Making the Grade: John McCain

John McCain logo

Funny thing happened on the way to publishing this sites eval – a newsletter showed up in my Inbox announcing the launch of the new JohnMcCain.com website. With flowery words like:

Today’s release is the base platform for the thousands of Team McCain online activists to become involved in John McCain 2008. On the site, individuals are empowered as key participants in Senator McCain’s campaign to recruit other volunteers, raise money, and participate in a virtual town hall with Senator McCain. The site will continue to grow and evolve as Senator McCain makes a final decision about running for President.

“In 2000, John McCain harnessed the power of the internet in a way that was new and unique to campaigns,” said Christian Ferry, National eCampaign Director. “This site continues to build on that experience, recognizing the importance of new media in today’s political discourse and the power of technology to inform, involve, and connect individuals to a candidate and a campaign.”

“This site is a departure from the traditional campaign website in both design and navigation,” continued Ferry. “It is designed to engage users with a different visual experience on every page, giving them unique insight into the rich personal story of John McCain and his years of experience that differentiates him as ready to lead.”

With the press release as a starting point, lets check out McCain’s eCampaigning IQ:

JohnMcCain.com – (design by unknown, backend by unknown)
Comparing the current site to what existed last night, we have the same design principles – black, white and grays with McCain providing the color in the video clips that exist on the site. Funnily enough, the site is attempting some of the principles of the Democrats, with some additions such as Flash rollovers (move your mouse to the lower sections of the site), but there are some differences.

  • First ImpressionStrong, Naval, Dark – with McCain standing out as the light.
    From my first impression, I am not overly impressed – it is a challenge to figure out what to do. With McCain’s face on the right, I am drawn away from the two things that they want – to Join Team McCain and to Donate. I am intrigued to play the video, and hear Senator McCain speaking on Iraq. I still see Naval officer and the potential leader, with a level of gravitas. His brand is “McCain” – very heavy and dark. Almost foreboding. The logo is in the tradition of the Armed Forces – strong, sharp and clean. Throughout the site, the brand is consistant, but the layout and structure runs into problems.
    IQ pts: +4
  • Call To Action

    splash of color on JohnMcCain.comIn any site, the first thing to do is orient yourself. The large head of McCain is there to see his videos which seem to loom. As in the Hillary site, dark colors blend together and the white spaces stand out – in this case, you only see the video. The problem is that the other actions desired by the campaign are not readily apparent – aside from the 10AM CST Town Hall meeting.

    And the one object that should be enticing me as an activist, doesn’t. And, for the campaign’s need – donate gets lost in the home page. But, when one goes into the website, Senator McCain shows up on the left-hand side, smiling and asking for a donation. But, as a first call to action, not exceeding inspiring. IQ pts: -1

  • Signup

    McCain Signup Page 2
    As in almost all sites, the signup is easy – especially with the signup bar in the upper right-hand corner and they sacrifice getting the zipcode to get you to the next step. Here is where they fall down: the next page is straight out of an HTML designers training manual – long, straight and off the page.
    And, in this page, you must give your address if you want to be part of the campaign – to get a McCain website or to modify the look and feel of the website. I can not get away with minimal information, which will more than likely turn off some people that need to be coaxed into building a relationship. Then, once you do the first step (of how many?), you see the next page which has your personal information greyed out(!) and now you must enter more information to get an account which seems even more intimidating. And, then, the reason for my giving him my information, I can not make my site. Do I feel like I accomplished something? Or did they get something from me?
    IQ pts: +3

  • Donate

    Here is where the task should be easy – simple page to enter my data and get a sense of confidence. This page is completely different from the others – with the standard HTML stack that goes down the page (or if you click on this link, you get the one-page contribution form). The only reason I feel confident about “safe” contributing is that the URL has the HTTPS statement, but I assume most other people do not know this. Additionally, there seems to be a lot of information requested due to the layout, even though they ask for only three more pieces of information. With the addition of the monthly contribution section and the “referred” object, they will discover a slight conversion difficulty – if only for the challenge given to users with so much choice and request for information. The error handling is also basic/simple – a list of all of the problems without reference (e.g. telling me that I did not Verify at the top of the page, which is a choice at the bottom of the form).When I am done, I am brought to a Thank You page – with the four options to be active. But no help, no receipt, no email to me (I skipped entering the email), and no tracking codes for how I got here. IQ pts: +3

    Interesting facet I think I discovered – McCain is testing the different contribution formats to see which results in a better conversion rate. Nice work on the experimentation side.

