Report a misleading website to search engines

Government services have been getting a growing number of complaints from people who feel misled by websites which charge for access to public services that are either free or much cheaper when accessed via the official GOV.UK website.

Examples include people trying to renew their passport or driving licence, book a driving test or apply for a European Health Insurance Card via the NHS.

Example of google search  result and advert

Example of a legitimate advert above Google’s search results. If you feel misled by an advert, Google has a simple form to let you report your concerns.

Many people complain that they felt these third-party websites did not provide of any value over and above the service already available on the official service, accessed via GOV.UK. Some of those complaining felt misled into thinking such 3rd party websites were actually the official, government-run service.

The vast majority of people end up on such websites after clicking on an advert appearing above the normal search results on Google, Bing or Yahoo.

If you feel misled by such an advert, Google now has a simple form to let you report your concerns.

We have been working with Google, by far the largest search engine in the UK, to tackle this aspect of the problem. Over the past few days, Google has  stopped selling adverts to some of the websites which have been the cause of many complaints.

But Google remains very keen to hear from people who feel misled after clicking on such adverts appearing above their search results.  This will help them remove such adverts as quickly as possible.

If you feel misled by such an advert, Google now has a simple form to let you report your concerns.

Google now offers a simple form to let you complain about misleading adverts

Google now offers a simple form to let you complain about misleading adverts

We would encourage people to complain to Google if they feel aggrieved, since this may prove the swiftest and most effective way to fix this problem.

You can also report concerns about potentially misleading adverts appearing above Bing and Yahoo! search results.

On a related note, if you’re concerned about phishing emails, or other Internet scams, visit this page on GOV.UK.

via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore

DVLA, we salute you

My first visit to meet DVLA in Swansea back in the summer of 2012 filled me with hope.

I met Carolyn Williams MBE, who runs DVLA’s tax disc service. She showed me a wonderfully well-categorised list of feedback sent in by users of her very popular online service; tens of thousands of comments each year.

Here was a service manager who was listening to her users. She knew precisely which aspects of her service could be improved.

Her problem was how to deliver dozens of relatively small improvements, without breaking the bank or disrupting other priorities.

So I’m delighted that DVLA, under the new leadership of Oliver Morley, has found a way to help Carolyn and her users. Just before Christmas a new multi-disciplinary delivery team started work in Swansea, using Government Service Design Manual as a guide. When I popped in to see them in late January their story backlog was looking healthy.

Yesterday DVLA announced that they had put the beta release of the online tax disc service live. See the invitation to try the beta at the bottom of the screen grab below.

Screen Grab of new tax disc start page with beta link

The renew your tax disc page on GOV.UK, showing the invitation to try the new beta

Given the user research already done, the DVLA team are confident that the beta will be simpler, clearer and faster for users.

For example, the design now responds elegantly to different screen sizes, meaning the near-40% of visitors to GOV.UK who are using a mobile or tablet will get a vastly improved experience. That’s got to help encourage even more people to join the tens of millions who already buy their tax disc online every year.

The new beta now works properly on small screens

New vs old: The new beta now works properly on small screens

So if you’re due to renew your tax disc, visit the tax disc page on GOV.UK you’ll see an invitation to try the new beta version. The team is as keen as ever to improve the service in response to feedback from users.

What’s new is that DVLA can now iterate their service in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost.

So, in no particular order, congratulations to the DVLA team responsible: Matthew James, Craig James, Emma Kapias, Dianne Williams, Simon Taylor, Bethan Jewell, Michelle Phillips, Nic Walters, Ian Davies, Rhian Williams, Jim Frewin & Mark Jones.

We at GDS salute you. 

PS GDS has had almost no involvement in this project, other than applauding from the sidelines. This isn’t one of the 25 exemplar services we’re helping departments and agencies transform. As with the new DCMS intranet, this is simply DVLA demonstrating the new normal.

