McCain vs Obama: Who Has The Best Website? The WebAward Judges Decide

The 2008 Presidential election is being fiercely contested by Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both candidates are using the Internet to help their campaigns woo volunteers and campaign contributions. But who has the better Website?

The Web Marketing Association has been judging Websites through their annual WebAward Competition for Website development since 1997. More than 18,000 site evaluations have been tabulated during that period and they took up the task of evaluating both candidates Websites.

During the first week of October 2008, 110 Internet Website experts who serve as WebAward judges reviewed both www.johnmccain.com and www.barackobama.com using the same criteria used in the annual WebAwards program. The sites were judged side by side on seven criteria of a successful Website.

Here are the results:

Design – Asked “which Website has the most pleasing design?” WebAward judges selected the Obama site 4 to 1 over the McCain Website.84.5% of them voted for Senator Obama’s Website and 15.5% selected Senator McCain’s Website as better looking.

Innovation – Website innovation also went in favor of Barack Obama. By the same margin as design, the vast majority of WebAward judges (82.4%) thought the Obama Website seems more innovative, while only 17.6% favored McCain’s.

Content – In terms of having the most appealing content, judges again selected the Obama Website over John McCain ‘s Website, although by a narrower margin than the first two criteria. 71.6% of the WebAward judges felt barackobama.com has more appealing content for visitors compared to 28.4% for johnmccain.com. WebAward judges also found that the Obama Website is more effective for telling the candidate’s story and attracting contributions and voters to its cause (72.2% Obama vs 27.8% McCain).

Ease of use – Senator Obama’s Website was seen as easier to use by the WebAward judges than Senator McCain’s. 73.8% selected barackobama.com as easier to use compared to 26.2% of WebAward judges who felt johnmccain.com was easier.

Copywriting – It is obvious that both campaigns have excellent writers on staff. Neither Websites have any of the editing issues some large organizations can experience. However, the WebAward judges gave the advantage to the Obama site (70.1% over the McCain site 29.9%).

Interactivity – Interactivity makes a Website more than just an online billboard and both candidates were effective in giving visitors to their Websites plenty to see and do. Nevertheless, once again the WebAward judges gave the edge regarding interactivity to the Obama Website (75.2%) over the McCain Website (24.8%).

Technology – Use of technology is evident in both candidates’ Websites, however, the clear favorite for the WebAward judges was barackobama.com winning 82.4% of the votes compared to johnmccain.com with only 17.6% of the votes.

“Regardless of who you will be voting for in the next presidential election, Websites are going to play an ever increasingly important role in how candidates get their messages across to the American voters,” said William Rice, President of the Web Marketing Association “Based on the findings of this survey by some of the top Internet professionals available today, the Web Marketing Association names barackobama.com the winner of the McCain vs Obama Website Challenge. We wish both candidates the best of luck in their efforts to become the next President of the United States in the November election”.

This survey was first used during the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Senator Obama’s website won that challenge and he went on to win the Democratic nomination.

When the WebAward judges were asked “If the election was to be held today. Which candidate would you be more likely to vote for?” 54.6% responded Barack Obama, 15.7% responded John McCain, 11.1% voted neither and 18% reported that they are a non-US judge and can not vote for anyone in a US election.

Methodology

An email was sent to all past WebAward judges requesting that they participate in an online survey between October 6 and October 13, 2008. 110 WebAward judges agreed to participate in the project. They reviewed each site and completed the brief online survey.

Judges for the annual WebAward competition consist of a select group of Internet professionals who have direct experience designing and managing Web sites,-including members of the media, interactive creative directors, site designers, content providers and webmasters. These WebAward judges have an in-depth understanding of the current state-of-the-art in Web site development and technology and they apply that knowledge to the entries they review. Past judges have included top executives from leading organizations such as A&E Television Networks, Agency.com, Blattner Brunner, Bridge Worldwide, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Comedy Central, Disney, Euro RSCG, Ion Global, J. Walter Thompson, John Deere Company, New York Post Interactive, Organic, Inc., Refinery, R/GA, Saatchi & Saatchi, SAP, Starwood Hotels, Sun Microsystems, Warner Bros. Online, Xerox and Zugara.

