It is an election year in the United States and the web has never been more important to the success of political candidates. Social media has already been credited as a reliable source for predicting wins in presidential primaries. Some political candidates have struggled to implement effective online strategies with their campaign websites and some are exploring new services with relative ease.
Although there are many components that should go into a political candidate’s online strategy, I thought it would be fun to do a quick analysis of a couple of the presidential campaign websites at this point in the race.
Based on the success people have had implementing internet marketing strategies in various online niches, I have some suggestions that any political candidate should implement in their campaign website whether for a presidential race, governor’s race, congress, or even a local campaign.
What is the point of a political campaign website?
The way I see it, political campaign websites should serve have these primary objectives:
1. Lead Generation
Build an email list of supporters. Although social media followers, friends, likes, etc. look good, an email list remains the most effective way to connect with people who have visited any website. This should remain at the core of all political campaign online strategies.
2. Social Media Connections
Build a community of loyal fans and supporters on the social networks in which they are most active by offering website visitors the opportunity to connect via social media.
(Bonus: Political Campaign Social Media Strategy)
Focus first on the loyal fans and followers and provide information that would please them. Why? Because they’ll share your stuff. Let them do the work. Let them share your message and convince people who are on the fence. Focus on what they want for this country and talk about it. Don’t make the mistake of talking only about yourself.
3. Clarify Positions on Issues
Potential voters go searching to find out what candidates really say about the issues. They might watch a debate or two, but you can bet that they read up on you at your campaign website before they go to the booths. Hire a copywriter who can craft your message effectively for an online reader (note that this is different than any other medium).
4. Communicate News and Events
Where is the candidate and what events is he/she going to attend? Political candidates are on the road a lot. Use the web to share updates and thank yous to the places you are going and the places you have been. (This is a great opportunity for an app, by the way.)
5. Raise Money through Online Donations.
Barack Obama set a new standard for raising money online in the 2008 presidential election. Political candidates must leverage their campaign websites to raise money and solidify support. Make sure the donate button is prominently displayed and subtly points people to a landing page that converts website visitors to make donations. Build a relationship with website visitors via email (see #1) and social media (see #2) to subtly convince people that their money will make a difference (but don’t ask for the donation directly on either platform, just thank the people that are already supporters).
6. Give Supporters Action Items
Arm supporters with resources and volunteer opportunities. A campaign website can be used to provide volunteers with information on what they can do in their area and online to support the candidate. This might be information on a local campaign headquarters or information about upcoming events. (Bonus tip: Collect the zip codes of people signing up for the email list or pinpoint their IP addresses to determine their geographic location. Then segment your list to send geo-targeted emails to specific groups of people who are close enough to an event, rally, town hall meeting, etc.)
7. Convince People to Vote for the Candidate.
This may seem like a no brainer, but it ultimately THE goal. Many people have already made their decision, but some of them are on the fence. The core of your online strategy should focus on your most loyal supporters to spread your message, but you should also provide people who are on the fence with simple, easy-to-understand documents, videos, or interviews that most effectively provide and emotional reason to vote for you. If someone is having a hard time making a decision, it is probably not a lack of information, it is a lack of emotional connection or motivation to choose one person over another. Focus on the heart and you’ll find success.
Measuring the Success of Political Campaign Website
If was was managing a political campaign website, I would be measuring the following metrics (among others):
- email list conversion rate (subscriptions per visit)
- donations and donations conversion rate
- click-throughs to social media sites (event tracking)
- social shares (like/+1/tweet/etc. per visit)
- browse rate (# of pages per visit)
- new vs. returning visitors (% of new visitors)
- visitor recency
- geographic location of visitors (measured against the travel schedule of a candidate)
As an SEO, I would track ranking and traffic from the following types of keywords:
- candidate’s name (and all variations of name)
- most popular issues (issues + candidate name)
- poplar news items or events that occur related to the candidate
A Look at the Presidential Campaign Websites Today
Barack Obama Campaign Website (barackobama.com)
Not long ago I did a quick analysis of barackobama.com, the President’s political campaign website. The website has changed a little since then, but here are my thoughts on what the President is doing well and what he can do better:
Mitt Romney Campaign Website (mittromney.com)
As the front runner after the first two primaries, Mitt Romney knows how important it will be to create an effective Presidential campaign website to compete against the web-savvy Obama team.
Here is my analysis of his website as it stands today:
Both of these websites are a work in progress and neither would be considered the best political campaign websites online, but they do have their strengths and a clear strategy in mind.
It is important to note that they both have a key goal in common: lead generation. This is something every online business should keep in mind as they develop their website strategy. No matter how annoying it might be ask for an email address, it is crucial for online success.
Regardless of your political views, it should be fun to watch these campaign websites change and adapt to the race in 2012!