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I blogged a few weeks ago about some ad-hoc small scale research Dave Serjeant and I were undertaking into news / press releases published on county council websites.

Our research was really to satisy our own curiosity but will probably also be used at some point as context when we review what we’re doing here. We’ve now completed our review of 32 English county council websites and here are the headlines for what we found:

  • Average monthly total of 32 news stories / press releases (based on November 2011)
  • Average of two news stories / press releases a day (based on November 2011)
  • 69% of sites reviewed featured news or press releases somewhere on their homepage
  • Two councils didn’t seem to have any news or press releases anywhere on their website
  • 67% are carrying only press releases, no informal news / events mixed in
  • 33% offered no obvious way of subscribing to updates
  • 38% offered subscription via RSS.

I think it’s worth mentioning that we consider a press release to be written in a formal tone, contain a quote (usually from a councillor) and be intended primarily for the media rather than citizen Joe.

So, that’s what we found at a top level. At some point we’ll probably analyse these findings further – maybe look for frequency / quantity over a longer time period or cross-reference how many sites have both news and featured content on the homepage and what line is drawn between these two types of content (if any).

Further research which could hang off this (but we’re not planning at the moment):

  • Expand study to include other types of council or the rest of the United Kingdom. Julian Scarlett started to review district / borough websites using the same framework as us but I’m sure he would be open to offers of help!
  • Expand period review takes in – we looked at one calendar month of news / press releases (November 2011)
  • Distinguish further between press releaseĀ  and news item or intended audience and look at how each of these types are given prominence.
  • Gather quantitative data from the councils such as visitor figures for news / press releases.
  • Gather qualitative data from councils such as what feedback do they receive on news / press releases.
  • While we looked at whether there was an obvious subscription method I think this would bear further investigation – not only into subscription by RSS or email but also how shareable this type of content is.
  • Investigate the impact of news / press releases on top tasks from a usability and funneling / customer journey perspective.
  • How does the type and placement of news correlate to offline publications by the organisation and the availability of community (hyperlocal) websites and local media (if it correlates at all).

It was interesting to carry out this small-scale study and has answered some of the questions we had about what we were doing compared to what other, similar types of organisation were doing.

While we now know broadly how we measure up on frequency, type and placement online what we don’t know just yet is what that means in success – of course users have the real say here on whether something works or doesn’t but it’d be interesting to know if user opinion differs between council’s taking a similar approach.

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