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via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore

Browser, operating system and screen resolution data for GOV.UK

Browser, operating system and screen resolution data for GOV.UK

(Image courtesy of  Guy Moorhouse)

Earlier this month I dug into the analytics data to better understand what devices people are using when visiting GOV.UK.  I thought I’d also quickly share headline data on what browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions we’ve seen over the past month across the whole site. I hope it’s useful.

Rank Browser Jan-14 Jan-13
1 Internet Explorer 29.2% 38.7%
2 Chrome 27.5% 21.8%
3 Safari 25.0% 20.4%
4 Firefox 8.5% 10.7%
5 Android Browser 7.0% 5.8%
6 Safari (in-app) 0.8% 1.4%
7 BlackBerry 0.7% 0.4%
8 Amazon Silk 0.5% 0.0%
9 Opera 0.4% 0.5%
10 Opera Mini 0.2% 0.2%

We’ll publish more detailed browser version breakdown data soon, though I can’t resist sharing that Microsoft IE6 usage seems to have halved to 0.4% from 0.8% over the past 12 months. Note: this browser data combines both desktop and mobile versions.

Rank Operating System Jan-14 Jan-13
1 Windows 57.0% 67.9%
2 iOS 22.5% 16.3%
3 Android 12.0% 6.6%
4 Macintosh 5.8% 5.9%
5 Linux 1.1% 1.1%
6 BlackBerry 0.7% 1.0%
7 Windows Phone 0.7% 0.3%
8 Chrome OS 0.2% 0.1%
9 (not set) 0.1% 0.5%
10 Series40 0.0% 0.0%

No real surprises here, with Android and iOS mobile operating systems eating into Windows desktop share.

Rank Screen Resolution Jan-14 Jan-13
1 1366×768 17.9% 19.4%
2 768×1024 10.4% 7.7%
3 1280×800 6.9% 9.8%
4 1024×768 6.6% 9.8%
5 1280×1024 6.6% 7.0%
6 320×480 6.3% 7.3%
7 320×568 6.0% 1.0%
8 1920×1080 5.2% 4.2%
9 1440×900 4.3% 4.9%
10 1600×900 2.6% 2.5%

Again, the story here is the rapid rise of “portrait” smartphone screen resolutions such as 768×1024 at the expense of traditional “landscape” desktop resolutions. Further evidence of the rapid shift to a wider variety of screen sizes as mobile device use takes off.

(Data sourced from Google Analytics for all visits to GOV.UK for the month up until January 20th. Sample size Jan 2014: 36.4m visits. Jan 2013: 28.4m visits.)

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The mobile question: responsive design

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via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore

When will more people visit GOV.UK using a mobile or tablet than a PC?

Yesterday the BBC published data showing more people accessing iPlayer via tablet than via computer. This prompted me to update some of the data I gathered for the government’s agreed approach to mobile last this time last year.

The objective of the UK government’s digital strategy is to make sure our  digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so. But what our users consider to be ‘straightforward’ and ‘convenient’ is far from static. We need our services to be able to adapt quickly to potentially quite profound changes in people’s behaviours and expectations.

For example, here’s a graph showing how the devices people use to visit GOV.UK have changed since its launch. (To be precise, the data is for visits, rather than users.)

Percentages of visits to GOV.UK from computer, mobile and tablet
Percentages of visits to GOV.UK from computer, mobile and tablet

Since 1 January 2014,  63% of visits to GOV.UK have come from a computer, 23% from a mobile and 14% from a tablet. In January 2012 it was 77% computer, 15% mobile and 9% tablet. If you visit the GOV.UK performance dashboard you’ll see that the sample sizes are non-trivial.

Compared with the general UK population, the graph above may be skewed by a minority (around  2%) of GOV.UK users who visit the site more than 100 times a month, often to research government activity as part of their job, typically from a work computer.

I’ve tried to get more representative UK data by looking at the visit data for the two weeks following Christmas Day, when such power users are probably not quite so busy.  The device breakdown for this period last year was 74% computer, 16% mobile and 10% tablet. This year saw 61% using a computer, 24% mobile and 15% tablet.

