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A new analysis of government websites has found a "demonstrable" improvement in usability in many sites. Overall, design and navigability are improving, and a more consistent approach between sites is emerging. But older sites are not well maintained, and email response times are unacceptably slow.

The Department of Health website, which was redesigned this year, came top of the league with 85.6 per cent, while the Welsh Assembly managed just over 50 per cent. New designs boosted the performance of Department for International Development and HM Treasury, too.

Scores are based on compliance with the government's own best practice guidelines. Researchers tested for the quality of design, navigation, interaction and performance of the sites. All the tests were manual, and included checks on browser compatibility, HTML standards compliance and CSS implementation.

Porter Research says that any site scoring below 65 per cent is in dire need of attention, and notes that half of the sites tested missed this mark. The Office of Fair Trading (53.7 per cent), followed by DVLA (53.8 per cent), The Driving Standards Agency (56.7 per cent) and The Ministry of Defence (57.4 per cent) were particularly poor performers, although the MoD has improved greatly on last year's score of 48.1 per cent, following its own redesign.

Researchers noticed that older sites were not being maintained well. Previously well structured pages have started to get longer, says Adrian Porter, author of the report, with important content pushed down the page by "rogue design elements". He says the Equal Opportunities Commission is a good example of this. It ranked top last year, but managed only 67 per cent this year.

According to Porter, all government departments should follow the example of the Department of Health website: "The site performed consistently well in all our categories of assessment, and as with last year's design, it demonstrates that it is possible to create an attractive and intuitive website without recourse to the extensive use of graphic elements." ®

Copies of the report, which costs £425, can be ordered here. ®

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