About the WebAwards

The 12th annual international WebAwards competition sets the standard of excellence in 96 industry categories by evaluating Web sites and defining benchmarks based on the seven essential criteria of successful Web site development. The goal of the Web Marketing Association, sponsor of the WebAwards, is to provide a forum to recognize the people and organizations responsible for developing some of the most effective Web sites on the Internet today. Entrants benefit from a Web site assessment by a professional judging panel and the marketing opportunities presented to an award-winning Web site. The Web Marketing Association also hosts the Internet Advertising Competition Awards.

Judges Comments for the McCain Obama Website Survey

Below are some of the actual comments from judges regarding the McCain and Obama Websites reviewed for the McCain Obama Web site Challenge. The views expressed are those of the individual judges and not of the Web Marketing Association.

“McCain’s site feels more “real” and in touch with the audience. Obama’s site is more technologically savvy but it has an “”empty suit”” feel to it. What I’m trying to say is that McCain / Palin (inspite of whatever their shortcomings may be) still come across as real people with real care and real concern for people — they may not be perfect but they really care. On the other hand, Obama / Biden “look right” and “sound right” but they still come across as unconnected, polished politicians talking DOWN at people. For all their rethoric, they just do not come across as sincerely caring for people. I believe it is foolish to elect our next president on the basis of their political party alone. Our country finds itself in a dangerous situation, both at home and abroad. Our problems are beyond pointing fingers to “this or that administration” and their mistakes. We are beyond that. Yes, we do need change, but not merely as a “platform” or “change” for its own sake. What America needs right now is a president with the EXPERIENCE to LEAD US out of our problems rather than a “”rock-star presence”” without the track record or experience (not even that of a “lowly” governor) to run our nation. Walk the walk – not just talk the talk.”
Frank de la Cruz
President
delacruz interactive design

“John McCain’s website was actually better than I had expected, but I think barackobama.com offers a far superior user experience and more innovative use of technology. It succeeds at engaging the audience.”
Lisa Garvey,
Senior Manager, eBusiness & Advertising,
Rambus Inc.

“There’s a reason he hired the co-founder of Facebook. Obama has redefined fundraising and elections via his web campaign.”

“Mcain site is more visually cluttered. Too many promo areas, too many fonts vying for my attention. Obama site is more monochromatic, calming with a better page layout. “
Richard Parr
CEO,
Executionists, Inc.

“Obama’s site is a lot more intuitive and straight forward in terms of finding information. It allows the user to easily scan content and find desired action items and topics fast. The donation button is clearly visible on every page. The design itself is a lot more open and clean and leaves to user room to think and breathe rather than overwhelm with content on every pixel of the screen. Easy choice even if I was not a supporter.”
Joy Busse
CEO,
Busse Design USA

“Generally on most of these I could have gone either way. I think Obama’s site overall is better, cleaner, lighter, to the point. McCains had a lot going on but was a little more confusing and the type faces were a bit of an odd choice. Overall neither were horrible like in past years so for supporters of either candidate, the sites are just fine. One note on McCain’s site, it almost seemed more geared towards Palin.”

“The McCain site is too cluttered and seems to appeal to those viewers who need to be hit over the head with the message. The design is more like one for a sports or gambling site. As to the effectiveness they may be very close but the Obama site is cleaner and faster. To buy merchandise on the McCain site I had 4 browsers pop out. That would make me nervous if I were really buying. The Obama site allowed purchases and donations to appear seamless and within the same browser. FYI I am a republican but McCain’s site reflects his and Palin’s lack of comprehension for technology and real ideas. I would suggest they redo the site now and stop the personal attacks.”

“Both sites had a lot to offer. I liked the clean look of Obama’s site, but I thought there was a lot going on. McCain’s site was much easier to find things and to navigate. Copy on Obama’s site was confusing at times to read. Both were pretty effective to get volunteers to sign-up, but the component that is used on Obama’s site stood out to me, whereas the Donate link was easier to see on McCain’s site. Very cool opportunity to judge both sites. “

“To be honest, johnmccain.com is more deceitful in terms of web usability. Icons and links do not meet current web usability standards; they don’t do what I expect them to do, and they have the effect of deceiving the visitor. For example, the use of a plus sign underneath an article is used on most websites to indicate that clicking the plus sign will expand the content. On johnmccain.com, the plus sign takes you to a link, which is not the behavior you expect. There are several links, that are in the main navigation menu as drop-downs, that take you outside the site to other sites, automatically play video, or work in other ways from standard links; in some cases this is quite jarring, such as when a link takes you to a page with a black background and starts playing a full screen video. Such behavior leads many visitors to click out altogether.”

