Google searches for the leaders of the main political parties soared on the day the general election was called. Searches for David Cameron doubled overnight; interest in Gordon Brown was up 2.5 times; and people Googled Nick Clegg's name five times as often on the Tuesday as they did on the day before.
But guess what? The main UK political parties, especially the Conservatives and Labour, have made a pig's ear of their leader's online presence. If their pathetic online efforts are anything to go by, this is in no way the first digital election. Here's how they are going wrong...
Gordon Brown has always had problems with Google.
Google Autocomplete has for years been very rude about him if you start typing "Gordon Brown is" - although currently the top three suggestions Google offers are that he is a prick, a good Prime Minister and an idiot. Two out of three ain't bad?
And search for his name and, after the Wikipedia entry for the PM, Google offers you the chance to "see results for Gordon Brown estate agents".
Gordon Brown launches new site!
I thought he'd finally taken the bull by the horns this week and decided to try sort out how he appears online when people search for him. His wife, Sarah Brown, retweeted BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan Jones who had announced that:
Labour has launched a site at www.gordonbrown.org.
Actually, I didn't think that.
I thought Cellan Jones hadn't realised that someone has long been domain squatting that address, which just frames the Labour party site.
But Sarah tweeted again shortly after saying that:
You can see my blog (and twitter feed) on http:www.gordonbrown.org.uk
Followed for good measure by the announcement that she has:
Posted up new blog http://www.gordonbrown.org.uk/sarah
She had finally got the domain right. However, she hasn't actually got a blog at that address at all, and there is no real site at gordonbrown.org.uk.
(No, I don't know why they're using 302 redirects. Nor do I know why one has a trailing slash but the other doesn't. And I have no clue what the www2 is about. I'm guessing they don't really know what they are doing?)
No, he doesn't.
So they haven't actually launched a new website at all. What they've done is announce that the gordonbrown.org.uk domain, which until a few days ago was showing a 123-reg.co.uk domain registration holding page (you can still see the Google cache of that if you're quick), is now redirecting to Labour Party pages.
What's worse, the page it redirects to is a usability nightmare with a secondary navigation that makes no sense.
Get to the Gordon Brown page, shown, and it's impossible to get back there from any other page - if you click on "what he says" for instance, then there are no links anywhere on the page back to the main Gordon Brown page (no, don't imagine that you can click Gordon Brown at the top, that doesn't work. And clicking home takes you to the main Labour party homepage, before you ask.)
Go to the Sarah Brown page and it makes even less sense. You can click Sarah, as you can see in the picture, to get back to her main page - but under her picture is the same "what he says" link that makes it look like she's really a man.
Essentially, they've employed an idiot for an information architect. Or else they haven't employed an IA at all. But someone has decided to bodge some pages about Sarah and Gordon Brown together, with no clue as to how anyone can navigate around them or get from back to where they started.
What Gordon Brown should do
People are interested in Gordon Brown. They are interested in his wife. Why not set up a proper Gordon Brown website that actually makes sense and is possible to navigate?
The Tories haven't had a good internet campaign. There was the cashgordon web fiasco, followed by an MP claiming the Tory government "will be the most tech savvy in history". He then went on to confuse open source with APIs, and crowd sourcing and cloud computing. Prior to that was the MyDavidCameron airbrushed-for-change poster site.
(I'm not saying Labour MPs are any better - Stephen Timms thinks an IP address is an Intellectual Property address and, God help us, he's the Minister for Digital Britain.)
He has a website!
Anyway, search Google for David Cameron and he has a website: www.davidcameronmp.com.
Except ... he doesn't.
If you go there, what they actually show you is the David Cameron page from the Conservative party website. In a frame. Yes, remember HTML frames? I can think of no reason to do this - other than that someone has, oddly, decided to pretend that the Conservative party website is Cameron's personal website on the davidcameronmp.com domain.
