For the first round, each assessor (this year including myself and two other committee members from the BCS Internet Specialist Group) is allocated a group of MPs and assesses their web site for three basic features: Usability, Engagement and Social Media. The first round is used to create a shortlist which will then be scored by guest judges.
Some of the sites I looked at scored very highly, some did not, and many MPs lost points for not using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook at all. I'll deal with these in a later post.
There were a number of general points, which apply to all web sites, but they are especially important to any web site relating to "day to day" activities. Some sites can get away with monthly or even annual updates, but for an MP, there should always be things happening, and their web site should reflect this.
- Don't be Under Construction. This applies to any web site, it's rather 1994, and for an MP, there's no excuse.
- Don't own a domain name and not use it. A couple of the MPs on my list had web sites which are listed on the web, but now return "host not found" when you click on the link, and a Google search for them by name did not lead me to their web site.
- Don't rely on content plugins. Whilst your web site might look very swish with your Tweets widget showing your latest activity on Twitter, it looks less swish if all your Tweets are from 2010 whilst you've been using Twitter every day in 2011. So, if you use a widget like this, make sure the content is what it should be.
- Do get the links right. Whilst assessing my allocated group of MPs, I saw a "Follow me on Twitter" link which went to Facebook, and a Facebook link which went to the wrong person - unless the MP concerned really is a teenage girl.
- Do keep your content up to date. One of the criteria was that the content on each site should be obviously up to date, and updated often. A couple of the sites had no dates on news items, and a couple of others had dates which indicated that the content was not updated particularly frequently. Those sites which did have obviously regular news items scored higher, and maintained a higher level of interest during the review. Whilst viewing the web site, I felt like I was participating in the MP's daily activities, rather than looking back at last year's highlights.
- Do check your fonts and layouts. Visit your own web site after you've updated the content, or if you have someone doing this for you, after they've updated the content. Are the fonts correct? Has that new photograph of you opening a village fete completely broken your home page and flung the content off the right hand side of the page?