Quick disclaimer: this post is not about politics, it’s about copy and sales.
With 25 main democratic candidates currently in the running and little daylight between most of them on policy, it’s pretty tough for anyone to stand out.
One critical component to any successful campaign is the candidate’s website. And as with any site that converts an audience, copy is key. I became uber-curious to see what each of these campaigns have up their sleeves by way of sales power. Plus, I wondered if perhaps, any of the less-funded underdogs could leap to the front of the copy race and surprise us all.
First, let’s set the stage for what makes an effective website for a political candidate. I was able to get through all 25 sites fairly quickly by looking at three main variables:
1) The audience- who the site speaks to
2) The conversion goals- what the site wants people to do
3) The story- what makes the candidate relevant to their target audience
The best site I found belongs to Bernie Sanders. His website clearly defines who he's talking to, what he's telling them, and what he wants from them.
This site makes it clear that if you’re in the middle class, it’s message is for you. It does that effectively by making a clear distinction between the audience and ‘the billionaires’. Of course ‘the billionaires’ is a vast over-simplification of super-PACs, special interest groups, lobbyists, etc. But to the average American, those things don’t feel relevant to our everyday lives, so this site is smart to lump them all into one decisively clear category of ‘billionaires’.
The Conversion Goals
The Sanders site has two main goals for conversion:
1) Get people to donate
2) Get people to follow the campaign
The one I’d like to focus on is getting people to follow because it achieves this brilliantly. The call-to-action asks for the lowest level of commitment by going for an introduction instead of money. This is certain to cast a wider net and gather more people into their funnel by asking them to get to know the candidate before they open their wallets.
From a copywriting perspective, the story on this site is genius. It’s clear, concise and laser-focused, so that any visitor leaves with the right takeaway. More importantly, the content relates to the audience right away. It is not all about the candidate. This rule is universal in website copywriting. A site with a message that puts the audience first is bound to capture more interest than one that isolates the brand message on some high-up mountain, far from where viewers can reach it.
The worst site I found belongs to John Hickenlooper. It’s amazing to watch how transformative good copywriting can be for a website, especially between two candidates with several similar policies. But if you judge each of these candidates by their websites alone, you’d hardly know they have anything in common. That’s some powerful copy juju.
Who is the audience really for the Hickenlooper site? I honestly have no idea. There’s no message that defines the interests of the site visitors or defines who they might be. It’s all about the candidate instead.
The Conversion Goals
There are two conversion goals and one of them is super unclear. Apart from the ‘donate’ call-to-action, the one of lesser commitment asks the visitor to ‘stand all with us’. Anyone want to tell me what that means? Bueller? Would I get emails from the campaign? Would I be asked to donate? Since there is no description, visitors have no expectation of what’s ahead. It wouldn’t shock me if the conversion percentage for this CTA was scraping the floor.
There is none here. At least, not a story that makes sense or has relevance to a presidential campaign. Where the Sanders site has a header and sub-header with a story about the audience and their interests, this site just has the guy’s name. It makes the #1 mistake of any business site- making it all about themselves and not the audience. That’s no way to connect with people.
From there, it goes on to get weirdly confusing. There is a short description about the candidate that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the target audience or why he’s campaigning for them. The relevance is completely missing.
Huh? What does any of that have to do with a presidential run? Super happy for you that you’ve had the humbling experience of being laid off over 30 years ago and that you started a business in an abandoned location, but why does that matter to visitors you want to convert? What’s in it for them?
These two candidate websites are a stellar example of how copy changes everything. Two websites, similarities in their visions, but one inspires and the other falls flat. And the only difference as far as the websites are concerned are the words they use to talk to people.
What We Can Learn From This
The stark contrast between these two candidate sites serves as a cautionary tale. It's a wake-up call to anyone who believes that a great product can 'sell itself' regardless of what the website says. For most businesses, the company website is the unifying point of their online presence. A website defines who the company talks to, what it has to say, why people should care, and what they should do about it. As these two candidates have proven, there is clearly a right and a wrong way to do it.