How do you want your website to add value to your campaign? Many campaigns treat their website as a checkbox - something to show the opposition campaign strength. While this is a reason, your political campaign website can do so much more to add value to your campaign.
Donations are typically the primary goal, especially for political campaigns, nonprofits, and organizations. Add your donation button to the sticky header of your website to ensure that it is seen and stays top of mind.
Leads (For Consultants)
Lead generation (or LeadGen for short) is the lifeblood of a consulting firm. Your website is the perfect tool for this. Have a clear call-to-action (CTA) throughout your website. You want your LeadGen website to answer four fundamental questions the visitor, or prospective client, has:
- What do you do?
- Who's it for?
- How does it make my life better?
- How do I get it?
Generating In A Socially Distant World
There's a question on every business owner's mind:
How do I generate business now that handshakes are gone?
And I mean conventions, conferences, meetups, pitch sessions, and the general face-to-face meeting.
In this socially distant world your website, email marketing, video content, LinkedIn prospecting, and digital advertising will be more important than ever.
For initial pitch or discovery meetings, video conferencing works best. Yes, it will be awkward in the beginning. However, being face-to-face online, allows you to build trust and rapport faster than any other medium (absent of an in-person meeting).
If you need ideas, let's talk.
Bringing awareness to your candidate or ballot initiative is a critical element come election day. Use your website to tell a story of how your candidate will improve the lives of his/her voters to maximize recall.
Many nonprofits and campaigns think text marketing is out of their reach, both in difficulty and pricing. While text marketing is not as economical as email marketing, the 99% open rates are incredibly enticing for getting your message to your supporters.
Emails allow you to communicate with your followers on a one-to-one basis economically. Consider adding an email sign-up form to your exit-intent and time-delay pop-up.
This goal usually exists on your volunteer page, but don't hesitate to bring it to the homepage or pop-up to encourage participation.
Selling your merchandise is a way to raise money. Many campaigns, organizations, and nonprofits have trouble navigating into a merchandising strategy.
If you're a political candidate or campaign, look at what Andrew Yang, Beto, and (I hate to say it) Trump have done to push their campaign merch.
Nonprofits and organizations without a physical store presence (think museums), can turn their website into an e-commerce store to sell merchandise. And even if you have a physical presence, you should still be selling online.
Political campaign websites that follow good design principles ensure that your campaign is presented in the best way possible. This means more work, but it ultimately impacts key campaign digital marketing metrics and ultimately adds value.
The data shows that your website will be mostly viewed on mobile, followed by desktop, and tablets - in that order. Some of my clients' websites reveal that over 65% of visits are on mobile devices.
Because you're likely building your website on a desktop, it's understandable that you would prioritize desktop views; however, it is essential that you give your website the same, if not more, care with mobile design.
Optimize, Then Optimize Again
And then optimized again.
Speed, or website load time, is critical. Long load times kill visits. Whether you agree with it or not, with respect to speed, your website is competing against the likes of Amazon, Google, and other major websites. People are accustomed to fast websites. And fast websites make it easy for visitors to donate, give an email address, sign up for your text marketing, or volunteer.
One last thing on speed: Google likes fast websites.
Sticky headers are all the rage now - because they work. They are more effective at keeping your primary call-to-action (CTA) front and center.
As you scroll down the screen, a sticky header typically minimizes and follows you.
Use them on desktop views - always. Sticky headers on mobile is a different story. I've used them effectively on mobile; however, because you're limited on screen size (and this can vary drastically by device), you want to make that determination based on your goals.
Preview in Multiple Browsers
View your website in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer/Microsoft Edge, and any legacy browser to ensure your website displays properly. An alternative is using a service like Browsershots.
I find this to be commonly overlooked, especially with political campaigns. Keep in mind, a major cohort of voters are older, so make sure your font size is appropriate on all devices - especially mobile.
I go more into detail in my No-No's section.
Validate HTML/CSS Markup
Use tools like W3C’s Markup Validation Service to check all pages and avoid incompatibilities.
Link Header Logo To Homepage
Your main menu is precious real estate. Don't waste some of it on a Home button. Website visitors have been conditioned to understand that the logo links back to the homepage.
