I would agree with 4, but would respectfully submit that lots of people reacting against criticism of their website are STILL taking genuine accessibility concerns and dismissing them as "I don't like this".
Whether it is outsiders commenting on how parties and politicians use the internet, or people comparing their own party with others, or an individual looking to assess different website suppliers, reviews of political websites are a frequent occurrence. Across these reviews there are several very commonly made mistakes. Watch out for those explained below and you’re much more likely to make a fair evaluation of websites and suppliers.
1. More features = better site
It sounds obvious: the more features it has, the better a site is. But is a Swiss Army penknife a better eating implement than knife and fork just because it also has tweezers and a nail file? Would you say of a piece of direct mail, ‘Oooooh, this one has a slogan on the outside, and a return envelope, and a pen, and free postcard, and a scratch’n’sniff section and an elastic band thrown in too. It must be the best direct mail ever.’
Yes, having the right range of features matters – but more doesn’t mean better. More can mean a site is clogged up with unnecessary features that cost money to provide and get in the way of what site visitors actually want to do.
2. Usage rates don’t matter
Closely allied to this mistake is the oft-made assumption that you can judge a website without knowing what the statistics for it look like. An email sign up box may look lovely to you, but is it working? The choice of stories may look wrong, but are they right for its audience? You need either hard numbers or a moderately open discussion with the person / team behind a site in order to avoid make bad misjudgements.
3. Websites are for floating voters and the young
Actually, no. Plenty of political websites aim at different audiences – such as at their own supporters or journalists. There are often very good reasons for this – particularly the repeated experience that your own supporters are much more likely to be interested in finding out more about you via the web than floating voters. Maybe that decision is the right one for a site; maybe it is the wrong one. But don’t assume that just because a site doesn’t appear to appeal to floating voters that it’s therefore a bad site.
4. I like/hate the design – and so must everyone else
I’ve seen feedback from people who hate even the most highly appreciated sites and from people who love sites the vast majority think are unutterably ugly. Preferences vary hugely, so don’t ignore your own views – but neither think that you can make a robust judgement based on just your own views.
5. If you’ve not got lots of user-generated content, you’re a Luddite
The rise of web content provided by users (e.g. Wikipedia, where any visitor can amend and add to the site) has brought huge benefits in many areas. But whisper it quietly: it’s very rare for a UK political site to produce much user-generated content and even rarer for it to be of decent quality. Some zealots assume that therefore everyone in UK politics must be a dolt when it comes to the internet. Personally, I think if something is so rarely successful, then it is foolish for everyone to attempt to do it and expect it to be successful.
6. There is no need to talk
During my time at the Liberal Democrats, I regularly read reviews of one or other of our sites that completely missed what the site is trying to achieve, which bits were most successful or how and why its approach how differed from other parties’ sites. These are easy mistakes to make if you assume you can work out what a site is about, whether it is doing it well and indeed whether it is trying to do the right thing – all without asking anyone behind the site. Don’t gamble on being a psychic – ask instead.
These points may seem obvious now you have read them, but look at most political website reviews and you will see them sneak in. So next time you need to think about sites, dust them off and prosper.
UPDATE: A slightly expanded version of this post is now available as a guide on Scribd: Reviewing political party websites: the top mistakes to avoid.