Web Site Features Could Affect Trust in Candidates

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgIf voters judge presidential candidates on Web site privacy and other features, some campaigns may want to revisit their site design. A new report measuring the prominence of privacy policies and other criteria found campaign sites for Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson each failed at least one test, while Clinton’s site was the only one to fail all three tests applied.

When Forrester Research evaluated the candidates’ Web sites last month to measure how prominently privacy policies were presented when users took critical actions, all six sites flunked. Specifically, the research firm looked at whether privacy policies were displayed in context when users were asked for personal data, particularly when registering for e-mail alerts or making a donation.

According to the “Presidential Candidate Sites Fail On Privacy” report, “Links to clear privacy and security policies [were] not presented in context when a user is asked for personal data,” on those sites.

“They definitely failed on usability no matter what their goals were,” said Bruce Temkin, the report’s author and Forrester Research VP and Principal Analyst, Customer Experience. “But if their branding goals were to communicate a sense of privacy, then they failed on the branding as well,” he added.

Some candidates fared better when it came to site feedback that acknowledged user actions, like “Thank You” page follow-ups. The study showed johnedwards.com, barackobama.com, mittromney.com and fred08.com passed the test by clearly indicating results of an action, while HillaryClinton.com and joinrudy2008.com failed to provide appropriate feedback when users donated or registered for e-mails.

“The Giuliani site even gets a bit pushy — dumping the user onto a page for making contributions,” notes the report.

The study also checked for Web site assistance when users made mistakes entering form information. Campaign sites for Clinton, Edwards and Thompson did not meet Forrester’s standards for providing error messages. In at least one case of user error, such as entering an invalid zip code or forgetting to add the “.com” to an e-mail address, all three candidate sites either failed to integrate an error message into the page, or didn’t describe the problem or state how to fix it.

Sites did occasionally provide appropriate responses to user mistakes. On HillaryClinton.com, for example, entering an incorrect credit card number in a donation form prompts a request to “Please check your card number and security code.”

“Those are just good coding practices,” said Kari Chisholm, president of Mandate Media, an Internet political strategy firm that designs Web sites for political candidates. “If you don’t have a good feedback page… then you’re going to get double submissions and triple submissions,” he continued. “You’re going to clutter your database.”

“A heavy burden of the problem hangs on the design decisions that they’ve made,” Temkin said.

Though Chisholm agreed the site features Forrester recommends can help reassure users, he doesn’t believe the absence of such elements could necessarily erode trust in a candidate.

“People’s sense of trust in Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani is going to be fairly well solidified before they make a donation to that candidate,” he said. “It’s not as if these campaigns ultimately are giving away these addresses to spammers or other really bad actors… At worst it’s going to be shared with another campaign.”

In fact, what’s done with data collected through candidate sites after the election matters more than how a privacy policy is displayed, said Chisholm. “It’s very easy for that data to just walk out the door… especially on a losing campaign,” he said.

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