They won the war but who won the digital battle?

Conservative vs Labour go head to head but who had who in their pocket?

As part of our latest initiative here at Pancentric Digital, we’ll be inviting key members from our different disciplines to cast their expert eyes over a brand, project, campaign or service each month.

We’ll focus on specific areas that stand out with each project but, in general, these critiques will cover creative, UX, performance, development and content.

Meet the judges

As May was election month, we’ve looked at some key areas of the two main parties’ websites prior to the votes being counted, (it might have been three — but the Lib Dems were so utterly obliterated we’ve resigned them to a footnote).

So, how did the digital experiences compare?

Did Labour labour? Or the Conservatives cruise to a majority? Our scores (marked out of 10) are at the end so no peeking yet!

Conservatives

Conservative homepage pre 2015 election

UX 5/10 + Creative 6/10
This was the worst experience of all! Whilst the first impression is welcoming and they did go a bit overboard with pictures of Mr Cameron, the site hasn’t been significantly updated in the last year. The information architecture (IA) confuses with overly descriptive titling and a grid of content modules that providing no obvious hierarchy for the user to follow.

Typography is one dimensional, with paragraphs too wide
and highlight panels too wordy.

For those secret tories amongst us there was an unexplained, ‘social gamification’ element that is really confusing with no obvious rewards for participation other than Tory points!

Content 6.5/10
When it comes to copy, less is more and the Tories got it right both pre and post election with a short header connecting with the image on the ‘Intro screen’. The question ‘If you were in?’ was too ambiguous to persuade users to commit. In what? The party? To donate? To volunteer? Or in the queue to mark your voting card right now???

The confusion doesn’t end here,

In an optimistically titled Share the Facts section the content, is less, well, factual and more opinion dressed up as facts — politics was ever thus!

Their election manifesto was not actually as web content, inexplicably forcing users to engage with their policies through Issu — a weird service that lets you read PDFs online and turn pages with a stylised effect.

That and the countless barriers to read more, simply was not a good way to enable users to engage with content, whilst also robbing them of any meaningful SEO opportunities.

Development 8/10
Despite the lazy loading masonry nature of their news section and the restricted content area (944px) the Conservatives did a great job generally and were the only site to handle the donation / membership processes internally, instead of redirecting users to a subdomain, which retains consistency.

Performance Marketing — 6/10
They invested a reported £100k to acquire paid likes through Facebook and they used video to good effect through sponsored posts too — with 5x more video content than the Labour were providing. They also used pre-roll ads on YouTube in an aggressive marketing push.

The Conservative’s financial power was more than three times that of Labour

The general consensus throughout the campaign was that the Conservatives were not so vocal on social channels. However as you can see from the chart below, despite them losing a lot of visibility in early 2014 they worked hard to rebuild this over the last year — and this activity, sustained and planned over a longer period played a part in them getting their message heard.

More sustained organic online visibility built by the Tories since Feb 2014

Labour

Labour homepage pre 2015 election

UX — 8/10+ Creative — 9/10 This obviously modern, fully responsive and accessible website is warm, welcoming and easy to navigate (modern usability wins like their sticky navigation bar help with this). It uses large typography and iconography to aid clarity and has clearly organised, well labeled content with obvious call to actions and clear user engagement touch points.

The rich content provided a varied, tailored and digestible experience that . was reflective of the users and the communities with whom they were appealing — The social feed helps with this.

The site is fully responsive and the brand experience does not degrade, the key messages remain very clear.

Development 6/10
Ultimately this feels all a bit cherry and no cake. A bit hurried and disjointed — it uses cobbled together sub-domains to handle the donation / membership processes. Unfortunately the nice use of Html 5 video banner falls short with any lack of real narrative (content is not for me to judge) and it could have been used more effectively. The responsive aspect to the design, although admirable is a bit buggy, with little things like logos partially obscuring the navigation letting down the experience.

Copy + Content — 5.5/10
Before the election the splash page was straightforward with no images and just a simple question:

Will you be voting for Labour on May 7th?

It feels too passive, there was no compelling reason to click — You know what you need to do but does that mean you're going to do it?

Well, I had to but on entering the site things took a turn for the better. Labour clearly outlined their 3 key points of difference using a tone of voice that was friendly, conversational and clear. They told their story using compelling videos (although this failed on mobile!) which complemented their above the line party political broadcasts.

They presented their manifesto content in a tailored way which added a personalised touch. They asked simply — What is it that really matters to you? and they then made what might have been otherwise confusing content digestible. It made you want to read it, it was nicely done.

Performance Marketing — 5/10
To harness the power of digital marketing, Labour brought on board Matthew McGregor, the former digital strategist for Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

They used Twitter to good effect, interacting and engaging with followers — pushing out on average 200 tweets a day compared to 120 from the Tory’s and 70 from the Lib Dems.

Milliband wanted to go down the traditional route of door-to-door canvassing.

Labour were citing UGC as their big focus and in some respects their followers were very vocal on social channels, this is due to budget constraints. They also aimed to create a buzz on social through endorsements from Martin Freeman and the vlog style interview with Russell Brand.

Interestingly, Labour were the only party to invest with some AdWords marketing, however on very generic terms. They would have been well advised to invest in some of the longtail questions that people ask about the election, particularly on mobile devices.

Casting our vote

Labour
Conservatives

With the votes in, counted and verified — the ‘Pancentric’ panel found that if the election had been fought solely on digital battlegrounds, then we have be looking at a Labour government leading this digital generation forward into 2015 and beyond.

Labour won the battle yet clearly lost the war. Why?

On the surface they seemed to do a lot of things right in this digital war however it would appear to be a lot of style over substance and a lack of a clear digital strategy has ultimately been their undoing.

Forgetting the outside factors such as personalities or the shifting political landscape up in Scotland the approach to ‘Performance marketing and social amplification was the difference here.

Labours digital experience overly relied on style over substance and attempted to campaign intensely for 4 months and rely on the their followers to virally spread their message.

The Conservatives played the long game. They had an integrated plan that took a more sustained approach to building visibility.

They applied their creativity and financial clout to their above the line campaign and social media content — clear messaging drove voters to a simple destination where content was king and persuaded the country into voting for them.

An integrated longterm plan, a clear content strategy and some clever (if not a little contentious) creative — engaged people helped the Conservatives win the war despite losing the battle.