Local Elections 2016 - Signposting users

Today (May 5th) is election day in the UK, and whilst it isn’t a general election today for the majority of people there is something to vote for. Police & Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, Councils elections in many areas, The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Elections are also being held, and there are two byelections just for good measure. For the majority of Local Councils we can tell what the number on query to their websites (and in their call centers) is going to be for most of the day: “Where do go to I vote?”

Event Days

For most of the year, Council websites perform a delicate balancing act. Providing quick and easy access to popular and important services, while still giving people access to all the 100s of things that councils do. Today isn’t too different, people will still need all those services, except one specific task is going to shoot up from the bowels of the site and take up a large share of the sites traffic and then tomorrow, it’s going to go back to being a niche interest.

These event day’s happen three or four times a year for most councils, be it elections; school closures; fireworks displays or IT system outages, most sites will have to cope with one greedy task taking all the traffic for a day or two before things return to normal.

When these event days come along it makes a lot of sense to change how the site balances its tasks and services; promote the single event above all else. Not doing this is to have 1000’s of people hunting across obscure parts of your site, looking for the information often not finding the right place and drowning your call centre in calls.

Highlighting the popular service across the top of the site is an effective way to gain attention

Service Alerts

It’s well worth considering how you are going to handle these event days when you build your site, because they will happen and you will need to signpost people to the right place when they do.

More often than not these events are not ‘news’ - 1000s of people are not coming to your site to look at your volunteering program, or read about the latest roads consultation. Putting that level of information directly across you site is just disingenuous to your users, it pushes the things they really need down and away, and it devalues any real information you may want to share later on.

Equally if something is really important to the majority of users coming to your site, then putting it in the same place as your news is just going to bury it for many. People are quite adept at screening out what they consider to be advertising, and if they think you are doing that, they just won’t see it. You need to treat these events differently from news, that is why we often refer to them as service alerts, as opposed to news or news alerts they are different and deserve to be treated as such.

When building a site, you should consider how you will cope with these service alerts, not only at a site wide level but at a service or page level too, you might well have a day where you need to tell everyone about school closures, but there will be (many more) days when you have to tell users of a particular service that something is wrong, one of your libraries might be flooded for example, and this is of importance to users of the libraries but not necessarily people getting their bin collection dates.

Of course grabbing someone’s attention is one thing, giving them the information is a whole other ball game, in my next post I talk about the specifics of finding your polling station