2004 Conservative Campaign Website Review
It would seem that the Conservatives have placed their best foot forward when it comes to the campaign website. My initial impression was that the site was a drastic improvement from the amateurish look and feel of the pre-election post-merger, conservative.ca site. The party appears to have made a significant investment in both time and money, and the site appears accomplishes many valuable campaign objectives.
The website contains the standard fare of a modern online campaign, such as a donation and support area, issues, press release and media centre and candidate and party profiles. The site even employs a small, and unfortunately under-utilized, weblog — which, incidentally, became all the rage on the campaign websites of the Democratic primaries to the south. There is a nice balance between the party’s primary colours, blue and red, and the site is visually appealing. The site also does a good job of introducing the visitor to the new look of the Conservative party, the new leader of the party and the core message of the campaign — “Demand Better.”
There are several minor problems with the site, but I will focus on the major shortcomings. The first of these is the gratuitous use of images. Understanding that a campaign website needs some degree of glitter, this website is unfortunately burdened by it. The main page alone has over 104 separate images files totaling more than 313,268 bytes of data (or 2.39 megabits). That would mean it would take over a minute and a half to load on a 56k dialup modem. You read that correct: a minute and a half! Even with a broadband connection, it will take over 40 seconds for the site to load completely. Only the most dedicated of supporters are going to wait that long for this site to load and anyone else will likely abandon the site all together.
The second major problem is the basic layout of the site. It almost goes without saying that, on the Internet, content is king; in order for a site to be successful, it must contain a certain degree of well-written content to anchor the site. However, on the conservative.ca site, content appears to secondary to everything else. The core content block on any page, the block of text that holds information that is relevant to the particular section the user is located, is small and insignificant when compared to other parts of the page. For example (and without getting too technical), if one were to break out a ruler and measure the amount of screen real-estate allocated to the core content block in relation to the rest of the screen real-estate allocated to navigation, sidebars etc., you would find that less than a third of the valuable screen real-estate is allocated to the core content. The rest of the real-estate is taken up with candidate and volunteer profiles, donation, campaign coverage and refer a friend buttons, photos of Stephan Harper, etc.. And, for the most part, these screen-hogging, image-intensive side bars are static throughout the site – wherever you surf, the candidate profile follows you, regardless of whether you are perusing the issues section or watching a campaign ad. Assuming individuals are visiting the site to collect information about the party, its candidates and its policies, they are unfortunately met with a website that downplays and minimizes core content. For a newly formed party with some uncertainty and confusion over policy positions, this does not instill confidence in those potential voters that look to the website for clarification or affirmation.
If in fact content is king, we can assume that the Internet would an excellent research tool for interested individuals to seek out information that is not normally available through traditional media sources. Knowing this, you would assume that every attempt would be made to provide surfers/voters with additional information on topics that concern or interest them. However, conservative.ca only provides positions on a handful of different issues and addresses these issues in only a couple of sentences. Even as the party rolled out its policy platform through a series of press conferences, it failed to post any of that important information or any additional information on their site. Only mid-way through the campaign did the party bother to post any firm policy positions; even then, they did not integrate this information directly into the site structure. Only after clicking on a button titled Party Platform — nestled on the lower right of the website – is the user presented with the party’s official platform. This late addition appears to the user as an afterthought, as the navigation and site layout changes, albeit only slightly, when the user selects the button. It actually appears that the user is taken off-site to another different website for the policy platforms. One has to wonder why the party chose not to provide more detailed issue statements or at least to attempt to link those issue statements to their policy platform.
This review, while certainly not exhaustive, attempts to address the three main problem areas belonging to conservative.ca. Those main problems, the overuse of irrelevant images, a layout that stifles content and the disconnection between the party’s platform and the website, serve as a barrier to those individuals inquisitive enough to seek out and use the website. It also inhibits those supporters who want to reinforce and reaffirm their support for the party through the website. Although the Conservative Party of Canada has clearly tried to make their web site a priority, these flaws prevent it from being all that it could be.