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Cold comfort farm

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Data, GDS team

It’s been cold and snowy. The weather has impacted on people’s lives across the UK, but has it affected people’s interaction with GOV.UK? Tara Stockford and I did some quick analysis of traffic and trends over the last couple of weeks.


Just under 2 million unique visitors came to GOV.UK during 18 - 20 January, a slight drop of 2.4% on the weekend previously. But over the three day period, Friday and Saturday had fewer visitors than the week before, while Sunday had 4.6% more.

Searching for...

Two-thirds of visits to GOV.UK over the last weekend came from searches on Google, Bing etc. Here are the top 10 most searched for keywords or phrases:

Keyword Visits
(not provided)  307,819
jobcentre  72,794
directgov  42,513
jobcentre plus  40,241
cold weather payment  27,272  21,032
universal jobmatch  20,577
job centre  17,923  17,046
cold weather payments  16,545

The previous week, the top weather related keyword was 'cold weather payment' at 34th with 3,915 visits.

Doing some deeper analysis on last weekend, there were 2,931 different keywords that included 'weather', accounting for 2.5% of all visits to GOV.UK. Here are the top 20 keywords:

Keyword Visits
cold weather payment  27,272
cold weather payments  16,545
cold weather payments postcode  2,157
cold weather payment postcode check  1,653
cold weather payment postcode search  933
cold weather payment postcode checker  818
cold weather payments 2013  696
dwp cold weather payments  559
cold weather payment checker  517
cold weather payment postcode  497
cold weather payments postcode search  442
cold weather  358
cold weather payments checker  306
cold weather payments 2012  291
dwp cold weather payment postcode  228
directgov cold weather payment  219
cold weather payments UK  215
am I due a cold weather payment  206
weather payments  196
cold weather payments dwp  168

Interestingly GOV.UK received relatively little search traffic for school closures or travel.

Most visited pages

However, looking at the page views for content with a ‘winter’ theme over the two weekends the picture is more subtle:

Page Date range Page
/cold-weather-payment/overview 18 Jan - 20 Jan 108201 777.76%
/cold-weather-payment 18 Jan - 20 Jan 68882 573.46%
/cold-weather-payment/eligibility 18 Jan - 20 Jan 29287 762.65%
/cold-weather-payment/what-youll-get 18 Jan - 20 Jan 20463 736.25%
/cold-weather-payment/how-to-claim 18 Jan - 20 Jan 15280 816.62%
/winter-fuel-payment 18 Jan - 20 Jan 16743 130.21%
/cold-weather-payment/further-information 18 Jan - 20 Jan 5171 845.34%
/practical-driving-test-for-cars/cancelled-or-stopped-tests-and-bad-weather 18 Jan - 20 Jan 4268 341.37%
/check-school-closure 18 Jan - 20 Jan 2881 3371.08%
/driving-adverse-weather-conditions-226-to-237/icy-and-snowy-weather-228-231 18 Jan - 20 Jan 3175  533.73%
/clear-snow-road-path-cycleway 18 Jan - 20 Jan  2472 3152.63%
/winter-fuel-payment/eligibility 18 Jan - 20 Jan 7871 33.93%
/travel-disruption-your-rights-at-work 18 Jan - 20 Jan  1994 810.50%
/driving-adverse-weather-conditions-226-237 18 Jan - 20 Jan 2393 220.78%

In addition to sharp increases in page views for the Cold Weather Payment guide, the Winter Fuel PaymentPractical driving test cancellations, Check school closures and other weather related travel content all saw large growth in page views.

Of course, GOV.UK is now the home for a number of government departments and the snowy weather has had an impact on Inside Government too. There has been an increase in visits to /government/publications/guidance-on-community-action-during-severe-weather and /government/news/travel-disruption-across-uk

Site searches

In GOV.UK site search, by far the highest rising search term was ‘cold weather payments’ or ‘cold weather payment’, with a combined total of 4,404 searches last weekend, compared to just 505 the previous weekend.

