How Are City Websites Supporting Residents? Insights to the Experience, Quality, and Performance of US City Websites

In our report with our partners OpenCities and CommonLook, “Better Websites. For All”, we analyzed over 700 city websites across the US to explore how cities are supporting the evolving needs of their residents. The elements that we examine in the report were website experience, quality, and performance. Here is a round-up of the areas explored in the report.

Easier Navigation is a Growing Focus

City websites are useful in supplying visitors with easy access to the more common information that they need and the top tasks that they execute on the site. This is done by displaying the top tasks and links displayed above the fold and providing a visible search box to help residents get to the information that they need, fast. However, this ease of navigation is not continued in mobile websites, with only 37% of cities having top tasks displayed prominently on a mobile device.

Room for Improvement With Accessibility

Despite cities supporting residents from all walks of life and the need for accessibility through legislation like Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973, only 53% of websites had an accessibility score that demonstrated compliance with WCAG 2.1, level AA. Less than 1% of cities could boast an excellent accessibility score and 46% needed improvement.

Ready for Mobile Interaction

City websites don’t just offer information to residents, but they also act as a self-service portal for residents to pay bills, submit applications, or report issues. And with around 50% of all traffic to government websites coming from mobile devices, these transactions should be executable via mobile. By looking at just the task of submitting a report online, we found that 73% of websites allow users to report an issue from start to finish via mobile.

Progress to be Made on Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Websites built as Progressive Web App (PWA) combine the best of both worlds from mobile apps and mobile websites. PWAs are based on websites, but they are designed to behave like apps on mobile devices and can be bookmarked to the home screen of a mobile device much like an app. For city websites, PWAs are useful as it offers residents a consistent web experience, besides allowing for mobile-specific features like push notifications and offline browsing. However, only 3% of city websites function as a PWA.

High on Quality Assurance Process, Low on Readability

More than half the websites demonstrated good quality assurance processes for eliminating common web issues like broken links, broken images, and misspellings. The readability level of the websites, however, was not aligned with the average reading level of the American adult. 88% of the websites were on a college reading level when the average reading level is at an 8th-grade level. Lowering the content readability to the national average can help websites be more inclusive to their residents.

Poor Performance is Prevalent

The city websites examined were, unfortunately, lacking on the performance front. The average Google Lighthouse Performance Score on the homepage of city websites is poor at 45.59, with nearly 2/3 of cities falling within the lowest score of 0-49. Cities also fell short on server response times with an average score of 1530ms, as compared to the industry average of 600ms.

Takeaways

With cities becoming increasingly diverse and in the wake of recent events like COVID-19, residents’ reliance on the web has only increased. City web teams need to consider the diversity of their residents, the behavior of the modern web user, and their expectations on how a website should perform. Faster, more inclusive web experiences across various devices are here to stay, and cities need to be able to evolve and adapt to these changes if they want to still be relevant and useful.

Click here to read the full report, Better Websites: For All, by Monsido and OpenCities, in partnership with CommonLook.