All three major UK political parties, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, have included digital and technology agendas within their manifestos, but do their websites match up with their promises?
New research from application performance management specialists Dynatrace analysed the three main party websites, along with the Green Party, SNP, and UKIP over a two and a half week period to examine how well they perform.
The findings of the study fall into two main categories: the average response time of each website and website availability.
When it comes to loading times, SNP tops the list, with its site taking just over three seconds to load. At the bottom is UKIP - its website takes nearly ten seconds to appear.
Labour fared pretty well, coming second behind SNP, then followed by the Lib Dems, Conservatives and the Green Party a few seconds ahead of UKIP.
However, Labour's website was the least available, with users only being able to access it just over 77 per cent of the time.
Again, SNP topped the list with over 98 per cent availability. It was followed by Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens.
It is possible that the SNP website is fast loading with high availability because Scotland contains a large number rural areas with less broadband coverage and so needs to reach people who might not have the best quality Internet connection.
Users demand digital
"Digital technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, from socialising, to shopping and banking and politics is no different," claimed Dynatrace Solutions VP Michael Allen.
"This year's General Election is being fought on the digital background like no other before. As voters try to decide on which way to go in the run-up to the election, they will be turning to the web to stay abreast of all the latest information on party mandates, politicians' promises and those all-important election gaffes.
"It's no surprise then that each of the main political parties has an online presence, giving them a direct line through which they can try to win those essential votes.
"However, first impressions on the web really do count, so in the run-up to the election you'd expect the party sites to be optimised to deliver the very best user experience. It should be as important for a political party to be the fastest and the smartest in reaching out to the electorate as it is to a bank or an online retailer to conduct a transaction neatly and swiftly," Allen added.
[full_width_ad]To gather data for its research, Dynatrace used its Synthetic Monitoring to monitor each party website on an hourly basis by testing what happens when someone tries to access them.
The tests are conducted from real user locations to give a true and accurate representation of what voters will experience when trying to access the websites from home.
The company claims this provides insights on how these digital channels could be optimised and refined to improve the website experience for users.
"Digital performance and digital optimisation have rocketed up the agenda as consumers, and voters in this instance, have come to demand faster and better online experiences," Allen claimed.
"These days it's not enough to just have a website, users expect them to be flawless and they're very unforgiving if they aren't. Slow loading pages can quickly lead to frustration and cause visitors to click off and go to a competitor for the information they need.
"It's a little surprising that there's such a divide between the parties' digital performance so close to the election; you'd expect to see a lot more effort going into optimising the user experience given how important each and every vote is going to be this this," he added.
Consider the users going forward
We at 24N decided to catch up with Dynatrace VP of Marketing Laurent Seraphin to learn more about how the research was conducted and what the possibile implications are.
Seraphin explained that measuring how well websites perform is at the core of his company's business.
By measuring performance, Dynatrace is able to let clients know how well they are doing and what needs to be done to improve the experience for users.
Its software is able to measure the speed and availability of websites around the globe in a way that mimics really users and creates very accurate results.
It is important to note that website availability is a much more complex measure than simply is the website up or down - it is more of a measure of how many people are able to successfully load the page.
Seraphin told us a number of factors are at play in deciding whether a user will be able to access a webpage or not, for example, Internet connect speed and quality and whether the page being accessed has a lot of images or video files on it can all affect the availability of a site.
When asked what the key findings of this research are, he told us that all party websites fall within the industry average, not all websites are created equally and some are more friendly to end users than others.
Going forward, Seraphin recommends that political parties are mindful of the content they use online and balance the user experience with the technology available.