document regularly, with a more recent date, will avoid user concerns.
7.27 Further usability problems were observed during the testing sessions. The document spread over two pages, but this was not obvious. The information being sought was on the second page, but several users simply scrolled to the bottom of the first page and announced they felt the information did not exist. Better sign-posting of the second page of documents by putting "Page one of two" underneath the table is likely to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
7.28 The definitions of the letters used for the cost bands are not defined on page one. Users have to guess what the letters mean, unless they scroll to the bottom of the second page. Including the definition of the letters in the column headings would alleviate this issue.
7.29 For those users who did find the second page, because the column headings are not repeated at the top of the page, they constantly needed to scroll back to the top of page one to remember what each column showed. Repeating the column heading would remove the requirement to do this.
7.30 Finally, users expected to be able to click on the ‘Scheme Name’ to be taken to the specific project page.
7.31 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.
7.32 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. Several stakeholders commented that they expected the links to be on the page, rather than in the secondary navigation menu.
7.33 Among non-transport professionals, there was no understanding of the term Scot-TAG19 and using a non-technical term to explain where this links to would be helpful.
7.34 The reports themselves are generally considered to be well-written by those who have read them. They are a valuable resource for detailed information. Many professional users want to be able to print off the documents to read or refer to later and several commented that because PDF versions were not always available this was not easy to do, with pages needing to be printed individually. We would recommend that a PDF version of each document is made available, with appropriate labelling to meet accessibility requirements.
"All the reports appear to be webpages, rather than a PDF. You can save a copy of a PDF and they allow you to search on a keyword."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
7.35 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 easily.
7.36 A small number of stakeholders commented that by listing only stories posted to the website in the current month, there were sometimes few articles listed. This might mean visitors to this section of the website could perceive that there is little going on in the agency. Some suggested that posting the last five news articles would help overcome this.
7.37 All of those participating in the usability sessions were able to click on the link to read the news story and to successfully navigate the archive to find historical stories.
The e-newsletter subscription form
7.38 The usability of the e-newsletter subscription form was tested through the usability and disabled-user testing20. Although users did not experience any major difficulties when asked to complete the form, a few questioned why they had to include their gender and date of birth when subscribing to a newsletter, while others were unsure which fields were mandatory. Unless the gender, date of birth and address information collected is being used for specific purposes in relation to the newsletter, we suggest removing these fields. Otherwise, the inclusion of these fields, even though not mandatory, will serve to deter users who are uncomfortable with providing such details on the internet from signing up.
7.39 Both the error message, which appears if the form has not been filled in correctly, and the message confirming the subscription, use the same formatting of black font on a red background. The use of red which is usually associated with an error, led some users to think they had made a mistake in completing the form, when they had actually successfully subscribed. Red should be used to signify an error, perhaps combined with a warning symbol to aid those who have problems with colour-blindness. The successfully subscribed message should be altered to use another colour.
7.40 The address finder does not appear to work. An error message ‘Fields marked with a * are mandatory" is displayed, despite the form being completed correctly. Furthermore, when the postcode finder is used, not only does it not work, but the page refreshes and deletes the details already entered into the form. We would recommend removing the postcode functionality if it is proven not to work.
7.41 Few stakeholders understood the terms ‘html’ and ‘text’ options presented to them on the email newsletter subscription form, nor did they use the ‘Preview’ links provided which seeks to illustrate differences between the two options. This was not a barrier to successful subscription, as most accepted the default selected. Adding a short explanation for why visitors should choose either option, might help users here. For example, ‘suitable for those with slow internet connections and for reading the newsletter on a PDA’ can be added next to the ‘Text’ option.
7.42 An issue for those with visual impairments accessing the website using screen magnification software is that because labels of the text entry boxes were aligned to the left rather than to the right they could not read the label and see the text entry box at the same time. The gap between them meant that they had to scroll back and forth to ensure that they were inputting the correct information in each box, causing frustration and increasing the likelihood of entering information in the wrong box. Re-aligning the labels to the right of the field boxes will improve the accessibility of the subscription form.
7.43 Although no stakeholder accessed the form from the link at the bottom of the page, we would recommend that this link should direct users straight to the form, rather than to a landing page. The short message on the page is aimed at inducing users to sign up to one of the e-newsletters, but individuals have already decided to subscribe, therefore this message is irrelevant to them.