Five Common Campaign Mistakes
“Everything You Need to Know About the Five Most Common
Campaign Website Mistakes and How You Can Avoid Them”
by Mark Montini, Campaign Secrets
Websites have quickly become a necessity for campaigns at every level.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running for city council in urban Chicago or dogcatcher in rural Otero County, voters in today’s world expect you to have a website. If you don’t have one you run the risk of being written-off as not running a serious campaign.
This new reality of 21st century campaigning means a lot of candidates have been forced to learn about campaign websites “on the run.” And, unfortunately, for many of them that “learning” has been done at the School of Hard Knocks.
In 2002 alone, more than 1,800 campaigns all across America used the products and services offered by my company. Almost all of them had websites and, a good number of them will admit they made some big mistakes. A few will even tell you those mistakes cost them their elections.
This free special report reveals the five most common website mistakes I saw in 2002 and includes critical information you can use to avoid making the same mistakes on your campaign.
Campaign Website Mistake #1: Spending Too Much Money
The biggest mistake that campaigns make on their websites is spending way too much of their hard-raised money on them. Yes, websites are a necessity. And, yes, you want your website to look professional. But, the reality is that websites have not yet proved to be effective vote-getters.
On the other hand, things like direct mail, phone calls, and radio advertisements are proven voter getters.
So, the more you spend on your website the less you have to spend on proven vote-getting tactics. Imagine how you’d feel if you invested just $500 too much in your website and ended up getting beat by just a few votes. That $500 probably made the difference in your winning and losing. After all, with $500 you could have:
• Sent 1,800 more pieces of voter mail • Made 5,400 more get-out-the-vote- phone calls • Run 75-150 more radio ads • Published another 2-4 newspaper ads
Any one of those things would have made the difference.
Websites are cool. They can do fascinating things. But they just don’t measure up to traditional campaign tactics when it comes to delivering votes – and that’s what campaigns are all about.
The key to avoiding this mistake is keeping your priorities straight from the very beginning of your campaign. When Election Day is several months – or even years – away, it’s easy to spend more than you should on things like websites and other unproven tactics. You’re much better off saving that money until the final weeks of your campaign when you’ll receive the greatest return on your investment.
Keep in mind that you can always add to your website later in the campaign. You don’t need to build the perfect site right now.
Your #1 website priority early in your campaign should be to get a professional site for as little money as possible – even if that means forgoing some of the “cool” features you want to add later.
BEWARE OF HIDDEN WEBSITE FEES!
One critical thing to mention with regard keeping your website costs low is that you must protect yourself from hidden fees many website companies charge.
Here’s how this game works. Website companies lure you in offering to build a full-function website for a surprisingly low price like $599. It’s hard to pass up a deal like this when you know custom-built sites typically cost at least $1,500.
It sounds like a great deal until you start getting invoices for hidden fees like:
• $29/month for hosting • $19/month for personalized email • $49/month for credit card processing plus a fee on all contributions • $75/hour for edits and changes • $100 for your domain name
And don’t even think about disputing these charges or not paying the bills. These companies will simply shutdown your site. Unfortunately, they have all the leverage in these situations.
At the end of the campaign, you’ll have spent more on all the hidden fees than you did on the entire website.
Unfortunately, the hidden fee game has become standard operating procedure for a lot of website companies. It’s great marketing on their part – get you in the door with a low price then make their money back after you’ve sign a contract. It’s not a good situation for your campaign, though.
What these hidden fees are called and how much they cost varies from company to company, but 9 times out of 10 when you get offered a great price upfront, there’s usually some hidden fees lurking in the background.
To avoid this mistake, ask the company for complete breakdown of everything you might POSSIBLY pay for your website. “Possibly” is the key word. Really press them on this with the clear implication that you will not pay for anything they don’t divulge prior to your signing the contract. Be sure to ask them about all the items on the list above.
The best situation is if they offer an all-inclusive package.
All-inclusive pricing like this eliminates surprises and allows you to focus on your campaign rather than having to worry about how much you’re spending on your website.
Campaign Website Mistake #2: Paying for Everything Upfront
Raising money early in your campaign is incredibly difficult. But it’s also incredibly valuable -- even more valuable than the money you raise late in your campaign. Why? Well, it’s just like in business.
Your seed money allows you to invest in key areas.
For example, let’s say you have $3,000 in your campaign account and invest it in direct mail fundraising. That $3,000 is likely to produce $5,000-$10,000 by the end of your campaign. After all, every donor you get today will have several more months to contribute more money to your campaign.
