A campaign website is a must for any serious campaign. The lack of a website signals to the voter a lack of commitment, is a source of frustration for those trying to research your campaign, and, in areas where vote-by-mail is an option, can potentially cost you votes. But, your experience with web pages has mostly been checking email and liking cat videos - you aren’t a web designer and you can’t afford one...what are you going to do?!
Well, a lot has changed when it comes to building and maintaining a website - even the past few years - and having a campaign website isn’t nearly as difficult as it once was.
Why Do I Need A Website?
Perhaps you have shied away from the idea of a campaign website a key component in any campaign’s messaging strategy relatively early.
Early on a website will help you find volunteers, campaign staff, and be a convenient place to send donors to easily contribute. When the campaign is in full swing your website will inform people of events, report on endorsements, and post news articles. When you’re in the home stretch your website allows voters to research you on the issues and help you make your final messaging push.
Picking your Domain and Publishing Platform
There are several websites dedicated to building websites. Two of the most popular today are Wix and Squarespace - both will walk you through the process of purchasing a domain name and give you the tools to build the web page.
Your domain is your address on the internet and should be something that is easy for voters to remember. Campaigns often use formats such as “vote (candidate’s last name)”, “(candidate’s last name) (election year)” or “(candidate’s last name) for (office title)”. You might have to be creative if your last name is Smith or Jones as SmithForHouse.com or Jones2020.com are probably already taken - but don’t worry, the platform you are using can offer suggestions for domains that are available.
Another fantastic option is .vote for your domain address. .vote (and .voto) is a non-partisan domain host that only allows positive websites. By owning .vote, the organization can ensure that only those with accurate and positive information about a candidate can publish a website with the .vote domain (instead of, say, .com). To learn more you can visit get.vote
Once you buy your domain, these same websites will walk you through the publishing process by providing suggested layouts, and content pages that you can insert into your page. And don’t worry about messing up when you are creating your website; these services offer preview modes that allow you to tweak your website long before you actually put it out into the world.
Design and Layout
Your website should be easy to navigate, even for the internet novice, so don’t bog down your website with cluttered menus, disorienting fonts, photos, and layouts, and off-brand color schemes.
But what do you actually put on the page? Modern political web pages should feature the following pieces of information:
- “Donate” button and page
- “Home” page with a basic introduction
- “About Me” page that provides background about you and why you are running
- “Issues” page
- “How to Get Involved” in the campaign page
- “Contact” page (be sure to provide “campaign” contacts, such as a designated campaign email, in this section)
- Social media links
You can also consider other pages such as an events page/calendar and blog - but these are not vital and do require upkeep. If you do choose to have these pages, be sure to assign someone to update content.
If you are truly lost as to what should go on your page, take a look at older campaign websites for races that were larger and smaller than your own. Take ideas that you think will work and try to identify points of frustration on these already published pages.
Perhaps the most important thing is to test your website with people who were not involved in the publication process. Ask friends, your spouse, a snotty teenager, and anyone else you feel would provide constructive feedback to view the website in preview mode. Ask them questions like “how can someone get a hold of me?” “What are the issues I care about?” or “where can you find out more about me?”. If your guinea pig can’t find this information quickly and easily, your potential voters won’t either and become frustrated with your campaign. Take feedback and update your website accordingly.
Publishing and Upkeep
You are now ready to publish! But now what? Now that you are up and running, remember that a web page should be a living document - something that you will be tweaking and adapting to meet your needs over the course of the campaign.
As voters interact with your page, listen to their comments and suggestions on how to improve your page and, at the end of the day, don’t forget that your web page is a constant billboard that allows you to reach out to voters without having to be face to face. Treat it like the tool that it is and you will have a website at the core of your digital campaign.