Election 2016: Rating the Candidate’s Websites

Posted Kirill Ougarov Internet

While plenty of comparing has been done with the positions of the four candidates running for president, I’ve yet to see a comparison of their websites. So I decided to do one myself.

I looked at the sites objectively, with no weight given to the cadindates’ policies or my personal preferences, beyond my professional experience as a website person (I realize this is hard for many people in today’s media). To ensure fairness, I turned off Ghostery (my ad and tracker blocker) and repeatedly loaded all sites in fresh incognito windows for both desktop and mobile versions.

I ranked them from best to worst in terms of how good of a job I felt it does of selling the candidate:

1. Donald Trump

trump-desktop-site

Whoever designed Trump’s site really know what they’re doing. The first thing you see is a huge American flag, and the first word you see is “America.” That’s followed by a photo of the ticket looking at something with a look of satisfaction that usually comes from a job well done. Even if your eyes go right past the Call-to-Action box (Call-to-Action or CTA is the ‘technical’ term for the big buttons everyone wants you to click on), the first sentence you see is “It’s a very exciting time for America,” which is a pretty good hook. It’s followed by a message paragraph in which the first pronoun is “you” and the only other pronoun used is “we,” which appears four times, each time preceded by “Together.” It’s a strong, positive, and inclusive message, but most importantly, it’s above the fold. Even people that don’t scroll further will see it.

trump-mobile-siteBack to the CTA box. The left-side positioning and plentiful white space ensures almost all visitors will see it because we read left to right (and even people whose native language reads right to left, such as Hebrew or Arabic, will expect to read an American candidate’s website left-to-right), and thus will see the “America is Back” headline and probably the “I am your voice” subhead. Either way, this too is an inclusive and positive message. Likewise, it will convert well with existing supporters thanks to the clear, large CTA button.

Below the CTA box and message is an email ask with a clear description, and a CTA button in a different color from the Contribute one, which signals to a reader that this is a different ask. The “I’m in” text is an attempt to close the sale, which may be a bit premature, but may also be effective at converting people hooked by the message.

The nav is simple and clear. The logo has the names of both members of the ticket and the campaign slogan. Both the main and secondary nav start empathize the issues rather than the candidates themselves, presuming that the user already knows who Donald Trump is. There’s a dropdown menu under positions, which effectively highlights the ones considered the most important by the campaign. The “Register to Vote” bar at the top is a good value add, but should open a new tab instead of opening in the existing one.

Not much is different on the mobile site, where the CTA box consumes most of the real estate. The first words are, again, “America is Back.” The start of the message appears above the fold on larger phones, but gets cut off on older or smaller ones like the iPhone5. It’s not particularly strong, but it’s not weak either.

Unrelated to the design, but notable nevertheless, is that Trump is the only one of the four candidates without a Spanish-language site. But he’s also the only one with a “register to vote” link.

Overall: If you’re at all unsure as to who you’re going to vote for and haven’t written off Trum, the site will at least get you to click around a little bit and learn more about his positions. www.donaldjtrump.com

2. Jill Stein

stein-desktop-site

Stein has a good effort of a site considering her limited resources. The flipper could be better — the title of the first story, which opens the site, is “here’s how to get Jill into the debate,” which would be better placed towards the end, after the ticket has been introduced, since both Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, are relative unknowns. Color choices are appropriate for the Green party, but the CTA buttons could use some variety (the large donate button could be the same shade of yellow as small one in the top left) and the email ask looks a bit off on mobile.

stein-mobile-site

The nav is smartly laid out, starting with an introduction of the ticket before going into the issues, though I’d probably reverse the two.

Like Trump, Stein has a positive and unifying message, using the word “our” three times in the concluding paragraph of her primary message (which is pushed entirely below the fold on mobile). There is no mention of the competition, and minimal mention of her. The message would be stronger if she took out the “people, planet, and peace over profit” line, which won’t flip anyone that’s not already voting Green because it sounds vaguely Communist. Americans don’t mind the concept of profits or even making profit a large priority, so I think it would be better for her to focus on the people power/anti-corruption angle. Also, “People, Planet, Peace” sounds like a pretty solid slogan, which Stein doesn’t appear to have.

Design-wise, the area below the fold is about as stimulating to the eyes as a plain kale salad to the tongue (sorry, couldn’t help myself). I’m not huge on the choice of font, either. All italics just isn’t necessary. Additionally, the logo is missing the running mate’s name despite him featuring fairly prominently on the site..

