The majority of Australian council websites do not prioritise plain English and ease of use, a new study has found.

Government website developer OpenCities studied over 550 Council websites, benchmarking each website against eight basic requirements of online services.

Only 8% of Council websites are written at a reading level that most Australian citizens can understand. 38% fail mobile readiness standards and 53% fail accessibility tests. 86% fail to encrypt their websites.

The study provides a common yardstick for Councils to measure themselves against. “The goal is to try and help the people working on city websites get the resources they need to fix this and to help their high-level decision-makers understand where they stand,” Jack Madans, Managing Director of OpenCities US told Government Technology magazine.

Failing to meet these basic requirements means that citizens are likely to perceive the experience negatively. For example, common browsers like Chrome and Firefox clearly warn users when they try to access unencrypted websites. This could signal to citizens not to trust their council websites.

“We believe that the disparity comes with a price. When a citizen can easily buy an item on yet struggles to find a city official or pay a utility bill online, it furthers their belief that governments can’t deliver,” Madans said.

Citizens would be less likely to self-serve, falling back to other channels when they get frustrated with websites. Councils would have to spend money on assisting these citizens over the phone or in-person.

More Australian cities are starting to understand that their websites must be designed around services, rather than internal structures. Nearly three-fourths of the websites have quick links to services commonly used by citizens.

OpenCities has used these principles to move away from bespoke websites, building a shared platform for Councils to launch websites more quickly and cheaply.

Download the national benchmarking study and get the custom report for your Council website below.

Image by john skewesCC BY-ND 2.0