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The Presidential SEO Showdown

Who has the best SEO, Trump 2020 or Dole ’96?

The Edge45 Team
Apr 29, 2019 · 10 min read
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Here it is folks, the SEO showdown you didn’t know you’d been waiting for.

We look at the websites of two republican heavyweights, to find out whose campaign website had the best SEO.

In one corner, the ultimately-doomed campaign of Bob Dole ‘96.

In the other, the hopefully-doomed campaign of Donald Trump 2020.

We’ll compare the sites based on seven SEO metrics:

  • A sense check.
  • What’s visible above the fold.
  • Mobile-friendly.
  • Value propositions.
  • Lighthouse audit performance.
  • Site speed.
  • On-page SEO.

Hold on to your miniature American flags, your XXL soda, and novelty foam hand, because there can be only one winner.

Metric 1: Sense check

Are there any glaring errors? Stray bits of code? Elements that don’t render properly?

Bob Dole ’96: Sense check

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It says “The Dole Kemp 96 website is Presented for Educational Purposes by 4Presidents.org”, making us wonder whether the holding page was present originally.

A quick glance at the wayback machine is inconclusive. The first capture is from April 2001, five years after the campaign, when some enterprising deviant had bought the domain and stuffed it with pornography:

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We’ll go with the holding page being original, given the specially made, convincingly hi-res image:

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Once you get to the main site, a sense check reveals that it is a relic of days gone by. There are few familiar navigational cues, and the layout doesn’t conform to any conventions that have since become established.

Donald Trump 2020: Sense check

A huge pop-up banner makes a dubious claim, then asks for your money to help “send a HUGE message to the Trump haters”:

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(This banner shows every time you refresh the page).

Behind the banner, there are three more requests for visitors to contribute money. There is also a gift shop, in case you want to spend more money.

The copy celebrates Trump’s various achievements, with very few benefits communicated for the average voter.

In short, it’s as bombastic as you’d expect.

Results:

❌ Trump 2020

Both sites are off-putting from the outset, each in their own way.

Metric 2: What’s visible above the fold

In web design it refers to website content visible on your screen before you do any scrolling. The idea remains the same: This should be intriguing and eye-catching. Ideally it should communicate to the visitor what they can expect from your site, and give some idea of which actions they can take.

Bob Dole ’96: Above the fold

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Donald Trump 2020: Sense check

Once you dismiss the banner, though, the page structure is quite good:

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The page elements tick all the right boxes:

  1. Eye-catching image of Trump saluting a marine as he departs Marine One. Very presidential.
  2. A concise tagline to catch your attention.
  3. A succinct call to action (CTA) showing the main way to interact with the content.
  4. A subtle nav bar showing other ways to engage. ‘Shop’ and ‘contribute’ stand out, the latter slightly more than the former.

Results:

✔ Trump 2020

That’s 1–0 to Trump, so far.

The Don’s site has been designed with web design conventions in mind, and the navigational pathway is much clearer as a result.

Metric 3: Mobile-friendly

It’s a ranking factor, too. A page not optimised for mobile will slip down the rankings.

Bob Dole ’96: Mobile-friendly

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There was no mobile internet, so mobile-friendly design wasn’t even a thing. Unsurprisingly, the site failed the mobile-friendly test:

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We will give special mention to horizontal phone layouts, though.

Back in 1996 big, clunky CRT monitors were the norm, and screen resolutions were usually either 640×480, 800×600, or 1024×768, if you were feeling fancy.

Given that the Samsung S7 (the phone we used for testing) has a resolution of 2560×1440, sites designed for ancient ’90s screen resolutions rendered quite well in horizontal orientations.

Donald Trump 2020: Mobile-friendly

Behind the banner though, everything is in proportion. Elements resize dynamically as you scroll, and overall it’s a very slick web experience. The site passed the mobile-friendly test.

There is an enormous area of white space below the footer, though.

Tut tut.

Results:

✔ Trump 2020

That’s 2–0 to Trump.

Trump benefits from web design standards suited to the ubiquity of mobile phones. Dole scrapes a sympathy thumbs-up, though, for accidentally achieving relatively good usability on some devices: 👍

Metric 4: Value propositions

Marketing guru Neil Patel defines a value proposition as “an easy-to-understand promise from you to your customers, giving them a clear reason to act.”

