When Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry told people to go to his Web site during his address at the party's national convention, it struck Bruce Temkin as a bad idea.
That's because JohnKerry.com is not a well-designed Web site, according to the vice president and research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. In what might be considered good news for Democrats, neither is GeorgeWBush.com.
Both the Kerry and Bush campaign sites faired poorly in a recent Forrester review.
The fund-raising and organizing benefits of the Internet became clear thanks to Howard Dean's success during the Democratic primary. Yet when researchers at Forrester logged on to find the two presidential candidates' positions on creating jobs, sign up for an e-mail newsletter and make a donation, the sites were worse than many corporate sites, Temkin said.
"I imagine there are a substantial number of contributors who would be surprised by that public display of their information," Temkin said.
The Bush site also failed a user-error test. Any time a user is asked to enter information, there's a chance they'll type it incorrectly. When the Forrester team purposefully entered incorrect credit card information, the site returned a complicated error message that few would understand, Temkin said.
The two sites also don't adequately meet the needs of disabled users, Forrester found. Web sites need to accommodate the visually and hearing impaired, Temkin said. In this regard, Kerry's site passed the accessibility test, but Bush's failed. It didn't contain transcripts for video on the site and lacked alternative paths that take the visually impaired to specialized browsers that say printed words aloud, Temkin said.
Additionally, both sites fail to accommodate physically impaired visitors who use a head wand or might have dexterity problems with the mouse, Temkin said. The sites each require complicated mouse movements and clicks.
"They were not good on privacy and accessibility," Temkin said. "We thought those [areas] would have been well designed on a candidate's site."
Finally, the sites failed the legibility test. Temkin said Web sites should have 12-point font sizes --10 at a minimum -- and should also use contrasting colors. The Bush and Kerry sites regularly feature font sizes of eight and have poor color contrast, making them difficult to read.
Forrester had evaluated nearly 600 Web sites from all sorts of organizations. They all fall short in some categories, Temkin said. Comparatively, however, the Web sites of the two major candidates for U.S. president are poor.
"If you want to encourage people to use your site, it's incumbent on you to make it easy to use," Temkin said.