If you want to be found quickly when people search for your name or political office, take donations online, and grow your base of volunteers and supporters then a modern website is a necessity for your political campaign.
Keep It Simple! Political websites don't have to be complicated. Just a few simple pages and you'll get the point across in a clear and consistent manner. In everything you do while building your new site, keep the following in mind:
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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Pages to Include in Your Campaign Website
A clean and efficient campaign website needs just the following five pages:
These are the pages that will help you get your message out, be clear about your positions, give supporters a way to volunteer for your campaign, and help you take donations to fund campaign operations.
Focus on creating the pages in the order above. Your home page is actually just a summary of all the other content from the previous four pages, so it comes last in terms of preparation.
This page is all about you, what you've done, your accomplishments, and the experiences that make you who you are today. Keeping with the idea that most people don't care about you, rather what you can do for them or how your vote will help them - it's best to relate all your experience back to the district, the issues, and why you are the best person to get the job done.
Be concise and triple check spelling. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. This is important because mistakes make you look like an amateur and people will think: "If she doesn't care enough to check the spelling on a few website pages how can she possibly review 200 pages of important legislation about criminal justice reform?" Don't be that person. Check your spelling.
Try to use examples of specific experience to frame the issues important in your district. For example, if having a more equitable funding formula for your school district is a major issue in the area and your past professional experience includes being a teacher - this is an obvious connection you'll want to make. Don't make the mistake that people will infer that connection. They will not. Most visitors are going to give your page just a few seconds at first glance. If they like what they see, they'll stay for more. Make those connections explicit because they will resonate longer with the reader.
How Long To Make Your Website Bio
There is no right or wrong for bio length. It should be long enough to get your experiences across but not so long that it takes days to read. The longer your bio the more creative you must get with on-page design. Long blocks of text need to be broken up with images, bold headings, quotes, etc.
Here's an example of a good candidate bio page for a congrssional website:
Here's the full page version of that congressional website about/bio page.
We took a long bio and broke it up with headings, images, and even custom designed image quotes. It moves the reader's eyes across the page and then down, making them stop to read snippets of captions and breaking up the monotony of long text blocks. This page is consistently in the top 5 trafficked pages of the site.
If the reader makes it to the end of your bio there's a good chance they're interested in what you have to say. Congrats! Your goal is to take that reader and turn her into a subscriber so you can market to her later. If she agrees with all your positions, maybe turn her into a volunteer.
Don't squander that interest. make sure your about page has a call to action to grab the reader's attention and move that viewer up the ladder of engagement.
See the section on CALLS TO ACTION for more information on how to do that.
This is how you tell people where you stand on the issues that are important in your district. This page will likely be the second or third most trafficked page as it gives a window into how you will likely vote when you are elected. This is the meat of the campaign website. People want to know where you stand and what you're all about.
Here's an example of a well designed political issues Page.
Here's a full page version of that political issues Page.
Again, we take longer blocks of text and break them up with images, headings, and buttons. Breaking issues into sections works well for these types of pages.
Some candidates don't want to get pinned down on any specific issue and they prefer not to include a position on anything at all. They think if no one knows what they're about they'll be liked by a more general audience. Or they think if they take a clearly defined position than there are people who oppose that position whose vote you will lose.
Modern viewers are going to get info about you one way or another. They're going to do their research online. They're going to read your Facebook pages going back as far as the can. They're going to read newspaper clippings going back as far as they can. If you're running for higher office, your opponent will do his research. They may even hire investigators to dig up dirt.
If you want to control the message, you need to clearly define your position and why that position is the right position. The more often you do that online the more you will be found for that position when people run searches on the issues. Be proactive, not reactive with your positions.
How Many Issues to List?
Start with just three or four top line issues. These are the issues of top importance. Write your thoughts and positions on each one, keeping them as brief and concise as possible. After you've done a few top line issues move into the secondary issues. These are issues that might be bubbling just under the surface, but could become major issues.
Resist the temptation to put 10 issue statements on your site. No one has an expertise in that many areas and doing so dilutes the message you have on the really important issues.
You may be asked about the other issues at events or in person and it's okay to give them your position. But if it's not a priority overall it shouldn't take up space on your website or distract people from the messages you are trying to get out there.
Expanding Your Site with Single Issue Pages
If you've got enough to say on a single issue, or a large body of legislative activity, you can add additional pages that list more information about that single issue. This will be an offshoot of your overall issues page and be linked to from there. This is fantastic content for your site, it will add to your search engine optimization efforts, and help you get found on the web quicker. It also gives your readers and potential supporters more information than they expect to get.
