Improving the user journey for people hit by flooding

10 Jan 2017, 4:11 pm

Featured image of flooding by Martin Katerberg, used under Creative Commons license.

Today we have a guest post from our colleagues over at GDS. They have been doing some user research with the Environment Agency around flooding content, and with so much flooding information stored on local authority sites, they have asked to share some of their findings. Below, Joe Harrison and Jane Eastwood fill us in.


Over at GDS towers, we recently ran a project to improve the flooding content on GOV.UK.

We worked very closely with our colleagues at the Environment Agency to make sure we understood how to best meet the user need at every stage of the journey.

During user research sessions, we repeatedly saw users move from GOV.UK to their local authority site to complete one of the many flood related tasks which are administered locally.

Once we realised how crucial this point in the journey was, we decided to do a little bit of research into how councils present their flooding content. We made a list of local authorities in the UK’s most flood-hit areas and looked at the content on roughly 20 of their websites.

Here are a few things we noticed.

Page titles are better when they’re specific and meaningful

Users tend to come to government sites with a specific task in mind. They’re looking to do the thing they need to do as quickly as possible and then get on with their lives. This means page titles need to be clear, specific and framed around the task the user wants to complete.

The following are both good titles:

  • Find out where to get sandbags
  • Report a flood

Both titles make it very clear what the content’s about – users looking for this information will have no problem identifying the content they need.

On the sites we looked at, some of the titles were:

  • non-specific – for example, ‘Flooding information’
  • built around jargon – for example, ‘Flood risk asset register map’

Tweaking titles to make them clearer – and making sure the content itself is written in plain English – makes for a much better user experience.

Useful content needs to appear high up in search

We saw lots of great, user-focused flooding content across the sites. However, this content was often difficult to find. It frequently appeared below far less useful or relevant content in search.

While there’s obviously a place for content about how the council is proactively tackling flooding, or for statutory documents like the Local Risk Management Strategy, these things shouldn’t appear above content users are far more likely to need and search for.

Press releases (often from previous bouts of flooding) also tended to appear high up in search. These should be hidden from search when they’re no longer needed, so users don’t have to sift through out-of-date content to find the thing they’re looking for.

The amount of content

“[Flooding’s] got to happen before you do something.”

This point came up repeatedly in user research. Until it’s actually happened, users don’t tend to think about flooding – if they are looking for guidance, it’s invariably because flooding is imminent and they need to know what to do.

Of the content we looked at, only 22% was focused on users needing immediate help.

It’s worth looking at the content you’ve got, and assessing how useful it really is. If it’s low-traffic and not meeting a user need, it might be best to simply delete it. Keeping it on the site risks slowing down users in real need.

Helping your users

It’s important to bear in mind that the users who need your flooding content are facing very difficult circumstances. Our lab sessions showed how much flooding can disrupt their lives – improving your content will mean they can get the help they need more quickly.

If you work in a council and would like more advice about improving your flooding content, leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.