Presidential Candidate Web Sites – What Small Businesses Can Learn

Being a candidate for the White House is a full time job. He or She must hire staff, raise funds, market their product (themselves), carefully analyze competitors and so much more. These are the same things small businesses go through every day.
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A candidate’s web site is one of the critical tools they use for communicating to their constituents – or ‘customers’ if you will.
A guide I wrote “10 Web Site Musts” is something you might want to read.

Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends, does an in-depth analysis of the candidate web sites to help give you insight into how to better design your own web site..
From a pure technology standpoint, all of the sites are good or excellent. All look professional and a couple, like the websites of Obama and Romney, stand out graphically. For the most part they are easy to find (all but Giuliani used the candidate’s first and last name as the URL). All are reasonably easy to navigate.
Some made an effort to include Spanish language content, although mostly it was limited content. All have video.
Donations and Campaign Volunteers
All of the sites take donations online via secure credit card.
If you want to get involved in a campaign in your local community, the websites are a great starting point. All have a way on their sites to volunteer in your local region on the campaign.
Online Community
But let’s say your small business keeps you really busy. So you don’t have time participate in a campaign in person. Some of the websites offer ways for you to get involved online, such as signing petitions, or emailing other supporters to raise money, or recruiting new volunteers.
Some go farther, using today’s conversational media to actively engage you to become part of their online communities. For instance, the Democratic candidates as a whole devote more attention to engaging visitors with online interactivity. Some sites give visitors the ability to create a profile or create blog posts right on the site. Obama’s website has extensive personalization capabilities. John Edwards’ site features chat rooms. They link to social network sites such as FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr.
The Republican websites, on the other hand, seem to foster less online community feel. McCain offers a feature where you can create your own page, called McCainSpace, but its functionality is limited. Of all the Republicans, Romney is the best at using today’s conversational media, with the best blog of all the candidates and the only of the three Republicans to link to social media sites such as MySpace.
Whatever they lack in online community involvement and easy conversational feel, the Republican sites make up for in subtle emotional appeal. They tend to do a clearer job using their color schemes and message content to appeal to their base. You get a flavor for what the candidate stands for just from looking at their sites: honor and country (McCain); law and order (Giuliani); family values (Romney).
The Issues
What surprised me the most was the sketchiness of information about the candidate’s views and positions. Barack Obama did one of the best jobs organizing and presenting issues content – but with a glaring absence of economic policy. Some, like Hillary Clinton, had no organized statement of the issues. Others had just short snippets pulled from speeches or TV appearances.
Some of the sites lack a site-wide search feature, so it can require real digging to find references to candidate statements appealing to small business interests. Sometimes you end up scrolling through the text of speeches and press releases and videos to find something – anything – about the candidates’ positions on business issues. References to small businesses on all the sites are few and far between.
How would I rate the sites overall? Overall they are good to excellent when it comes to technology and design. Several could use more of a community feel and do more to involve visitors, especially business owners, in their online communities. And the one thing they all could use is more content and substance about the issues, and a specific platform addressing issues of interest to small business owners.
Following is a rating of each site. (Keep in mind that ratings are about the candidates’ websites – nothing should be interpreted an endorsement of any candidate or candidate’s position.)
Hillary Clinton (
Overall Website Rating: (4 stars)
Pluses: Easy-to-use navigation. Clean and straight-forward design. Nice use of social media, including a MySpace page that encourages online involvement from supporters and, which lists links to recent blog posts about the candidate.
Minuses: It is harder than expected to figure out from the site what the candidate stands for on business issues. While there is a good amount of information such as press releases, videos and speeches, without site-wide search you have to scroll laboriously through it. Sample business content: Hillary’s Economic Plan
Barack Obama (
Overall Website Rating: (4 stars)
Pluses: Bold Web 2.0 design. Nicely laid-out Issues section. One of the best sites for involving community members – prominently features its “” functionality that allows you to personalize the site, network with other supporters and even create a blog.
Minuses: Noticeable lack of information on economic policy. Instead of site search, features an answer center, but the answers are too brief to offer much insight. Sample business content: Obama Helping Business Shoulder Health Care Costs
John Edwards (
Overall Website Rating: + 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)
Pluses: Easy-to-use site. Has extensive RSS feeds. Good involvement of visitors. Nice use of social media, including links to pages at MySpace, Flickr, FaceBook and YouTube. Encourages upload of your own video. Blog allows you to create your own posts. Even has a chat room. Offers site search.
Minuses: As with many of the other candidates, information on the issues is limited – information on small business and economic issues is especially sketchy. Sample business content: National Press Club Policy Address.
John McCain (http:///
Overall Website Rating: (3 stars)
Pluses: Unusual use of black and white color scheme stands out. Has a more detailed economic policy statement than most. Has a feature called McCainSpace, where you can create a site of your own. Includes site search. Includes a blog by the candidate’s wife.
Minuses: The black and white color scheme works best on pages where other colors are injected, otherwise it can be overbearing. No apparent links to MySpace or other social networking sites. The McCainSpace section appears promising, but needs to be better executed (for instance, the only way to find other supporters’ McCainSpace pages is from blog comments). Sample business content: Government Spending
Rudy Giuliani (
Overall Website Rating: + 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Pluses: Nice use of video featuring the candidate speaking, front and center on the home page. You can post your support of the candidate in the Why Rudy section and email it to your friends. You also can post a Rudy widget on your blog or website.
Minuses: The only non-straight forward URL (although probably related to the candidate’s hard-to-spell last name). The blog is easy to miss, called “The Buzz” instead of a more understandable “Blog.” Most limited use of social media of all the sites. Sample business content: On the Issues

Mitt Romney (
Overall Website Rating: (4 stars)
Pluses: Has the best blog of all candidates — hands down – written by Romney’s five sons. Excellent use of the home page for new content about the candidate. Includes “Word on the Web,” a section linking to others’ blog posts about the candidate. Nice patriotic design.
Minuses: The issues content tends to be disconnected snippets, sometimes from his governor speeches, and not an organized platform statement. Very little reference to small businesses. Sample business content: Simplifying the Tax System
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4 thoughts on “Presidential Candidate Web Sites – What Small Businesses Can Learn

  1. Scott Wolpow

    The candidates are finally using the Internet in the hopes of generating the buzz they want. They are also cautious because it is a live record of what they state.
    It would be nice if they posted all their speaches and what they support. But we know they will never do that.

  2. J.G.

    Oh darn. Like most mass-media, you forgot Ron Paul.
    That’s fine. Long live the underdog!

  3. The Technology Therapis

    Small businesses today can definitely learn a lot about the candidates web site. The use of social media on small business web sites is overlooked and the candidates sites do a great job of using the tools of their audience. The second tip you can learn from these sites is the call to action. Right away you know they need your help they are not afraid to ask. Many small businesses are afraid to do this and it is can be a detriment on their web site. Thanks for posting this great article – my thoughts as the eMarketing Therapist.

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