“BarackObama.com has the benefit of more pleasing visuals, higher-end graphics, and even more attractive coloring (“”Obama blue””). There is a consistency throughout the site. Also, the call to actions are well defined — donate, volunteer. JohnMcCain.com has the benefit of solid copy writing and content. McCain’s stance on the issues take prime position — it is clear the website serves to educate potential voters. In the end, it appears that the candidates are focused on different goals. Obama seems to focus on persuasion for donation and volunteering, with a secondary goal of education of stance on issues and current events. In essence — mobilizing voters. And he does all this in a very visually pleasing, consistent, professional way. McCain seems focused on educating potential voters on the issues. However, the approach is less than consistent, sometimes confusing, and often unattractive. Interestingly (and a political statement) the very things that define the websites also define the candidates. The sites closely reflect the candidate’s values and target audience.”
David Felfoldi
Sherpa! Web Studios

“Obama’s site was more simplistic – easier on the eye and not overwhelming. His list, while lengthy, of “”issues”” was more comprehensive and there was less emphasis on special interests groups/factors, giving a feeling of “”we are all in this together””. He did not rely on foot, right up front, in large size, of his running mate but then Biden isn’t as “”controversial/physically appealing”” to the masses so I guess McCain is “”working that angle”” which to me is not related to the issues whatsoever. I didn’t like the fact that one almost feels you have to provide email address and zip code on Obama’s website – the “”skip sign up”” is not very prominent – McCain’s allows easy entry. I indicated that McCain uses the video more effectively but that is only is defined purely by frequency (in my use of “”effective)…I found there were TOO MANY video ops – depending upon a person’s OS and brower, a video can be a pain in the ass and scroll and reading almost every one can do. I felt Obama’s site was cleaner, more “simplistic, less cluttered, less “urgent” and more “with it”. The latter two descriptives are purely subjective. I have always voted Republican and will probably do a split ticket in my state so my “”zeal”” for Obama’s site isn’t driven by some “”favorite”” party posture. “

“I didn’t like the extra click to get into Obama’s website but once there, I liked his site better.”

“The Obama website was most definitely geared toward “”kids”” it used clever icons and small words. The McCain site seemed more geared toward the over 40 crowd. Did anyone find it interesting that both candidates sites used the same background color. The sites looked like they were created by the same person. I was a bit dissappointed in the lack of originality.”

“At the end of the day, the final, true measure of each Presidenital Candidate’s website will be its ability to promote “”conversion”” of website visitors to voters.”” –
Rebecca Murtagh
SEO & internet marketing expert consultant, trainer and speaker.
Karner Blue Marketing”

“From a marketing point of view, the McCain website has overtaken Obama in terms of clear call-to-actions and engaging visuals. Obama’s website is certainly more stylish but it may have succumbed to style over function as some of the content is a little ambiguous.”
Steve Morgan,
Corporate Web Designer, London, UK”

“Load times and splash page are cleaner on BarackObama.com Also, User-Generated Content (UGC) and Viral capabilities seem prevalent on BarackObama.com… JohnMccain.com seems to be more of a boilerplate web 2.0 design but lacks utility because there seems to be not that much true UGC. A clear barometer also is how many friends/members are on each respective MySpace/Facebook site– and how they were channeled there– by friends or by directly being pushed via bo.com jm.com. “
Ahin S.
CEO
Filmport

“If a tree falls in the forest””…Since John McCain doesn’t even use the Internet, does he know his site exists? Front page design to McCain — the content inside to Obama. It’s clear, uncluttered and to the point. The writing is better. I don’t like the fact that Obama attempts to get users to sign up to get inside (the bypass button is hidden within the blue at the bottom).”

“Barack Obama’s web site has taken into consideration the needs of people with disabilities, while John McCain’s site seems to have ignored this group.”

“Seemed kind of wimpy that McCain has Palin be the feature on the first video. Also, although it looks good on high speed, all that flash would be a pain for dial-up users. On the other hand, Obama’s started with a pitch to buy a button — stupid! and the video it featured is gone, with nothing explaining why. And the video they do still have is boring shots of roads.”

“This was one of the most difficult sites to compare as both of them were pretty much neck to neck on all the judging criteria — I’ve never toggled so much. The one thing I would have to take points off for would be the annoying splash/entry page on Obama’s page. Hats off to both sites!”

