Tis’ the season for politics which means it’s time to talk about political candidate websites and the way to do them right and the way to do them wrong! I have lots of opinions! If you’ve been thinking of running for office, or already announced your candidacy, then you need a website and you need one now. The 2020 election is coming at us fast!
I’m not here to discuss actual politics with you, but I would like to discuss political candidate websites and how candidates so often go wrong. There’s a long history of candidates creating DIY websites to save money. I understand that running for office costs money and you need to be as efficient as possible with your funds. But the truth is that having a bad website for your political campaign is worse than having no website at all and having a great website will earn you more money in donations and more support from your constituents.
Don’t skimp on your political candidate website
Once you start campaigning, if you’re going door to door or putting up signs and billboards, then your website URL should be on every piece of advertising. People who are undecided or considering their candidates are going to want to look you up and find out more about you, your platform, and your experience. It’s often the first impression you make on someone as a candidate, and it’s up to you to decide what that impression is going to be.
Top things your website should have
Your Bio. Trust me, people want to know about you, and not just your work history. They want to know who you are, where you live, where you went to high school, and who your favorite sports team is. They want to find a connection to you. Which means you need to have a really good bio. It needs to be in-depth, but not too wordy. It needs to be friendly and readable and funny but also serious. It should resonate with your visitors and make them feel like you are both a likable and trustworthy person.
Be sure your content on this page (and all pages actually) is easily readable by your average constituent. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. in Astrophysics; your constituents most likely don’t. And your bio is about you, but it’s for them. For this reason, I highly recommend you hire a professional writer to create and write content that’s readable for the average site visitor. A professional copywriter can write content at various levels so it won’t leave your visitors wondering what in the world you’re talking about.
Really great photos. Put your iPhone down right now. Now is not the time for selfies and for heaven’s sake, no Snapchat filters! If you are running or office, you need to present yourself online in the best possible light and I mean that literally. THE BEST LIGHT. Which comes from having professional shots taken.
A professional photographer knows how to light you, they know how to position you, and they know how to make you look your best. As much as we like to say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the truth is that we all do. And don’t stop at just one photo, get a bunch. You’ve got more than one page on your website, so you’ll need more than one photo. Mix up outfits, change your hair, go different places. Get action shots of you meeting with constituents, speaking, and making public appearances.
A big donation button. If you are running for office, you probably need funds and you want people to donate to your campaign. Do you know how many people forget to make that easy to do on their website? That donate button should be fairly big, hard to miss, and at the top of every single page on your website. No matter where your visitor is, they should be able to donate with the click of a button.
Furthermore, they should be able to donate in a variety of ways. DON’T JUST GIVE THEM A PAYPAL BUTTON. Yes, I like PayPal. PayPal works as a payment gateway, but if your users are not already PayPal members, they are more likely to abandon their donation if that’s the only way to pay. Give them options. You can use one of the affiliated systems (like ActBlue) or even have payments integrated right into a form on your website with Stripe. Just make sure it’s super easy to check out.
Oh, and be sure to give them options for recurring donations! You know what’s better than a one-time donation of $25? A monthly donation of $25!! If you have a WordPress site, I highly recommend GiveWP for setting this up.
And don’t forget to show folks how to make offline donations too. Some people are wary of online payments, but might be happy to mail a check. If your voters are senior citizens (and seniors vote!) then this is a huge mistake not to give easy and clear instructions on how to donate offline.
Pro-Tip: The less fields you have on your form, the more likely someone is to finish completing it. I know you want to collect as much info as you can on your constituents, but if you want the donation, consider asking as little as possible. FEC rules require asking for occupation and employer, but avoid asking any more questions than absolutely necessary. Every additional field can reduce the chance that someone will complete the form.
Your Platform. Don’t leave your users hanging, make sure they know what you stand for! Your planks should be listed on your website in a way that’s easy to read and sortable so people can find just what they are looking for. Most folks have some issue that they personally feel strongly about, and will want to know if your values are the same.
An Events Calendar. If someone comes to your website, they might want to know where they can come meet you and what you’ll be doing. If you’re making the rounds at local community events, or traveling nationwide to big audiences, be sure to list all your upcoming events on your website so voters can find you. Keep this up-to-date as much as possible. If they need tickets, allow them to sign up for tickets right on your site. You can use something like EventBrite or Event Tickets from Modern Tribe.
A Blog. This is really something that candidates want to skip because it requires them to take time and write stuff down. I get it, you are busy. But a blog can provide valuable insights into your campaign and can be a powerful way to connect with voters. To work, though, you have to commit to it. Whether it’s once a week or once a month, pick a schedule and commit to writing your thoughts and experiences. You can write about events you’ve been to, meetings with constituents, powerful stories from voters, or ideas you have for making political change. This doesn’t cost you anything but your time.
Biggest Mistakes Political Candidate Websites Make
- Not being mobile-friendly. Really? REALLY? This makes me absolutely crazy. Many voters don’t even have desktop or laptop computers and they only way they are access your website is on their phone. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
- No opt-in. If someone lands on your website, they probably want to know more about you. Email marketing is a thing because it works. Don’t miss the opportunity to follow up with your visitors by inviting them to sign up for your list.
- Not being encrypted. It’s 2019, don’t risk your users seeing a “Not Secure” message on their browser because you didn’t think to turn on your SSL certificate.
- Looking homemade. If your website looks professional, then you look professional. Remember, the website is how you build credibility and trustworthiness. If it looks like your kid made it, that’ll show up in your donations and your votes.
- Not having calls-to-action. Your website isn’t the same as a political flyer. It’s not something people just read and throw away, it can be a powerful way to motivate votes into action. Be sure that you include calls-to-action on your site, inviting your constituents to take action. This can be through a donation, signing up for your newsletter, commenting on your blog, getting tickets to an event, or signing up to volunteer for your campaign.
- Not accessible. About 20% of your website users have some kind of disability. And trust me, if that person with a disability shows up to your website and you’ve made accommodates so that user can use your website well, it will reap rewards.
Of course, having a professional that knows all of the keystone parts of a political candidate website isn’t going to be cheap, but cheap doesn’t always correspond with effective. If you are a candidate looking for a political campaign website, we’re happy to help. Having a professional website will reap rewards both in donations and votes.
Side note, if you are a female candidate looking for help, you might consider signing up with Get Her Elected, an initiative that helps pair women candidates with pro-bono professional service providers such as web designers, marketers, copywriters and more.
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