SPRINGBOX / Insights

Rating the 2016 Presidential Candidates' Websites: Part Two

by Springbox, February 1, 2016

Make the Internet Great Again, Again.

We graded the websites of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio in Part One of this Presidential Candidate UX Smackdown. Now we’re tackling the rest of the Republican candidates’ websites, which we’ve listed below in alphabetical order (because realistically, we can't keep track of their popularity on any given day).

We evaluated the general user experience for each site by trying to accomplish several tasks: find the candidate’s position on issues; attend an event in Texas (since we are located in Austin); make a donation; and subscribe to a newsletter. We used Google’s PageSpeed Insights to evaluate each site’s performance on mobile and desktop, WebAIM’s WAVE tool to check for accessibility issues, IBM’s Watson Tone Analyzer to evaluate portions of each site’s written content, and SimilarWeb to estimate desktop web traffic. We also did a visual scan of each site and noted anything that stood out. Read more about our methodology in Part One of this article.

Some of these sites were clearly well-designed and tailored to a particular audience, while others seemed like an afterthought. Compared to the sites in Part One, which were generally pretty decent, these sites really need some work. In this round, the gloves are coming off.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be an endorsement of any candidate or political party by the authors or by Springbox. Nor is it meant to be taken too seriously.


 

Candidate Breakdown

Jeb Bush
110K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
220K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Jeb Bush Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: B+
  • Attending an event in Texas: F
  • Making a donation: A
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: A

Jeb’s issues information was easy to find and broken down into understandable categories under the “Issues” navigation item. However, the menu itself was tiny in relation to the rest of homepage content (and likely not using a font large enough for accessibility). He makes up for this by having individual issues pages that utilize a clean layout and engaging material.

Though we were unable to locate any events information, we did find the Shop, where you can buy this $75 “Guaca Bowle” with the infamous “Jeb!” logo. It’s sure to get everyone talking at Sunday Funday. The donation and newsletter signup actions were much easier to locate than the events, so he gets an A for those.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 54
  • Desktop: 76

WAVE detected the following:

  • 17 Errors
  • 32 Alerts
  • 12 Features
  • 38 Structural Elements
  • 9 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 6 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://jeb2016.com/policy-tax-plan/?lang=en
Percentage of words per tone:Jeb-bush-tone-analysis



Ben Carson
720K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
340K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Ben Carson homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: A-
  • Attending an event in Texas: B
  • Making a donation: C
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: F

Carson’s issues page is broken down into clear categories, and each page lists content in nice, readable chunks. However, getting to the issues page was a bit confusing because the site’s mega navigation features top-level items that are clickable but can also be hovered over to launch a dropdown menu. Ben gets a B for “find an event in Texas” since his events feed is easy to find on the homepage, but does not list event times. (It would have gotten a higher grade if the titles were clickable.)

Carson’s big red “Support Ben” donation button was prominently located in the top right corner, but it wasn’t clear what that “Support” meant, especially considering that the primary CTA on the page was also poorly labeled -- “Endorse Ben” -- and led to the real “pledge your support” page. We believe that the section at the bottom of his News page (which states “I Stand with Ben” and asks for your information) is his newsletter signup, but we’re not taking any chances trying to find out. Other than that, it doesn’t seem like there is any way to subscribe to updates from the campaign, so we’re giving it an F.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 68
  • Desktop: 85

WAVE detected the following:

  • 1 Error
  • 6 Alerts
  • 14 Features
  • 14 Structural Elements
  • 9 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 10 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://www.bencarson.com/issues/protecting-innocent-life/
Percentage of words per tone:
ben carson tone analysis


 

Chris Christie
35K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
40K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Chris Christie Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: A-
  • Attending an event in Texas: F
  • Making a donation: A
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: B-

Three above-the-fold CTAs labeled “Donate” made the goal of the website quite clear. Christie receives an A- when it comes to finding his position the issues. The issues page clearly lists out and links to the major issue categories, but they’re anchor links that take you to a specific area in a lengthy article that is not easily scannable.

An events calendar or events feed was nowhere to be found. We even clicked around the site on “Meet Chris” and “Volunteer” looking for clues, but no luck. For this, Christie gets an F in the “find an event in Texas” category. An on-page form above the fold urged me to “Join Chris, Get to Work” and “Subscribe,” but it gave no clear indication as to what we were getting ourselves into. More information, please! He gets a B- on subscribing to a newsletter.