“I think they are technically, comparable side-by-side. I objected to Obama opening page a request for money or email – obnoxious. McCain seems stuck on serif font that’s much more difficult to read. McCain site was re-loaded in 5 mins I first visited and retn’d to home page – do it in wee hours best. McCain photos of week slow to enlarge, some seemed doctored. McCain too busy. way to busy.”

“Obama site keeps asking to download files, annoying. I’m surprised there is no question about accessibility and there should be choices for both or the same; a lot of these questions would fall under equal.”

“The deep blue palette and rounded design of BarackObama.com speaks to his change mantra – it’s soothing. And his use of Web 2.0 technology enables supporters to get involved on many levels beyond mere donation. Finally, the prominent use of video helps to define a politician whom many once knew very little about.””
Kent Hunter,
DMD

“I think both sites are impressive in their own ways and speak to their respective party members in a ‘take action’ kind of way. I would have to say BarackObama.com is more compelling since his site has a message from the Presidential candidate himself talking about the changes he plans on implementing vs. JohnMccain.com which has a message from VP candidate Sara Palin asking for help recruiting more people to vote for the Republican party.”” Brian K. St.Ours
eWareness Inc.

“Barack Obama’s web-site breaths more “”elegance”” and gives the audience the look and feel of austerity and honesty while promoting a strong leader. However, for the mass audience Mcain’s- Palin web-site might more effective. In fact, Palin has these kind of presence ‘s someone you must trust. An advanced user should vote for Obaam and understand his campaignis based upon donations and people. Proximity, sense of being near and more show-bizz stuff is pereceived on McCain’s site.”

“Barack Obama’s website is one of the smartest websites I have ever encountered. I joined up on it about 9 mos ago and visit it nearly every day. His campaign has mastered the internet as a promotional medium and I believe his website has contributed significantly to his campaign’s success.”

“Overall design is more pleasing and feels more modern on barackobama.com The content is written to be consumed online – short scannable sentences with the ability to click to get more information. The content on Johnmccain.com visitors are presented with long dense blocks of copy with no headlines or bullets to help in scanning. On barackobama.com the use of a spare color palette keeps visual confusion down and uses red to draw visitors attention to the key areas, like donate or make calls. Also, video is user initiated while on John McCain the video starts to play on some pages.”

“Barack’s site is like the love child of Apple and Nike (oh wait… that was Nike+). John’s site feels like Microsoft’s response.”

“Yeah, I know, I voted straight down the line for Obama’s Web site (and I intend to vote for him). However, let me qualify: One thing I despise more than anything in a Web site are videos that play automatically. I really find that annoying and aggravating; if I want to watch it, I will! That, and McCain’s took too long to download (and I’m on a T-1 line). So, right there, the site annoys, which doesn’t predispose me to want to stick around (loads too long and starts playing unwanted videos). Then, in terms of social networking, Obama’s got it all over McCain; if there’s a Facebook or My Space for McCain, I couldn’t find it.”

“While John McCain’s web site seemed to use more of the latest social networking technology (and encourage users to get involved to spread the message), I felt that the Barack Obama web site was the most pleasing in terms of design, richness of content (better copywriting that more quickly got to the point to tell the story) ease of use and overall user experience. One thing that turned me off about the John McCain web site was that it offered to provide ‘different’ or more ‘customized’ content based on whether the user was undecided or already for John McCain. While it sounds innovative on the surface, the thought that certain content would only be available to undecideds seemed to lack transparency…and in the long run, hurts McCain’s brand in my opinion. It’s a good example of good technology poorly (or not thoughtfully) implemented.”

“The relationship between these two sites can be seen as a microcosm of their respective campaigns. Obama’s has been innovative, clear and accessible from the beginning. McCain’s has been very traditional and a little clumsy. Over time, I’ve noticed that the McCain site has incorporated many of the innovations that were always central to the Obama campaign’s web experience. Similarly, McCain has co-opted many of the Obama campaign’s messages of change, etc. The McCain site feels a lot like the McCain campaign — playing a lot of catch-up but always appearing to be a poor imitation of the original.
Christopher Simmons
Principal/Creative Director, MINE™ Instructor of Design,
California College of the Arts
President Emeritus, AIGA San Francisco”

“The Barack Obama site is well-branded and intuitive with a refined touch. The video section is nicely designed and the issues are easy to access from anywhere. Bill Finch, President, Creative Flavor Inc.”

“McCain’s site looks like a rip-off of the beautifully crafted, innovative and thoughtful Obama one.”

“The Barack Obama website gets it. Bottom line. Everything from visual design to user paths to technology.”

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