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

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

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

Followed for good measure by the announcement that she has:

Posted up new blog

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

In fact, redirects via a 302 redirect to

And redirects to

(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 domain, which until a few days ago was showing a 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.Gordon Brown's "website"

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.)Sarah Brown's "website"

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?

David Cameron

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:

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 domain.

David Cameron's "Website"

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, 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

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 have the word Cameron in the HTML title).

More: webcameron

And finally, there is WebCameron. Words fail me here. I mean, would it have been SO hard to have set this up in a search-engine friendly way ...? Apparently, so. Here's what Google sees: a big fat nothing due to overreliance on dropdowns and javascript. 

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.

Nick Clegg

OMG. Nick Clegg has a website. A real website.Nick Celgg's site

Oh, hang on.

Nick Clegg has two websites, one at and one at

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 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 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.

But at least he's on Twitter. David Cameron isn't, and the Conservatives had the unofficial @davidcameron shut down. Nick Clegg also has quite a neat page.

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.


Published 9 April, 2010 by Malcolm Coles

Malcolm Coles is Director at Digital Sparkle and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also blogs at You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Comments (11)

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dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

lovely post, Malcolm. I find it all very sad. They're each spending 7-figures+ on campaigning, hundreds of thousands of hours, & really not making the most of it on the web. They're always harping on about 'learning lessons from Obama', etc, but seem to have missed the single lesson that would have helped them there: Get someone very good in & let them run the show online. On Gordon Brown's 'site': "Essentially, they've employed an idiot for an information architect. Or else they haven't employed an IA at all." I thought equally likely - heavily dictated design, to a very short deadline, by someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Very kneejerk & very late. Did you take a look at PPC results for all 3 too? Some interesting things going on there. dan

over 8 years ago


Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Dan: yes, the PPC thing is interesting. (Although the thing that made me laugh most is that, an online thai supermarket, is bidding against all their names for some reason). As you say, just getting someone good in would seem to be the best suggestion. I wonder where I send my CV ;)

Stephen: yes, they seem to me missing so many opportunities. All this stuff about it being the first digital election seems to mean only that we are talking about them online. They aren't doing anything interesting (except PPC ads for each other's names. zzzzz). 

over 8 years ago



I linked here from a article, but to be honest find your arguments to be quite weak techno-crap. The websites look fine to me, a regular non-geek internet user.

Can you show me your idea of a good website?

over 8 years ago



I think Steve has a point. And it highlights an issue that bugs me about the web industry, whatever that may be. Most people, not all, but most, don't actually give a toss about web design, frames, urls and the like. Whether they should or not is a seperate issue. But in the same way that Archer, Brown and Cartland can selll books for fun, the crappiest websites can suceed because people already know about them. They don't care that there are reasons the contents are no good. They're not fussed that "those who care" can see glaring errors. Christ, so so many of them don't know about blogs, RSS, social media and the rest. The stuff we take for granted is an ethema to them.

Despite what our little world likes to think, the UK is not as web-savy as the US. And whilst Obama did it right for "us", his model hasn't been imported over here because, whilst the parties are well and truly off the web pace, they are, to coin a phrase, wholly on-target with the majority.

All the points you make are valid, and would no doubt make the sites look better to everyone, whether or not they know why. But Mrs Jones of Abergeveney just wants to know that Davey C, and very little more than that.

over 8 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

I thought the opposite in one respect, Nik. What Steve said was "The websites look fine to me". Just as you said "the points you make are valid, and would no doubt make the sites look better to everyone". I think that's part of the problem - the focus is largely on whether things "look" right. "That looks about right (box ticked)". A better focus would be "what are we trying to do here? how can we use the web to support that? what can we measure to make sure we're on the right track & constantly improving?" then overlay the 'look' on top of that, rather than the other way round.

over 8 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

(& formatting vanished again - apologies - a little econsultancy bug?)

over 8 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Great post and love the contrasting comments. 

Steve, Nik - whilst I agree that at times the "industry" can be quick to judge and negative in its approach, there is often sound reason.

The 'Mrs Jones' you refer to may be unlikely to use the web at all for engaging with politics. She will therefore be most likely to be influenced offline.