Speed Test:

  • Mobile: 40
  • Desktop: 49

WAVE detected the following:

  • 6 Errors
  • 27 Alerts
  • 45 Features
  • 27 Structural Elements
  • 5 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 6 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://www.chrischristie.com/issues (Criminal Justice section)
Percentage of words per tone:
chris christie tone analysis


 

Carly Fiorina
90K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
75K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Carly Fiorina Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: C
  • Attending an event in Texas: F
  • Making a donation: A
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: A -

Carly has 23 pages of videos stating her position on the issues, which are found under the “Answers” category. While these videos are searchable and engaging, they require a user to watch quite a bit of footage before they can really get a sense of what she believes. At the bottom of this “Answers” page was a menu that users could click through to find a written statement about her position on a particular issue, but it was hard to find and much less prominent than the video blocks.

Next, we attempted to find an event in Texas but were unable to locate any events information at all. The “Join Us” menu item seemed like a reasonable place for that, but it didn’t contain any information other than a newsletter sign up. Attending an event: F. Subscribing to a newsletter: A-. The persistent “Donate” button on the top right was easy to find and took us right to a payment form.

What seemed odd about this site was that the navigation options were hidden within a single navigation item titled "Menu," which meant an extra click was required for most navigation on the site. It may work for mobile, but there is no reason to hide this menu for users on a larger screen.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 56
  • Desktop: 72

WAVE detected the following:

  • 3 Errors
  • 6 Alerts
  • 3 Features
  • 13 Structural Elements
  • 4 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 7 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://carlyforpresident.com/policy/debt-deficit and https://carlyforpresident.com/policy/size-of-government (both are very short)
Percentage of words per tone:
carly fiorina tone analysis


 

Jim Gilmore
9K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
10K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Jim Gilmore Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: B
  • Attending an event in Texas: F
  • Making a donation: B
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: D

The first thing you see when you land on Gilmore’s page is a big, blurry picture of him and a plea to watch a TV ad. Is he serious? There’s not even a CTA! We even have to scroll down to get to the video. His "Issues" navigation item is no problem to find, but many of the issues under this dropdown menu have very long titles that wrap within the dropdown. Yikes. Making a donation was fairly easy, since there is a red “Donate” CTA in the top right, but there was just one issue: it doesn’t exactly look like a button.

Trying to attend an event or subscribe to the newsletter were fruitless tasks; the Events information was nowhere to be found (does he go anywhere or do anything?) and the signup form was so far down the homepage we almost missed it. Sorry, Jim but we’re giving you an F on finding an event and a D for newsletter signup.

Don’t even get us started on the really terrible instructions provided on his “VA Petition.” We thought the VA stood for Veteran’s Affairs, but it turns out it’s just Virginia. You wouldn’t know that, though, because there is literally no explanation of what the petition is for. There are 12 (twelve!) “Simple Guidelines” for you to follow. He asks users to Sign the Petition, but if you read carefully, step 11 states: “You cannot sign a petition that you will also certify.” We give up, man.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 25
  • Desktop: 30

WAVE detected the following:

  • 17 Errors
  • 3 Alerts
  • 1 Features
  • 14 Structural Elements
  • 17 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 11 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: http://www.gilmoreforamerica.com/issues/preserving-our-second-amendment-rights/
Percentage of words per tone:
jim gilmore tone analysis


 

Mike Huckabee
50K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
70K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Mike Huckabee Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: B+
  • Attending an event in Texas: C
  • Making a donation: D
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: A

There are so many things going on in this homepage that our heads are spinning. Who are those people in the bubbles running down the right side of the page? Why does he need a hamburger menu on a desktop site, when there is already a menu at the top of the page?

When we clicked on “Ways to Help” we got to this page, which includes (unmoderated?) comments. You know that’s not going to end well, and sure enough, we found some real winners. We clicked on the “Issues” menu, which features a feather icon. (We are unclear whether this signifies some kind of feather in his cap, his ruffling of feathers, or if he’s feathering his nest. Maybe it’s just a leaf. Who knows?) The Issues page itself lists several items in easy-to-read blocks, but the first item on the page is a CTA to Join the Team. The individual issues are fairly scannable, but each page is so crowded with extra stuff that it is a pretty unpleasant experience.

Finding an event is tricky - first we had to click on the tiny calendar in the bottom left pane, which opened yet another new menu. Events are the listed at the bottom, and if you click through to view them all, you quickly become overwhelmed. Some events don’t even list the state they’re located in.

There are at least 4 different Donation pages on this site, some of which show the donation amounts in descending order, and some ascending. The monthly donor page clearly needs some more attention, and the standard donate page includes asterisks but doesn’t tell you what they signify anywhere on the page.