Here's an example of a well designed single campaign issue page.
Use Images to Represent The Issues
Use contextually relevant imagery for your issues page. If you are a candidate who believes in women's reproductive rights and you joined the Women's March to show you support that issue a picture of you marching can be a powerful statement here.
Use images with the candidate in them first, and then go to stock photos only if necessary. Even if you do use stock, try to use photos that look candid or evoke a specific emotion. Again, make sure the image is contextually relevant. A nondescript image of a doctor or stethoscope to represent "healthcare" isn't terrible, but a picture of a doctor attending to a child might be better.
A Good Issues Page Can Create Advocates for Your Campaign
People will engage more frequently with a candidate who has the same position on the issues that the reader does. That's why the issues page will be your best opportunity to move viewers up the ladder of engagement.
It's human nature for us to support people we like and who have the same beliefs and values. If you believe healthcare is the most important issue and I believe the same thing I will be more inclined to support you. If you believe that healthcare is a right for all and I believe that too, and you're promising to support a bill aimed at making that the law I might be willing to volunteer to help make that happen. And if I can't volunteer, I might send you a donation of $25 because I know it will help the cause.
Calls to action on issues pages are critically important. Make sure to capture that interest and turn it into advocacy for your campaign. A well placed form at the bottom of your issues page, or a sign up link after each issue description can accomplish your goals here. Again, see the calls to action section to learn more ways to do this.
Take Action Page
There's more to do on a campaign that any one person can possibly get done. That's why we ask for help, and your take action page is the place to do just that. The Take Action Page is a way to let your readers know that there are opportunities available to get involved with the campaign and to help bring about positive change in your area.
Asking someone to volunteer their time is the third step in the ladder of engagement. It's possible to take someone from a viewer (stage 1) to a volunteer (stage 3) and skip stage 2 altogether, but that only happens when your positions on issues are clear and convincing and your calls to action are compelling.
Remember, there are several campaigns competing for the same viewers' attention. If your issues page is blank and your bio unconvincing, asking for volunteers will be a waste of time. First, make sure those other pages are complete before venturing into an action page.
If you tell a story before you ask for help you'll spark more people to action. Pull in snippets from your bio page and wrap that into a clear and concise ask focused on the issues that matter in your district. Make it timely, specific, and easily accessible. Then close the action page with a form for people to sign up or take action. That form should sync with your CRM so all volunteer contact information is recorded automatically.
Here's an example of how to tell a story before asking for help:
During my time as a teacher, I learned that kids from schools that got more state funding earned grades 1 point higher on average than kids from schools that didn't get those same resources. I also learned that funding schools is an arbitrary process based on who you know not what you need.
If we're going to build a funding formula that is fair for every school no matter what your zip code is then we need to get people engaged from every corner of the district.
We need 40 volunteers between January and March to help us send letters to our school board and post on social media.
If you're ready to change our educational system and help kids improve their test scores, tell us how you'd like to help and we'll get you started right away!
[INSERT ACTION FORM HERE]
It is imperative that you link your form submissions to your contact relationship management (CRM) system because you want to track everyone who has interest in your campaign. You want the ability to market to them later, and to ask for donations at the appropriate time.
A typical take action form will include check-boxes of options for the following type of campaign activities:
- Circulate Petitions
- Host an Event in support of the candidate
- Get a Yard Sign
- Spread the Word on Social Media
- Help in the office with admin tasks
- Talk to neighbors on the phone
- Talk to neighbors at their doors
- Distribute literature
Don't just list the campaign items that you don't want to do yourself because the likelihood is other people don't want to do those things either. Also, make sure you include some simple tasks that anyone can do. Not everyone who volunteers is willing to 100 miles and hour on the first day they help. Offering a few simple tasks like helping in the office, or sharing on social media are things that people can do without large time commitments.
We've found a direct link between the help people will offer and their understanding of what the candidate stands for. You'll find that the more people understand your positions on the issues the more willing they will be to speak to their friends and neighbors about you and your campaign. This is another reason to make sure your bio and issues pages are complete.
There is an inverse relationship between the number of things you ask for on an action form and the number of volunteer form submissions. That means the more questions you ask the fewer submissions you get. Keep it simple , but make sure to get the info you need. Volunteers need communication and guidance to do their work, so you'll need to get some contact information so that you can tell them where to be and when to be there, or to train them on how your campaign works. Ask only for those items you need to communicate with them, like phone number or email. If you don't need their physical address don't ask for it. If you need to send the volunteer documents try to automate that process over email. If you must send a letter or printed package, try explaining why you need that information in the form description so that people will be more willing to give you their personal or work addresses online.
