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Top 10 tips for creating a website that informs voters and gets you elected

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

Your website is critical because it may be the only information voters ever learn about you.

Whether you’re running for state senate, county commissioner, city council or the school board, your website is critical. Sure, federal or statewide office seekers have more money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put together an informative and engaging website.

Why does it matter? Because potential donors see it, as do groups that may endorse you. A reporter trying to write a candidate profile or election summary sees it. Your opponent is checking it. But most importantly, a huge number of people wait until the last minute to vote and frantically do a Google search to see who they should vote for. In fact, AARP — which represents older people and older people vote — lists candidate websites as the #1 tool for being an informed voter.

The bottom line: Your website may the only information voters ever know about you because so many people aren’t engaged, especially during off-year elections, and you probably don’t have the money to run TV ads, send multiple mailers, canvass or blanket the internet with digital ads.

After reviewing numerous candidate websites in the past two months, I think it’s fair to say most candidates could be doing better. Here are the top 10 tips for creating a website that helps you get elected:

1. Define your story. If you’re running for office, you need a compelling, emotional and relatable story. Voters want to know who you are, what you stand for, how you ended up on their ballot and whether you are likeable and trustworthy. Do you need to go so far as disclosing boxers or briefs? No. But you need a storyline that includes a pivotal moment and experience that weaves throughout your life and becomes your brand. Politics 101 is making sure you define yourself before your opponent does.

2. Bio. This part should be the easiest, but often candidates are missing key information. You want a solid mix of personal information and professional experience that is in depth, but not too long, and easily readable and relatable. Candidates often skip over most of their personal lives. While you don’t want to overshare — no one needs to know about your five exes or driving 12 hours with your dog on the roof of the car (h/t Mitt Romney) — you also don’t want people to fill in the blanks on their own.

If your nickname is Spanky, do you really want people to think of all the reasons why it’s your nickname? No. Chances are there is a story there so tell it. If you have been married for three decades, then say so! If you pulled your way up by the modern-day equivalent of bootstraps, shout it out. Note that you are a mother, father, grandparent, aunt or uncle of six kids and/or three dogs and one cat. If you have a significant other, say so. Don’t leave people wondering about that man or woman pictured with you all over your website. And If you are surrounded by kids in photos, note that they are your kids or grandchildren or nieces or nephews. Don’t assume people will know.

3. Platform and issues. Yes, this seems like a no-brainer, but the truth is many candidates don’t want to be put in a box. They want a little — or a lot — of wiggle room. So they generally refer to things like “increase jobs, stimulate the local economy, make our streets safe, increase our quality of life.” In other words, they sound like what many voters think of as a “typical politician.” You don’t want to overshare your ideas as it increases the chances of alienating some voters and gives your opposition too much ammunition. But specifics are important. Know the most important issues to your community and address them. And make sure you are drawing a contrast with your opponent, even while not mentioning his or her name.

4. Visuals. Headshot are out and images of you with family, friends and community members are in. If you’re an incumbent, you should have some photos and videos of interactions at town halls, a children’s event or an environmental project. If you’re a first-time candidate, find some photos of interactions at your business or with your family, and snap some pictures and take video of you on the campaign trail. And show some diversity — age, race, gender, neighborhoods, etc. The pictures don’t have to be glossy and professional. They just need to be relatable.

One final note on visuals: Make sure the photos are accurate. Don’t put in a stock photo of a city that isn’t the one where you are running for office. Someone will notice and you have just created a media story you don’t want.

5. Accomplishments. It is truly frustrating to see a website where a candidate has spent 15 years at different levels of government or running a business and cannot point to specific accomplishments. Would you hire someone who gave you a resume filled with titles but no achievements? Tell voters what you’ve done and how they connect with what you want to do as an elected official.

6. Call to action. Some more engaged voters want something to do. Make sure there is a donation button on your page. And a place to collect email addresses for volunteer opportunities, newsletters and updates. Tell people what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. Where can they pick up a yard sign? How do they request you attend a community event? How can they get fliers or collateral material?

7. Endorsements. These are like manners. If you have them, it’s expected. But if you don’t, it’s a glaring omission. Make sure to list endorsements from individuals and groups. And if you can, use some quotes.

8. Blogs. Don’t panic. You don’t have to sit down and write big thoughts. But you can post events, photos, social media posts, debate video, newspaper articles and anything else that comes up on the campaign trail. If you’re using Facebook (or FACEBOOK), cross-post the information. And then send the blog out to your email list.

9. Information for voters. Provide links to your state and county voter registration information and WHERE people can drop off their ballots. You want their vote. Make it as easy for them as possible.

10. Hire someone to do your website. You may be thinking, “but I could save money by doing it myself.” Maybe. But this isn’t a learning experience. You don’t know what you’re doing, and even if you do, you don’t have time. That site needs to be ready to go the second you announce your candidacy. What you need is someone to ensure you have an effective, easy to remember domain name, an navigable site, consistent colors and a logo that pops. You want someone who understands Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and since mobile usage has eclipsed desktop, you need someone to ensure it can be easily read on a phone and tablet. Hiring a professional isn’t that expensive — especially when you are providing most of the content.


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