Your Complete Online Strategy for Political Campaigns – SEO, Reputation Management, Social Media, PPC

by Stuart McHenry July 17, 2018

The Ultimate Digital Marketing for Political Campaigns

voter issues

The beginning of this article starts off with the basics of establishing an online presence. This information may be very basic for those that have previously run a political campaign. Feel free to use the table of contents to jump to any part of this guide you’d like. If this isn’t your first rodeo, you may want to skip to the more down and dirty tactics which uses SEO, link building, and negative opponent visibility to help win the election.

Table of Contents

  1. Selecting a Campaign URL
  2. Political Website Design
  3. Social Media Management for Politics
  4. Pay-Per-Click Advertising
  5. Political Reputation Management
  6. Negative Opponent Visibility (N.O.V.)
  7. Content Marketing for Political Campaigns
  8. Google News Optimization
  9. Optimization for Online Donations


Choosing the Campaign URL

Once you find a domain name for your political campaign lock up some of the more popular extensions as well.


.org, .info, .net, etc.

Why?  Because a dirty tactic that can still work fairly easy for your opponent is to create a website using a .org or .net domain name with your candidate’s name. Then they add misinformation or negative information about your candidate.  Why let this happen? Domain names are cheap enough and for about $20 each, you can prevent this from happening.  So don’t be cheap here.

Another popular technique is registering the candidate’s name + sucks.


Again, buy up these domains names because it’s cheaper than trying to suppress the information at a later date.


Political Web Design

I’m not going to go into too much detail about web design for political candidates. I will, however, mention some of the basics your website should have.  If you do use one of those political web design templates make sure the website still looks professional and actually functions. We have come across plenty of political websites that had broken functions or just looked terrible. A good example is Scott Peters Campaign website which actually cut off his head on the feature images. (Yes, several times)

Scott Peters Website

Mobile Friendly Website

77% of Americans own a smartphone. First and foremost your web designer should ensure your website is mobile friendly. I actually recommend your designer creates a response website. This will work well on all devices including desktop, tablets, and mobile devices automatically. Nowadays, more people use their mobile devices to search for things that they do a desktop.

Blog/News Section

Ensure that the web designer uses a good content management system.  This will allow the candidate or their political team the ability to post blog articles or news articles directly on the campaign website.

Social Sharing Buttons

social media share buttons

In June of 2018, we conducted a study of current political candidates for Congress. We found out that only 36% of campaign websites utilize social sharing buttons. This might seem like a no-brainer but do you know how many political campaign websites fail to set this up?  Some of the most shared content over Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, and even Instagram are about politics. Make it easy for your supporters to click a button and share your website. Especially in the News/Blog section.


Social Media Management for Political Campaigns

Your political campaign must embrace social media for fundraising and storytelling to get your candidates message out. 69% of American adults use social media and it’s not just a young person thing. 80% of adults from 30-49 years of age use social media.  Don’t put just any intern or volunteer in charge of your social media. This should be someone that is savvy enough to stick to the candidate’s messages and have plenty of time to dedicate to operating, planning, and executing the social media directive.


Be everywhere and don’t neglect demographics.  We all know the big social media websites your campaign should be on. But do your research and you will see there is opportunity in some non-popular platforms.  In Orange County a huge part of the voter population is Chinese and many are using the WeChat Web App. So not everything is Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Do your homework and be where your people are.

Live Videos

Live videos from the candidate can be very powerful. Keep people apprised of what the candidate is doing. Where upcoming appearances are, how people can volunteer, and donate.  The best platforms for live videos are Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and Periscope.


PPC Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising is instant and can be really effective for fundraising and getting your campaign message out there. If I were to go into details on how to create and target a pay-per-click campaign this article could literally be twice as long.  Instead, I will leave some links to some great resources for running PPC Ads.