Your favicon is the logo icon on your browser's tab. If you're like me, you have multiple tabs open in one window. Having your favicon can make your website stand out and make it easier for visitors to identify which tab/window your website is. And making it easier for your visitors is critical.
There are important components of a website that will ensure your visitor has a good experience. Speed is a common theme among the components.
Think of your domain name as your phone number. You can have multiple phones over the course of your life (and I have), but you usually have only one phone number.
When picking a domain name, keep the following in mind:
- Keep it short
- Make it readable/memorable
- Try not to include numbers or symbols in it
- If you're a candidate, go for the .com
- If you're an organization, get both the .com and .org
- Pick an evergreen domain
Evergreen domain names don't typecast you to one office. Think erinforyall.com, as opposed to erinfortexashousedistrict45.com.
The second one isn't memorable, isn't easy to type, doesn't have that colloquial-quality, and wouldn't allow Erin to use it for higher office (should she choose).
Ever had a cheap or old phone that takes way to long to play that video? Well, hosting is your phone. As mentioned in my No-No's section, stay clear of cheap hosts.
Basically, hosting holds the content of your website and serves it up when someone searches for you on Google or types it directly.
I have some recommendations on hosts below in the What I Use section.
Set Up Thank You Pages
Your Thank You page(s) or Confirmation page(s) help you track your conversions: donations, email sign-ups, text sign-ups, volunteers, merch sales, etc. They're helpful for tracking conversions in Google Analytics and Facebook's Business Manager.
Schema helps search engines understand the content on your website. This helps search engines give the most relevant search results to people. It also assists search engines in returning rich content like Featured Snippets.
In short, you're writing content for two entities: people and search engines.
Run Broken Link Checker
Broken links will hurt your SEO, not to mention your user experience. Make sure you don't have any broken links. Also, confirm that internal links point to where they are supposed to. Lastly, it's best to have external links open a new tab.
A CDN (content delivery network) is a group of servers that hold and deliver your website files. It allows your website to load faster since the files are physically closer.
Even the speed of light takes time, or in this case, electrons. Therefore the closer the website files are to the person trying to view your website, the faster your website will load.
Caching helps speed up your website. See a common theme here? The temporary storage of website files benefits the website visitor and you. Most premium hosts offer caching services.
Test Web Forms
Make sure submissions on your web forms notify the right people. You will also want to have a successful submission redirect to a Thank You page.
Form Submission Email Autoresponders
Not necessary, but highly recommended. It's important to acknowledge a form submission with an automated email response. It's a simple thing to set up with most form plugins.
An SSL (secure socket layer) establishes a level of security between the website and your visitor. For example, it protects your website visitor's data upon form submission.
Historically required for only e-commerce sites, SSL's are encouraged for all websites. This is especially true since Google is using it as a ranking factor. So, make sure your website has an SSL.
Check Website Speed
Do everything you can to make sure your website loads fast. Google's Page Speed Insights tool is good; GTMetrix is better.
Check/Replace Placeholder Images
You'll likely use placeholder images when you are developing your website. Be sure to check all of them during your last run-through before going live.
Telling the story of how you'll make your supporter's lives better is the heart of a great political website. It places them as the hero and the candidate as the instrument of their better future. Here are some components within your political campaign website that will help you do just that.
Similar to the stakes, issues go into the depth of what's on the line. Here, I would encourage stories of how it's affected your constituents.
I tend to use the issues as a standalone page and put a custom call-to-action (CTA) or form on the issues page. You can also go more in-depth and create a dedicated page for each issue. Follow the same principle of creating a custom CTA and form.
If you do this right, you'll have your supporters self-segment themselves on your list. Why is this important? This will help you craft personalized messages to your list based on what's important to them, improving email open rates, volunteering, and donations.
What happens if you don't win? How does it impact the community and your existing or potential constituents?
You don't need to write a lot here. List the consequences of you losing as a question in one sentence. You don't literally have to say, "If I lose, you won't get ____." But you can acknowledge people's worries about the stakes.
This could be your plan, once elected. Paired well with the issues, you can have this as counter-part content on the issues page, or it could exist as a standalone page.
Similar to endorsements, testimonials serve as another way to create bonding and rapport with your website visitors or potential supporters.
