Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and businessman Herman Cain have a more polished digital presence than their GOP rivals, some of who have a bit to learn about online courtship, according to a new report.
As tech-savvy Republicans take to the Web to discover more about their potential nominees, some don’t like what they see. According to a new study of the usability of six of the GOP presidential candidates websites, respondents said information was hard to come by and they often found themselves rushed to donate to the campaign.
"It's like dating. They're trying to jump the gun and rush to marriage, when they should be thinking about the first date,” says Angela Schmeidel Randall, president of Normal Modes, the Houston-based firm that conducted the study.
The firm used 15 undecided voters with mixed registration histories from around the country to conduct head-to-head comparisons of the websites for Bachmann, Cain, former Govs. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Jon Huntsman (Utah), Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.). The study was done Oct. 21-24.
"These websites are built around the campaign objectives, like raising money, rather what's important to the people visiting the websites," Schmeidel Randall says. "There's a way to balance campaign objectives with voter needs and motivations, but instead what you have campaigns and voters at a standoff.”
The sample size might seem small compared to the number of respondents in, say, an average poll. But Schmeidel Randall says the pool was sufficient to provide a qualitative baseline analysis.
Voters increasingly are weighing a candidate's website when they start contemplating whom to support in 2012. The first impressions formed off that digital presence can be key. A thoughtful, easy-to-use site can turn an undecided voter into a donor. Just as easily, a poorly designed site can raise questions about the candidate's ability to lead the free world.
So which candidate has the best website? Participants found that Bachmann and Cain's websites were "most effective" at influencing voters. Cain earned praise for the straightforwardness of his site. "He just got to the point," says Schmeidel Randall. "People liked how the 9-9-9 plan was laid out."
Bachmann also got top marks for design. Perry's website, meanwhile, makes it difficult for users to go back and forth between sections. It also uses a strange color scheme, highlighting some links in red before a user clicks on them, according to the report. Romney's site also had navigation and color issues. In the site's issues section, the grey navigation box along the top of the screen was virtually invisible to the respondents.
Huntsman's website generated the most visceral reaction. People "hated with a passion" the biographical video, according to Schmeidel Randall.
It's his website's "Achilles' heel," she says. “On the other hand, the same page features a timeline [that] is so engaging, it’s really a model for all campaigns.”
Meanwhile, Santorum's website has some unique features, which actually counted against him. His site's navigation bar is on the right side of the page, something no one expects.
One aspect that was universal among the six sites is the email splash pages that a user arrives at on his or her first visit. The study's older respondents confused that for the homepage.
Read the full report here.