I have aimed to avoid comparing party policies and I used the following as my primary assessment criteria.*
- Site traffic: how popular?
- Home page: first impressions.
- Overall content: how engaging?
- Site navigation: ease of use.
- Mobile: how optimised?
1. Site popularity
According to Alexa (on 27/06/13) the sites are ranked as follows in the United Kingdom listing of most popular websites:
- Labour, 10,106
- UKIP, 11,223
- Conservatives, 21,206
- Liberal Democrats, 27,195
Not matching with recent opinion polls UKIP in particular has a far higher traffic ranking than poll position. I would guess its recent political gains have made people more curious about the party.
It is nonetheless surprising to find the parties currently in government so far behind in third and fourth places.
2. Home pages
The Liberal Democrats site starts with a splash page showing a job creation graph.
User expectations are however to see a party overview and with this missing, because of the splash screen, there is a lack of clarity whether you are on their official site, a partially broken page or a campaign microsite.
The splash page ultimately acts as a barrier to viewing the desired content.
The Conservatives home page also has some obvious problems. The main photo of George Osborne looks ‘wrong’ (I believe the image has been ‘stretched’ and therefore he looks ‘wider’ than he should).
There is a need to check for being on the official website as the Conservatives ‘tree’ logo doesn’t feature strongly anywhere. (The tiny ‘flag’ logo in the top left is a variation of the tree but is too small to be instantly recognised as such).
And finally, just below the ‘hero’ graphic, ‘Our Twitter feed is currently unavailable, please see our Twitter page for the latest post.’ Why not just link to the twitter page rather than announcing the feed is broken?
The Labour home page suffers from tiny logo syndrome but has plus points compared to competitors. The prominent inclusion of the facebook plugin (146,943 likes) and a live feed (of people signing petitions) provide a sense that this is a community engaged site. (The Conservatives site also shows Facebook likes on the home page but far less obviously).
The portrait photo of Ed Balls is horribly low res (washed out and grainy) but the page is balanced out with a decent main graphic and call to action.
What is particularly good, albeit hidden away at the bottom, are four videos. The first two of which provide a pithy insight about the party and therefore act as a solid introduction for curious new visitors.
UKIP’s home page is the most stylish with strong imagery (although overly optimised in places), bold colours and clear engaging headlines. All the sites ask for donations and volunteers but UKIP relegates these to a secondary position and instead focuses on upfront content that clearly lays out its proposition.
A video on the homepage gives you a chance to see and hear Nigel Farage. Unfortunately it is 45 minutes long rather than a highlight reel.
Home page scores out of 10 (10 = best practice)
- UKIP, 8
- Labour, 7
- Conservatives, 5
- Liberal Democrats, 2
3. Content engagement and site navigation
Labour appears to be missing an important main section about what the party stands for and what the policies are.
It has an ‘About’ section in the footer that touches on this – but that also includes a link to a page that triggers a ‘server spoof’ warning (https://www.labourcampaignshop.org.uk/ - at least the background of that page is red!).
The site actively encourages visitors to explain ‘why they are Labour’, to donate, or to become a supporter; yet nothing prominent explains to new prospects why they should consider an allegiance.
At the other end of the spectrum the Conservatives have created a policy overview page that contains far too many options. Their secondary navigation font is tiny – the links are hard to read – and there are too many choices to quickly scan.
The main content area is full of (cheesy) stock images pressed against each other. Beyond this index are content heavy pages that go into too much detail for easy web scanning – especially when you are looking for an initial overview.
The Liberal Democrats site has a similar structure to the Conservatives site but is slightly better categorised into fewer sections and is therefore marginally easier to navigate.
Inner page content is relatively succinct and uses small graphics, coloured headers and dividers to break content up into manageable chunks. The drawback is that the site design continues to make the whole experience feel somewhat dated.
UKIP’s website has the slickest main navigation and is categorised into fairly intuitive sections. Problems with content emerge as you go deeper into the site. Whilst it is easy to get to a new page the same main site banner stays in situ forcing you to scroll.
Inner pages are incredibly wordy where they should be broken into logical digestible segments (and they have the occasional broken image).
Content and navigation scores out of 10 (10 = best practice):
- Liberal Democrats, 6
- Conservatives, 5
- UKIP, 5
- Labour, 4
4. Mobile experience
The Liberal Democrats and Labour don’t appear to have mobile optimised sites so you get their main sites in miniature…
UKIP’s website is responsive and visually continues to be relatively attractive on smaller screens. It suffers from the same usability issues as the desktop view (that you have to scroll to access new inner page copy and that the inner articles are content heavy).
Furthermore, primary navigation becomes a single (long) drop down menu making it less easy to engage with content options – moving around the site becomes cumbersome.
The Conservatives have a .mobi site whose navigation is mixed between being too small (primary navigation) and too big (a long list of secondary navigation options in CAPS).
While it is usable as a mobile site (and is therefore better than no optimisation) it lacks finesse in terms of both design and ease of use.
Occasionally the content doesn’t quite wrap properly on the screen forcing you to scroll horizontally to see the final few characters of a sentence.
Mobile scores out of 10:
- UKIP, 6
- Conservatives, 4
- Labour, 1
- Liberal Democrats, 1
Given the amount of energy, effort and ‘fight’ that goes into political campaigning the main party websites ‘have’ to be more engaging and they need to work harder to entice new visitors and prospective voters.
UKIP aside, these sites don’t feel like they have been made with the ‘new customer’ in mind. The lack of a consistent mobile presence is surprising (and worrying given that politicians play a major role in gearing Britain for the future!).
Final scores (out of a possible 30 points)*
- UKIP, 19
- Conservatives, 14
- Labour, 12
- Liberal Democrats, 9
There is time before the election for improvements and these would be my starting points:
- Lay out your stall on the home page. Engage your site visitors with what you stand for and what you’d do for them.
- Remember that prospective voters will come to your site as well as stalwarts. Make sure you cater for both audiences.
- Write with the web in mind.
- Do the basics well: e.g. properly crop and optimise images, make sure your links work.
- Less is more.
- Include succinct video content and make it easy to find.
- Get a decent mobile optimised site up and running.