THE BLOG
10/14/2016 12:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Marketers Can Learn from the Presidential Candidates' Websites

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Taz Lake, Founder of Brightmill

The 2016 election season is in full swing, and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are all vying to become the 45th President of the United States. Today’s election campaigns are complex marketing organizations, and like most of today’s marketers, the campaigns have created informational websites to connect and communicate with their target audience. These websites are used to market a product (in this case, the candidates) and generate revenue (in this case, donations).

As the founder of a website analysis agency, I thought it would be interesting to perform an objective review of each campaign website. How are these websites performing, and are there any lessons that apply to commercial websites? As it turns out, the presidential campaign websites exhibited many of the same problems we find in commercial websites. Here are the key issues we found:

1. Slow Page Speed – It doesn’t matter how compelling your messages are if they do not reach your audience. Website visitors expect a certain level of performance from the pages they visit, and they are likely to leave pages that do not appear in a certain timeframe. Every second a visitor has to wait for a page to load increases the likelihood they will leave. According to Kissmetrics, 40 percent of visitors will leave a website if the loading process takes more than 3 seconds. For e-commerce websites, slow pages translate directly into lost sales.

Jill Stein’s website (Jill2016.com) performed the worst in our Page Speed tests. This appears mostly due to her campaign’s use of large images on the home page. Using unnecessarily large images or even background videos is a very common mistake with website developers. According to Akamai, the average website has 60 images and 63 percent of the page weight comes from these images. Jill Stein’s website is below average in this regard as 76 percent reduction could be attained on the home page by optimizing 5 images. It is important to provide visitors with a dynamic, image rich experience, but this needs to be done in a responsible manner. Be sure to optimize image size and resolution to deliver the highest quality image at the smallest file size for best performance.

Hillary Clinton’s website (Hillaryclinton.com met our standard for page speed, but it could have performed better. The website doesn’t use caching and some expires headers are set to 5 minutes which can cause unnecessary requests to the website. Browser caching and expire headers are used to reduce the number of HTTP requests to the main servers, which improves the performance for returning visitors.

2. Lack of Accessibility – Every campaign and every business should cast a wide net, and their websites should be designed to reach the largest audience possible. Website creators should analyze their target audience and remove any barriers to the transfer of information to that audience. We found two glaring issues with this in the presidential campaign websites.

First, DonaldJTrump.com and JohnsonWeld.com do not have a Spanish language translation of their sites. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, there are more than 27 million eligible Spanish-speaking voters in the U.S. That is a significant segment of the electorate. Providing the appropriate language support is a relatively simple process with the right content management system in place.

Websites should also make every effort to extend access to people with disabilities. JohnsonWeld.com and Jill2016.com did not meet the standard for Alternative Text.Alternative Text (or “ALT Text”) is used by text readers, particularly the visually impaired. It is a word or phrase that tells website visitors the nature or contents of an image.

3. Security Holes – The campaign websites we reviewed are all highly interactive. They deliver campaign messages and news, and also request information and donations from their visitors. Any time you request personal information from your viewers, you must make every effort to protect it.

Our examination of Jill2016.com revealed some serious security concerns.For example, it does not use SSL on the main site. SSL is a standard technology for sending data on the Internet in a secure fashion. When supporters enter their information, their data isn’t being protected during transit.

The implementation of a third party solution for capturing leads also caused Jill Stein’s website to report as unsafe due to phishing on some of our tools.Phishing is a common way for malicious sites to steal your personal information. Some users may receive this warning when visiting her site, even though it is a false positive from our perspective.

As you can see, despite their best efforts, all of the major candidates have some issues with their websites. These problems are quite common and can be easily diagnosed through proper website analysis. Website analysis is an important part of the website development and maintenance process. It can set a baseline for website performance and identify any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in its infrastructure. At the end of the day, the goal is to provide the website visitor with an optimal experience. That cannot be achieved without an effective and vigilant website analysis program.

Note: This analysis was performed during mid-September 2016 for a subset of pages on each candidate’s website.  No destructive testing occurred.

About the Author

Taz Lake is the Founder and CEO of Brightmill where he uses his expertise in program management, system implementation, architecture, and interface design and integration to help clients improve their websites. Taz has previously served in leadership and technical roles at McKesson, ARRIS, and MCI.  He has also served as an Adjunct Professor in Georgia State University’s Computer Information Systems department and at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Taz can be reached via email at taz@brightmill.com.