However, if she is one of the people who want to find info online, she will struggle to find anything because the sites managed by the main political parties are poorly optimised for SEO and poorly structured to cope with visitors' browsing needs. Doesn't matter how basic the demands of the visitor, if a site is a nightmare to navigate people will leave. That is damaging at the time of an election, especially given how low voter engagement and turnout already is. Plus, as the leaders of the utopian 'digital britain' how can we trust them with our digital future when they have no concept of the basics of web management?

The UK is behind the US in social media take-up but that doesn't mean the model doesn't translate. Take a look at how major brands use social media to engage UK audiences - people are out there interacting with celebrities and companies via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn etc. However, many companies get it wrong because they don't think it through and as Dan mentions, don't have a clear strategy. Take Habitat with Twitter as an example. 

Just because these parties have a website, they can't expect people to come and find them. The masses are dis-engaged with politics, I know because I'm one of them! You have to give people a reason to listen and that means having a website that is highly visible for relevant search terms and using marketing channels like social media to grab attention and drive relevant traffic. Otherwise the vast sums of money being spent on marketing campaigns will net limited results as the online audience tunes out. Obama's campaign was a great example of how online was used to awaken and inspire a previously dormant sub-section of the population; they didn't just wake up one day and think "I use social media so I'm going to get involved with Obama online".

So I disagree - regardless of whether or not customers give a toss about the behind the scenes technical architecture of a site, they do give a toss about design. If they land on a site that's confusing and a headache to navigate, they leave. The page doesn't have to look like a Tate Modern installation but it has to work effectively.



over 8 years ago


Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

@Nik: "Most people, not all, but most, don't actually give a toss about web design, frames, urls and the like." Sure, I agree. This is an online marketing blog, though, so I was guessing the usual readership would care. 

But taking this back to basics, people are searching online for the party leaders. These search volumes are growing - and will no doubt continue to do so, fuelled by the live debates.

What the parties could do is make sure they have some well-thought out sites that communicate messages or give people something to do (donate, sign up for a newsletter, whatever).

Instead, for the reasons I gave, they've completely ballsed it up. They've partly handed over their leaders' online "brand" to the newspapers and wikipedia - these are the pages people see in their search results. And they've done an awful job for those people who do arrive at their official sites.

Cameron's page on is poor - wordy, impossible to get back to (due to the framing) with a main call to action that's to go to an even worse site. His other sites are invisible to Google searchers. With Brown, they can't even get the URL right and, again, the framing makes the site impossible to navigate.

As James says above, Mrs Jones doesn't care about 302s or frames or IA. But she's not going to care much about Cameron or Brown after arriving at their sites, as they are doing a poor job of communicating.

over 8 years ago


Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

The Labour party have fixed some of the problems with Gordon's "site". You can now click on his face to get back to his main page, and the Sarah page now has a link to Gordon's page. The Gordon Brown page still isn't on the first page of Google's results for a search on Gordon Brown, however. 

over 8 years ago


Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

@andyr That's what you'd expect to see, surely ;)

over 8 years ago


Grit Kuehle

Hi Malcom, You might be interested in a new Facebook application we’re just launching called “Float your Vote” at Float Your Vote allows individuals and brands to create their own “campaign” based on any issue, be it serious or frivolous (e.g. "Party Leaders should sort out their websites", “Extend the London Congestion Charge Zone” etc.), and then allows people to vote and comment on the campaign. The application also gives political parties the opportunity to respond to these campaigns and offer their own opinions on particular issues. As well as allowing individual Facebook users to create their own campaigns and invite their friends and political parties to comment, Float Your Vote is also a platform for commercial brands, charities, pressure groups and other activist organisations to promote and gain support for their own agendas. When an individual or organisation creates a new campaign, it appears in their Facebook newsfeed. Campaigns then spread virally as people vote and comment on them and encourage their friends to do the same. The main political parties are being invited to post their own official responses to campaigns. The application is launching featuring a number of major charities, including the NSPCC and Save the Children. Diana Sutton, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at NSPCC commenting on the application said; “We think Float Your Vote is a great way to spread the word about our “I Stand For Children” campaign, which is about getting every candidate in the upcoming general election to make child protection a top priority.” Branislava Milosevic, Head of Multimedia at Save the Children, commenting on Float Your Vote said; “We want the next government to make ending child poverty at home and abroad a priority. We’re hoping that, along with all our other activity, having our campaign on Float Your Vote will play an important role in garnering public support for our cause and influencing policy.” If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. You can find Float your Vote at Grit Grit Kuehle Float your Vote

about 8 years ago

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