Video is more effective than text. But if you can't get video, text is better than nothing.
Stories create connections. Your stories from the stump should show empathy and create an emotional value to your candidacy or campaign. If possible, have at least three stories on your campaign website.
Pretty straight-forward. You probably have a lot of photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ that would be great for your website.
Just kidding, Google+ doesn't exist anymore. I hope Google doesn't ding me for that. But, totally worth it. 😉
Video engenders trust. Your website visitors see your face, hear your words, and read your body language. Plus, it's easier to remember someone when you've seen a video of that person.
Need more? 80% of the internet is consumed through video.
I'm not comfortable on camera. I get it; I'm in that same boat. Think of talking to a camera as talking to your constituent face-to-face. There's a myriad of YouTube videos on how to become comfortable on camera, so watch a few.
Written endorsements are good; video endorsements are best.
It's also a good idea to use logos from organizations that have endorsed you on your website.
Volunteers are the veins of the campaign - moving the lifeblood of your message through the political ecosystem.
Have a volunteer page with a form dedicated to them. Ask them the typical questions about calling, block-walking, etc. But also have an open field for what their talents are and if they can bring some of those to the campaign.
My son was an infant when I got involved in politics, so I couldn't block-walk, but I could build my local organization a website.
So use your volunteer page/form as a talent pool.
Sell stuff on your website. T-shirts are great, just try to make them something someone would want to wear. Think of Andrew Yang's MATH shirt or Beto's iconic wordmark. Also, no one likes wearing rough, uncomfortable fabric.
Blog or Updates
Google likes websites that grow. And if you can answer some questions with decent-enough search volume, even better.
So write a blog, news updates, stump updates, whatever you want to call it, just keep writing engaging content about your campaign.
Once elected, you'll want to continue the practice for the day you decide to run for reelection or higher office. 😉 Some elected officials give weekly or monthly video updates on social media. This is great content for your website, too; I recommend transcribing the video into text on the page.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a critical component of being seen. It is the earned media of search. SEO is critical during the campaign; it is even more essential should you choose to continue to run for higher office.
Answer Questions Well
Google rewards websites that answer the searcher's question well. It's that simple, yet loaded with complexity. If you keep this simple principle in mind, your content will shine with Google and your website visitor.
Install An SEO Plugin
These are basically tools to help you fill in the blanks of what is important to the search engine results page (SERP): site titles, meta descriptions, focus keywords, etc.
Site Title And Tagline
Keep your site titles around 50-60 characters, including spaces.
Your tagline is how people identify your campaign. It will typically exist under your site title if you do not have a logo.
Configure Page Titles
Similar to the site title, you want to have a custom page/blog post title for every page on your website. If you need to make it longer than the recommended 50-60 characters, start with the page title, followed by the site title.
Website Design For Political Campaigns - Jessito
Write Meta Descriptions
Your meta description is a summary of a webpage's content. It shows up on the search engine results page (SERP) under the page link. You'll need to write a unique meta description for each web page on your website. It typically cuts off at 160 characters and is extremely important for a number of reasons:
- It shows up on the search engine results page (SERP).
- It's used by search engines for rankings.
- It provides value to the searcher.
You'll need to write one description for each page. I would encourage you to keep the searcher in mind with these questions:
- Why should I visit this webpage?
- How will it help me?
- Am I going to find what I'm looking for here?
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free service that will help you understand your site's performance in the organic search engine results. It will access your website pages, and all allowed website content. Google Search Console will help you keep your site clean of spam issues, will enable you to submit new content, allow you to remove old content, and disavow questionable content linking back to your website.
Backlinks are incoming links from other websites to your website. Backlinks are essential to strong SEO performance. A website with several backlinks to it tends to rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP).
You want reputable websites to link back to your website. It's similar to your personal reputation. The more trustworthy people (reputable websites) that recommend (the backlink) you, the further you'll go (the higher ranking).
Backlinks take work. They're typically not thought of in down-ballot races; however, they are critical to private-industry success. And everybody can benefit from higher search rankings.
Where to start?
