On Tuesday I began my education into campaign websites by posting Tour de Website: Martha Coakley’s Home Page. My colleague Professor Duquette posed a good question about the annoying fundraising pop-ups on many pages. Professor Jeff Gulati, who knows more about campaign websites than just about anyone, wrote in to confirm the ubiquitous nature of contribution pop-ups. Thanks to the assistance of my ace research assistant Stephen Norris, I can offer some additional insights. Yes, contribution request “splash pages” are annoying – so annoying that they may drive visitors away from the site.
First, there doesn’t appear to be much academic quality research on campaign contribution pop-ups, but that didn’t stop Stephen from turning up some interesting articles in Campaigns & Elections magazine and other sources. The finding that splash pages may drive people away comes from a small study Investigating the Voter Experience with Republican Candidate Websites by a company called Normal Modes that does work around usability of technologies like websites. The company studied fifteen undecided voters exposed to Republican presidential primary candidates’ web sites in 2012. Normal Modes found that all the Republican candidates had “splash pages” and that when a visitor tried to access the candidate’s site the splash page came up to collect visitor’s email addresses and zip codes, often with a small and difficult to locate link that would direct the visitor to the home page he/she really wanted. Many of the visitors simply gave up.
A splash page seeking money could hardly be more welcoming than one that seeks an email address. Professor Gulati commented that “It is very hard to find a professionally-designed campaign web site that doesn’t start with a volunteer or fundraising message.”
In fact the Democratic websites are similar in layout but none of them initially assault the visitor with a plea for money, a feature I had expected. As I noted yesterday, Martha Coakley’s home page features issues and community outreach. Both Juliette Kayyem and Don Berwick highlight information about how to become an add-on delegate to the Democratic convention. (It’s a beautiful background Juliette but it looks like horse country. Plenty of time to go for the Myopia Hunt Club vote in the general). Joe Avellone and Steve Grossman have rather generic looking sites. Grossman’s web site features a standard “Join Steve” invitation before one scrolls down to the “Meet Steve” section (wouldn’t I want to know something about Steve before I join Steve?).
Politicking online is still in its infancy and the articles Stephen found in Campaigns & Elections reflect this. “Secrets of Successful Online Fundraising” published going into the 2002 election cycle counseled that donation invitations have to be prominent or you risk losing contributions. A January/February 2012 article in C&E reinforced that the donate button should be visible and easy to use. But just below that article is another citing the Normal Modes study with a title Stephen and I both liked: “Death to Splash Screens?”
Some enterprising scholar will have something more definitive to say soon, I hope. Until then I’ll leave the candidates with another caution from Normal Modes: “[R]epublican candidates websites frequently place campaign objectives ahead of voter needs, want and motivations.”
So if you want their money and their time, first meet the voters’ needs.