On the other hand, if you spend that $3,000 on your website, that’s all you get for it. Sure, you might get a few hundred dollars in contributions through your website, but you can be sure the return on your investment will be much, much less than the $5,000-$10,000 return if you’d invested it in fundraising.
Sure, you’ll have to spend some early money on things that don’t have a good return on investment like literature. However, you should try to limit those expenditures as much as possible.
PAYING MONTH-TO-MONTH IS THE BEST OPTION
That’s why I always encourage candidates to look for companies that offer a month-to-month payment package rather than the typical “pay-it-all-upfront” package. It’s much better for your campaign if you can spend $100/month on your website rather than $1,200 upfront. It’s just like earning interest on your money. The longer you can keep it in the bank the better.
One other important benefit of a month-to-month program is that it allows you to get your website up sooner. The reason is simple. If you raise $100/day it will take you 12 days to pay for your website with the “pay-it-all-upfront” package.. However, if you choose a $100/month website package, you can have your website up after just one day.
There’s another “worst-case-scenario” benefit you’ll get with a month-to-month payment package as well. I hope you don’t experience it, but it has happened to other campaigns. Let’s say that you fall behind in your fundraising and make the decision to cut expenses everywhere possible. If you’ve spent $1,200 upfront on your website, the only money you can save is on hidden fees like those outlined in mistake #1. The $1,200 you spent upfront is gone. There’s no way to get it back if circumstances change – even if you’ve only used your site for a few months.
On the other hand, if you go with a month-to-month program, you pull the plug without losing everything you’d budgeted for your website Again, I hope this isn’t a scenario you experience, but it has happened and better safe than sorry.
Campaign Website Mistake #3: Not Accepting Credit Card Contributions
If you’re running a small campaign, you may think this mistake doesn’t apply to you because you’re not going to raise more than a few thousand dollars for your entire campaign. Let me assure you, however, it does.
Having a website that allows credit card contributions has an impact on more than just your website. If you have this feature on your website, you can also accept credit card contributions in every other area of your fundraising. You simply use the secure credit card processing page on your website to process the contributions.
In a slow economy, this is extremely important. It can make the difference between a $25 contribution and a $100 contribution – or whether you get a contribution at all.
USE CREDIT PROCESSING FOR MORE THAN YOUR WEBSITE
It’s just like in business. The easier you make if for people to buy things (i.e. contribute), the more likely they are to do so.
Just think about it. If you accept credit card contributions on your website, you can also accept credit card contributions with your fundraising mail, event invitations, and even your fundraising calls.
There is one warning I want to make about accepting credit card contributions. It goes back to mistake #1 – spending too much on your website. In order to accept credit card contributions you must have something called a merchant account. Many campaigns spend more than they should to get one. There are two ways to get a merchant account for your campaign:
1. Set up your own merchant account
This process usually takes a few days and requires that you complete an application, pay a setup fee that can run anywhere from $50 to $200, pay a transaction fee of $0.15 to $0.35 for each transaction as well as an additional 2-4% of each transaction. And this doesn’t include the extra money you’ll have to spend to have your website developer integrate the system into your website. I would never recommend this option for a campaign.
2. Use a credit card processing service.
With this option you simply pay for the right to use another company’s merchant account. The money from contributions goes into their bank account and they send you a check every month or so.
The big benefit of this option is the cost. Most companies charge a monthly fee of $19.95-$49.95 plus a 3-5% processing fee for each transaction.
A few companies have programs which charge a slightly higher processing fee, but no monthly fee. The industry standard for this type of program is about 10%. While 10% may seem expensive, it’s actually a great deal when you do the math.
Let’s say you process $300/month in credit cards (this is a very high number as most smaller campaigns only receive a few hundred dollars total). If you pay a flat 10% fee, you’ll be paying $30/month.
On the other hand, let’s assume you use the monthly fee + processing fee option and your monthly fee is $24.95 with a 4% processing fee. You would pay $36.95 to process the same $300 in contributions -- $6.95 more than with the flat 10% fee.
Based on this calculation, I’d always recommend campaigns choose a “flat fee” company – especially if they can find a company offering rates under 10%.
Two important notes here. First, this example is based on processing $300/month. Most local campaigns only process about $100/month, so your savings with the flat fee will be even more. Second, these costs don’t include any expenses associated with integrating the specialized code required for processing credit cards into your website. In some cases, you may also have to pay more for hosting in order to have a secure contribution page.