Getting backlinks to your website is like getting someone to be your reference on a job application. You want to have authority and a good personal/online reputation. You'll need to ask for a backlink to your website. Look to your local Democratic organization websites, all the way up to the DCCC.
I would provide the code to insert on targeted websites - especially since smaller organizations don't have a dedicated website designer.
A permalink is the full web address, or URL, for any given page in your website. It's used for pages, blog posts, categories, and products (for campaign merchandise). Permalinks typically contain your domain name, followed by the slug. Take this page as an example. The website address (URL) is "jessito.com/" followed by "the-ultimate-website-design...".
Permalinks are typically permanent, hence the name permalink. If you have to change it, make sure you include a 301 redirect. You should make the permalink slug descriptive and keyword-rich.
Optimize (Yes, Optimize Again)
It belongs here too, and it's worth mentioning again.
Sitemaps are used in two contexts, but they describe the same thing. You should draft a sitemap of your website on paper, Excel, Lucidchart, or whatever to help you build your site.
In terms of SEO, a sitemap is a file providing information to search engines like Google and Bing about the pages on your website. It makes it easier for search engines to navigate (crawl) your website and ultimately index them for search results.
Marketing and Advertising
At the end of the day, your website is a marketing tool. And I would argue that it's your best one. It's highly customizable. It tells your story without interruption - unlike social media platforms like Facebook, where a targeted ad can snag your attention. These are some of the most effective components I use to build a website that adds tangible value to the campaign.
Sticky Donate Button
Donations are a vital goal for most campaigns. Making your donation always accessible, or "sticky," is proven to help increase contributions.
Sharable Digital Content
Share buttons are great.
However, you also want to give visitors images, videos, or copy points to download and share on their own social media accounts or websites. Think of it as a media kit for the general public.
Similar to Sharable Digital Content, make PDFs to download, print, and put up.
Social Media Links
Most campaign websites have social media links in the top header; this is a mistake. You want web traffic to flow to your website and not away from it. It's best to keep your social media links toward the footer.
Your Facebook Pixel is another element you should include on your website - even if you don't know how to use it. It's a piece of code that collects data on logged in users allowing you to track conversions from Facebook ads, optimize those ads, remarket to website visitors, and build custom audiences for future ads.
One of the reasons you want it on your website, even if you're unsure how to use it, is that it will allow an advertiser, like myself, to start advertising to website visitors on day one.
For example, I could create a list of people (custom audience) who visited one of your issues pages in the last 90 days, let's say it's a healthcare issues page. I would then build an ad focused on healthcare, encouraging those people to take some action. The ad is relevant and timely to what I need that list to do.
That's why you should install the Facebook pixel.
Facebook Custom Audiences
Custom Audiences are powerful advertising tools on Facebook. They allow you to target your ads to your supporter lists, website visitors, app users, and those that have engaged with your existing Facebook ads.
Used in conjunction with the Facebook Pixel, they make a powerful duo.
Social Media Links
These go without saying. Just keep them at the footer.
Communicating via email is quite economical. Make sure there are clear, easy, and multiple ways for someone to sign up for email communications on your website.
You may be tempted to ask for first name, last name, address, state, zip, phone, and/or email. Don't be. Keep it simple. The more fields you ask for, the bigger the form, the less likely a visitor will sign up for your email communications.
To start, I focus on getting the first name and email. That's all you need to start emailing your supporters. You can progressively profile your contacts after they sign up.
If you're a candidate, consider giving email capture the same level of priority and exposure as your donate button. Most new visitors are only learning about your campaign and may not be ready to donate - what businesses would call top-of-funnel. So you're better off working on getting at least an email address, rather than nothing at all.
What about people that want to donate?
You're not hiding your donate button. Donors will find a way to donate.
All I'm saying is that it's better to get something, rather than nothing.
Popup (Exit-Intent and Time-Delay)
People tend not like popups. But here's a not-so-secret-secret, they work. They work to generate donations, email contacts, and text sign-ups. So use both your time-delay and exit-intent popups strategically.
Use a strong call-to-action within your popups. Your popup CTA can be a donation, email, or text sign-up. I lean towards text or email if I don't have any supporting data.
There are two primary types of popups: time-delay and exit-intent.