On Christmas Day 2013, only 51% visited GOV.UK from a computer, compared with 66% on Christmas Day 2012. (Over 300k visits to GOV.UK this past Christmas Day; 34k were looking for a job; over 5k bought a tax disc.)

Such a shift in the devices people use to access the internet should come as no surprise, but the pace of change might. And I do not expect this switch away from PCs towards more personal, portable, touchscreen devices to slow down anytime soon.

The UK government e-petitions service has seen incredible changes in how, when and where it is used. Pete Herlihy has product managed this service since it went live in summer 2011. As he revealed recently, only two years ago over 75% of visits came via computers. Now a mere 27% do so, with 56% from mobile, and 17% from tablet.

Not every service will end up with such proportions, but e-petitions demonstrates just how rapidly and radically user behaviour can change. Here’s current data for some of the transactional services on GOV.UK:

Book your practical driving test:

Computer – 67.4% (was 71.3% in March 2013)
Mobile – 21.4% (was 17.7% in March 2013)
Tablet – 11.2% (was 11% in March 2013)

Change date of practical driving test booking:

Computer – 56.9% (was 61.3% in March 2013)
Mobile – 32.4% (was 30.3% in March 2013)
Tablet – 8.7% (was 8.4% in March 2013)

Apply for a Student Finance:

Computer – 64.6%
Mobile – 26.6%
Tablet – 8.8%

Make a Lasting Power of Attorney:

Computer – 84.3%
Mobile – 12.4%
Tablet – 3.3%

Apply for Carer’s Allowance:

Computer – 67.1%
Mobile – 17.7%
Tablet – 15.2%

I hope this helps explain why the digital by default service standard requires that, from April 2014 onwards, all new or redesigned central government digital services must be designed with an appropriate range of devices in mind. As we say in the GDS Design Principles, our services must understand the context in which people will use them. And for many people, for many services, that context is swiftly becoming more mobile, more personal and more touch-controlled.

Designing for small screens can be a real challenge. Which is why for many of the 25 exemplar services we’re now designing the mobile version first, despite visits from computers still being in the majority. Why? Simply, it’s often easier to make a service also work for a computer monitor and keyboard if you’ve already made it work really well on a small touchscreen than it is to go the other way.

Moreover, as Andy Washington, MD of Expedia UK & Ireland, explained at a recent panel, designing within the constraints of a small touchscreen helps keep your underlying service as clear and as simple as it needs to be to serve all your users, including those who may be new to the internet, or find it a struggle.

Finally, to answer the question posed in the title to this post: When will more people visit GOV.UK using a mobile or tablet than a PC? On Christmas Day 2014, if not before.

NB I’ve seen no data over the past year to suggest the government’s approach to downloadable apps should change. We’re still not ‘appy about them, and central government departments and agencies must seek an exemption before they start developing any.

Filed under: GDS, GOV.UK, Service Manual

via Government Digital Service

Organ donation and A/B testing

Some user needs are easier to meet than others. It doesn’t take much research to confirm that most people searching for ‘bank holiday‘ care most about when they can next enjoy a long weekend.

But what if a user needed an organ transplant? Amongst many other priorities, they’d want as many people as possible to register with the NHS Organ Donor Register. How might GOV.UK help meet this highly-sensitive user need?

Since Christmas GDS has been working with colleagues from the NHS, Department for Transport, Department for Health and the Cabinet Office’s own Behaviour Insights team to run experiments to learn how GOV.UK might increase the numbers of people choosing to register as organ donors.

Testing different prompts

We started by adding a very basic text link to the organ register from the final ‘You’re done!’ page at the end of all successful motoring transactions on GOV.UK (e.g. renewing your tax disc).

The GOV.UK publishing team then took the opportunity to develop a basic A/B testing capability. This allows us to trial several different messages simultaneously to see which is most effective.

Donation prompt 1

Donation prompt 2

We’re conducting this as a formal experiment with colleagues from other departments, and so I won’t give away too much detail. But suffice it to say initial indications are exciting.

