GDS begins online user monitoring to improve GOV.UK performance

Anonymised information on devices and connections could help find ‘problematic pages’

By Sam Trendall

18 Jun 2021

The Government Digital Service has begun collecting device and connection data from users of GOV.UK in a bid to improve the performance of the online platform.

The digital agency has implemented real user monitoring (RUM) – which gathers anonymised data from visitors to GOV.UK sites and pages. Information collected will include details of the device and browser being used, as well as users’ connection and bandwidth.

This data will allow GDS to better understand differences in how GOV.UK performs on various platforms and what limitations are faced by users. The digital agency also hopes to identify which pages are causing problems for visitors, and why. 

“Gathering this data will prove invaluable in the future, allowing us to make more informed decisions and improve performance for some of the most vulnerable, least digitally-advanced users in society,” said Matt Hobbs, GDS head of front end development, in a blog post. “Over the next three to six months, the data will give us a clear insight into where GOV.UK needs to improve, and inform updates to our roadmap as we move through this financial year. This anonymous aggregated data can be used to facilitate discussions with other government departments and service teams, making sure that all users visiting GOV.UK and related services receive the best experience possible.”

Studying real users is intended to provide more accurate and reliable information compared with so-called synthetic testing, which already takes place each day.

"Synthetic testing is when parameters are set, such as browser or device used, and then the test is run continually,” Hobbs added. “For example, these tests are run daily on GOV.UK. In contrast, RUM measures the actual performance of a page from actual user devices.”

No personal data will be collected, according to GDS, and information will only be gathered “when a user has given explicit consent to the use of cookies for analytics purposes”.

Jen Allum, head of GOV.UK, said: “With more than 53 million visits a month to over half a million pages of information, making sure that GOV.UK remains reliable, accurate and continues to meet user needs is one of the most important things GDS does. While users' personal data is not collected, RUM means we are able to find out more about where and how visitors view GOV.UK. This helps us to work out which parts of the website aren’t performing well. If we know, for example, that some of our pages aren’t easy to access for people viewing on their phone, or if a slower broadband speed is making some pages difficult to load up, we can fix them to make sure they are easier and quicker to use. “

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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