Today, all serious candidates campaign online. From social media to all forms of online advertising, candidates and organizations have embraced the web. It is more than a form of political communication. It is a major source of donations and plays a large part in shaping voter’s opinions.
But the hub for every political organization remains the campaign website. It is the major vehicle to promote a political candidate.
A great campaign website engages voters. It is easy to navigate, and acts as a powerful fundraising tool. The right online strategy can make the difference between an election victory or loss.
Let’s start with the basics. Then we will work our way step-by-step through the process of creating a campaign website.
What is a Political Campaign Website?
A campaign website is a central hub of a political candidate or organization’s web presence. It serves as a primary and trusted location through which to process online donations and contributions. It also acts as a content publishing center and provides an overall branding experience.
A website brands itself with colors, fonts and logos.
Should You Make a Campaign Website Yourself?
You are running for office. You are not in this to learn the ins and outs of web technology.
There are many articles online explaining how simple it is to put together a website. They will tell you to just register a domain name, set up a web host, install WordPress, choose and edit a theme, add plugins and configure security settings.
If you have never performed web development, you will probably find the process of configuring a content management system (CMS), editing a theme, and configuring the right plugins to be a daunting and time-consuming task.
Heck, even registering a domain name can be a confusing experience for some people.
Most of our clients do not have a lot of technical experience. Their skills are mostly limited to email and Microsoft Word. They don’t know the difference between a CMS and GUI.
Yes, an individual can follow the steps and cobble together a site. But for a newbie, that’s going to hours and hours of time. Time that’s better spent on activities besides web development.
You can invest effort learning the technical aspects of website construction, maintenance and security. Or you spend your time working on your messaging, social media and online advertising. You know, the things that help you win your election.
In this post, we will go through the process of creating a website for a political campaign. We will also explain how Online Candidate can help you through each step of the process.
Domain Names and Hosting
Choosing the right domain name for your campaign requires some thought. Your domain name is your identity on the web. It also carries over to the real world as you use your domain name in your campaign brochures and materials.
Simple is best. If your name is John Smith, go with johnsmith.com or the name that will appear on the ballot. If your name is already registered, try a variation (eg. electjohnsmith.com or votejohnsmith.com). Your exact name within the domain boosts the chances that your site will rank for a search of your name.
You can secure your own domain early, long before you create a campaign website.
A domain name can be registered for one year or for multiple years. They are registered with a company called a registrar.
You can check if a domain name is available or not through a registrar site by performing a ‘Whois’ search. If the name you want is available, then you can register it for yourself.
Even if you are registering for an organization, you should try to get the .com in addition to the .org domain.
A free domain name is included with each Online Candidate website order. You have a choice of domains, including .com, .org, .net and specialized domain extensions such as .republican and .democrat. The domain is registered in YOUR name so you are in control if want to transfer the domain or change ownership.
Free Website Hosting – A Warning
Although the price is attractive, going with a free website hosting company is not a good idea. You may be forced to display outside ads on your website. Server space and bandwidth will be limited. The web host may have little customer support, and they may close shop without warning.
Free website hosting often lists sites as a subdirectory or subdomain of the host’s own domain. That makes your domain something like “yourcampaignname/thehostname.com” or “thehostname.com/yourcampaignname.” You may not be able to use your own custom domain – unless you upgrade. And then your hosting isn’t free anymore.
Locked-in domain names. It is often difficult – if not impossible – to move a domain name if it is registered through a free service. If you decide you want to host elsewhere, you will find that you are ‘stuck’ and unable to transfer the domain. Sometimes registering a new domain is the only solution.
Does the host include an SSL certificate? SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is the standard security technology for the web. An SSL certificate activates the “padlock” icon for a website in a browser’s address bar. It changes the URL to ‘https://”. This shows that the connection is encrypted for security. With the ever-increasing importance of online privacy, SSL is critical for all websites – particularly if it takes online donations.