One small change to this one page on GOV.UK has lead to around 10,000 additional people joining the organ donor register each month. This one page is now the third biggest source of new registrations, behind doctors surgeries and the DVLA.

Given each additional donor might save or transform up to 9 lives, it’s an experiment we’re keen to continue, and I must thank my colleagues from across government and the NHS for the opportunity to participate.

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service

The story of GOV.UK so far, in pictures

Earlier this week the the final ministerial department joined GOV.UK. This isn’t the end of the GOV.UK story; in fact it’s barely the end of the beginning. But today is still a big moment, the result of commitment and collaboration from  hundreds of civil servants all across government.

So to mark the occasion I thought I’d gather up and share some historical artifacts; some sketches, diagrams, lists, photos,and screengrabs that chart the evolution of GOV.UK from a crisp recommendation for a ‘single domain for government’ in Martha Lane Fox’s November 2010 report, through to today’s award-winning reality.

One of Martha Lane Fox's four recommendations was to 'Reinvent Government Online Publishing'. You can read her full report, happily ensconsed in its new home on GOV.UK
Just before Christmas 2010 a bunch of digital folk from across Whitehall gathered after work in a pub in Lambeth North to work out how you might implement Martha's vision in practice. Over the New Year, Will Callaghan and Neil Williams came up with a series of wireframes showing how you could simplify departmental websites into a coherent, simple, single proposition.
An outline brief written in February 2011 by the team asked to produce an 'alpha' (experimental prototype) of the proposed single domain.
Set of design rules created by the team responsible for producing the alpha of GOV.UK. Many moons later, variants of some of these rules turned up in the GDS Design Principles
This isn't a technical architecture, it's a mental map of the various bits making up the alpha of GOV.UK. Read this blog post for more detail  about how the alpha of GOV.UK was developed.
Richard Pope was product manager for the alpha and beta of GOV.UK. He used sketches such as this one to test and communicate ideas.
It's interesting that today's version of this page is even simpler, as repeated user testing lets us hone in on the irreducible core.
Again, it's instructive to see what's changed and what's remained the same by looking at the current version. As the alpha was being developed, we became aware of the scale of the content design challenge.
The public alpha of GOV.UK gathered feedback from May to July of 2011, and was turned off when the beta went live in January 2012. It was archived by the wonderful people at the National Archives.
This screengrab is from the alpha of GOV.UK - it's still available (albeit a bit broken) courtesy to National Archives.
The indefatigable Lisa Scott pretty much made all 24 department sections of the alpha single handed.
This is a slightly surreal mental map of the different bits we thought might make up beta of GOV.UK. We were toying with sections targeted at professions, and learning that business needs and citizen needs were closely aligned, the vast majority of businesses being sole traders.
As you can probably tell, around this time we were searching hard for the right 'map' to describe the whole of GOV.UK. No one liked the bus. There was also a rocket. Luckily no-one took a photo of that.
This is a photo of a more technical mind map, showing the chunks of stuff we thought we'd need to develop for the beta of GOV.UK.
This was Neil Williams' mental model for what became the Inside Government part of GOV.UK
When Neil Williams joined the beta team part time in Sept 2011, he came equipped with a series of well thought-through wireframes of how departments should be represented on GOV.UK. This wireframe probably maps onto this page on the current GOV.UK site
Once Francis Maude had given the go-ahead for the beta, we began to work out a swift but sane rollout plan. Etienne Pollard was brave enough to come up with this first draft in the Autumn of 2011.
Composite of 4 pictures of the beta team working on needs
A screenshot of the needotron
This is what GOV.UK looked like just before Christmas 2011 when we were awaiting the arrival of Ben Terrett, our Head of Design.
This shows a format we designed with colleagues from DWP specifically to make it easier for people to understand their eligibility for benefits. In testing it didn't perform as well as the same content placed in a  'guide' format, which is why it now looks like this.
A map of how the various layers of user need we thought might need to be covered by GOV.UK. At this point we are realising just how much overlap there is between the needs of citizens and the needs of businesses. We're also understanding with the sheer volume of specialist publishing undertaken by departments, targeted at professionals.
In the spring and summer of 2012, the new design team started work on earnest, in this case drawing inspiration from British Rail's iconic designs
The homepage of the public beta of GOV.UK on Jan 31st 2012.
Six departments joined the public beta of the Inside Government section of GOV.UK in March and April of 2012. Teams from these departments worked doubly hard to keep both the beta and their main site updated.
Russell Davies led a quick session in Feb 2012 working out how we'd talk about GOV.UK to users.
In the Spring of 2012 Russell Davies started to ask a thousand obvious questions, and had soon simplified things enormously. Hence this picture, which we use to explain GOV.UK to people inside and outside of Government.
Sarah Prag, the product manager for the mainstream launch of GOV.UK, leads the sorting of nearly 1000 user needs into appropriate categories. Safe to assume it was neither quick nor easy.
Over the summer of 2012, we constantly iterated the design of GOV.UK, most obviously by introducing a new homepage. In July we introduced the New Transport font.
Paul Downey (tech architect) drew these four pictures to explain to everyone the four phases making up the 17 Oct 2012 launch of GOV.UK. By the time it got to 17 Oct, there was very little to do but flick a switch, and very little to test that hadn't already been tested.
The whole team signed these roadsigns en route to the 17 Oct 2012 launch of GOV.UK. There was also cake.
Says it all, really.