  • Activism

    JohnMcCain.com Action Center - click to see full view
    This Action Center seems to have the same features of the Hillary services, but includes state-specific services (volunteer for the state offices, create your own site). One thing that impressed me even though no blog exists, McCain offers users to either submit a video to the campaign with questions, submit a question via text or engage other blogs. Now this is a tactic I suggested awhile ago for another candidate who was staff-shy and blog-nervous, but it is a good stop-gap until the blog team is ready. In addition, the site promises personal blogs as well as the campaign blog. You can also invite others to join in via email, but all of the tools seem very limited. More like the bare minimum than a good compliment. IQ pts: 0


Engagement Strategy Smarts

In this stage of the campaign cycle, it is difficult to create an engagement strategy when you are working the specific states necessary for the primary season. This site has launched with a full understanding that they are not ready for the engagement effort – YET. They promise alot – but from their efforts to date, it seems as though the outreach is limited.

  • Equity

    Is this site for me or for John McCain? My fundamental premise is that candidates need to serve the supporters and then request what I can do for them. Or, if I am a serious supporter, make it easy to let me become part of the campaign. And, as a simple site, JohnMcCain.com does the basics. With a little bit of embellishment with downloadable widgets and gimmicks, but nothing stimulating at present.

    Stars and Stripes Masthead For some reason, the site design seems almost like an old style newspaper, or Stars and Stripes (sorry Daniel, can not agree with the “professional” styling here). The biographical information on Senator McCain does not hold well together, sort of that “swap-meet” style discussed in other posts. The “interactive timeline“, while providing a nice piece of Flash, does little in the information section since it is a challenging navigation paradigm with information and photos. In general, I can find information on the candidate, but feel like I am going through different books from different authors to find it.

    Does this make the grade? Funnily enough, I think not as strongly – since, while I get the information, it is like peanut butter – spread over a large piece of bread. And I am not enticed to contribute, rather I get lost. IQ pts: +2

  • Engagement

    There is what I would call tick-box engagement. The Flash pieces on the bottom of the homepage seem to address this need – as in luring me to get engaged (nice trick to put them at the bottom of the page so my mouse would find them if I fly over them). But the site is currently not very engaging – both from the colors of the site and the premise it seems. The black/gray nature of the site is foreboding – bringing a screaming need for color.

    Maybe this is a tactic, since the splashes of color are always focused on the Apple/Mac-like video presentations – to engage the visitor with Senator McCain. But something is missing – and I can not quite put my finger on it. Does this site engage? I can not say so. IQ pts: -2

  • Offsite Engagement

    McCain is supposed to have the best organization out there – getting people from Bush’s Campaign to help in the outreach effort. Tripping across the myspace and Facebook, it looks like McCain is beginning to reach out – but not connect. I think of the Facebook profile as another billboard for him to post. He has not accepted any “friends” yet, which leads me to wonder what will happen here.
    See my comments on Hillary’s offsite engagement policy for suggestions. IQ pts: -3

  • Respect

    This site – it’s about McCain and the gray. Or the black. Little about me and you. Remember that my metric is about engagement, not about features. The site does not scream at me with a swiftly running video, but it is still not engaging me. I would say it is indifferent at the moment – focusing on getting the scaffolding of the platform out there – and I wonder how we will revisit the site in the coming weeks. IQ pts: 0

Final Result – Engagement IQ of 106

McCain Search BoxThis is a bit of a disappointment – from the front-runner of the Republicans, especially making a claim of being the leader in the online engagement effort. Even their site is missing basic search engine fundamentals and has a major risk feature – aside from their personalization sites. One lesson learned in the 2004 election was to not place a search box on the website, since google already provides it, it takes up unnecessary space, exposes mistakes if not tracked properly and the feature is almost as superfluous as an appendix. And, in looking at the code behind the webpages, it is going to be difficult to have google crawl through. A poor showing, IMHO. Senator McCain, I look forward to your future revisions.

Update: take a look at David Ali’s take on the site. We have some similarities in opinion, and others we widely diverge. Oh well. One man junk is another’s treasure.

Update Feb 17 – connected to the Town Hall – and only got the first three minutes of the audio each time, and then suddenly would lose it. The video kept playing – but it was a wholly unsatisfying experience. Sorry Senator, please get a better vendor.

Next up: Senator Barak Obama

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