Time-delay popups launch after the visitor is on your site for a predetermined amount of seconds. It's important to let them browse around your website before you launch the time-delay popup. This is a trust-play that allows them to become familiar with your website content before you ask them for something. Use your mobile time-on-site to help guide the launch delay time. The reason you want to use mobile time on site is that mobile doesn't allow you to effectively employ the exit-intent popup.
Exit-intent popups occur when a visitor moves their cursor outside of the upper page, where the tab bar is; this triggers the exit-intent popup. For whatever reason they are leaving your site, you want to be sure you get something from them.
One last bit of advice: make your popup CTA consistent with the page a visitor is on. For example, if a website visitor is on your healthcare page, your popup language should mention healthcare.
Return On Investment (ROI)
Not a lot of campaigns look at their websites as adding true value to the campaign.
Analytics will be where you spend a good amount of time if you're tracking website value effectively.
Even if you don't know how to use it, install it. It's free.
I can't stress this enough. The day will come when you need to track how much traffic your website is getting, and it will help someone like me to better help you.
Google Analytics Goals
Analytics is powerful, but goal conversion tracking is what makes it actionable.
Goals are, well, goals.
What do you want people to do on your site? Donate? You can set up a goal for that (depending on your donation platform). Sign-up for your emails? You can set up a goal for that.
The power exists in understanding where donations, sign-ups, etc. are coming from; in my world, it's called attribution. Google Analytics goals can give you a better understanding of how much it costs to get an email address. Or how much a particular ad campaign has produced in donations.
Donation Management Software
There are a lot of different ones out there. It depends on which one is a good fit for your campaign. I've used DonateWay and ActBlue. I would make sure it works well with Google Analytics for conversion tracking.
Set Up UTM Link Parameters
Urchin tracking parameters (UTM) are tags you add to the end of a URL. They don't affect where the page goes directionally. They do pass data onto the next page and into tracking tools like Google Analytics.
You can get very granular with them to learn which ad campaigns, hero images, and/or copy are the most effective. This allows you to spend precious contributions on channels that work.
Ever had a cheap phone? Slow right? The same is true for cheap hosting.
Cheap hosting usually means a slow website. And people don't like slow websites (Google doesn't either).
You don't have to break the bank for hosting, but free or $5/month hosting should give you pause.
Popup On Entry
Think about the last time you went shopping. You walked in, looked around, and, at some point, maybe someone greeted you with: BUY NOW!
That doesn't happen. There's a period of time the visitor needs to acclimate to the new environment.
The same goes for website popups. I see a lot of sites with a popup on website entry asking for money. Most visitors won't be ready for this.
Think of it this way: would you ask someone you just met to marry you? No. You'd ask them on a date first; then, after they learn more about you, they begin to trust you. And later, a marriage proposal comes.
Now, you don't have to give a popup the same kind of time warranted by a proposal. But you should give them some time to learn about you before asking them for money or an email address.
There's more about this in my Marketing and Advertising section.
This isn't necessarily plagiarism. It could be that you're reusing your own content within your website or from another website. While that's not totally unacceptable, there are some best practices to make sure search engines like Google and Bing (yes, don't forget Bing) know that you own it and are duplicating content purposefully.
Do I need to say more?
With us being in politics, a sizeable segment of your voters is going to be in the older demographic. And older demographics need readable fonts. This is especially important on mobile.
Plus, Google will ding you if your fonts are too small.
Using Images For Text
Do everything you can to avoid this. Images will add more to the overall file size of your webpage and impact load time - thus slowing down your website for the visitor and Google.
While Google can read images, image text can sometimes not play well to the visitor.
Too many top/main menu, or navigation, items can confuse a visitor - plus, it doesn't present well.
Fight the urge to treat everything as important-enough for the top menu. Because if everything is important, then nothing is. And you risk diluting your message.
To combat this, reorganize your pages or menu elements into submenus.
Cluttered Or Busy Layouts
A cluttered website will confuse and turn off your visitors. Work to keep it clean and simple - especially above the fold.
Keep text to a minimum. Paragraphs belong deeper in the website.
A good example of a large website that abides with this principle is the Texas Democratic Party website.
