Want more votes? Improve your Web site, study shows

Savvy use of the Internet could have provided the margin of victory in some close congressional races, according to a report.

Having a good Web site could bring in votes, according to a study on congressional members’ Web sites.The study uncovered a relationship between the quality of a member’s official dot-gov site and the number of votes he or she received in the 2006 midterm election. It could have been the margin of victory in close races.Of members who received less than 50 percent of the vote in the election, 21.1 percent — the highest percentage — had Web sites that earned a failing grade according to the criteria used in the 2006 Gold Mouse Report from the Congressional Management Foundation. Conversely, members who got more than 55 percent of the vote had the highest percentage of D’s.“This suggests that having an adequate Web site is something voters want and expect — but is not, unfortunately, something enough member offices now deliver,” according to the study.The foundation evaluated the Web sites based on how they incorporated audience, content, usability, interactivity and innovation. It also considered visitors’ experience, such as the quality of the information presented, usability and navigability, and the degree to which the information met visitors’ needs.The foundation said members of Congress lagged in areas that relate to constituents. Nearly half of members’ sites do not clearly explain how or why constituents should contact their offices regarding a problem. Almost a third of the sites do not link to sponsored or co-sponsored legislation. Of those that do, 13.7 percent did not reference the most current session of Congress.Moreover, only 26.4 percent offered guidance on the best ways to contact their offices, and about 16 percent of members clearly marked information on Congress and the role of its members.Overall, Congress lags behind constituents’ online expectations. A quarter of members’ sites earned D’s, the study states.It concluded that the Web sites’ quality is disappointing. Of the 615 member, committee and leadership office Web sites the foundation evaluated last year, 38.6 percent received substandard or failing grades.“Though it is no longer the novelty it once was, too many offices still believe that an online presence is not necessary,” according to the study. The best Web sites are virtual offices that foster communication with constituents and provide valuable information and services, the study states.The foundation gave 85 Gold Mouse awards to the best congressional Web sites — 62 to House sites and 23 on the Senate side.Members with the most successful Web sites sculpt their content to meet the audience’s needs and the office’s goals. They are innovative and arrange content to be easily understood, which fosters interactivity, according to the study.
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