Campaign Website Mistake #4: Not Promoting Their Websites
Unfortunately, many campaigns take what we like to call the “Field of Dreams” approach to generating traffic for their websites. You remember, “If you build it, they will come.”
Well, it just doesn’t work that way. Here’s an example.
A few years ago I visited the website of a candidate for Congress in Indiana and made a shocking discovery.
The site was great. It had obviously been designed by a professional firm. I’d estimate the site cost $5,000 to $10,000. As I read through the information on the homepage, I stumbled upon a startling number.
At the bottom of the homepage was a counter. Counters display how many people have visited a site. You’ve probably seen them on other websites.
The counter on this site was at 183. That’s right…183. I was the 183rd visitor to the site. What’s worse, is that it was only about 5 weeks before the election. The campaign had spent $5,000 to $10,000 on a website that had been viewed by just 183 people. Let’s say the campaign tripled the number of people who visited their site in the final 5 weeks of the campaign. That means they would have had 549 people visit their site. That means they spent between $9.10 and $18.20 per visitor! And that’s not even unique visitors. That number includes people who visited multiple times -- even campaign staff who visited the site.
What a waste of money.
I have no doubt that the campaign had high hopes for their website when they launched it at the beginning of the campaign, but they didn’t take the time to determine exactly how they wanted to promote it. It simply got pushed aside by “more pressing” issues.
I guarantee that if the campaign had known they’d only have 183-549 visitors to their site, they wouldn’t have spent nearly as much as they did.
INCLUDE YOUR WEBSITE ADDRESS ON ALL PRINTED MATERIALS
Many so-called experts say the way to avoid this mistake is to get listed in search engines like Yahoo or Google. Not surprisingly, they also offer expensive packages to do it for you.
While their approach has a little merit for an eCommerce site, it has absolutely no merit for a campaign site. You can register with every search engine, including paying hundreds to be listed on Yahoo, and you’ll do very little to help your campaign. This is especially true for local campaigns.
Think about it. Have you ever done a search to find the websites of candidates for school board? Governor, maybe. School Board, no. The bottom line about generating traffic for your campaign website is that 90+% of the people who visit will do so because of something you did.
The #1 rule for generating traffic to your website is to include your address on every piece of printed material your campaign produces. From fundraising mail to push cards to press releases, be sure that you include your website address. It’s the best way to generate the maximum amount of traffic to your website.
Campaign Website Mistake #5: Letting Their Sites Get Stale
I can’t tell you how many campaign websites I’ve visited that have old events featured under their “Upcoming Events” sections. That’s not a good way to get visitor to return to your site.
There are several reasons this can happen.
First, the campaign may have gotten hooked into a contract with hidden fees for changes and simply couldn’t afford to make the changes. The details of this are outlined in mistake #1.
Second, the campaign may have submitted the changes to their website company and are just waiting for them to be made. Unfortunately, this isn’t all that rare, especially for small local campaigns. Think about it. If a website company has to choose between spending time with a $500 customer or a $5,000 customer, guess who they choose.
Third, and most common, is that the campaign had a volunteer build their site. Early on, when the campaign was slow and there weren’t many changes, the “volunteer” was able to keep up with all the requested changes. But, understandably, when the campaign began to heat up and changes needed to be made every few days, the volunteer fell behind on the changes.
That’s why I encourage every candidate to make sure they can make changes to their websites on their own.
If you know how to FTP files to and from your website, understand HTML coding, and have purchased a program like Microsoft Frontpage or Dreamweaver, this isn’t a big deal. If you’re a normal person, however, and have absolutely no idea what that last sentence means, then you’ll want to pay careful attention to the next few sentences.
There’s no reason for you to have a website that doesn’t allow you to easily make changes 24/7/365 without any special software or training. If your website company says they can’t provide that access to you, I will almost guarantee you that it’s because they have hidden “change/edit fees” they want to charge.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying candidates should manage their own sites. Candidates should focus all their attention on meeting voters and raising money. I’m just saying that they should be able to make changes if a worst-case scenario arises.
I spoke with a Republican State Party leader a few days ago and, believe it or not, she told me that they couldn’t find their “volunteer” website programmer and had no idea how to make changes to their site. Don’t put yourself in that position.
Be sure you have the ability to quickly and easily make real-time changes to your site.
If a website company won’t allow you that access, I’d recommend you use a different company. If a volunteer doesn’t have the time or expertise to program that technology, I wouldn’t recommend you let them build your website. Instead you might want to put them in charge of updating your site once you get it built.