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It's easy to make fun of bad websites, and with thousands of elections at different levels of government, there are bound to be some terrible campaign sites out there. However, I've been looking at a lot of House candidate sites lately, and given how much money and how many constituents are involved in federal races, there is no excuse for a bad website. Four or eight years ago, it was more forgivable, but today any 14-year-older can throw together a clean, informative website on Blogger.

Before I start providing examples, let me say what I think a good campaign website is.  A bare bones site will have:

  • The candidate's name and picture at the top of the site.
  • Easy-to-find links to a biography and to the candidate's stance on different issues.
  • Contact information.
  • A means to donate online.
  • Not ugly.

The fun of failure is after the jump.

First of all, have something on your website.
Example of failure: Chris Smith, NJ-4, Republican

Granted, his site promises good things to come with the headline "Coming in Spring 2008", but the email address listed isn't even an email address: there's no @ symbol. What's worse is that Mr. Smith is running for re-election - presumably, he had a functioning campaign site at one point, which he took down and replaced with this. Hint: replace "2006" with "2008", and almost everything carries over.

No "under construction" sites.
Example of failure: G.K. Butterfield, NC-1 Democrat

This one actually falls into the previous category more than Chris Smith's site.

Example of failure: Dan Mansell, NC-2 Republican

At first glance, this site looks pretty amazing, until you start to read the text. Other than the links, everything is the "lorem ipsum" filler Latin, with no actual content. This is inexcusable. Like I said before, put something on the site, no matter what. My web design experience is pretty limited, but I can throw together something with what I listed for a minimal site in a couple hours. Also, there's no reason to run a broken website. Looking at how much work and skill went into the design of Mr. Mansell's site, the designer should know better.

No Flash intros.
Example of failure: Leonard Lance, NJ-7 Republican

This rule applies to every kind of website (except maybe for artists and musicians). Any intro page that does not have actual content is just a waste of a user's time; even if you give the option of "skip intro", you're requiring one more click that may drive the voter away.

The "no intro page" rule does not apply to pages where the candidate asks for you to sign up for a mailing list (with the option to skip to the website). Building contacts is a good use of a website. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both do it.

Do not play audio or video without the user's consent.
Example of failure: Frank LoBiondo, NJ-2 Republican

Autoplay is annoying, and irritates the user who doesn't want the content playing by forcing them to stop it. The much better option is to make them click a play button, and make it easy to find. Mr. LoBiondo's site is especially bad - the video is 27 MB. Not everyone is on a cable connection.

Don't break convention too hard.
Example of failure: Daniel Davis, IL-19 Democrat

There are norms that have developed for campaign websites, and following them is a good idea. People now know where to look on a page for certain things, and any time it's moved around, you're wasting the user's time.

Mr. Davis' website would have been good for someone in a creative field, but the site navigation is odd: on the top left there is a main menu, and each link opens a submenu on the top right. Everything is done in Flash, even basic text, which is a waste of bandwidth and makes copy-pasting impossible. The writing style is odd and somewhat unprofessional. To top it off, the website address is "RunWithGiants" rather than something with his name. Granted, in some districts this might fly, but I'm not sure if southern Illinois is one of them.

Don't crash my browser.
Example of failure: Deborah Honeycutt, GA-13 Republican

It may be my copy of Firefox, my copy of Java, or maybe my copy of Vista, but about every other time I visit this website, my browser goes down in flames. And for what purpose? A low quality Java animation of "One Nation Under God", which would have been much more successful as an animated .gif.  (Or not being there at all, really.)

There are certain web technologies that have been accepted as universal, among them being Flash, Adobe Reader (.pdf), and JavaScript. But Java is not one of them, and certainly is not needed on a campaign site.

For God's sake, hire a web designer.
Example of failure: Vince Micco, NJ-9 Republican

1996 called, it wants its page layout back.

[EDIT: I just realized that Mr. Micco did have a web designer.  Any design company who has this as a home page should have their computer taken away.]

Example of failure: Brian Gibson, CA-36 Republican

Oh man. An intro page with a timed redirect. Frames. A small, repeated, loud background image. A goofy, low-quality image of the candidate. The blink tag. It goes so far into awful that it's actually amazing.

Example of failure: both candidates from IL-12, Jerry Costello (D) and Tim Richardson (R)

The prize for the worst combined websites goes to Illinois' 12th district. Mr. Costello's isn't completely bad, but the left bar is about as small as possible, and the color scheme is wonderfully bland. But Mr. Richardson makes up the difference, with his terrible Flash intro. If you're going to use a picture of the candidate, don't use one taken on your cellphone while catching him mid-blink.

No matter what, actually have a website:
Example of failure: too many

I've been building a list of candidate websites for a project, and I couldn't believe that there are candidates that simply don't have campaign sites. Luckily, many of them are Republicans, but there are Democrats who are guilty, too. Furthermore, incumbents, your House page does not qualify as a website, since you cannot ask for money or build your campaign at all.

Originally posted to Bamos on Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 10:20 PM PDT.

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