Learn the Basics of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketing

Political Campaigns and Google AdWords Ethics

PPC: the political party bidding war

Remarketing or Retargeting

Retargeting can be an effective way to market to people that have visited the campaign website. When someone visits your campaign webpage, a script is used to let their browser remember you. When that person searches for something their browser triggers ads you set up.  Imagine that someone visits your donation page but doesn’t actually make a donation. You can retarget to that person an advertisement that asks them for donations. This is just an example. The same can be used to get your political message out.

Retargeting might sound complex but your Google Ads professional can easily help you set this up in no time.


Political Campaign Reputation Management

One of the most important things you can do is help control the flow of information that searchers are seeing through reputation management.  Like any good political campaign, you need to look at your candidate first.  Are there web pages or articles that show up on the first page of Google that you wouldn’t want people to see? An example of this is a Wisconsin congressional candidate that ran for office in early 2018. She had a run-in with the law and there were numerous stories written about it and published online. If you Googled her name there were a minimum of two articles on the 1st page of the search results that discussed her arrest. Now in her case, it was very recent so most voters probably heard about this on the news. But those that didn’t and were deciding between candidates could read about it by Googling her name.


Search Results for Congressional Candidate’s Name

negative publicity in search results

This is not the type of information you want your voters to see.  But what can be done? Plenty. When we handle online reputation management issues for our clients we 1st recommend you claim all the social media profiles you can.  Many of these social media profiles can rank extremely well in the search results. Most political campaigns have a good grasp on claiming and creating these profiles.  Where they lack is hiring the right company to optimize these profiles and build backlinks to help bubble these profiles to the top of the search results.

Social media profiles are just the start. Good search engine optimization companies will find and create great content around the candidate then work to bubble those articles to the 1st page of Google.  When someone Googles your candidate what do you want them to read?  How about an article that is published by a major news website that highlights the issues which are important to your campaign.


Negative Opponent Visibility (N.O.V.)

While it’s important to bubble up good information about your candidate via the search engines, it’s also good if not so good information bubbles up for your opponent. Does the opponent have a bad voting record? Have they had a run-in with the law?  Is there a stance on an issue that would discourage people to vote for them? This is the information you want to be moved to the top of the search engines and what we call “Negative Opponent Visibility” or NOV for short.

Elections can be close and the amount of people that actually research candidates online these days is huge.  Take California’s 45th congressional district. Here is the recent candidate’s search volume by name:

Mimi Walters – 8,100 searches per month

Katie Porter – 880 searches per month

Brian Forde – 480 searches per month

Mimi Walters is the incumbent and that’s the reason why her search volume is so much higher. For her, it’s not just people doing research to find out what kind of candidate she is.  They are also looking up her office address, phone number, and various others things related to her current House of Representative duties. As you can see the search volume is there and this was taken during primary election in June.  The search volume will get much higher when it gets closer to November. How can your campaign capitalize on this? Have an article about a candidate you want to see rank for their name?


Content Marketing for Political Campaigns

The entire purpose of a political campaign is to get your candidate elected. Campaigns are basically one big marketing firm that is dedicated to the candidate. Many campaigns do a decent job at getting press and granting interviews. Giving interviews can be a powerful way to help get the candidate’s exposure but not the only way. There are plenty of other articles that can be created and shared with he media through content marketing campaigns.  If you give an interview don’t think your work is done. You need to help market the interview when it gets published via social media.  Also, these articles can be optimized to show up for important search keywords.  (ie. candidate name, political issues, etc.)

How can you make this happen? You won’t have control over a news article that is published. So, once it’s on the Internet you will have to focus your efforts on off-page optimization. Getting the article more exposure through social media and link building to the article itself. Social media alone won’t help an article rank higher but with more exposure, you increase the chances of someone writing about the article and linking back to it.  For most campaigns, it’s best to hire an SEO company to handle these link building tasks for you.

You should create content that addresses the searched topics based around the election, political district, and candidates. What do people care about in their city/district/state? A good example in Santa Ana, California is the heated hot topic of homeless camps. This one topic generates over 2,530 searchers a month through eight different keywords. These are voter issues.