Subscribing to a newsletter is one option on the homepage sliders, and it’s also signified by a small persistent icon on the left panel. This is the only thing that’s simple about this site.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 48
  • Desktop: 55

WAVE detected the following:

  • 36 Errors
  • 23 Alerts
  • 1 Feature
  • 10 Structural Elements
  • 2 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 21 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: http://www.mikehuckabee.com/tax-reform
Percentage of words per tone:
mike huckabee tone analysis


 

John Kasich
50K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
45K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

John Kasich Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: A
  • Attending an event in Texas: D
  • Making a donation: A-
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: B-

Kasich includes an “Issues” category in his main navigation, so his position is fairly easy to find. However, if you’re not in one of the four states listed, it seems you’re unlikely to be able to find an event near you. Finding the button to make a donation is easy enough, but for some reason there is a video, which takes over a good chunk of the area above the fold. We assume that the form on the home page asking us to “Join the Movement” is where we can subscribe to a newsletter, but it’s not really clear what we’re going to get. Given that the site also includes these annoying pop-up notifications, which we definitely did NOT allow, we are wary of any communication from this team:
Kasich notification

Additionally, Kasich’s team is attempting to target Millennials with a bacon filter on Snapchat. We have no idea what they were thinking; bacon is so 2014. Kasich’s site is like a bad PowerPoint, with graphics and text flying in at you from all angles. It also includes a mysterious “Captains for Kasich” button, which takes you to a sign-in screen but gives no indication what this group is. Maybe we’re just not cool enough... after all, we don’t have a bacon filter.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 39
  • Desktop: 50

WAVE detected the following:

  • 8 Errors
  • 42 Alerts
  • 10 Features
  • 23 Structural Elements
  • 9 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 8 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://johnkasich.com/resultsnow/
Percentage of words per tone:
john kasich tone analysis


 

Rand Paul
180K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
140K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Rand Paul Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: A
  • Attending an event in Texas: D
  • Making a donation: B-
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: C

Rand Paul’s site lists a few Issues on the homepage and allows you to navigate to all of them from the main navigation. On the Issues page, each item has both an icon and an image, which ends up looking very busy. This is a trend that continues throughout the site; images and text are layered on top of each other in distracting and unpredictable ways.

Finding an event is relatively easy if you scroll down on the homepage, although there is a map above the events that is quite misleading. At first, we assumed it was where the events were taking place, but we were wrong. The map is for “Endorsements” instead. When we clicked into the actual events to see if we could find one in Texas, it was impossible to filter by location. The page also has an awkward calendar layout that includes different logos for various events. So much clutter!

Making a donation is fairly simple - there is a button right under a big ticker that displays recent donations. However, when we click on the donation button, we are taken to a new page type that no longer includes the navigation, and won’t let us navigate back to the home page at all. Subscribing to a newsletter was easier when the site had a CTA right on the homepage to enter your email and “Learn More.” Now, subscribing is a lot more difficult. We clicked around for a while, and eventually under “Volunteer” we noticed a small sign-up form on the sidebar.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 43
  • Desktop: 54

WAVE detected the following:

  • 19 Errors
  • 29 Alerts
  • 5 Features
  • 37 Structural Elements
  • 5 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 14 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: https://www.randpaul.com/issue/spending-and-debt and https://www.randpaul.com/issue/term-limits
Percentage of words per tone:
rand paul tone analysis


 

Rick Santorum
20K visits in Nov 2015 (desktop)
15K visits in Dec 2015 (desktop)

Rick Santorum Homepage

User experience grades:

  • Finding their position on the issues: B
  • Attending an event in Texas: A
  • Making a donation: A-
  • Subscribing to a newsletter: A-

Santorum’s website presents users with a splash page that features a neon-green “Contribute” CTA, and an easy-to-use newsletter and volunteer sign up form. Santorum gets an A- for these tasks because you’re forced to view this splash page before getting to the main site and navigation options. Once you’ve arrived on the main site, you can locate his position on the issues by either clicking the “On the issues” item under “Learn” (the first navigation item) or clicking an “On the issues” CTA from the homepage. He gets points for linking to a commonly accessed page from both the homepage and top navigation, but hiding the issues page under “Learn” made it a little trickier to find, so we’re giving him a B.

Finding events was easy to do on a page that allowed us to filter events by proximity. It also offered a map view, so we’re giving him an A, despite not having any events in Texas.

One strange thing about his site is that the main navigation options disappear when you land on the “Join our Digital Team” and “Students for Santorum” pages in the “Get Involved” section.

Homepage load time (85-100 considered good):

  • Mobile: 39
  • Desktop: 59

WAVE detected the following:

  • 19 Errors
  • 15 Alerts
  • 11 Features
  • 35 Structural Elements
  • 19 HTML5 and ARIA
  • 21 Contrast Errors

Sample Tone: http://www.ricksantorum.com/tax_plan
Percentage of words per tone:
rick santorum tone analysis


 

After evaluating all of the candidates' sites, we came to the conclusion that a few just have a better grasp on digital than others (or at the very least, they've hired people who do). Whether any of this matters in the election is something we'll have to wait to discover.