Political websites can often go one of two ways: they’re either at the cutting edge of design, development and marketing, or they’re drier than a cheap, out of date chicken sandwich bought from a corner shop.
Recently Hillary Clinton’s new campaign website made news because of it’s 404 page:
404 pages have long been a place for web designers and developers to be able to have a bit of fun on a website… so why did this become so noteworthy? Well maybe it’s because it is generally just very well executed.
The whole design of the page, although simple looks good and is very on brand with the rest of the campaign, while the simple way it’s development is quick and responsive, working well on all devices. The cheesy picture and joke may be a lot less serious than the rest of the campaign website, however the message is still fitting with the rest of the marketing for the campaign, portraying Hillary as family centric in her values while being generally likeable.
They also haven’t missed a trick by ensuring they include a small call to action to encourage people to volunteer for the campaign, turning an error page into one that could easily funnel people into converting to volunteers, not to mention the simple promotions of her social media channels.
Is there anything lacking? Well perhaps ideally you would want more in-roads back to the site, perhaps suggested or most recent content to guide the user back to where they need to be rather than bouncing, but that would clearly be at the expense of how well executed this is, and would have undoubtedly not have got nearly as much promotion for the campaign.
So how does Republican candidate Ted Cruz’s 404 page match up? Well… we might be able to compare if he actually had one. Instead his website is setup to 302 redirect any visitors to the homepage if they go to a non-existent or broken page. This is definitely not advisable… firstly it’s bad for user experience, not even allowing users to see that the page they were looking for was not found. What if a friend or a news article links to a post now deleted? Now users that don’t notice the URL change might just assume it is the main campaign page referred to. Also, there’s no way to detect or fix broken pages or links. Sure broken links and pages are a bad thing, but not being able to detect them is worse. 302ing everything is essentially sticking your finger in a leaky pipe. And finally, 302s pass no link equity in the eyes of search engines, giving a rather nothingy end to any content you may have had there. Plus, he’s missing out on the political brownie points of having a snazzy 404 page.
So what has alternative Republican candidate Rubio got to offer? Well thankfully something a little better! Apparently Rubio saw it best to compare loosing a page to loosing the ball in an NFL game, giving the perfect opportunity for this simple, yet effective 404 page, strongly encouraging users to watch a campaign video about lessons Rubio learnt from playing football. Sure it doesn’t have the same level of humour as Clinton, but I assume a lot of people landing on this page will be interested enough to watch a campaign video they previously wouldn’t. Other good points? Well unlike Hillary, having the full menu bar is a nice touch. Although taking away some simplicity it’s a lot more user friendly, allowing users to navigate through the site. Unfortunately it still doesn’t really offer a solution for users finding the content they were actually looking for.
How about final announced Republican candidate Rand Paul? Well, it turns out Paul uses CloudFlare as a CDN on his website and uses it to generate a 404 page. I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On a basic UX level it’s actually quite well, allowing users to search the site to find their missing page, and giving automatic suggestions when you first land on it. However, being entirely CloudFlare branded and completely out of the whole website template it’s rather alienating to a user and likely to make them bounce.
Okay, although not a candidate for this election, it seems only fair to check out the 404 page of the incumbent. And it’s actually quite good. Simple, responsive and humorous with easily navigable menus and a strong cross sell to direct traffic to the Health Care page, it certainly serves a purpose. It still doesn’t find that perfect balance of purpose, usability and humour however.
Okay, so it seems unfair to completely ignore the UK parties in the upcoming election in all this too… so to give a very brief run through.
Probably one of the worst possible 404 pages out there. Completely outside of the website design, no helpful information and only a single link to navigate back to anything of use.
Slightly better than the Greens, but not ideal. Still no helpful information or any effort to create humour or any kind of campaign messages, but at least it’s kept within the overall template of the site.
The Conservative Party 404 page is pretty well execute. The design and navigation all fits with the rest of the site allowing ease of navigation. Although there’s still little attempt to get users back to relevant content the Conservatives have taken the chance to attempt to get users to fill out a survey. It would be interesting to see the conversion rate of that page. It’s a nice idea if it works, however it’s hard to imagine a form that long would be appealing to anyone when they’ve followed a broken link.
The Labour Party are the only UK party to go down the humour route, declaring “Well, this is rotten. But a 404 Error is still better than five more years of Tory government”, being aligned with campaign message but still giving some light relief. In general the design is simple and fitting with the rest of the website, and with a strong call to action to go to the homepage with support it works well, however it’s still disappointing to not really see any parties make any real effort to direct users to the content they were actually looking for.