PS If anyone’s got any interesting stuff we’ve missed lying about on their hard drive, please send it my way and I’ll add it to the gallery.

Filed under: Single government domain

via Government Digital Service

Intranets: DCMS doing it right

I’ve just got off the phone after talking to Andrew Simpson, the civil servant leading the redevelopment of the DCMS intranet. I’ve never met Andrew face to face, but I look forward to doing so, because he and his tiny team deserve a big thank you.

They have just created the exemplar for a government intranet in 2013.

The new DCMS Intranet

“How Do I?” – the DCMS intranet putting user needs first

To learn much more, read these two blog posts from Luke Oatham, a developer from Helpful Technology, the SME partner commissioned via G-Cloud. As you’ll see if you read Luke’s excellent posts, those DCMS staff already using the beta enjoy a simple, clear, fast experience. They get an intranet designed to understand and meet their needs, delivered swiftly and cheaply, and set up from the word go to iteratively improve based on their feedback.

A guide on the new DCMS intranet

A guide on the new DCMS intranet

The team reused the design patterns and formats established by GOV.UK. They prioritised on the most important user needs. They wrote for the web, using the style guide. They designed the site to be responsive to different screen sizes, using open standards. They launched the beta early, despite knowing it still had rough edges, because nothing beats real feedback from real users as early as possible.

Feedback form on DCMS intranet

A feedback form on the new DCMS intranet

In short, they used the same process espoused in the new Government Service Design Manual. They will remove the beta label and turn off the existing intranet in the coming days.

And all delivered using open source software (WordPress) for a fraction of the previous cost.

And I mean a fraction. Developing the new intranet cost £15k. The monthly hosting, support and iterative development cost is in the hundreds of pounds per month, less than a tenth of the monthly hosting cost of the intranet it replaces.

That’s a 90% saving – the new normal.

Homepage of the new DCMS intranet

Homepage of the new DCMS intranet

Andrew, his team and their supplier have set the new benchmark for government intranets. They really have raised the bar. Anyone inside the civil service thinking about redeveloping their own intranet should talk to DCMS first.

When Mike Bracken talks about a new dominant culture, this is it in action.

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore

We’re not ‘appy. Not ‘appy at all.

We’re in the middle of a significant change in how people use digital services. Use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is exploding.

People should be able to use digital services wherever they are, on the device of their choosing (see Design Principle No.7 Understand Context). Users now expect to be able to change the date of their driving test while on the bus, or pay their VAT while lying in bed.

Here’s how government services have been responding to mobile growth. To note for later: none of these examples are apps.

