General Election 2010: Party Campaign Websites Analysis (Part 1)

By Matt Cornock

This is the first of an impartial three part analysis of the campaign websites for the UK General Election 2010. The party sites looked at will be Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. This first analysis looks at general impressions of the party campaign homepage, the type of content available and key layouts. The second analysis will focus on usability more closely, in particular the manifesto page. The final analysis will look at the accessibility of the campaign websites and I can tell you now, that whilst the parties claim in their accessibility statements to comply to WCAG guidelines, I can assure you this is not the case (there are some epic fails on the way).

See also: Part 2 (Manifesto) and Part 3 (Accessibility)

Web site addresses

This analysis was conducted between 9pm – 10.30pm on 18th April 2010. Viewed using IE7 and FireFox 3.6, on a 1280×1024 screen (pretty standard to be honest).

Initial thoughts

Labour

  • Clear, bold text. Plenty of space. Easy to read.
  • Far too much content for one page.
  • Modern(ish) in layout style.
  • Mismatch in colouring (bit bland, grey background boring), some background alignment problems (header doesn’t have side gradients).
  • Rainbow navigation colours at bottom of page for policies isn’t very sophisticated.

Lib Dems

  • Fastest loading, but hold on it’s only a splash page! These went out in 1999.
  • Bulk of splash page goes straight to the manifesto page (good as this is what voters need).
  • Enter ‘libdems.org.uk’ goes to homepage (which is what the rest of this analysis is based on).
  • Double-line main header navigation is not to clever.
  • Modern scrolling banner.

Conservatives

  • Quite possibly the slowest web server in history, or the bulkiest page to load.
  • Very visual and natural photo for the main part of the page (however having Cameron check out Gary Barlow’s bottom probably isn’t the best image).
  • Clicking ‘manifesto’ link takes users to a very text heavy page which looks very different from the main homepage.
  • Most modern style homepage.

Key navigation elements

Labour

  • Located between page header and main content of site.
  • Links: Home, Inside the Campaign (would be better named as ‘blog’), Our policies [drop down menu], Our people [drop down menu], Support us [drop down menu], Membersnet [link to party members site but has no link back to campaign site], Follow on facebook, twitter and via RSS.
  • No site search.

Lib Dems

  • Top of page, part of the site header.
  • Two lines, top line appears to be party admin: Conference, Debate, Join us, Media centre, Members (confusingly highlighted).
  • Bottom ‘main’ line for the campaign: Home (highlighted), What we stand for, Who we are, Get involved, Our campaigns, News, Manifesto (highlighted in yellow).
  • Link to NickClegg.com.
  • Site search available.

Conservatives

  • Top of the page, small font and hover underline not that pretty
  • Links: Policy, Manifesto, People, News, Blue Blog, Video, Campaigns, Get Involved, Shop, Donate.
  • Site search available.

Page elements

Labour

  • Main above the fold element contains links to the manifesto and YouTube videos. However, the clunky right-side navigation for this significant element lets it down. The user needs multiple clicks of the down (or up) arrow to see the different topics and content available. No one is likely to scroll through these and click to see what’s on offer, so a lot of content is hidden and hence wasted.
  • The news section is just above the fold and invites users to scroll down and view it. It is well laid out with a main story and three headlines next to it. There is good structure with plenty of white space.
  • The other main block crossing the fold is for ‘Volunteer, Donate, Join, Campaign News (email signup)’.
  • ‘Inside the campaign’ is the somewhat cryptically titled blog.
  • There is a random prospective candidate.
  • Postcode based Labour candidate finder.
  • Labour’s Facebook page.
  • Labour on Twitter.
  • Gordon Brown’s latest Flickr photos.
  • Finally, clear navigation to different policy areas next to a celeb supporting YouTube video, and a donation comments reel.
  • The site has a typically modern, large footer with key links to specific landing pages.

Lib Dems

  • Modern large scrolling banner, taking up no more than 1/3 page height allowing for use of the rest of the page above the fold for other content.
  • Three column (traditional) layout.
  • Left column titled ‘What we stand for’ with links to: Manifesto (highlighted), Environment, Economy, Health, Law and order, Education, Transport.
  • Right column has an email sign up, local party postcode search, volunteer, donate, join and renew membership.
  • Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are linked at the bottom of the right column.
  • Central column contains a five headline news block (campaign trail) with tab to media centre (non-voter oriented media press releases).
  • There is a large area just above the fold dedicated to ‘Register to vote’ but doesn’t outrightly say vote for Lib Dem.
  • Finally, a random selection of Lib Dems though it is not obviously random so you could be thinking they are the key people. There is a link to local Lib Dem candidates.
  • At the bottom of the page is a standard, non-campaign based footer.

 Conservatives

  • Main above fold element is a multimedia panel which can change on selection of one of five topic links on the right.
  • The multimedia panel changes from banner/image to YouTube player if ‘watch video’ is selected.
  • There is a single line latest Twitter update, with links to six other web 2.0 tools including an iPhone ap.
  • Just above fold and enticing user to scroll is ‘What we stand for’ block clearly identifying five policies.
  • Keep up to date and donate are the two other blocks viewable just above the fold.
  • Facebook iframe of the fan page content.
  • ‘MyConservatives’ campaign network block.
  • Blue Blog block, clearly laid out.
  • Policies block with shadow minsters highlighted.
  • Good graphic image for the ‘Stop the Job Tax’ campaign.
  • Postcode search for candidate.
  • Finally, a very large footer with far too many site-wide links.