We’ll take “act” in this context to mean “vote for this candidate”.

Bob Dole ’96: Value propositions

Dole’s slogan, “More opportunities. Smaller government. Stronger and safer families”, is probably the closest thing to a traditional value proposition we can find on the page. And it’s not particularly strong.

Special mention goes to the “Dole Interactive” section, though, which offers a selection of treats:

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As 1996 value propositions, these would have been quite enticing.

Sadly only the ‘Computer’ link works now, and as generous as it is to offer nine different seamlessly-tiling desktop background images, the outcome is horrible. When I tried to “Show my support with Dole ’96 wallpaper!”, this is what happened:

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Donald Trump 2020: Value propositions

Beside “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”, there is no information about policy or issues. Just a list of achievements to date, and various calls for donations.

Maybe it’s biased, but being asked to give money away every time I visit a website is a bit of a turn off.

Results:

❌ Trump 2020

Still 2–0 to Trump.

Neither site communicates to a prospective voter what exactly they stand to gain, beyond woolly slogans.

Metric 5: Lighthouse audit performance

It’s a great way to get actionable, at-a-glance information on the strength and optimisation of websites.

Bob Dole ’96: Lighthouse performance

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Donald Trump 2020: Lighthouse performance

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Results:

✔ Trump 2020

3–1 to Trump.

Dole scores his first point thanks to strong Performance, and a surprising tie on Best Practices.

Trump scores a 100 on SEO, Dole suffers again from predating many things the audit looks for.

Metric 6: Site speed

We looked at two services to gauge site speed: The Lighthouse audit from the previous section, and GTMetrix.

Bob Dole ’96: Site speed

GTMetrix gave the site an A for both of its Performance Scores:

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Donald Trump 2020: Site speed

Trump’s site clocked in slightly slower, but still quick, with a B in both Scores:

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Results:

✔ Trump 2020

4–2 to Trump.

A website from 1996 has so much less to load than a more modern one, which did Dole some favours. Images will be smaller, code will be more lightweight, and there will be fewer interactive elements reliant on things like JavaScript.

Metric 7: On-page SEO

  • Schema mark-up: Is it present, and if so is it configured correctly.
  • Meta descriptions: Are they present, and if so do they follow good practice.
  • Image alt tags: As above.

Schema mark-up is metadata designed to give search engines a better idea of what content on a page means. Wrapping tags around a string of numbers can help a crawler understand that it’s looking at a phone number, for example, which can then be pulled through to rich snippets in SERPs.

We used Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see what schema was used.

Meta descriptions are a website’s ‘shop window’ in the SERPs: Users read them before deciding whether to click through to a page. So it’s important they’re well-written and enticing.

Image alt tags give crawlers context for image content, and help users with screen readers understand visual elements of web pages.

For meta descriptions and image alt tags we used Screaming Frog. For Donald Trump’s site, findings are based on a 500 page sample that can be comfortably extrapolated to the whole site.

Bob Dole ’96: On-page SEO

There are no meta descriptions, and only one alt tag.

Donald Trump 2020: On-page SEO

98.76% of Don’s meta descriptions are duplicated, and the remaining 1.24% are missing.

The one description he uses?

Help continue our promise to Make America Great Again!

100% of images are missing alt tags, although many images are pulled through by CSS as backgrounds, meaning they have visual purpose but do not contribute to the ‘narrative’ of the page.

Results:

❌ Trump 2020

4–2 to Trump.

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Both campaigns dropped the ball here. Trump doing so is less excusable, given how basic these on-page factors are.

Final thoughts

You can see that the intent of the website was to provide information and entertainment, which is good.

It’s a nice reminder that websites can function well without a fixation on SEO too, although this definitely isn’t an approach we’d recommend taking.

Trump’s site is, largely, well-configured in SEO terms. There are a few glaring omissions (schema, for example), but overall it ticks a lot of the boxes.

He finally wins something without any accusations of funny business or foul-play.

It is a white-hat site for a black-hat president, if you will.


Originally published at https://edge45.co.uk on April 29, 2019.

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