It takes money to run a modern campaign. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never run a campaign, or the campaigns they've run have lost -- probably because they couldn't fund the critical functions of a campaign. The higher the office the more people you represent. Senators have larger constituencies than Congresspeople who have larger constituencies than town council members. The more people you represent means a higher number of votes are needed to win. As that win number grows, it gets more expensive to reach the voters you need to get a majority on election day. That's why most campaigns create online donation pages.
Your donation page can be a simple page with some content explaining why you're raising money and what the funds are going to be used for. Include a form to take donations from a visitor's credit card or some other online checkout system like Android or Apple pay. Include a physical address or PO box for those who might send checks instead of donating online. Yes, there are still people who will not submit their credit card information online. There are also organizations that do not maintain online accounts which can only send physical checks.
How Much Should You Raise?
You need to raise at least enough to cover your expenses. Many first-time candidates think they can skimp on finances and run their campaign without raising any money. They think they can handle it all themselves. This is a mistake, and many promising campaigns have been sunk trying to cut corners. Even if you garner earned media and generate an army of volunteers, you still need to produce material for those volunteers to disseminate on your behalf (palm cards, door hangers, yard signs, voter lists) or purchase software to distribute the work (email marketing, CRMs, voter databases). Those things cost money, and depending on the number of people you need to reach they can get very expensive.
Election calendars are run on tight schedules with little room to squander precious time, and every minute you spend doing mundane tasks is a minute you're not speaking to voters or rallying your supporters. Raising a few dollars will help you complete important tasks and run an efficient campaign. It helps you distribute those smaller tasks to volunteers or interns or people getting their first experiences on political campaigns. It frees up your time for more important tasks that only you the candidate can do.
If you have the resources to fund your own campaign - that's great, but only if your funds can cover your budget. If you're just telling people you plan to fund your campaign simply because you don't want to ask other people for donations you will fail. Don't fool yourself. You either have the funds or you don't. If you don't - get used to the idea of fundraising or your campaign has little chance of succeeding.
Online Donation Software for Political Campaigns
Political donation portals like ActBlue will help you raise funds for federal and state level campaigns, and they'll get you setup quickly. Support from ActBlue is generally quick and accurate. NGP also has merchant account partnerships. They're not as seamless as ActBlue as they add an extra layer of management and reporting, but they generally work well and will give you analytics to report on.
We prefer using commercial systems that process vastly more transactions than both ActBlue and NGP combined. In particular, we recommend online processors like Stripe which can be setup in a matter of minutes rather than days or weeks. Stripe's reporting tools are second to none and they move money to your bank account electronically within 24 hours. Neither ActBlue nor NGP come close to that kind of speed.
PayPal is also a good option because people know and trust the name, but their buttons and forms often ask people to login and make donating with a card an extra step or click, which can lower overall donation rates. Transferring money from PayPal to your bank account can take a few days, and also requires bank authentication which can be a manual process that takes a few extra days. Plan accordingly.
Again, if you're using WordPress as a website platform there are integrations that can make donation forms on your site a breeze with either Stripe or PayPal. Currently, neither ActBlue of NGP has an out of the box integration with any web platform. ActBlue will send donation information to a webhook of your choice which means you can manipulate the donor data separately on your own. NGP has an API. The latter two will require a developer to work with you on implementing those integrations. Stripe and PayPal work out-of-the-box with e-commerce systems like WooCommerce, a popular plugin for WordPress.
This will likely be the page that gets the most traffic. This is the page that loads when your main domain is typed in. It's typically the main page that people will share on social networks, and a good summary of all you have to offer.
For your home page you'll be creating graphical links to all of the other pages you previously created. For your home page, you'll need the following:
Home Page Header and Hero
This intro section will be the first thing people see when your page loads. It's sometimes called "Above the Fold." This is a term borrowed from the newspaper industry to describe the feature content that is shown on the top of the cover page above the folded part. This is usually the only part of the paper visible on newsstands and, based on the strength of the headline, can determine whether the paper has strong sales or sits unread.
Your website works in a similar manner. Your viewers will decide, based on the homepage hero and header, whether they stick around to read more or close the page and research or move on altogether.