Online Candidate websites include hosting, email accounts and the security of SSL. Your hosting and content management system is automatically set up when you order.
Designing Your Campaign Website
Political sites, especially in the United States, tend to have a certain ‘look’ to them. The color scheme tends to run along red, white and blue. An image of the candidate is often prominent in the header. Best practices include frequent calls for visitors to donate and lend support.
The colors of your website should be consistent with your other campaign material. Political colors do not have to be limited to the traditional red and blue (in the US). Be sure the site colors and logo match your print materials. Consistency builds familiarity.
A responsive website renders well on desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets. Mobile internet usage is now greater than desktop internet usage. Your website must provide a great user-experience across different devices and screen sizes. Google considers responsive web design as an industry best practice.
Template Based Websites
Most web builders include a way for users to design their own website. For the most part, they are template-based. Campaign website templates are pre-designed elements that lays out the main structure of a web page (such as a header or footer). It makes web design a lot easier for designers. Templates or templating systems are generally tied in to a content management system (CMS). This allows users to add their own text content and images to create a campaign website.
Our Lite and Monthly Option website packages include a built-in template system. Choose from politically-inspired header graphics, color schemes, fonts and text sizes to create a unique look.
Custom Web Design
Online Candidate website packages includes a Custom Design. We design a website header with a campaign’s colors, logo, background and candidate head shot. We also modify the site colors, font and background for a professional look suitable for any political campaign.
Creating Campaign Website Content
A great political website has content to inform (and maybe even entertain) the voters:
- Home Page: Your home page should highlight who you are and what you are running for. In time, this page can be updated to include new developments or to shift focus from awareness to support gathering.
- Biography/Resume: Take your resume and work it into a short biography. Keep it short and bullet-pointed. Don’t just make it a list of your work or political history. Your bio should tell more than just whether you are qualified. It should also give reasons for voters to relate to you.
- Issues/Positions: This is where you lay out your positions and contrast them with your opponent. If you have a number of issues, you should split them into separate pages.
- Endorsements: Include organizations and direct quotes, where possible. Endorsement quotes should be added throughout your site.
- News/Updates: Often referred to as a ‘blog’, this part of the site can include announcements, links to news, and event coverage.
- Donation Page: This page can be used to accept online donations directly and/or tell people where they can send money.
- Volunteer Page: Include a form to gather information from those who want to help the campaign.
- Events Calendar: This can be set up as a list or a calendar of upcoming events.
- Voter Registration Information: Provide links to your state and county voting registration information.
- Contact Page: This page should include contact information, along with links to the campaign’s social media accounts.
- Disclaimer: Most municipalities require a disclaimer as to who funded the site or campaign treasurer information. Links to privacy and other disclaimers are typically located in the site footer.
The best campaign websites are well-written and checked for grammar and accuracy.
Images and Graphics
Most graphics in their regular state (such as digital photographs) are too large for web pages. To get around this, the graphics must be optimized in order to reduce file size, but not its dimensions. This requires balancing the quality of a graphic with file-size savings.
Don’t have the time or inclination to set up your own content? The Initial Content Setup addon can be ordered separately if it is not included in your site package.
Search Engine Optimization
The text you use in your pages is very important. Put important keywords in your text. Use them in text headings to break up your content. A ‘keyword’ includes the candidate’s name and location.
Link out to your social media accounts. And link to your site from your social accounts and any other sites or profiles you control.
Consistency builds relevance for search engines.
While you are writing your site content, meta tag information is very important.
- The title tag or specifies the title of a web page. The title tag should be a concise description of a page’s content. Title tags are displayed on search engines as the clickable headline for a given result. They also appear as the title in web browsers.
- The description meta tag is a short snippet of 180 to 200 characters. Search engines often use a web page’s description meta tag as the description for search results. This is a descriptive sentence or two that describes the page.
With some optimization and links from outside sources, your site should rank well for relevant searches. Times vary, but it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to see your website appear in search engine results.