This can be annoying if there's sound. I'm not opposed to using video as a background element or off to the side. I enjoyed the way the Kamala Harris presidential campaign website used video to show her personality. This was below-the-fold, but it was a nice addition to the story her website was telling.
Large, Oversized Images
Images increase load time and reduce speed. Images are necessary, but they do cost. If you're going to use large images, say for a background, optimize the hell out of it.
Yes, I said it. There is a mound of reasons; I'll give you two of my favorites.
1. Bing is a cheaper advertising option.
When I run ads on Bing, the cost per click or conversion tends to be 30-40% less than on Google Ads (formerly Adwords). The only reason I don't use Bing exclusively (I know you were thinking it) is because I won't get the volume I need. Every case is different, and the answer depends on your marketing mix.
2. Bing is the default search engine for Windows Internet Explorer.
And if you're in an older demographic, say 55 and older, you're likely to use Microsoft as your operating system. You purchase a new PC, start it up, and decide to search the web? See where I'm going with this? What is the browser you use? Internet Explorer (IE). What is the default search engine of IE? BING!!!
I don't advocate for Bing as a default search engine (Mac/Chrome is better for several reasons); I just have to be prepared for it.
What I Use
These are the tools I use to build a donation-generating, big-fat-email-list-building, text-marketing-maestro of a website. FYI, none of the companies that run the following technologies give me anything. I've landed on them from trial and error over a 20-year career. Feel free to book time with me if you have any questions.
WordPress is a free content management system (CMS) used by professional website designers. It is highly scalable and customizable for any industry.
35% of websites across the internet use WordPress. When you compare it against other modern CMS websites, it accounts for 60% of the internet.
Hosting: WP Engine
For national campaigns that expect a lot of web traffic, you're going to want to use a host that prioritizes WordPress. WP Engine only specializes in hosting WordPress websites.
Theme: Beaver Builder
Beaver Builder is a great WordPress theme that's lightweight, fast, and easy to use. Use the theme and page builder plugin to build a winning political campaign website.
Plugin: Ultimate Add-Ons For Beaver Builder (Add-On)
UABB is a great plugin to extend Beaver Builder's functionality. I use it for election day countdowns, video libraries, and many other website enhancements.
Plugin: Schema Pro
Schema is essential for a website to perform well in search results - Google, Bing, and even Yahoo. But it can really be a pain-in-the-ass to markup, especially if you're new to building websites or using an inexperienced volunteer. Though you'll still need to understand schema, Schema Pro helps make the process more efficient.
Plugin: Yoast SEO Premium
Yoast SEO Premium is a fantastic plugin for SEO. Use it for custom page titles, meta descriptions, social sharing customization, and redirects.
Securi is a great service to help protect your website from attacks. They also fix hacks.
Plugin: Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is by far the best form builder on the web. You can build conditional and multi-step forms for your political website.
Plugin: WP Sweep
A free option to help optimize your website. I lean towards WP-Optimize, but WP Sweep is a good option if you are trying to keep the website cost down.
WP-Optimize helps make your website fast and efficient. It cleans your database, compresses large images, and caches your site.
Video: YouTube or Vimeo
YouTube is free and a great choice to host your videos. It will help with your SEO; plus, I've found advertising on YouTube to be 50-70% more economical compared to paid search.
Vimeo is a paid video hosting service that offers a lot of great features. More importantly, Vimeo offers control of what you see after the video is played - something that's been hit or miss with YouTube.
I bring it up because I had a client that was concerned about the videos YouTube was recommending after the campaign video played. Something to think about.
SEO Research: Ahrefs
Ahrefs is the most complete tool to understand your search traffic, monitor your campaign, track your competitors, and strategize for improved SERP rankings.
Ahrefs commands a high price because it's for professionals. It's best to only purchase a subscription if your webmaster is well-versed in search strategy.
Link Tracking: Google Analytics URL Builder Chrome Extension
There are a lot of URL builders on the web; they all do the same thing. I like the Google Analytics URL Builder because it comes as a Chrome extension. This makes it much faster to build link tracking URLs.
Color Picker is a nice little tool for creating color schemes.
I solve problems facing political campaigns.
Can I help you? I won't know until we have a conversation about your needs - so let's talk.