There were a further 417 searches for just ‘cold weather’; almost all of these users clicked on 'Cold Weather Payment' at the top of the search results, so we’re satisfied that they’re finding what they wanted.

Site searches for ‘school closures’, and longer-tail phrases containing that term (such as ‘school closures in wolverhampton’), shot up to 1,113 compared to just 8 the weekend before. But in the search results for just ‘schools’ or ‘school’ (up to 159 from 38), our school closures page was further down the list where users might miss it, so we’ve temporarily promoted it to appear at the top.

When people searched for terms containing ‘snow’ (724 compared to 53 the previous weekend), there were only nine pages where the word ‘snow’ actually appears in the content. We’ve made some changes to help users also find related results about bad weather, disrupted services and winter payments, even if they don’t explicitly mention snow.

Similarly, we’ve tweaked the results for terms such as ‘bad weather’, ‘winter weather’ and ‘heating’ to make sure that users can find information on heating bills and energy-saving improvements as well as practical information about local services. For broad terms like these, we’re less sure what people are looking for, so we’ve aimed for a selection of the most relevant and popular results.

We’ve also spotted some new misspellings in the GOV.UK search logs such as ‘school closers’, ‘wether’ and ‘wheather’, so we’ve added them to our custom spelling list to ensure that users still get relevant results.

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  1. Comment by collaborative law group posted on

    Well I definitely enjoyed reading it. This subject procured by you is very constructive for accurate planning.

  2. Comment by David Read posted on

    Manually maintaining a list of commonly mispelt words seems more than a touch inefficient. Why don't you simply use an existing spellchecker, like Google search does? You use Lucene so why not this:

    • Replies to David Read>

      Comment by Tara Stockford posted on

      Thanks David. We're using Elasticsearch rather than Solr, which doesn't support the SpellCheckComponent out of the box. Configuring a spellchecker wasn't a top priority for the initial release of GOV.UK, so we used a manual list as a deliberate compromise.

      We're still developing the search engine and we do intend to add a spellchecking function in future. Even then, we'll keep an eye on common misspellings - automatic spellcheckers still often need customising with site-specific words for the best results.

      • Replies to Tara Stockford>

        Comment by David Read posted on

        I guess harnessing existing plugins is a good reason to use something standard like SOLR, harnessing all its community.

        • Replies to David Read>

          Comment by Tara Stockford posted on

          This post from last year gives some details about why we decided to move from Solr to Elasticsearch:

          • Replies to Tara Stockford>

            Comment by David Read posted on

            I'd hope when choosing technology in future, existing industry traction was considered too, as it is easy to be tempted by the latest cool one if only comparing current usage and features. When considering a niche product, you have to factor in the lack of expandability, lower support from the community and the risk of it ageing more quickly. Mind you, if you have the resources to switch more often than the average project, then that isn't an issue.

  3. Comment by claire posted on


    What does the keyword not provided stats at the top of the list tell us?

    • Replies to claire>

      Comment by Rick Mason posted on

      That's people who are signed in to Google when they search. That means they access it over HTTPS which doesn't pass on the search term. I'm not sure whether that accounts for all the "(not provided)" group, but it's a lot of them.

    • Replies to claire>

      Comment by peterbjordan posted on

      Yes, Claire. If a user is logged into a Google account, data about searches they made is encrypted and not shared by Google to any analytics packages. Here's some more information:

  4. Comment by Rick Mason posted on

    At East Sussex County Council we've seen a big increase in mobile traffic - from 20% last week to 45% this week. We reckon it's school closures bringing in a large younger audience, at a time of day when they're less likely to be in front of a PC.

    • Replies to Rick Mason>

      Comment by peterbjordan posted on

      Interestingly we saw only a very small increase in mobile use across the whole site. The 'cold weather' content saw big rises in traffic, but in more-or-less the same proportions for mobiles and pcs/laptops.

      In Directgov days, snow would always trigger a big rise in 'school closure' traffic; which GOV.UK has seen less of. For 'school closures' GOV.UK is not ranking well in Google at present.