What all Political Campaigns Should Know
The internet, search engines and FaceBook are increasingly important tools for candidates to get their message out. It is fast, inexpensive, and allows you to target messages to very narrow voter audiences.
An internet strategy is not going to win you the election. There is no substitute for calling voters, knocking on doors, and having a robust “get out the vote” effort. But it is anÂ indispensableÂ tool to define the campaign issues and to help define you as a candidate.
We are going to go in detail about what you need to do, with example from some of this year’s best run internet political campaigns. This is the kind of advice the really big campaigns get, and we’re going to even the playing field a little.
Google is the Front Page of Your Campaign Web Site
You’ve probably spent a good deal of time making sure that your campaign web site looks professional and that you and your top issues are represented well on the front page of the site.
But your own site is not the first point of contact for most voters – it’s the Google search result page. The first thing voters do when they want to find out more about you on the internet is search your name in a search engine. By far the most important is Google.
The Google search result page will be seen by at least five times as many people as will ever see your campaign web site. This is why how you look on that page is much more important than what is on your actual web site.
Type your name into Google and look at the articles that come up. These are the first messages voters get about you – before they even come to your site. Voters will give more credence to that list of headlines about you than to your own site – because that list tells them what other people are saying about you.
You want to make sure that you:
- Rank for your name: Your own campaign web site should be the first result for your name.
- Optimize your search result: Make sure that the search result for your campaign web site already gives voters your message.
- Stack your search results: Place as many positive articles as you can into the top 10 results of that page as you can. Google will rarely put more than 2 articles from any single site on that page. So you need to be placing and promoting as many positive articles about yourself on other websites as you can.
- Neutralize Negative Articles: If there are negative articles about you ranking in search engines you should try to remove them either by ranking positive articles above the negative article – or at least have an article refuting the claim ranking on that page as well.
Let’s go over how to accomplish these four things in turn.
Ranking for Your Own Name
If you have an uncommon name then ranking for your name should be easy. Make sure that the title of your web site starts with your own name, and that the title of your home page starts with your name.
Get sites with high credibility in search engines to link to your home page. Get links from sites like major newspapers, popular political blogs, your party’s political committees and interest groups supporting you.
You want the text of the links coming into your site to start with your name. For example this is good:
but this is much more effective:
Some publicists will tell you that the first one is better because it lets people know your site’s domain name. They are wrong. Only your most hardcore supporters will ever memorize your site’s domain. Your focus is on reaching undecided voters.
All your public communications such as press releases, event invitations and fundraising emails should contain links back to your site.
If you have a very common name, or the same name as a famous person, then it can be almost impossible to rank for your own name. Don’t worry, people searching for you will see that the results are not relevant and move on to a more specific term such as adding the title of the office you are running for: “Michael Jordan State Representative”
Our site has probably already linked to your campaign web site using your name as a link text. You can do even better by submitting articles to our site ( and other popular blogs ) that include links to your web site.
Make sure that you have links back to your campaign web site from other sites you control ( like your campaign facebook page, twitter, and allied sites ( political party sites, interest group sites etc. )
Always drive more links to your campaign web site, even if you are already ranking #1 for your name. If you can get enough links search engines will give you two results at the top or even “site-links”. Sean Bielat has both.
Putting Your Message In Your Search Result
Before voters see your message on your web site you should have that message in your search result. Make sure the title of your web site includes not just your name, but the office you are running for, and your campaign slogan.
For example if your campaign slogan is “a new voice for voters”, you want your website title to be something like “John Smith for State Representative – A New Voice For Voters”
Make sure your site has a good “meta description”. This is a short piece of text that search engines often use as the second two lines in the search result. Make those lines count.
If your desired “meta description” does not appear in your search result, put today’s date at the beginning of the “meta description”. Don’t ask – it works like magic.
Stacking Search Results
The ten articles on the first page of your search results tell voters what other people are saying about you. Make sure these are all good things. Ideally you want those results to be dominated by positive articles.
Search engines will never list more than two articles from any one site – so you need to make sure you are placing positive articles on other people’s web sites. Besides, having other people saying good things about you is much more convincing than saying good things about yourself.
Write issue articles and place them in newspapers, political blogs, and on allied interest group web sites. Whenever you can try to make sure that the article title contains your name in the title – preferably at the beginning of the title.
Blogs are usually very good for this because they generally let you control the title of your articles. ME2010 will always try to work your name into the beginning of your own article titles. Newspapers are often terrible at this they will often refer to you with a generic title, like “State Representative” , and only name you in the body of the article. Encourage them to put your name in the title.
Then try to get those articles ranked. At the very least on your own site you should have a “News” page with links to positive articles about you.
It is a good idea to cut the entire text of the article and post it on your own site. Sometimes newspapers remove articles after a few weeks. But when you do this – always place a link back to the original article using that article’s title as the link text – at the top of the article.
First because it is goodÂ etiquetteÂ to give credit for a positive article back to its original source. ( you want to stay on good terms right?) But more importantlyÂ – it is much better to promote the article on the other site than your own site. The article has more credibility there, and there is a much better chance that it will show up in the search results on their site than on yours.
This is where good titles on their articles really help you – when you link using their title, if the title was written correctly with your name first, your link will help that article rank for your name. If their title is bad, use the title you wish they had given you as your link text.
Encourage others to do the same. For example if you wrote an article in support of an issue, make sure interest group web sites know about it and encourage them to link to it also. Both of you have an interest in seeing that article ranked in search engines.
If you have a twitter account and a Facebook campaign page, try to get those ranked also. That will place 3 search results for pages that you control directly. You could also try to get a Wikipedia articles, or YouTube, flickr, or linkedIn pages ranked.