GOV.UK is a website that adapts to mobile screens

In its final months, the separate mobile web version of Directgov was attracting around 10% of the visits to the standard site. Both the standard and mobile versions of Directgov were replaced by GOV.UK in October 2012, which uses responsive design to adapt its layout to different screen sizes.


A GOV.UK guide adapts its design to different screen sizes and device capabilities.

In the run up to Christmas, GOV.UK saw around 20% of visits from mobile devices.  Since Christmas this has jumped to nearly 25% This change was also noted by the BBC.

Nearly half of e-petitions visits are from mobile devices

In March 2012, just over 20% of those visiting the HM Government e-petitions service were using a mobile device. In the spring of 2012 its design was made responsive.  The graph below shows the trend since then. It’s now over 45% mobile.

graph showing e-petitions mobile usage

You can now book your driving test on the bus

Meanwhile, up in Nottingham, the Driving Standards Agency has just redesigned its practical driving test booking service.

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 11.05.18

Old (left) and new (right) designs of the practical driving test booking service, as appears on an iPhone

Results? Over 23% of those booking and 27% of those changing practical driving test bookings are now doing so from a mobile device. (Overnight it hits nearly 60% – hypotheses welcome!)

Booking your driving test is not a trivial process. Users  have to choose a date, a venue and give contact details and the like. Yet give people a decent mobile-optimised experience, and they’ll lap it up on their smartphones or tablets.

If you want to learn more about DSA’s test booking redesign, I suggest you follow @johnploughman – he’s an excellent source of knowledge and happy to share.

Bring on all the apps, surely!

So mobile web usage is exploding, and the sooner we have all our transactions responsively adapting to mobile screen sizes the better.  The forthcoming Digital by Default Service Standard will require it.

But does it follow that the government should also be investing heavily in mobile apps?


Our position is that native apps are rarely justified.

Action 6 of the Government Digital Strategy states:

Stand-alone mobile apps will only be considered once the core web service works well on mobile devices, and if specifically agreed with the Cabinet Office.

Since November 2012, central government departments and agencies have to get approval from Cabinet Office before starting work on apps.

For government services, we believe the costs of developing and maintaining apps will very rarely justify their benefits, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal.

Departments should focus on improving the quality of the core web service.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation to the Digital Leaders Network, sharing the rationale behind this ‘by default, no apps’ approach, and offering guidance on when Cabinet Office may allow exemptions for apps to be developed.

When it comes to mobile, we’re backing open web standards (HTML5). We’re confident that for government services, the mobile web is a winner, both from a user and a cost perspective.

Apps may be transforming gaming and social media, but for utility public services, the ‘making your website adapt really effectively to a range of devices’ approach is currently the better strategy. It allows you to iterate your services much more quickly, minimises any market impact and is far cheaper to support.

The points we’ll be making to anyone in central government wanting permission to start work on a mobile apps are:

– government’s position is that native and hybrid apps are rarely justified
– make sure your service meets the Digital by Default Service Standard and it will work well on mobile devices (responsive HTML5)
– make your data and/or API available for re-use and you will stimulate the market if there is demand for native apps

The 5 questions civil servants should ask before contemplating asking for an exemption are:

1. Is our web service already designed to be responsive to different screen sizes? If not, why not?
2. What is the user need that only a native/hybrid app can meet?
3. Are there existing native/hybrid apps which already meet this user need?
4.. Is our service available to 3rd parties via an API or open data? If not, why not?
5. Does meeting this need justify the lifetime cost of a native or hybrid app?

We are not ‘banning’ apps outright.  For example, the NHS-funded ‘Change 4 Life’ healthy lifestyle apps rely on a persistent 24/7 presence on users’ mobiles to try to persuade people to eat and drink more healthily.

But we are backing open standards, in this case the Web.

So expect more blog posts from us about responsive design, progressive enhancement and their ilk, and an imminent treatise from some of my wiser colleagues on my sloppy use of the word ‘mobile’….

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore