Steve G.

Better Websites for LP Candidates

In Libertarian Party-US, Politics on August 24, 2008 at 3:56 am

Posted at GeorgeDonnelly.com.

He reviews several LP candidate websites, including a couple of current and former LFV writers, pointing out the good and bad aspects of their website presence from a political advertising viewpoint, and provides a number of general purpose tips.

The following is an excerpt; the full post contains what appears to be a commercial for the author’s potential web design and management services.

I would recommend current and prospective candidates visit the original article to get an idea of what such services cost, regardless of whether they end up employing the author or a competitor.

While doing research for Libertarian Party Candidates earlier this month, I noticed that most of the more than 550 LP candidates running this year do not have websites. And of those who do, few are effective. By effective I mean:

Effective Candidate Websites are

  • professional-looking and aren’t straight out of 1995.
  • highly readable: good-looking large fonts and plenty of white space. Not overly “busy”.
  • well-organized: clear navigation. Put the important information on the front page.
  • interactive: the candidate communicates regularly and visitors can leave comments.
  • easy to remember: a short domain with the candidates’s name and desired office.

Why are Candidate Websites Important?

Good candidate websites are critical! A website doesn’t cost much and once it’s created, it doesn’t require much work to maintain it. But it has a wide reach and can be a fantastic resource for press and bloggers who want to write about you. Without a website, your candidacy may as well not exist, but if you do it right – investing some thought and creativity – the impact can be breathtaking.

The Political Newbie who Raised $100,000 with his Website

Take the case of political novice and Democratic candidate for Kansas State House Sean Tevis, who produced a brilliant cartoon about running for office. Interest generated by Internet visitors resulted in $100,000 in contributions and positive nationwide press. Imagine if you could get these kinds of results from your website.

Let’s take a look at some LP candidate websites, what they got right and where they went wrong.

  1. Two significant differences here, George.

    I don’t think Wes’s website is that grand. It’ a bit bare, and doesn’t give off the illusion that he is putting work into the race. No offense to Wes Benedict

    I like Jason Gatties site. It’ll be alot better once he has the “about” video, and maybe I’d recommend someone to take a few photos of him campaigning (which he is). Now Gatties has been using his site well, and press releases. Earlier in the game, fundraising was pretty successful for such a small race. Now the plea’s for Tibet was him saying that everyone who wanted to donate to his campaign should donate to Tibet causes during the Olympics. He’s taking a big bullet for principle, and I respect that. Now none of the opponents are doing any of this. He’s running against 4 others for 3 positions, I believe. His chances are good.

  2. Thanks. We’ve been having major issues with scripting, which is why a couple of the sections are missing. And I stand behind raising money for others at the moment rather than myself. What Paulie fails to see is that I’ve had MORE volunteers sign up since my please to help the people of Tibet & Burma than before. Right now, they are helping raise money for that effort, however, once the Olympics end (later today), they will be there to help move my campaign forward. Prior to the Olympics…3 volunteers. During the Olympics…32 volunteers. Do the math.

    If I wanted to run a traditional campaign, I would sell myself out and join the republicrats.

  3. *plea…not please, my bad.

  4. And as Mike stated, nobody in my race has received as much press coverage as I have. I’m also the only candidate in this race who even has a website.

  5. Oh shit, my bad. I thought Paulie came up with this post. I see now it was George D. My bad, I apologize.

  6. I thank you for the link but it’s common internet etiquette to just use small excerpts, not excerpt (almost) the whole thing.

    Excerpting (almost) the whole thing is bad for the original author because it confuses Google about who the original author of the material is.

    So please don’t excerpt (almost) the whole thing.

    Also, you’re hotlinking the images.

    (If you consider it too much trouble to correct this and prefer to just delete the article, I understand. I don’t want to be an ingrate but I have to protect my work.)

    I don’t actually have a website design business, nor do I currently offer design services, I am just pointing out what I perceive as a need, saying how it could be filled, and asking if anyone else perceives the need.

    Jason, whatever works, but if a potential voter can’t see what you look like or stand for, you’re missing critical information.

  7. This is really good stuff, the type of things that candidates really need. If anyone is building a basic “how-to” book for candidates, this needs to go in there.

  8. Re: blogs. If you’re doing daily updates or answering voter questions DAILY or at LEAST several times per week, great. If not, you’re better off without a blog.

    Same thing applies to calendars.

    Be realistic. If you don’t GET much feedback, and/or don’t have time or inclination to make a blog fresh, don’t have it. Just like an empty calendar, an un-updated blog is an embarrassment.

    Also, a blog should be well-written and NOT be about the candidate’s personal life (except in occasional references as it affects the campaign). A campaign blog should not be a personal diary.

  9. Paulie,

    Frankly I think you’ve still posted too much of George’s article. He put it on his site for a reason. Best to put a brief extract to get attention and interest, an then direct readers to his site.

    I’d say no more than a paragraph or two in most instances.

  10. My campaign for County Commissioner and my website are low priorities and this is the first time I’m building it myself. Lust learning to make websites. It’s fun, but can be frustrating when something doesn’t work.

    Lots of times when you get someone else to manage your websites, they start getting hard to reach and can hold your site hostage.

    I’m driving myself crazy right now trying to figure out how to get a VHS tape of a TV appearance onto my computer so I can post the video. It’ll boost my website by a factor of 2 or 3.

  11. The “Issues” Page is clearly marked on the left side of the web page, see, thats where people will see what I “stand for”. Did you bother to read it? The only section that is lacking is the “about” and as I have said, we have been having issues with this.

    As for my picture, its plastered all over my post cards and brochures. The website, we were trying to go with a more artistic flare.

  12. Thank you Paulie and apologies for the inconvenience.

    Michael: What a good idea! A how-to book for the candidates. That’s another project I would love to work on in preparation for 2010. (I’m planning on running for something in 2010.)

    Susan: But the point is that a successful candidate website SHOULD be posting regular updates, hence the need for the blog. Regular updates get people to keep coming back and that translates into many good things TM.

    Weblog updates ideally should be weekly or better. Anything less than that and the utility quickly goes down. If you only post weekly, I have read that posting late Thursday morning is a time when people are very attentive to such things.

    The point of a weblog is to have a conversation. So a conversational tone is perfect. A stiff and corporate-sounding blog defeats the purpose. Write as if you’re talking to a friend on the phone.

    And if it’s about your personal life _during the campaign_ – IOW what you’re doing to gain office – then I think it’s fine.

    Wes: If you don’t care about your campaign then I can understand why you wouldn’t care to improve your campaign website.

    In my research I found that a voter could easily conclude by looking at LP candidate websites that all but a few (50 or less) of our ~550 candidates nationwide could not give a damn about their campaigns. This is very disappointing.

    re/ people holding your site hostage. The benefit of using open source software like WordPress (which powers this website) is that you can take a backup of your site anytime – in one SQL file – take it somewhere else (everyone hosts WordPress and for as little as $10/mo) and start right up again. Data portability is a great feature of much open source software.

    Also, you must always control your domain name. Be sure to always keep it registered in your name and separate from your hosting company. Domain + data == you always have control.

    re/ your VHS tape. Does your computer have a video jack? If not, get it on a DVD (you may need to pay someone to do this if you don’t have the equipment) and use a video editing program for your OS to turn it into a format (flv probably) that youtube or google video or vimeo will take and upload it there. Once you have it on a video hosting website like these three, putting it on your website is trivial – just copy some html and paste it into your html webpage. If you need help with this last step, let me know.

  13. The “Issues” Page is clearly marked on the left side of the web page, see, thats where people will see what I “stand for”. Did you bother to read it?

    Please don’t this personally. I am attempting to be constructive in my criticism and if I failed it is not due to any malice I have for any of these 5 candidates, I don’t even know them.

    When a potential voter visits your website to get more information about you, their first impression will be formed by the part of your website found at the top of the front page, that part that falls “above the fold”, i.e., is plainly visible without scrolling.

    If they don’t find any information there that gives them a reason to explore further into your site, they won’t.

    That kind of information answers questions like:

    – Who is this person?
    – What does he stand for?
    – Why should I vote for him? / What makes him special?

    Unfortunately, your site, as it was when I wrote my article, did not provide that information on the front page and above the fold.

    If you don’t believe me, read up on website usability testing topics.

    Again, I have no intention of or interesting in tearing you down. On the contrary, I am an LP member and am seeking only things that will help build it.

  14. Frankly I think you’ve still posted too much of George’s article. He put it on his site for a reason. Best to put a brief extract to get attention and interest, an then direct readers to his site.

    I’ll leave that up to George. If he thinks there is still too much of his article here, I’ll chop more.

    Originally, I went with the “some rights reserved” notice which accompanies his article, which states that it can be freely reproduced so long as credit is given. The simplest way to do that is to copy and paste the code, which I did.

    Other people have not objected to me doing so, and in fact some have even thanked me for the added attention their writing received.

  15. But the point is that a successful candidate website SHOULD be posting regular updates, hence the need for the blog.

    Of course. But the reality is that many candidates – not just in the LP – are running campaigns that are not their only (or even primary) focus of political activity. They may be running to get one issue out, to give voters a choice, to hold high the Party banner, etc. These folks aren’t necessarily going to have the time and/or material to provide updates every other day.

    So, yes, a candidate should do all the things needed to run a successful campaign. But remember that there are different reasons for campaigns and candidacies, and the websites for these will naturally be different. A guy who wants to put his name on the ballot so that voters will have a good Libertarian choice but who isn’t committed to doing all the other things needed to run a ‘winning race’ shouldn’t pretend that he is by having a ‘dynamic website’ – because the reality is that he won’t update it and it will look worse than a simple ‘issue statement/contact me/donate here’ type site.

    Just my opinion. Perhaps you are only addressing the idea of campaign sites for candidates running all-out campaigns, or perhaps you’re of the opinion that any campaign should be full-out.

    The point of a weblog is to have a conversation. So a conversational tone is perfect. A stiff and corporate-sounding blog defeats the purpose. Write as if you’re talking to a friend on the phone.

    Interesting that you appear to have interpreted my “well-written” as “stiff and corporate-sounding”. of course a blog has a different tone from a more formal communication, but it should STILL be well-written, and should avoid grammatical and spelling errors, logical errors, ad hominem attacks, etc. Informality isn’t an excuse for turning into an idiot or a rude person. If you’re a horrible writer, get someone to proofread your entries before you post. I’ve seen some pitiable writing on campaign sites, and the blog environment seems to encourage bad writers to ‘let down their hair’ even more.

    And if it’s about your personal life _during the campaign_ – IOW what you’re doing to gain office – then I think it’s fine.

    Yes. I meant entries like this one from an actual campaign blog/calendar (which is an interesting combo): “Aug 6: a lot of frustrations mounting up.. so many things seem to
    not be going the way they ought to… so frustrating”. That was the ENTIRE entry – no explanation, nothing. And it was the ONLY entry from all of August. People who are blogging like that should consider saving themselves and the Party the embarrassment and not blogging at all.

  16. Thank you Paulie and apologies for the inconvenience.

    No inconvenience whatsoever.

  17. George Donnelly,

    You seem like an a-hole and someone who’s very loose with the facts and practically willing to lie and put words into my mouth.

    Welcome to the party. You’re a lot like all the rest.

    I have a suggestion for you. Build three sites for free for three different candidates. Show us you know how to work with other people and are reliable. If you do that, I but lots of candidates would seek your help.

    I get lots of advice from Libertarians who have all the answers yet have never done anything significant for the party or a campaign themselves.

  18. I get lots of advice from Libertarians who have all the answers yet have never done anything significant for the party or a campaign themselves.

    I think George has done something significant by putting together

    http://libertarianpartycandidates.us/

    And I think having a debate about what constitutes an effective campaign website is a useful one to have. Also, I don’t think any specific criticism of your site or those of other candidates mentioned were meant in a bad way. Some of the specifics may or may not have been correct – that’s what this comment section is here to hash out. But I don’t think any of it was meant to be malicious, either way.

    While having George make free websites would be very nice, I don’t think it is required in order for him to say he has done something significant for the party.

  19. Originally, I went with the “some rights reserved” notice

    Actually that only applies to the photo, which I got from Flickr, but I see now why that could be interpreted as you did.

    Wes: If I have lied, I encourage you to be specific about that, as it certainly is not my intention.

    I will build and support 3, probably more, for free. That’s a promise. Again, I’m not trying to make a sale here, I’m just putting out some ideas to see if there is any interest. I’ve been doing that in several areas over the last few weeks because I’m interested in building up the LP.

    If there are any LP candidates who want a website for this election cycle, I will build, host and support up to 10 for free from now till election day.

    In 2009 and 2010 I will do the same if there is interest, if I decide to pursue this idea and if I get some paying customers.

    I have a long history of giving back to non-profits via my businesses, including discounts and free services, as well as donating some profits to causes like the ACLU. This is besides the point, however.

    I never claimed to know anything about running a political campaign and I am not lecturing you on that topic.

    I do know a lot about the web, web technologies and something about web marketing. I am giving out some free advice and you obviously may do with that as you please. It is what it is.

  20. Susan I think you’re responding to points I’m not making in some cases.

    I did not mean that your “well-written” == stiff or corporative-sounding, I was just trying to express myself in a comprehensive fashion.

    I agree, your example is bad, and yes I agree that if they have no intentions of running an active campaign or posting regularly, then a blog is pointless.

    In Wes’ case it was apparent to me from his content that his campaign is fairly active, so I thought it could benefit him.

    Even an inactive campaign can benefit from a simple website with a photo and answers to questions like where does he stand and what makes him special. If the candidate isn’t going to even do anything basic, does it make sense to go to the cost and trouble of putting him on the ballot. I don’t know.

  21. Don’t worry. No matter what your web site looks like, a bunch of people will not like it.

    A campaign diary might be of interest if it is filed absolutely regularly, and if you have enough interesting items to put in it.

    A blog–in which anyone other than your staff can file–is inadvisable.

  22. Having said that, you should realize that some of those people raking you over the coals may be correct.

  23. A blog–in which anyone other than your staff can file–is inadvisable.

    I’m not suggesting a public or community blog, but if you’re referring to comments, then disabling those defeats the whole purpose purpose.

    Bob Barr’s campaign blog is a decent example of what I am advocating.

    http://blog.bobbarr2008.com

    I don’t see anyone raking anyone over coals here, frankly. I praised Wes’ website.

  24. George Donnelly, you said:
    Wes: If you don’t care about your campaign then I can understand why you wouldn’t care to improve your campaign website.

    Wes says:
    I never said I didn’t care about my campaign or that I didn’t care to improve my website. Read again what I said in comment 11.

    As the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Texas, I helped recruit and assist over 170 candidates in Texas. Most of those people only agreed to be candidates because I or my staff begged them to be candidates because here in Texas we’re taking the approach that being a candidate no matter how inactive is better than doing nothing. I realize lots of other state LP’s don’t feel the same way and that’s fine. We’ve got 50 LP experiments going on here.

    pauliecannoli pointed out you made that all LP candidates website and I think it’s great. Thanks for that. I also thank you for offering to help build websites for candidates.

    As limited as my website is, I’m forcing myself to learn how to build websites by building it myself because I want to learn an important skill.

    Although my own campaign isn’t a top priority for me, I’ll probably be fairly high on the vote percentage results list come November. I base that on my past performances as a candidate.

    I appreciate your website that critiques LP candidate websites, too.

    Please keep up the effort, even if I do criticize you if I disagree with you sometimes.

  25. Even an inactive campaign can benefit from a simple website with a photo and answers to questions like where does he stand and what makes him special.

    Absotively. We seem to be in accord.

    And a note in passing: I’m astonished at some of the violently negative reactions to George’s thoughtful suggestions and analysis. They *are* a significant contribution, and the way to treat a new person with lots of ideas (most good:) is not to kick him in the ass, but to thank him.

  26. “As the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Texas, I helped recruit and assist over 170 candidates in Texas. Most of those people only agreed to be candidates because I or my staff begged them to be candidates because here in Texas we’re taking the approach that being a candidate no matter how inactive is better than doing nothing. I realize lots of other state LP’s don’t feel the same way and that’s fine. We’ve got 50 LP experiments going on here.”

    That’s what I’ve been thinking. It’s much better than here in Illinois where volunteers to run are limited. I’ve got to say, you folks in Texas have to be doing something right.

  27. Wes, I suppose that was poor wording on my part. My intention was to empathize, not to criticize or provoke an argument.

    Criticism is wanted, I put this out there for that purpose; name-calling not so much.

    Feel free to send me 5 active candidates in TX who want websites and I will assist them.

    Still wondering if anyone sees a need for the kind of thing I proposed.

  28. Still wondering if anyone sees a need for the kind of thing I proposed.

    Yes! In fact, the LP Radical caucus may be able to help fund it to get it rolling; of course we would probably favor more radical candidates over less-radical ones.

    Send me a note via email about costs for, say, 10 candidates.

    If this trial run is successful, it may be a program the LP wants to adopt to help support candidates. Which is, after all, one of their jobs.

    Thanks!

  29. A few good LP templates that candidates could plug their info into might be good.

    I know there are already templates out there, but many people may not be aware of them.

    What may be even better is a single “one stop shopping” site with lots of practical things you can use, website templates being just one of them.

  30. Paulie

    Good ideas.

    I was thinking the same thing about the website templates. Few of those free ones are probably suitable so I expect I’ll develop 5-10 ones that are suitable for a political campaign and include those for free as part of the service.

    I’d like to hear more about your one-stop shopping idea.

    Susan I’ll do 10 for the radical caucus for free, I emailed you.

  31. I’d like to hear more about your one-stop shopping idea.

    I’ll be on the road today. I emailed you my number, did you get it?

  32. Been out doin’ Hempfest in Olympia, Washington for two days and come home to find this. Other than some of the snarky comments, this is the sort of stuff we need. Great comments here one and all. And George Donnelly thanks for the effort. You deserve a WOW! for this. 🙂

    MHW

  33. George:

    For the Libertarian Candidate CD, I would be delighted to be able to use the templates in question, should you get them up and running.

    Incidentally, candidate CD co-author Bonnie Scott became a mother a few days ago. I will be delighted to supply the other traditional facts, height, weight, name, gender–so soon as I can.

  34. What’s the “Libertarian Candidate CD”?

    What kind of templates are you looking for? There are many thousands available for free.

    Michael: Don’t “wow” until I actually do it.🙂

    Paulie: I think I found it yes, will call the number later today.

  35. That’s what I’ve been thinking. It’s much better than here in Illinois where volunteers to run are limited. I’ve got to say, you folks in Texas have to be doing something right.

    The candidate situation in Illinois has nothing to do with volunteers to run.

  36. [i]”The candidate situation in Illinois has nothing to do with volunteers to run.”[/i]

    You got that right. It has everything to do with Val Vetter and his social club running most of the people out of the party that think the LP should be a political party and actually attempt to participate. Its nice they can party once a year at a convention, but they are still wasting the best opportunity the LP has had in Illinois by being incompetent.

    It all went to crap during some drunken 3am backroom deal that “compromised” accepting Val Vetter as Chair over Jerry Kohn. Val Vetter had never donated a penny to the LPI at that point. Jerry Kohn was an elected library board member, was endorsed by the Tribune and Sun-Times for his St. Rep. race, and had just run for US Senate (against Obama) and personally got more than 5,000 sigs to get on the ballot with Badnarik. But people like, and including, Chris Bennett were more interested in destroying Jerry Kohn because he didn’t kiss their ass sufficiently and whatever other petty reasons they could dream up.

    That was pathetic judgement and they are paying the price now while the Green Party is established and the Constitution Party is more active and getting more media. Even when they do have people willing to run if no one else is going to do it, they vote to boycott an election since they’d rather play games of personal destruction than play actual politics. That whole crew in Illinois needs to be wiped out. The Illinois LP leaders make Redpath and the LNC look like a perfectly well-oiled efficient and effective political machine. Oh for the good ol days at the turn of the century in Illinois.

  37. “The candidate situation in Illinois has nothing to do with volunteers to run.”

    You got that right. It has everything to do with Val Vetter and his social club running most of the people out of the party that think the LP should be a political party and actually attempt to participate. Its nice they can party once a year at a convention, but they are still wasting the best opportunity the LP has had in Illinois by being worse than incompetent.

    It went to crap worse than it already was during some drunken 3am backroom deal that “compromised” accepting Val Vetter as Chair over Jerry Kohn. Val Vetter had never donated a penny to the LPI at that point. Jerry Kohn was an elected library board member, was endorsed by the Tribune and Sun-Times for his St. Rep. race, and had just run for US Senate (against Obama) and personally got more than 5,000 sigs to help himself get on the ballot with Badnarik. But people like, and including, Chris Bennett were more interested in destroying Jerry Kohn because he didn’t kiss their ass sufficiently and whatever other petty reasons they could dream up.

    That was pathetic judgement and they are paying the price now while the Green Party is established and the Constitution Party is more active and getting more media. Even when they do have people willing to run if no one else is going to do it, they vote to boycott an election since they’d rather play games of personal destruction than play actual politics. That whole crew in Illinois needs to be wiped out. The Illinois LP leaders make Redpath and the LNC look like a perfectly well-oiled efficient and effective political machine. Oh for the good ol days at the turn of the century in Illinois.

  38. George D –

    The “Libertarian Candidate CD” is a project that George Phillies has been working on for many years. He gave out a lot of copies in Denver – it is a compilation of information on how to run a campaign, at varying levels of intensity, with a great deal of practical advice on how to structure a campaign organization, do fund raising, purchase materials, etc.

    Some of it is pulled from his own campaign experiences, some of it is from other sources – including professional campaign training resources used by the competition… It is a good resource, my only possible complaint is that it is BIG – text and PDF files that fill most of a CD, so it tends to be a bit of information overload… However a few good quality “fill in the blanks” website templates might be a useful addition.

    ART

  39. Oh, I see.

    I’d like to see that published online.

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