Overall: A good effort in need of some spice and polish. www.jill2016.com/

3. Gary Johnson

johnson-desktop-site

Johnson’s site gets third due to sucking at using headers. The desktop version uses a video of Gary Johnson Doing Things that is distracting at best. It can’t be paused, but even worse,  there’s no sound. At all. It’s a silent film. And the email ask box covers part of it, which just makes the entire experience more obnoxious. He’s also asking for social media support a bit too early.

johnson-mobile-siteThe mobile site is a better effort than the desktop version at a baseline level because it dispenses with the distracting video. Unfortunately, it’s replaced by a bland header image with a gray background that looks more appropriate for a personal injury law firm than a presidential candidate.

Below the video/header image is a push to get people to sign a petition to get Johnson into the upcoming debates, but the use of two different colors gives the element the appearance that it’s comprised of two separate items.

Further down is a “poll report,” which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but 10% doesn’t look good or shout “this guy can win.” I wouldn’t have poll numbers up on my site if I was any of the candidates – polls for the two major candidates are too close to call, while the two minor candidates, of which Johnson is one, still don’t have much of a chance. Additionally, there are also too many CTAs above the fold and all use the same color, so nothing in particular stands out.

There no slogan, nor much of a message other than “we’re two-term governors.” You have to go to the issues page to get any idea of what the Johnson ticket is about, but nothing about the homepage gives you a reason to do so. Despite this, the contribute box features silly amounts of $250 and $1500. And if you go far enough, you get to a social media wall that gives the entire project a “vanity run” feel by splashing Johnson’s less-than-photogenic face all over the place.

Overall: Confusing and unclear, this site couldn’t sell water to a man that’s dying of thirst. But it doesn’t directly harm its candidate either.  www.johnsonweld.com

4. Hillary Clinton

hillary-deskto-site-popup

The Hillary Clinton experience begins with a popup that starts with “Donald Trump.” That’s right, the first two words a first-time visitor to hillaryclinton.com will see are “Donald Trump.” This is followed by an unsubstantiated (by the popup) claim – temperamentally unfit – that almost begs to be researched (the first result on Google for “donald trump unfit” is a Slate article titled “Donald Trump is unfit to be president. Here are 191 reasons why.” 191 is entirely too many bullets for a ‘Powerpoint’ and they may well end up going to Trump’s much-better site instead).  The “I Agree” CTA seems to exist purely for virtue signaling purposes, since that’s not going to flip anyone that wasn’t already #NeverTrump, at least not until after they research him (if someone can think of another reason for its existence, please share). On mobile, the popup eats about half of the real estate. At least on desktop, you can see several stories behind it. On desktop, you only get to see the top headline.

hillary-mobile-site-popup

This pop-up would be fine on a site like trumpisunfit.com, but this isn’t that site – it’s hillaryclinton.com and should be selling Hillary Clinton, not trying to, erm, un-sell Donald Trump.

Once you close the pop-up, you land on a design that looks like a children-oriented version of vox.com. Even the headlines look straight out of Vox or Slate. The featured story, titled “Find out how much Hillary’s college plan will save you” is narrowly aimed at college students and their parents. While a significant issue for people who meet the description, most are not college students or parents thereof. Anyone who isn’t directly affected will skip right past the primary story. The secondary story about her work with kids may hook people, however. Below this story is the contribute box, which gets lost among the content and looks vaguely like an ad.

Despite having a fairly strong lead photo, the third story on the bottom, “112 reasons Hillary Clinton should be our next…,” falls victim to the same “too many bullets for a Powerpoint” problem as the aforementioned Slate article. One of the articles uses an unflattering photo of her in one of her designer Mao suits (I don’t know what else to call it) and Tim Kaine looking creepy. A similar photo, albeit with Clinton wearing a pantsuit instead (a much better look), appears immediately below the fold, next to the email ask, which is about…Donald Trump. There’s a much better photo of her looking strong and confident while standing behind a podium further down, but not everyone scrolls that far.

hillary-desktop-site

The first link in the nav is “About,” as if nobody knows who Hillary Clinton is. It’s followed by “act,” which, by coming before “issues,” assumes that you’ve already been convinced by the about page, or were already a supporter.

Strangest of all, there’s no message. None. There isn’t even a slogan. It’s obvious she doesn’t like Donald Trump, and she seems to like children and college students, but that’s all I can glean without going to the issues page, which has 39 entries versus Trump’s nine, Stein’s 12, and Johnson’s 14 (and more than all three combined). Once again, too many bullet points.

Overall: This is a news site in design and spirit, rather than a marketing site selling a candidate. The initial popup feels like the most persuasive element, but it persuades the user to research Clinton’s opponent instead of her. www.hillaryclinton.com

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