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On October 7, 2003 the much-anticipated California Recall will take place. Opponents of the current Governor Gray Davis have successfully advocated this drastic measure, and are now gearing up in a bid to replace him. UsabilityReviews.com took a closer look at the web sites of some of the major candidates.
Web Site Optimizer Nardo Kuitert evaluated the user-friendliness of the campaign sites and concluded that their effectiveness could be significantly improved. Online campaigning is an important tool, allowing candidates to create awareness, register voters, recruit volunteers and raise funds. What a shame, therefore, that the contenders do not use this tool to its full potential! Feedback from a site editor could maximize the impact of their message.
We all know too many web sites that just don't get it, but unfortunately many organizations think that their own site is "just fine". The findings don't just apply to the web sites in this review: many organizations would benefit from a web site editor's feedback.
These are just a few of the pitfalls that Nardo could have helped to avoid:
1. Minimize loading time. All the homepages reviewed downloaded too slowly. A political campaign should reach as wide an audience as possible. The reality is that not everyone has a high-speed connection. Yet, surely anyone who makes an effort to visit your site deserves a decent waiting time!
2. Mind the details. The Internet offers a fast paced environment, where everything is only a click away. When visitors get annoyed, they will be quick to click away to another site. Then why are some of these campaign designs only just too wide for an 800x600 screen resolution? This quality control oversight forces a huge chunk of the visitors to scroll horizontally, which most users truly hate to do. True, 1024-pixel-wide browser windows may be the most frequently used resolution, but at 45% the 800x600 resolution still makes a very strong second. (view screenshot)
It is hard to believe that this problem is so common, but it is. It even made usability authority Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten Web-Design Mistakes of 2002, who comes across many sites "optimized for 805-pixel-wide browser windows."
Another common problem: many users prefer to change the font size if necessary. Tiny text might be too small for people over 40. It may be illegible on a large screen. Some fonts may be too big to read comfortably. Unfortunately only Peter Camejo's site allows me to change it.
3. Be consistent. People have to learn how to use your site; so don't change the rules halfway. Nardo found sites that changed the navigation on some of the inner pages. Sometimes the navigation menu disappeared altogether, leaving visitors only a "home" button to start their online journey all over again! Inconsistent labeling was also found: if you call something "register to vote" at one place you shouldn't refer to it by just "vote" somewhere else. Or change "news room" into "press room". Don't make me think! (view screenshot)
4. Español? More and more Hispanic people enter the Internet. Most candidates miss out on a great opportunity to connect with this large voter group by offering them pages in their own language. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Camejo have clear options in Spanish. Even Cruz Bustamante, the first Hispanic elected speaker of the Assembly, passes over this crucial opportunity to gain sympathy. (View screenshot)
5. Offer tempting links.
Hyperlinks are the fuel of the Internet. Typically, surfers will click
on any hyperlink that looks even remotely interesting. Yet many of
the sites visited don't offer any hyperlinks in their content. Others
do, but the pale blue hyperlinks are not underlined and can hardly
be distinguished from the rest of the text.
6. Here! Here! Here! Web sites are interactive media. Visitors can decide where to go, and when. But by designing the right incentives and placing the right emphasis designers are able to direct visitors to the desired destinations. Buy! Contact us! Subscribe to our newsletter!
Unfortunately many of these campaign sites do a poor job at this. Some have no incentives at all, and let user struggle through the options that the main navigation offer. It is especially annoying when destination pages from the main navigation are designed like a site map: pages with just links, without any explanation or motivating content. Gray Davis' site has such pages, e.g. for "Background" or "Communities". (view screenshot)
Others have too many options, so visitors won't be able to see the forest for the trees. Or they have an abundance of styles, color, fonts and images. This makes the page look less professional and less focused: "when you emphasize everything, you loose all emphasis".
7. Communicate! Politics is about issues, and the Internet is a communications tool. Then why are the issues so hard to find on many campaign sites? The sites of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom McClintock and Peter Camejo clearly present their opinions on current issues. Tom McClintock's site very effectively uses Flash to attract attention: the mini movie clearly states his views, with hyperlinks to more information once the movie is finished. (View screenshot)
On the other sites the issues are much harder to find. Even the "No Recall" site of Governor Davis could stake its claim much clearer. The top page image saying "No recall - Californians against the costly recall" might easily be overseen because people mistake it for advertising (a phenomenon referred to as "banner blindness"). Why doesn't this site state front and center what the negative consequences will be of a recall, and which accomplishments of Governor Davis the voters might have overseen? The pay-off of this focused message could be enormous. For if there is no majority on October 7 asking for the replacement of Davis, the other candidates just don't matter.
