Getting your campaign website right

Getting your campaign website right
Campaign websites: the red-headed stepchildren of digital politics?

Facebook, Twitter and Google: if you read media coverage of the political Internet, they are what you’re likely to hear about. Political websites? They’re sooooo 2004, right? Wrong.

Social media may grab the spotlight and online advertising the dollars, but campaign websites are still what gets the job done—at least when it comes to processing donations and signing up supporters. Ignoring the basic rules of good website design and implementation can cost a candidate money, volunteers and votes. So Technology Bytes came up with a slew of basic questions you should be asking when designing your campaign’s web presence.  

First, make sure you think of your website as the main conversion engine of your campaign. What do your online ads point to? A webpage. How do your Facebook supporters sign up to walk blocks and make phone calls? Sometimes that happens through a Facebook app, but more often it’s via a link to a page on your website. Donations? Again, it’s your website that takes someone’s credit card number, and you need that process to be as easy as possible.

Two quick questions to ask yourself: how visible is the “Donate” button, and how many steps does it take for a supporter to make an online donation? The answers to those questions should be “highly visible” and “as few as possible.”

Second, your website is where voters and donors come to find out about you. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 74 percent of voters went online for information about the 2008 elections. That number is likely to be higher this cycle. And while some people will visit you online in the months leading up to Election Day, others will Google you in a last-minute rush to make up their minds. In either case, if they aren’t able to find what they need, you probably just lost a vote—or a donation.

Ask yourself, if I wanted to learn about candidate X, could I find his or her website easily? Once I got there, how hard is it to sign up for email updates? How about finding information on how to volunteer? How to donate money? If visitors can’t locate what they’re looking for within a few seconds, they’re likely to leave—it’s that simple.

Lastly, don’t forget the need to persuade. A common complaint about campaign sites is that they’re heavy on the give-me-money part and light on the here’s-why part. Think of your campaign site as your office on the biggest Main Street of all, and devote resources to it accordingly.

Death to Splash Screens?

One feature almost ubiquitous on campaign sites across the political spectrum is an email-gathering “splash screen” intercepting visitors on their way to the candidate’s main site. But are splash screens always a good idea?

Research by Houston-based Normal Modes provides some data. As a part of a project to look at the Republican presidential candidates’ sites in the fall of 2011, the company’s researchers conducted a classic website usability study, watching over people’s shoulders as they attempted to conduct several defined tasks on the sites. Test subjects were asked to find the candidates’ sites, sign up for emails, make a donation, etc., as their reactions and the difficulties they encountered were logged and analyzed.

The results are sobering: most of the sites made basic mistakes that confused readers and made common tasks more difficult than needed. Splash screens turned out to be particularly troublesome for many of the test subjects. For instance, some couldn’t find the “go to main website” button and thought the splash screen was all there was to the website. While several test subjects recognized them as pop-ups and navigated to the main front page, the splash screens so confounded some of the older subjects that they left the sites entirely in frustration.

For more, see “What the People Want: Investigating the Voter Experience with Republican Candidate Websites” on I’m not ready to jump to the conclusion that splash screens deserve to be banished from the scene, but it’s definitely an area that calls out for more research.

Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning A contributor to Campaigns & Elections, Delany writes C&E's Technology Bytes section. Send him a pitch at

Also in Technology Bytes this issue: Microsites on the march.

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