Social media is an important component for modern campaigns. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social platforms. Link out to your social media accounts and encourage others to follow. As mentioned above, be sure to link back to your website from your accounts as well.
When a voter searches for your name, you want your website to come up. Ideally, you want to own most of the search results. These results can include your social media profiles and content that you helped create long before you made a run for office.
Laying the foundation for your online campaign should begin early. That’s one of the reasons why we offer 12-month hosting packages. The sooner you can get started, the better. Our clients have access to exclusive online resources through OnlineCandidateResources.com.
Setting Up An Online Donation System
Online fundraising is a powerful tool to bring in campaign donations. It can help you target a wider audience and tap into a greater quantity of small donations. People who hesitate to write a check are often more inclined to click and contribute online.
If you decide to pursue online donations, establish your payment system early. To accept online contributions, you will need a campaign bank account and verification of your organization’s non-profit status.
Accepting online donations carries associated costs. Services charge transaction fees (typically between 3 – 8%) that are deducted off the top of any payment. Look for services that do not charge setup or recurring fees and allow you to accept money from multiple online channels. Recurring contributions can be set up so donors can keep giving until Election Day. These features can lead to more more money for your campaign.
Regardless of how you raise money, your campaign must follow the law. You may need to collect certain donor information. There may be a legal limit on individual contributions. You should also note on your donation pages that political donations are not tax-deductible.
Online Candidate websites can tie in with PayPal, Raise The Money or any fundraising service you choose.
Setting Up An Email List
The most effective way to get a quality email list is to build one yourself. You should start this as early as possible. Initial addresses can come from personal contacts, event signups, or through donation and volunteer forms (with a checkbox for ‘add to email list’). If you can, try to match individuals to the campaign issues that are most important to them. The more detailed information you have, the more you can personalize your messaging.
A range of email messaging services exist – from free, simple, and unsophisticated systems to more costly, complex systems that allow for sophisticated user tracking and segmenting. For smaller campaigns, free or low-cost solutions like MailChimp might be enough. For managing multiple newsletters or for user segmenting and targeting, a paid or higher end option may be necessary.
Tip: When using an email signup form, don’t ask for too much information. A name, email address, and maybe a zip code is all that is typically required. Asking for more information will result in fewer signups.
Save time and get your email campaign started the right way. We can set up and configure your Mailchimp account so you can concentrate on your campaign.
Tying It All Together
A website should not stand alone. Effective political candidates take advantage of all that the web has to offer. With a website, a donation system and an email marketing setup, you have all the basics covered.
Integrate your social media feeds into your site to keep it up to date and fresh. For Online Candidate sites, it’s a matter of adding a few links and deciding where to place your social media feeds.
Set up analytics to track your website traffic. Google Analytics is simple to set up and free. Analytics shows how many people are visiting your site, how they get there, and what they are doing on the site.
Before your site goes live, proofread all your site content (and have a few others proofread, too). Make sure all the forms on your website work properly. Test your email signup form and sign yourself up to receive updates.
After The Election – What Now?
After the election, you should post a final update. Win or lose, you should thank your friends and supporters for their help – they deserve it.
If you have a domain name that is year-based (electsmith2020.com), you should keep the website up for a few months, or until the end of your hosting period. Your site will still get traffic from those interested in the election outcome. If you have a name that is position or name-based (jonesforsupervisor.com or joejones.com), consider the long-term benefits of keeping the site active until your next campaign.
Setting up a website for your campaign may seem like an enormous task, but it can be easier than you think. You don’t need to learn to become a web developer in the process, either. We’ve been in the political website business for over 15 years. Our platform has been refined over the years. It’s designed to be used by the least technical person.
Hundreds of politicians and elected officials use Online Candidate every election cycle.
We hope that we can help you, too!
« Creating a Political Campaign Swipe File
Screwing Up Your Campaign Website »