General Election 2015: Why are political parties making a hash of SEO strategy?

This article is one of a series from global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi assessing key aspects of the main political parties’ digital strategies in the run up to the General Election.

Nick Clegg's 'I'm Sorry' video

SEO lies at the foundation of all healthy digital strategies, says DigitasLBi search strategist Glynn Davies, and needn’t be all that hard. So why are the political parties making such a hash of it?

Nobody, as far as we are aware, has ever suggested that SEO wins elections. But then again, it would be foolish to deny that good search can help. Any party attempting to do anything in digital needs its search to be doing a reasonable job of the basics, and if any of this year’s contenders were to come to us as clients – well, let’s say we’d find plenty to get our teeth into.

It must be said that search isn’t like social; you can only really see what any given organisation is doing up to a point. But one thing we can say about the political parties is that virtually every basic optimisation they could be doing either isn’t being done, or could be done a good deal better.

Page titles aren’t being taken care of properly; structured data and Open Graph is often omitted; a couple of parties are still in denial about mobile SEO, and let’s not even start on meta descriptions. What’s more, most of the parties have failed to appreciate that official blog content can do a lot to help you own your soundbites – or those of your opponents.

Perhaps the parties have judged that there isn’t a great, steady stream of search traffic relating to policy, and concluded that good SEO isn’t worth the trouble or cost. But then again, big, well-publicised events such as manifesto launches and televised debates clearly generate large spikes in inward queries that no party can afford to fumble.

We had a crawl around the sites of the seven key parties and this is what we found.

Conservatives

The Conservatives make as many basic site optimisation errors as any of their rivals (pitiful page titles, missing meta descriptions), though they have scored some reasonable ranking success – especially when it comes to 'owning' soundbites. At the time of writing, they’re outdoing the official Parliament website by scoring number one in Google for 'how to become an MP', and also held a respectable position in Google for the coalition mantra 'we’re all in this together'. The result is for a rather fetching A1 poster, for sale via their online shop. Interestingly, they’re halfway down the first page of results for 'big society', though they get in via the back door to top-three positions on account of a couple of gov.uk results.

Labour

Labour’s SEO rankings in general looks suspiciously poor – which is surprising given their well-publicised relationship with Blue State Digital. We can probably put a lot of this down to an apparently botched site migration last year, in which they have been stingy with the redirects and consequently lost a great deal of SEO heritage. Within weeks, their SEO performance went through the floor, and though it gradually recovered as the election approached, there’s no way of knowing how much better they could be doing.

Liberal Democrats

Amusingly, Nick Clegg’s Knowledge Graph result lists a credit for I’m Sorry, the Auto-Tuned viral hit song mashed up in 2012 from Clegg’s video apology for the Lib Dems’ broken promise not to raise tuition fees. The Lib Dems, in common with UKIP have some nasty looking URLs but do at least put them in a discoverable Sitemap.

Green Party

The Greens, along with UKIP, are the only party making any use of Open Graph data, enriching and providing a measure of editorial control over their social shares. With every party desperate to drive shares, that’s a pretty major omission on the part of the big guns, and an easy thing to get right.

Plaid Cymru

The otherwise ambitious Welsh nationalists are no better and arguably a bit worse than their rivals where SEO is concerned: no mobile site, no structured data, no XML Sitemap and some ropey page titles, never mind anything cleverer.

SNP

The SNP’s website, while no star performer (like their Welsh counterparts they’re braving a brush with Mobilegeddon), does at least have some decent page titles. It seems remarkable that even the big parties aren’t getting this basic optimisation right, but with the exception of parts of the Labour site, they’re not.

UKIP

Remarkably UKIP are around the top of page 2 in Google for “gold silk tie”, beating John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams, and other arguably better-known purveyors of ties. In fact, UKIP aren’t too bad at the basics, with Open Graph meta, a crude but functional mobile site and reasonably well-optimised page titles.

There are remarkable numbers of basic errors here, which point to some deeper strategic ones, or more accurately an apparent absence of SEO strategy all together. Political parties need to remember that if you don’t get your search working in the quiet times, you won’t be able just to turn it on for the busy ones. SEO is a process, not a task, and the parties should put that in their private manifestos for next time.

DigitasLBi has also carried out a social data study which reveals surprising facts about the political parties and their supporters. For more information visit www.wearewhatsnext.com

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