We’re trying to help you. ME2010 has probably already linked to all your campaign resources ( web, Facebook, Twitter etc.)
Sean Bielat is a good example of successful search engine result stacking. Out of 10 results he has 5 that he controls directly ( 2 from his own web site, his Facebook, Twitter and linkedIn profile ). He has a positive article ranked from ME2010, and several other blogs with positive articles. A perfect 10.
Neutralizing Negative Articles
In a highly contested race, others may try to rank negative articles for your name, especially if you are a controversial incumbent.
Check out the search result for Barney Frank. The number 3 result is:
The article is from a very credible source – the Boston Globe. Frank’s own campaign web site ranks below that article. Another negative title from Time is below that. And check out the image results in the middle – 4 out of 5 are negative images.
Bielat must have some real internet media ninjas working for him.
Counter this by trying to stack your own positive articles above the negative ones.
It is usually difficult to completely remove them, especially if the site hosting the article is powerful. In that case you should try to at least rank an article that refutes the accusation. Frank should be trying to rank an article refuting the claim that he is responsible for the financial meltdown.
Sometimes an opponent will try to create a pejorative name for you, and rank negative articles there – such as is being done to Charlie Baker with the term “Big Dig Baker“. Â Baker has done a good job of ranking articles that refute the claim. #2 Result is:
Ouch. Patrick is being attacked on a pejorative term he is paying good money for. Maybe Baker hired Bielat’s internet ninjas.
Your Facebook campaign page is an important tool, but it is critically important to smaller grassroots campaigns. If you are running a campaign of building support voter by voter instead of using expensive mass market approaches like mailings and TV ads – then you have to pay special attention to building your followers on Facebook.
Put the Facebook button prominently on your web site. Add some text specifically asking people to follow you on Facebook. Consider creating a Facebook “lander page” that asks first time viewers to become fans. Add a message about becoming a fan to your campaign’s Facebook profile image.
Niki Tsongas has a fully developed Facebook page with all of these features. It is no surprise that she has built up to almost 4,000 fans.
Having a large Facebook fan base is extremely helpful – especially if you are unknown, or if you are running in a district which leans toward the opposing party and you need crossover voters.
Any time Facebook shows your profile to someone who is not already a fan, or shows your ad on Facebook, it will show the viewer if they have any friends who have liked your page. This is a personal recommendation from one of your supporters to their own friends. You can’t get a more powerful recommendation than that.
The more fans you have, the more of their friends you can reach.
It also allows you to send messages to your fan base to drive them to positive articles, to tell them about your positions on issues, and on election day you can message all of them to make sure they voted.
Advertising on Facebook is a great value – if you do it right. Don’t serve the same ad to everyone. Create narrowly focused ad campaigns based on what you know about each person. Facebook gives you the power to slice up facebook users into very narrow groups.
Advertise only to people in your district. Serve a different ad to Republicans and Democrats. For example a Republican candidate could advertize to Republicans as a “fiscal conservative” and to Democrats as “an independent voice”. You can target men and women differently. You can target your some ads just to people who are not already fans to drive them to your fan page. You can target ads to just members of other groups. For example target an ad just to fans of NARAL in your district – or exclude those people. You can even target ads to people who are fans of your opponent.
Facebook tells you how often each ad is served and how often it is clicked on. So you can get very good information about which campaigns are working.
Done right Facebook ad campaigns can be devastatingly effective- the key is narrowly focused messages to very specific groups.
Driving Traffic and Engagement to Positive Articles
Whenever something positive is published about you, it is your responsibility to drive traffic to those articles – especially to the smaller sites – or even on major newspapers if they bury the article.
Set up a Google alert for terms that matter in your race – such as your name, your opponent’s name and the terms for your campaign’s major issues. Google will automatically email you whenever an article about these topics is published.
If the article is positive, you should consider doing the following things:
- Post it on your campaign web site – with a link back to the original
- Email it to your hard-core supporters and activists
- Post it on your own Facebook page
- If the article has a Facebook “like” button, get as many of your supporters to like it as you can. You should be the first to like anything good said about you.
- Twitter the article. It is good if you have a team with twitter accounts. Twitter it once from your main campaign twitter, and have campaign staff and supporters re-tweet it once per hour all day.
- Cross post the article to web sites that may be interested. For example if it is an issue oriented article ( 40b, Taxes, Gay Marriage, Gun Rights), try to get those sites to promote the article to their members.
- Ask supporters you trust to comment on the article. Try to make sure that the first few comments are smart and positive. Avoid having your “crazy” supporters post first, and deny your opponents the opportunity to get the first few comments in. Few people read more than the first few comments. Make them count.
The number of comments, tweets, Facebook “likes”, and links back an article gets is often reported on the article itself. ME2010 shows all of these elements.Â Making these numbers high shows people that there is a lot of support for your point of view.
When you Twitter articles, the links go out to members of your feed, but don’t forget to add Twitter hash tags so that the tweets reach even more people. Especially important is to tweet to #mapoli, and your own race’s own hash tag. We have a list ofÂ Massachusetts’ most popular political hash tags including the tags for most races.
Doing these things can greatly increase the amount of traffic to your articles – by a factor of 10 or more. People like to engage with articles that other people are already engaged with. If an article has comments and Facebook likes, it is much more likely to get more. So don’t leave it to chance – try to make sure people are engaged with your message everywhere it appears on the internet.
Jim McKenna for example was extremely successful with these two very short articles:
With 17 tweets, and 130 Facebook “likes” between them he drove more than 20x traffic to these articles than similar articles from other candidates.
You can tell how well your articles are doing on ME2010 by looking at the “top articles” section on the right hand side of the site. This is an automatically generated list of top articles over the past few days.
McKenna’s search results page is also nicely stacked – including one of our articles he was promoting.