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General election 2015: Which party is polling best for website performance?

With less than a week until the nation goes to the polls, Joe Doveton, head of conversion at Oban Digital and amateur psephologist, casts a UX eye over the digital campaigns of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Ukip.

I spend my day dismantling websites. Non-specific calls to action? Confusing breadcrumbs? Unfocused headings? Dominant and over-powering carousels? Now I have a chance to exercise my democratic prerogative and pass judgement on the real crimes of the political parties – dodgy hero banners, misleading navigation and poorly located calls for action.

Conservative Party

First up are the Tories. The good news for the Tories is that blue is the most popular website colour. The Hallock Study looks at attitudes to colour and finds that blue leads on trust (34 per cent) and security (28 per cent). The call to action language – “I’m In” – has a breezy casualness of someone absent-mindedly agreeing to sign up to Tough Mudder, but is simple and clear.

David Cameron is trusted as PM and regularly outpolls his party in approval ratings. As a result he is centre stage in the design.

The Tories are keen to get their messages out with incentives offered to those that share them via social media. You get 50 points for sharing “Growth and Consumer Confidence” and 100 points for “Securing a better future for your family”.

The more compelling offer is the Magnet and Mug set near the footer – which is free to party donors – but for good usability the whole of this image really should be clickable, not just the donate button.

The Tories’ “Long Term Economic Plan” might be a right mouthful as a slogan but we ran it through Eyequant and it’s likely to drive eye attention – making it more noticeable than the PM himself. The site’s overall Eyequant site score is 41 per cent.

Labour Party

Labour’s solicitation of donations via its initial pop-up could be seen as over-aggressive. As with other parties, Labour assumes you’re either (a) going to vote for them or are (b) “undecided”. After wading through several screens, we finally arrive at the homepage. There we find the most egregious crime in modern usability. A self-starting video. On repeat.

From a usability perspective I’m unconvinced by the categorisation in the top navigation which offers me a decidedly un-compelling choice between “issues”, “join”, “donate” and “volunteer” and I have to scroll down to see any actual policies or indeed, Ed Miliband’s face.

At the page footer we get a Google map of central Newcastle and the much more direct call to action “Join the fight!”

Labour will be happy with their Eyequant review though, which suggests that they score 85 per cent for clarity, putting them into the usability big league with the likes of Google and Apple.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems' homepage cunningly pitches the general election as a contest between the two alternative chancellors. This is the UX equivalent of Tesco giving up page real estate to Waitrose and Sainsbury – why promote your competitors? As the referee between these two ideologies – the graphic is saying: the Lib Dems are uniquely placed to pick up the sensible vote. Notably, there is not a single usage of the word 'coalition' after five years in Government.

The choice of call to action language – “I will” – sounds more like a marriage vow than a membership sign up. On the plus side, the simple colour palette draws attention to the main call to action and the donate button in the top right, so above the fold the Lib Dems have a simple, effective design.

Below the fold things unravel a little. For positives, look no further than the static top navigation which means the masthead and donate button are always on screen. On the downside, the amateurish photography in the sidebar lets the composition down.

Meanwhile the praiseworthy and commendable article on mental health is let down by a totally unrelated shot of senior Lib Dems.

Interestingly social is not as prominent for Lib Dems as other parties. Overall the Eyequant rating for the site is 66 per cent.

Ukip

Some might suggest that Ukip's policies are stuck in the 1950s but they are all over the late-2010s responsive design. A lovely clean masthead features the UKIP logo and clear calls to action in contrast colours and a simple one word message.

Out go Steve Jobs skeuomorphic buttons, and in comes Windows 8 style square edging. The top navigation features three clear options – Learn about UKIP, News and Media and Get Involved – all neatly categorised and understandable. No self-starting videos either; users are treated to an embedded YouTube video of Nigel Farage.

The form conforms to modern best practice too. UKIP uses internal field labelling – and these fields are lovely and big. Even the registration page smashes it out of the park, scoring a whopping 88 per cent on Eyequant placing the site in the top 7 per cent for clarity scores.

Scottish National Party

The SNP may have performed well in the early televised debates, but their website is far from excelling in the usability stakes. The clashing colours and general lack of harmony and clarity on display make for a poor impression.

The H1 doesn’t align with the top navigation or the masthead giving a disjointed feel. The image of the boy with the saltire anchors eye attention to the internal search function taking it away from the call to action.

Looking at navigation, the repetitive categorisation under the “vision” tab (A Better Scotland, A Wealthier Scotland and so on) is extraneous and confusing as eight items of sub-navigation only lead to a single page.

The self-starting carousel – a notorious conversion killer – mixes five totally unrelated topics and misses the opportunity to provide an accelerator to the key issues to the people of Scotland.

Surprisingly, there are no images of the two people most closely associated with the SNP brand: Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, two of the most popular politicians in Britain. Despite the impressive SNP store with its Campaign Windcheaters, the SNP needs to have a serious rethink of this site which only scores 46 per cent overall on Eyequant.

Conversion’s political winners

The web design of several of the main parties is as unclear as the make-up of the next government! However, we do have a winner for website user experience: the best designed site is Ukip, followed by Labour.

Methodology

There are as many usability tools as there are ways for politicians to avoid a straight question. However, for this review we have used a few approaches. Eyequant is one of a range of tools that predicts where users are likely to look on a page. Check My Colours reports back on contrast ration and colour difference errors. The Hallock Study looks at colour and sentiment on the web. We passed a nod in the general direction of Jakob Nielsen’s Heuristics . And good old fashioned UX best practice also features.

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Joe Doveton

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