For the home page header, we like a sticky menu that follows as you scroll, plus a nice hero image with large text that works as a catchy campaign slogan.
Underneath that, we like to add defining text against a high-resolution image of the candidate in action. Again, something catchy - like a headline that summarizes the candidate or the work she does. Here are a few we've used:
- A Leader in the Senate
- Ready on Day One
- Courage to Stand Up For Working Families
- Building a Stronger More Inclusive County
When considering which image to use, try to find a picture of the candidate with a group of people. Photos in groups have a positive psychological effect on viewers. It lends credibility to your campaign and says you are likable enough for other people to be around you. It also provides social proof for your campaign. If you can't find one within a group, you can use a picture of the candidate alone or one of the candidate against a backdrop somewhere in the district.
Don't use pictures outside your district. People notice this and it could become a bad news story for the campaign. You can't say you're fighting for the district but use pictures from events in a neighboring area. It's okay if the picture comes from an event from the capitol or place where your office does its work, like a county or local government building. It's okay if you actually attend events in other districts, just don't use those pictures on your website.
Most political websites add a subscribe form at the very top. We're not big fans of that method. We've tested it on dozens of sites and the subscribe form does not perform nearly as well as the subscribe form toward the footer of the home page (after the viewer has read other home page content) or the issues page call to action subscribe box.
Then under the heading we include a simple button like "JOIN LISA" that links off to a signup box or action page.
Summary of Top Issues
After the header and hero we like to include a summary of the important issues. This is one of the main reasons people will visit your site so give them what they want quickly. We summarize each issue with a short sentence and then provide a link or button to the main issues overview page or an individual page for each issue.
Meet the Candidate
Another section we like to include on a political campaign website homepage is a place where the reader can learn more about the candidate's background.
In this section, we place a nice picture of the candidate and no more than a single paragraph summary of her experience or bio, along with a link or button to over to the full bio page.
Call to Action
At this point scrolling down the home page, they've seen our pictures, headings, top issues, and some bio. We can show a few calls to action like a subscribe box, a link to a volunteer page, or a donate bar.
Resist the temptation to put calls to action too high on the homepage. Readers need time to understand the candidate and his views before he's going to commit to volunteering or spending his hard-earned money on a donation.
We close out the home page (and every page of the site) with a footer. It's standard practice here to put a copy of the logo, a quick access menu to important links, social icons, a physical address, and any legal disclosures your campaign may be required to display.
Some home pages can get quite long. It's a nice touch to add a button or link that scrolls the viewer back to the top.
The Ladder of Engagement
The ladder of engagement is a term used to describe the flow of visitors through the various stages of a political campaign. They are:
- Supporter / Volunteer
Your home page (and every page inside your website) should be designed in a way that moves your viewers through each stage, making sure they progress to a higher level of engagement. While each level is important and has its own goals, the higher levels offer more value to your campaign. A viewer is nice, but a supporter is better. A supporter will help spread the word, and a volunteer can move you forward faster. A donor helps fund your campaign.
As you gain more trust with your audience and ask them to help or complete tasks they will progress to higher rungs on the ladder until they become an advocate. An advocate is the highest level of engagement as they represent someone who is vocal about you and the issues you espouse, and they help attract others who will support and advocate for your cause. Advocates are a great way to grow the capacity of your campaign and mushroom your ranks of support
Viewers are moved up the ladder of engagement through calls to action placed strategically throughout the site, specifically in areas where the viewer makes an emotional connection to your material.
Add a Call to Action to Every Campaign Website Page
Every page should have a call to action of some kind, even a simple one. A page without a call to action is wasted space. The type of call to action will depend on the page and its content.
A good call to action at the end of a bio page is to get the viewer to subscribe to your news updates. This type of call to action asks for an email address, and potentially a zip code so you can confirm their location and whether it might in your district. Knowing whether the people on your marketing lists can actually vote for you has value when it's time to ask for their vote.
The call to action at the end of an issues summary page or at the end of each individual issue detail page can be a simple subscribe box or a more detailed volunteer ask. If someone believes as you do on that specific issue they will be more likely to support you. Grab that interest with a subscribe form or a request to donate.
Subscribing is easy as it only requires giving up basic contact info. Becoming a volunteer requires someone giving their time to help. It's much more valuable to a campaign. The more volunteers you have the more effectively you can get your message out to voters. Use this type of call to action when you've made a stronger emotional connection with the reader.
Applications You Can Integrate with Your Campaign Website
The possibilities are technically limitless, but we like to stick with the philosophy mentioned at the start: keep it simple.