8. Choose your domain name wisely. Your domain name is like a business card. Cruz Bustamante's site is clearly showing the problem his team has with their message: "vote no for the recall, but don't forget to vote for me should you decide to vote to recall Governor Davis". www.noonrecallyesonbustamante.com makes a great scrabble word, but is utterly unwielding. His team seems to have realized this: they created a new site www.choosecruz.com. (View screenshot)
The "No Recall" site (www.no-recall.com) has another major problem. The domain name is too much like the in 2000 registered name www.norecall.com (without the hyphen). This site belongs to the Antelope Valley Republican Party. It might have been better if Democrat Gray Davis' team had decided on another name for their web site. (View screenshot)
I did notice that Arianna Huffington has both www.votearianna.com as www.voteariana.com pointing at her site. Well done!
9. Have clear contact information easily accessible. Web sites often make it hard to find contact information, and the campaign sites don't do much better. Do those organizations have something to hide? Arnold Schwarzenegger's site has a contact us link in the main navigation. Unfortunately it only brings up an email address; no phone number or mailing address. Cruz Bustamante's site doesn't seem to have any contact information at all. Some of the other sites either lack a phone number or email address. Tom McClintock's site however has full contact information, with even a link to the webmaster. (View screenshot)
Make sure that your contact information is complete, and easy to find. Isn't that one of the main purposes of a web site: to connect?
10. Design for the stupid. Don't assume your online visitors know your site or organization as well as you do. Bustamante's site has a big banner (with irritating blinking chevrons) saying "Help Cruz". Some people might think he is promoting someone else here: a Mr. Cruz. Not everyone will know his first name, even when he is a public figure. Unless, of course, you're called Ahhnold
11. Call to action. What good are page views to you if the web site visitor hasn't done anything but browsing? Offering just a few clear executable options will increase your success ratio. Arnold Schwarzenegger's site has clear calls to action: Contribute! Volunteer! Register to vote! Other sites have their messages in place, but much less obvious. Some might be lost in the design, or there is too little focus on these main interaction opportunities. (View screenshot)
12. Learn from your competition. According to an Informationweek article of August 25, 2003 (link opens in a news window) Peter Ueberroth's site was the best. One of the reasons given was that his site uses a feature called Meetup, which allows supporters to organize meetings. In my research two weeks later two other sites are using this tool: Arnold Schwarzenegger's www.joinarnold.com and Gray Davis' www.no-recall.com. Another week later Arianna Huffington's homepage announces the use of a similar tool: Rendezvous. Maybe these sites were overlooked by Informationweek's article, but possibly they just watched their competition very closely - and learned.
Pablo Picasso already said it:
No, the Californian campaign sites don't have to be recalled. But they could certainly be improved upon. Writers won't publish their work unless it has been edited. Web designers can benefit immensely from a web site editor: a heuristic review or another form of help from a usability expert will definitely increase a web site's effectiveness.
Easy to use web sites are not a matter of large budgets. It's about creating cost-effective marketing and conveying the right message. Determining what you expect from the web site, and gearing everything towards that goal. If you add human online behavior (usability) to the equation you have a powerful recipe for synergy and a better result than you dreamed possible.
NOTE: the web sites reviewed for this article are
(in alphabetical order): www.gray-davis.com, www.joinarnold.com, www.no-recall.com
*, www.noonrecallyesonbustamante.com, www.peterforgovernor.com *,
www.tommcclintock.com, www.votearianna.com, and www.votecamejo.org.
The later added www.choosecruz.com * has not been reviewed.
NOTE (2): We just learned that
Peter Ueberroth will no longer run for Governor. His site has been
reduced to one page. (View
screenshot)(LARGE file: 97kb - approx. 18 sec.
on 56.6k modem)
NOTE (3): Some of these political campaign sites may have been closed since the elections. We will disable the link once we learn of a dead link. Tell us about them if you find a dead link before we do.
Nardo Kuitert is a Web Site Optimizer with UsabilityReviews.com, a service provided by Ontario Web Site Optimization firm U-C WEBS. U-C WEBS helps web designers creating user-friendly web sites, and reviews existing web sites of organizations large and small. Its low-end service is a Quick & Dirty Homepage Review. More in-depth expert reviews like the Homepage Scorecard consist of 112-point inspections.
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