The side effects of this are that, once you leave this David Cameron page, you can't get back there using any of the links (well, you can, but you have to know where it is - the page is buried in the People section). And every page of the site appears to be on one URL, so you can't link to a specific page that you come across, share it or bookmark it.
Another side effect of this is that the favicon for the David Cameron site is that of freeparking.co.uk, a domain name registration service. Still, as the davidcameronmp HTML page doesn't declare a doc type and has a completely empty head section of the HTML, this isn't a great surprise.
He has another website!
The first thing that the David Cameron page we've just discussed tells you is, drumroll please, that he has another website at www.witneyconservatives.com.
Great! What's the latest news there? I mean, there is an election.
Apparently, Witney Conservatives are having a branch AGM on 24th Feb. Fingers really on the pulse there, guys.
So why doesn't the Witney Conservatives site appear when you search for David Cameron?
Part of the problem here is that SEO appears to be an alien topic to the Witney Conservatives. They use identical or meaningless HTML titles throughout the site and identical meta descriptions. Some basic SEO no nos there ...
And here's the most recent page from David Cameron's blog on the site. It doesn't mention the word Cameron anywhere, even in the metadata. That's right - an entire page about him that doesn't mention his name even once.
Yet another site...
There is also a Conservative blog where Cameron, among others, posts under his own name.
Here's a recent post. Again, meaningful HTML titles and remembering to set meta descriptions seem to be beyond these people, so no surprise these pages don't appear for a search on David Cameron's name (in fact, only five pages on blog.conservative.com have the word Cameron in the HTML title).
The Conservative party is actually spending money on Google PPC ads to drive traffic to these videos on Youtube. Having done this, they don't seem to moderate the comments there:
"why do the Tories keep picking ****holes as their leaders ... anyone but this Cameron f**ktard nob ... Please DO NOT vote for Toris ... They are all c***s"
Wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper to do some proper video SEO and get traffic for the main webcameron pages that way?
My advice for David Cameron
With this many sites devoted to David Cameron, he could own the first page of the results for a search for his name. But the sites are set up in such an incompetent and SEO unfriendly way that he doesn't.
So my advice is to do some proper SEO and, rather than paying for PPC ads, get that traffic for free. This could be one of the fabled efficiency savings you keep saying you can find.
OMG. Nick Clegg has a website. A real website.
Oh, hang on.
Nick Clegg: meet Nick Clegg
They are all but identical; one has the words "MP for Sheffield Hallam" highlighted and the other "Leader of the Liberal Democrats". On one, the "Policy guide" is above "Our policies", it's the other way round on the other.
But otherwise the navigation and content is pretty much the same, as are the meta descriptions and titles.
Both sites also have several prominent links that actually take you to the libdems.org.uk site, which wouldn't be so bad but it's built using the same template and colour scheme as Nick Clegg's sites.
So when you to the Lib Dem site, it looks like you're still on Nick Clegg's site. Only you can't get back to the home page ... I guess this was probably cheaper than designing a new site properly, but it's probably going to confuse most people.
On the plus side ...
Still, Google seems a bit confused by the near- identical nickclegg.org.uk and .com sites and shows both on the first page of results for a search on his name ... Maybe he's some sort of SEO ninja after all?
And he has at least embraced social media.
He has a Facebook page (5,090 fans) and a Twitter account (11,029 followers, although he's fairly upfront it's run by his web officer) Disappointingly, a cursory check of who he's followed recently suggests he'll follow anyone who follows him (including a lot of people with default Twitter avatars), so that 11,029 is fairly meaningless.
Advice for Nick Clegg
Clegg's probably got the best web presence of the three main party leaders. I'd spend a few bob changing his site so it wasn't so confusingly similar to the Lib Dem's site.
To sum up
This is supposed to be some sort of watershed digital election (despite the lameness of the parties' iPhone apps). Clearly Gordon Brown, David Cameron and, to a lesser extent, Nick Clegg have no idea what this means.
Still, they probably knew what they were doing when they passed the Digital Economy Bill. Oh, right.