The Web becomes a critical swing state in this year’s presidential election
By Kent Lewis
There is little argument that this year’s presidential election will be a close one. Both parties are fighting furiously for an edge, especially in swing states like Oregon. While George Bush and John Kerry spend a majority of their time on the road campaigning, their supporters have quietly built out significant Web sites, complete with online stores, donationand volunteer forms and even blogs. For the average voter, much of the content and features will be lost, but not to someone that makes a living online, like me. I’ve taken a close look at Bush and Kerry’s Web sites, and have cast my own vote, based on which candidate has the greatest level of Internet-savvy.
I started my research by simply conducting searches on the candidates, and keyword terms like “presidential election” to see who had the strongest presence. Visibility can be broken down into two categories: unpaid (search engine optimization or SEO) and paid placement (pay-per-click or PPC).
Search Engine Optimization: One Vote for Bush
In terms of unpaid search visibility, Bush has a greater overall presence, with the help from the US government (presidential and gubernatorial Web sites) yet he also suffers from a much higher number of opposition or parody sites (75 vs. 22 for Kerry in Yahoo!’s directory), as he’s had at least four years to make enemies while in top office. Bush’s slightly better visibility may be due in part to his Web-savvy developer’s use of META tags and a lack of splash page (ala JohnKerry.com) that search engines typically dislike.
Pay-Per-Click: One Vote for Kerry
In paid placement for relevant search terms, Kerry beats out Bush in a few categories. Kerry’s supporters (including MoveOn and Mother’s Opposing Bush) are purchasing better placement in searches than Bush and the Republicans. In addition, the term “John Kerry” is generating a higher cost-per-click (CPC) than “George Bush,” which is attributed to a greater number of searches. Neither candidate is purchasing the opponent’s name, which may be a restriction imposed by the search engines especially for elections.
Web Site Design: One Vote for Kerry
Once I had a good feeling for each candidate’s visibility, I spent some time on their Web sites. The first thing I noticed was that the Web sites are nearly identical. While good ideas are typically plagiarized on the Web, I’ve rarely seen such blatant homogenization. Design, layout, content and functionality are so similar that it’s difficult to differentiate the candidates. To the discerning eye, Kerry’s site may appear to be more professional in terms of clean imagery, font and copy.
When it comes to content, the only slight difference is that Kerry asks for visitors to register on a splash page, before entering the site. It’s not required, but lazy or uninformed people may feel obligated, which could be a put-off. While this strategy may hurt overall usability and visibility in search engines, it is very effective at generating possible volunteers, donors or voters. In addition, the splash screen does not appear after the first visit.
From a usability perspective, Kerry’s site has less clutter (one less column of content, cleaner navigation and architecture and more clearly defined calls to action. Kerry’s site appears to be both deep in content and have a breadth across interests and needs. The Bush site, while similar, does not do quite as an effective job pulling people into deeper content from the home page.
So the count is in, and Kerry wins by a 2 to 1 margin. Both deserve kudos, as far as I’m concerned, for taking the Web seriously, and building sites that are rich with useful content. Regardless of which way you do vote, remember the Internet is a boundless resource for information on the issues that matter to you. So do your research and be sure to get away from your computer on November 2nd and into a voting booth near you.