How can your candidate benefit from this?

Wouldn’t it be great to get some articles published with your candidates’ views and solutions on the subject?

How much are 2,530 searches per month worth to you?

What if you could find a handful of topics like this?

How much good exposure could you get for your candidate?

And on the opposite end is your opponent. Would a candidate’s stance on the issue make them lose votes?  If so, this tactic can work for that as well as we mentioned in the section about negative opponent visibility.

Simply finding these searched topics is just the start. A good online marketing company can help you find the topics, pitch reporters, and promote the article through content marketing efforts.


Google News Optimization

At one point or another just about everyone has used Google News. Google News collects and aggregates news stories from popular news publications. Although this is done through an algorithm, news sites have to be approved to be eligible for aggregation. You may think no big deal our candidate shows up in Google News often. Sure, but are you using it as a strategic tool?

One of the best features of Google News is it often appears in Google search results. Does the news article have the candidates name in the article or title? More than likely this will show up in a section on a search for the candidate’s name. News articles will generally stay there anywhere from 1-3 days. With this in mind, there is no reason you cannot put together a news marketing plan in place.

How to show up in search results with Google News

How to go about this?

First, you will want to identify online publications that show up in Google News for politics. This will not be hard as there are numerous news and political websites that show up in Google News. Once you’ve found a publication, then find the writers that write for that specific publication. You are essentially curating a pitch list for Google News sources.  Many political campaigns already have a list of journalist they can contact. If not you are going to want to create a decent size list.  Somewhere between 100-300 writers/reports.

Creating a News Strategy

Now you just need to come up with pitches that will paint your opponent in a not so good light. Remember, the goal here is to get articles published about your opponent that discourages people to vote against them. One of the most important aspects is to try and get your opponent’s name in the title of the article. This will give the article a better chance of showing up in the search results for that specific candidate.

Articles that focus on the opponent’s not so good voting record or stance on popular issues will work the best.  If you have someone on staff that can do some investigative reporting, you will have better chances of getting a journalist to write articles about them.

This strategy works really well for undecided voters in the 2 week period leading up to the election. Timely news articles can instantly pop on the first page of Google.

The Actual Pitch

The article pitch to journalist needs to be timely but not last minute. Don’t expect a journalist to work on your article the day before you need it.  Also, don’t expect to have a huge response rate from journalist. On average you can expect about 6%-15% response rate, although higher rates can happen.  There are things you can do to get a higher response rate like getting to know the journalist ahead of time. Stalking the journalist’s social media accounts to find their interests can help too. Another method is to work with an online marketing company that has established relationships.

Insider tip; not all reports or writers actually write their 100% of their own stories. Some will find it helpful if you provide an “outline” or a start of an article they can edit and call their own.


Optimization for Online Donations

One of the aspects of running a political campaign is raising money for your candidate. 91% of the time the campaign that raises the most money wins!

It’s important that the campaign website is optimized for online donations. Having a visible donate button with clear calls to action is a must. In fact, not only should it be visible, it should stand out more than anything else on the website. The donation page itself can be optimized for conversions as well. How many clicks does it take to get to the donation page? If it takes more than one you are at risk of losing donations. Make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money.

Ask yourself the following questions. Why should they donate? How will their donations help? If you convey these messages in a short and quick manner your conversion rate will go up.

After you receive a donation where does the website take them next? A thank you page with social media share icons can help increase more donations. A one-click button that tweets out or posts on Facebook that the supporter just made a donation can help spread the word. The call to action on the thank you page should invite them to share via their social media accounts.


Final Thoughts

Running for political office these days you have to pull out all the tools at your disposal. More than ever, in the digital age you need a strategy that will win over voters and one up your opponent. If you have any questions about any of these strategies you have read about in this guide, please feel free to contact me.


Stuart McHenry
Stuart McHenry is a US-based SEO Consultant focusing on link building, content marketing, local SEO, and reputation management. Follow Stuart on Twitter @smindsrt