The Presidential SEO Showdown

The Edge45 Team
Apr 29 · 10 min read

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

Nothing technical here, just taking a look at the sites to see how they feel.

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

Bob Dole ’96: Sense check

The website has a holding page, which is a bit weird. You have to click ‘Enter Here’ to see the main site.

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:

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

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

Obnoxious, controversial, money-oriented, and self-congratulatory.

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

(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:

❌ Bob Dole ‘96

❌ Trump 2020

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

Metric 2: What’s visible above the fold

This term originates in newspaper printing. Newspapers are often folded in half before sale, meaning the visible headlines and copy — the stuff “above the fold” — had to be as intriguing and eye-catching as possible.

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

On the main page all of the content is visible above the fold. This doesn’t qualify as a pass, unfortunately, because there is no implication of priority content, nor any effort to direct the visitor to specific areas of the page:

Donald Trump 2020: Sense check

The banner makes it hard to call this one, because it interrupts the content curated above the fold with a demand to open your wallet.

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

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:

❌ Bob Dole ‘96

✔ 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

“The web is being accessed more and more on mobile devices”, say Google on their Mobile-Friendly Test tool. “Designing your websites to be mobile-friendly ensures that your pages perform well on all devices.

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

Bob Dole ’96: Mobile-friendly

This site is hobbled in this category, considering the pinnacle of mobile phone technology in 1996 was the Nokia 8110. Perhaps better known as The Matrix Phone:

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

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

Again with the obnoxious banner!

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:

❌ Bob Dole ‘96

✔ 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

A user needs some incentive to engage with content; something to hold their attention and prevent them clicking elsewhere.

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

Back in ’96, the purpose of websites wasn’t fully established yet. They were something of an afterthought for most businesses.

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:

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:

Donald Trump 2020: Value propositions

Trump’s site fares little better.

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:

❌ Bob Dole ‘96

❌ 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

Google’s Lighthouse tool “has audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, and more.”

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

Bob Dole ’96: Lighthouse performance

Donald Trump 2020: Lighthouse performance

Results:

✔ Bob Dole ‘96

✔ 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

A quick site is vital. Google’s aptly-named “Speed Update” now penalises slow sites in both desktop and mobile rankings.

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

Bob Dole ’96: Site speed

Lighthouse found the site to be fully interactive at 1.0s, which is incredibly quick.

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

Donald Trump 2020: Site speed

Lighthouse recorded fully interactive status at 3.3s. Still very quick, but slower than Dole.

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

Results:

✔ Bob Dole ‘96

✔ 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

On-page SEO is a broad umbrella, but we’re looking at three things in this section:

  • 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 is no schema mark-up, but it didn’t exist until 2011, so we’ll let them off.

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

Donald Trump 2020: On-page SEO

There is no schema mark-up at all. Sad.

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:

❌ Bob Dole ‘96

❌ Trump 2020

4–2 to Trump.

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

Final thoughts

Bob Dole’s site mainly falls flat on conventions that weren’t established back in 1996, when the internet was in its infancy. For that we can forgive the somewhat paltry performance, and regard the website as what it really is: An interesting exhibit in the museum of internet history.

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.

The Edge45 Team

Written by

(Thoughts about) digital marketing that works. Find us here ➡ https://edge45.co.uk ⬅

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