Content position

Labour

  • Nav bar at the top is clear and not overloaded.
  • The main part of the page above the fold is wasted however. There is little content of value immediately available (see comments about navigating the media panel).
  • The video content is good. Sometimes a text-equivalent is more quickly digested however.
  • For prospective voters, the most important content is actually lurking at the bottom of the page: the separate policies links and the vision videos. The policies links themselves are still not clearly defined.
  • The news is in the right place and appears just above the fold to invite users to scroll down. However the ‘volunteer and donate’ options don’t appeal to undecided prospective voters.
  • Labour in your area and ‘meet the candidates’ is more appealing so should be more prominent.
  • Web 2.0: The flickr stream of Gordon Brown photos is more than a little cringeworthy. It is a prime example of the web 2.0 overuse that seems prevalent here. The emphasis should be on quality of content, rather than just trying to get a presence on as many channels as possible.
  • Labour on facebook is good, it is a simple tool rather than an overload of duplicate content.
  • As is having only the very lastest tweet from Twitter.
  • The site blog is actually a little hidden, and probably needs more editorial control over what is published to ensure the ‘people’ posting are posting relevant campaign material and also that the style of text appears honest and blog-like rather than a polished speech.

Lib Dems

  • Nav bar at the top is cluttered by the top generic line (used for party admin). However the main campaign navigation is clear and relevant to the user.
  • The top banner lacks content. Instead, it is a glorified link to the manifesto, tv debate and has ‘register to vote’ appear third appearing almost as if that’s the most important policy. When this third banner comes along, nearly 50% of the homepage is then dedicated to encouraging people to register to vote.
  • The homepage lacks any single line of text which demonstrates the party’s manifesto, pledges or campaigns. Though it does have good links out to key policy areas. This is by far the biggest weakness of the homepage.
  • The fourth banner on the scroller says ‘be part of it’, however the rest of the page doesn’t say what ‘it’ is.
  • The photos used in the banner are all of Nick Clegg (two of the four have him raised above the crowd on a soapbox).
  • If using a random selection of Lib Dem party people, then choose one and provide a clear profile with a ‘more’ link suggesting that this is a random selection.
  • The ‘what we stand for’ column could be better used to give one line summaries. E.g. their ‘education’ link says ‘cutting class sizes and scrapping tuition fees’ but the environment link (at the top) has a more uncommitted  ‘making real commitments to stop climate change’.

Conservatives

  • The nav bar at the top has small text, but uses single words which is good. However, in doing so there are too many links, it should be instead: Home, Manifesto, People, News, Blog. Everything else fits within the other categories or in other parts of the homepage.
  • The main part of the page (above the fold) is dedicated to the changing content box. The current item is indicated by change in background on the right menu. This main space is not used to convey anything meaningful, but to link out to other pages with more detail (after loading a large image). This is clearer than the Labour multimedia panel, but far slower to load.
  • The policies block just on the fold and below is good. It outlines the key points in a click-reveal style. Though the text is a bit small on the policy detail.
  • Blog post block is good and appears current. However ‘Blue Blog’ gives the impression it’s a blog about feeling down.
  • The headlines could have been enlarged instead of the datestamp.
  • One of the key campaign points (stop the job tax) is lost at the bottom left of the page, and the thing most relevant to prospective voters, the find your local candidate, is again lost at the bottom of the page.
  • The facebook block does not achieve much. It’s set in an iframe requiring extra scrolling to see any content of value. Better to put a simple list of content available, rather than iframe.
  • The ‘start campaigning’ block identifies itself as a network, but doesn’t suggest content of interest, just a call to ‘join’.
  • The photos block has no contextual information and as such is meaningless.
  • Policies block allows selective focus on a particular issue, whilst linking out to policies of interest to potential voters.

Technical

FireFox 3.6 Web Developer Toolbar was used to show errors. The W3C.org Markup Validator was also used.

Labour

  • Failed to validate W3C due to non utf8 character being present.
  • CSS code not fully parsed.
  • Faulty CSS from Facebook site.
  • Javascript error from carosel.js.

Lib Dems

  • Splashpage and homepage both successfully validated as XHTML 1.0 Strict by W3C.
  • No javascript or CSS errors.

Conservatives

  • Errors from W3C whilst validating as XHTML 1.0 Transition (character encoding mismatch, DTD case, plus errors in XHTML nesting and lack of alt attribute on an image).
  • Multiple Javascript errors, including Facebook related.
  • Faulty CSS, including failed background image URL and import Facebook related.

Overview

All parties seem keen on getting donations and involving more users in the party itself. However, the main aim for these sites should be to identify what their policies are, and what makes them different from the competing parties. The sites are not addressing clearly enough the users they should be focussing energies on. A blog on the whereabouts of the leader is good, but shouldn’t be prioritised over clear, plain english links to the party policies. There is also a little too much emphasis across the board on the leader, and not on the local. We vote, after all, on a local candidate, not presidentially.

All parties are using a lot of screen space above the fold for large images. Whilst this does look good, it is important to ensure these images are selected carefully. They should convey a policy, a commitment and a sense of personality. They need to be natural, not staged, and they need to connect with the intended user. Above all, they need to relate to the content they are trying to reflect.

The Lib Dem homepage is weakest on content. There is virtually nothing which suggests the policies in detail. The Tory homepage is the most clear and practical in terms of outlining the key messages, but falls apart as you go into the main part of the site where text-heavy, small font pages are incredibly indigestible by the average web user. The Labour homepage tries to incorporate too much ‘web 2.0’ and the ‘swish’ navigational mechanism for the main part of the page is just not user friendly and doesn’t make content easily viewable. The policies are also hidden right at the bottom of the page are still a little vague.

In the next two parts we’ll see how well the parties convey their manifesto through dedicated manifesto pages, and how well they stick to an accessible and inclusive agenda.

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