How UK Party Websites Are Letting Down Voters

The websites of the UK's political parties appear more focused on gathering data from
visitors than clearly explaining policies. "I'm trying to find out information, not join
the party!" as one undecided voter put it.
This article by Kathryn McDonnell, User Experience Consultant, examines a selection of Political websites in the run up to the UK’s 2015 General Election on 7th May.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 13.25.31If like me you’re getting a bit fed up of this General Election campaign then you must be pleased that it will soon be over and we can all get back to our daily business without the worry of some chirpy politician knocking at the door just as we raise the first forkful of spag bol to our mouths after a hard day at work.

Although there is not long to go, many of us it seems are still undecided. The parties know this and are constantly adapting their campaigns resulting in them giving away cheap policies like the free plastic toys stuck on the front of kids’ comics.
Here at WhatUsersDo, we wondered whether the parties would be making full use of their websites which could provide a rich, informative and interactive resource for the electorate to really get to grips with their ideologies and understand their proposed policies. So, we ran a User Research Study to to look at the four political parties websites from the viewpoint of undecided voters.
We found that three of the four sites were well below users’ expectations and did not provide undecided voters with enough policy information. However, more sinisterly, it seemed the primary purpose of these sites seems to be the reverse – collecting information from their users, not informing them.

Data Collecting Screens

With the exception of the LibDems, each site presents users with an interruptive screen the purpose of which is either to gather visitors’ voting intention or their email address or, as in the Conservatives’ case – both.
Only the UKIP site stated the purpose of gathering their email address (for news and updates) whereas the Conservatives site must just trust you want to willingly hand it over. It is possible to bypass this page but the skip links are very small or pale in colour and were easily missed.
Needless to say, not only did users find it hugely intrusive to be asked to pony up their details before even entering the site, it was massive barrier to entering the main page, especially on the Labour site on which the introductory screens last several pages.  One user did not see the skip link so didn’t even make it into the full site.

Let’s hear from an undecided voter on the Conservative site:

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And now an undecided voter on the Labour site:
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Conservatives

ConsSplashOn first view, the main site very heavily promotes its leader with several photos of him and the cabinet members and has a very corporate annual report style feel, which is a message in itself really. Labelling of its navigation is in BLOCK CAPITALS which creates a very firm tone and makes me wonder if they are trying to portray a feeling of CONFIDENT, AUTHORITATIVE LEADERSHIP. Together with the images however, it comes across as bossy.
Users main goal however was not to admire imagery of Cameron but as he might say himself, find a straight answer to a straight question – what does this party stand for? Users expected to view different categories, Health, Economy etc. and to be able to be able to drill into each one to find more detailed information. So far, so straightforward you may think?
What they actually found is less so –  with no obvious place to start, the main page features a small selection of policy bites and the ability to buy a mug for twenty five quid. The user is also invited to ‘share’ the stories for ‘points’ yet there is no explanation of how this works nor indeed why one might be tempted to do so.
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Users were dismissive of the lack of depth to the information, with bullet points they couldn’t even click into. There is a prominent link to the manifesto document itself where users can read the whole thing page by page but there is no option to view a web optimised version broken down by section.
Invitations to cosy up with Dave and the gang on social media feature heavily, more so in fact than their actual policies. Behind the link ‘You and Your Family’ users expected to find information on family friendly policies. Instead there is only a promise of information after one has clicked on a big Facebook login button.
This clip nicely summarises what the users thought of selling their Facebook soul for a scrap of information:
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So how the policies will be carried out in reality remains a mystery. As this user reasonably requested: “I just want a place that tells me what the party does!“
This user sums up the site succinctly.
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Labour

LabHomeThe Labour main site had better first impressions . (Although partly thanks to a picture of a cute baby in a sling front and centre.) The home page features key sections from the manifesto such as Economy, NHS and Housing. There are links to social media but only the normal following options, no quid pro quo for information here.
There is a large button to ‘Create your manifesto’ which all the users clicked on and liked the sound of. From this label and the selection boxes on the next page, there would be a tailored version of the document focussing on their areas of concern, or so they thought.

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The reality was a little disappointing. The personalisation amounted to adding a greeting name to the top of Ed’s ‘letter’ and promoting the selected sections up the menu list, adding a graphic background to them. Although the previous page also gathers users’ postcode I could not see where the content had been tailored geographically and suspect this is actually a stealth way of collecting user data. Either way, the feature over promises and under delivers.

Liberal Democrats

lib_dem_logoThe LibDem site had very good first impressions. Users felt it had a far less corporate feel to it and looked more ‘open’ with images that, as one user put it: “show the people they are trying to help rather than people in the party themselves.”
It also supported users’ main goal of getting to know what they stood for. The rollover Manifesto link in the top navigation shows the main subsections that users can jump straight to – Economy, Tax, Education etc with the ability to view all.
This site has less of a focus on becoming entwined in your social networks with signing up being more of an optional feature. As one user put it: “I have an opportunity to sign up, I’m not forced to do that before I even get in the site. Thank you LIberals.”


UKIP

 
ukipFirst impressions of the UKIP site were quite poor. Leaving the garish flood of purple aside, users felt the site lacked a professional edge. One was particularly put off by the ‘’Published and promoted by” text on the introductory screen which they felt looked more like an advert for the designer than a political party’s site.
whLogo2Further into the site one user commented that the yellow pound coin symbols adorning the pages made it look like a ‘betting site’ .
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Clip6UKIPHome

Similar to the Conservative site, the user is only offered small snippets of policy together with a link to wade through the whole manifesto document, which was not an appealing prospect.

Final thoughts

So all in all a pretty poor showing for the parties’ web presence. We already know not to ask a politician if we want a straight answer, but it seems there’s no point asking their website either.

How we did it

Participants were tasked with using the websites of the three main parties Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and one of the upcoming contenders in British politics – UKIP – to try and find information that would help them decide who to vote for. The participants were undecided voters from our online pane and we recorded their screens and spoken thoughts into online videos, that were then analysed by our Research Team.

One Response to “How UK Party Websites Are Letting Down Voters

  • Your final thoughts appear to bear no relation to the assessment of the Lib Dem site which strikes me as a little strange. Considering they could still prove pivotal in any post-election discussions, people may have an above-average interest in what they stand for, yet your summary implies their site is like the others (which you describe as sinister!). Just wondering why that is?

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