The fewer integrations you have the fewer code bases you need to maintain and the fewer applications you need to worry about breaking or not syncing up properly.
- If you ask for viewers for their contact information you'll want a way to keep that information organized. You can do that with a CRM.
- If you are taking donations online you'll need an e-commerce system or be forced to link off to a third-party like ActBlue.
- If you are hosting events around the district you'll need to integrate a calendar. If you're taking reservations for events that calendar system gets more complicated.
- If you're asking people to sign issue petitions you'll need a form program on your site and a sync to your CRM.
All of these features can make your website a more dynamic and more enjoyable experience. They also add complexity and (potentially) more cost.
Using a system like WordPress, you can make your site modular. You can start with the basics and then add features as they become necessary or as more funds become available.
Political CRMs and Contact Databases
CRM stands for Contact Relationship Manager, and it's essentially just a piece of software that allows you to track contact information for people with whom you interact. Because of reporting requirements at the federal and state level, every candidate that meets a donation or expense threshold must report their finances. That threshold varies from state to state, but it's typically low - around $250 - which means nearly every candidate will have to file a finance report of some type. Investing in a good CRM early in the campaign will save you hours of time and help keep you organized.
There are a few well respected CRMs for political applications including:
All of the items in the list above offer varying services. They each have a starter plan offered at low cost and plans that rise quickly in pricing depending on the functions you need and the number of people you contact on a regular basis.
HubSpot has a free-level CRM that works well to keep you organized and get you started tracking people and your contact with them.
There is no one single application that can be everything to everyone. It just simply doesn't exist, and the ones that try usually fall flat in several areas. Stick with what works, and stick with it for as long as it works. Move up to more expensive systems only when you absolutely need the features they offer.
Email Marketing Software for Politics
If you're going to ask for email addresses you'll need email marketing software to do that. Gmail is a great program, but you'll top out at between 250-500 messages per day depending on the level of G-suite you run.
As your contact lit grows, we recommend commercial email programs that offer great functionality for the price. For instance, you can send autoresponders when people fill out forms, you can send receipts when people donate, and you can tag and segment your subscribers based on custom fields or other characteristics.
Email marketing software can run anywhere from $50 per month to thousands of dollars per month. Pricing is usually based on the number of contacts you email on a regular basis.
Some great email programs include:
Systems like NGP also include mass email marketing but in our experience their email platform pales in comparison to the features offered by the commercial systems above, and, for the same number of contacts the commercial systems will typically cost nearly half as much as NGP on a monthly basis.
Segmenting Your Email List
Segmentation can be extremely powerful in the confines of a political campaign. A common starting point is with interest segmentation based on issues. For example, most professional email marketing systems and CRMs can tag your viewers when the visit a specific page on your website. Someone who clicks on your healthcare page can be tagged with "Interest:Healthcare" or something similar. Someone who downloads a policy position paper on gun policy reform would be tagged appropriately as well.
Understanding the issues your viewers care about can help you when it's time to communicate with them. People who care about issue #1 may not care about issue #2, so rather than send a generic email to everyone on your list, you can create messaging on specific topics and email information only to people you know care about that specific issue. Doing this will increase your deliverability rate and make sure your messages don't end up in spam boxes. This is important when it comes time to ask for volunteers or donations.
Build It Yourself or Hire a Website Designer?
Just five simple pages and you're on the way to a great campaign website for your political campaign. Now the question is whether you build it yourself or hire a web designer or web developer to do it for you?
Only you can answer that question. There are myriad tools out there for you build on your own. Many of them profess "code free" environments on which anyone can learn or create. We have seldom found those claims to be accurate. Additionally, the free web builders usually offer only the most basic pages - ones without the ability to customize the look and feel of the site or to dive into the code when the time comes to customize. The fact is, the web is a technical place, and having some coding savvy is always a good thing.
If you've never designed a site and have no experience managing one, it's best to get professional help. 10 years ago you could get away without having a website. That's not the case today - a well designed, dynamic website is a requirement of any serious campaign.
Political activists are savvy readers and they turn to the web first, whether they're researching candidates or buying a car. First impressions happen online, and that first impression may be the difference between getting a few volunteers and donations or the viewer leaving your site in frustration and vowing to vote for your opponent.
At Think Big Campaigns, we specialize in web design and development of political campaign websites and marketing programs, and we'd be happy to discuss building something for you. We have plans for just about every budget. Get in touch and we'd be happy to walk you through some options.