There’s some research out this week saying that the Labour Party’s policies scored poorly on Google search. This would be an issue demanding urgent attention if the research had not been skewed.
An election is rolling into view. It’s going to be very interesting. Digital will no doubt play a key role in that fight and examining how well the political parties are prepared can be informative, but what has been served up this week by research firm Tamar is too basic and mechanical to be of real value. It failed to dig deep and showed the weakness of robotic research in terms of search.
Tamar’s Political Search Index was designed to workout how easy it is for voters to find official policy information from the mainstream political parties online via Google and party websites. The results show the Labour Party trailing badly behind the Conservatives and the others.
It found that for a number of key policy areas including defence, environment and pensions, no content from the Labour Party’s website Labour.org.uk appears in the first five pages of Google results.
On initial examination that could be quite damningâ€¦but Tamar’s research only hold’s up if you search for the term “Labour” and “defence” or “Labour” and “environment” if you happen to search for “Labour Party” and either of the above then the results are at the top and thus rendering null and void Tamar’s conclusions.
Here’s the thing: “labour” is a term to describe giving birth and workers and so when it comes to search any half smart person isn’t going to combine the terms “labour” “tax”, or “labour” “hospitals” as this like Tamar says returns useless results. However, using the term Labour Party makes more sense and returns more intelligent/useful results (the aim right?).
Another important point to consider here is that because they are in opposition, the Tory (and Lib Dems) website is used to carry their response to government policy. Quite a lot of the pages which appear high in search rankings aren’t Tory policy pages – they are news stories or pages from the Blue Blog – for example when you search for Conservative Afghanistan Policy. The reason for this is simple: Labour is in Government. The party doesn’t make policy announcements via its website – so the issue here is a lack of relevant searchable content rather than SEO.
None of this is taken into account and I’d argue it is a misleading headline seeking PR tactic for Tamar to send out a press release claiming “the results show the Labour Party trailing badly” when that claim is wholly reliant on interpreting the data in one particular way. Without too much effort it is pretty easy to pick apart its research. Not a great sign in this instance.
There are other issues I have with the research and its claims, which I think are largely without merit. Tamar’s Neil Jackson says Google will be the first point of call for voters looking online to compare the policy positions of rival political parties.
Nonsense. The first port of call for any voter looking for informational on policy debates will be the media offline and online. From the FT, The Times and the BBC to the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Through in Twitter, YouTube and televised debates and that is the primary platform where the war of ideas between left and right will be played out. Those are the political trenches – that is where the Barack Obama and the Democrats won their election.
Granted, there might be a small minority who will search out and read party policy documents, but this group is not significant.
Tamar says that while all political parties are investing heavily in creating their own social networking platforms (where Labour is showing a significant lead) some “like the Labour Party need to go back to basics and ensure that their site can deliver”.
But in Labour’s case at least the site does deliver. Mark Hanson Labour Party new media strategist and deputy MD of Wolfstar puts it like this: “There’s little evidence that floating voters search for a specific party’s specific policy in order to decide how to vote. Instead, the Labour Party has successfully focused on using its website to sign up many thousands of grassroots supporters to help them fight the campaign online and offline at the next election.”
That’s the point of the Labour or Conservative Party websites. The first thing that strikes you about them as a visitor is that these sites are not for your floating voter.
The front page of the Labour Party site has a big call to arms with members explaining why they joined the party, which can be posted to Facebook or to your blog. That is social media sharing in action.
Likewise the Conservative Party site has a similar bold: “Campaign, Fundraise, mobile”. Neither leave you in doubt that they want you to sign up, donate and get involved. That’s their raison d’etre. Policy documents are there for members and supporters, but that is only one facet of these sites.
If you look at the list of policy pages on Labourâ€™s website, for instance, it’s obviously written for people browsing so that it makes sense to readers. This is crucial as robots can only tell us so much about web strategy pretty much like this research.
If this is the first of a planned series of “Political Search Index” research from Tamar I hope round two is more informative that would always be welcome.