Your political campaign website is one of the focal points of your campaign’s communication efforts.  While most modern campaigns communicate with voters in a number of ways (including direct mail, advertising, social media, and more…), your website provides a cheap and easy way for people to learn more about your candidate and get involved with your efforts.

While nearly every campaign has a website, in my experience the vast majority of political campaign websites are set up incorrectly.  Here’s what you need to know in order to use your website – the right way – to help you win your next campaign:

The True Purpose of Your Political Campaign Website

There are many ways to use your campaign’s website.  You can post position papers on your site and highlight your candidate’s stand on various issues.  You can ask for donations and volunteers, show pictures from your recent events, and remind people where they vote on Election Day.  But the most important thing you can do on your campaign’s website is to ask people to give you their e-mail address and permission to contact them.  This normally means asking your supporters to sign-up for your campaign newsletter.

E-mail is the only active online medium that your campaign controls.  You can advertise and push people to your website, but you can’t force people to go there.  And when they do visit your website, you have no idea who they are or that they visited, and no way to get back in touch with them (unless they make a donation or sign-up to volunteer).

You also have no real control over your social media communications.  Sure, you can tweet or post updates to Facebook whenever you want, but social media sites only show your updates to around 5% of your total followers at any one time, and many people will simply skip over what you post.

E-mail, on the other hand, is the most powerful communication medium you have online.  Nearly everyone checks their e-mail every day, and looks at the subject line of every e-mail that lands in their inbox.  This means that when you have someone’s e-mail address, and their permission to contact them, you are guaranteed to have at least a fighting chance of getting your e-mail read every time your political campaign sends them an e-mail.

E-mail is the “killer app” for online political communications.

The best way to get people’s e-mail address and permission to contact them is by setting up a newsletter for your campaign and then asking people to sign-up for the newsletter.

You should do this by using a sign-up box on every single page of your political campaign website.  You can also ask people to sign-up through other methods, such as having sign-up sheets at events, including a sign-up checkbox on your donor reply envelopes, and sending newsletter sign-up invitations out on social media.

The true purpose of your campaign website is to get as many people as possible to sign-up for your campaign’s e-mail newsletter.

Secondary Goals for Your Web Presence

Of course, there are important, but secondary goals for your website.  These include asking for donations and asking people to volunteer to help your campaign.

In order to successfully get people to donate through your website, make sure that you have a large, bright “Donate Now” button placed “above the fold” on every page of your site (this means placing it near the top, where people can see it without scrolling down).  You should also be sure to include a page telling people why they should donate, why you need the money, and how they can donate by mail if they don’t want to enter a credit card number online.

Political campaign websites should also feature a way for people to sign-up as volunteers for your campaign.  The best way to do this is by including a page that tells people why volunteers are so important to your campaign, lists the type of work volunteers are needed for, and highlights testimonials from and/or bios of some of your current volunteers.  Include a sign-up form right on your site, or a phone number people can call to sign-up to volunteer.

Your website can be a great way to find volunteers and donors for your campaign, but keep in mind that its primary purpose needs to be building an e-mail list of your supporters.

Creating a Two-Way Conversation with Your Supporters

In my experience, the best political campaign websites try to engage supporters by creating a two-way conversation with them.  This can be difficult through a relatively static medium like a website (as opposed to a dynamic medium such as social media), but it can be done.

One great way to create a two-way conversation on your website is by including surveys and polls on your site.  These surveys and polls won’t be scientific, but they offer your website visitors something to “do” on your site, and can be a good way to round-out your campaign database.  (For example, you can ask people not only for their e-mail address, but also for what issues are most important to them, and then communicate with them about those issues over the course of the campaign).

You should also include contact information on your site to allow supporters, donors, volunteers and others to reach your campaign office.  Your political campaign website can include an e-mail contact form, a phone number, and (if appropriate) the street address for the campaign headquarters.

Photo Credit:  Matthias Ripp