The Top Campaign Websites of 2017, Part 1

If you’re running a 2018 campaign, get ready to take notes on these digital standouts.

During the 2018 midterm cycle, you’re going to hear a lot of conflicting opinions about digital campaigning.  “Digital is dead!” in one ear, and “Digital is critical!” in the other.  Those are broad statements to talk about a lot of different tools.  In this post, we’re going to talk about campaign websites, the primary way that voters engage with candidates.    That doesn’t cover social media outreach, email outreach, digital ads, and targeting.  Don’t worry.  It’s going to be a long campaign season, and we’ll be publishing deep dives into those subjects, too.

Introduction

Ed Gillespie, Jon Ossoff, and Archie Parnell were all on the losing ends of their tough campaigns, but each candidate makes our list for unique approaches to web design.  Ed Gillespie showcased a tool that we think will be the highlight of 2018 campaigns: TOTV (text out the vote) platforms and cell phone communication becoming an asset to rival email communications.  We loved Jon Ossoff’s website as an example of a minimalist site that focused on engagement.  And last but certainly not least, we aspire to Archie Parnell’s optimism and humor by including his 2018 campaign launch video on our list.

5.) Ed Gillespie (R) – VA Gubernatorial Loser

In the national attention-grabbing Virginia gubernatorial race, the Ed Gillespie, the architect of Republican gerrymandering strategy, businessman, and top George Bush aide put up a tough fight for Virginia’s highest state office.  Gillespie kept the polls close by running controversial ads tying Democrat and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam to increased gang violence and showing back-and-forth support for President Trump.  As election day closed in, so did the polls, showing a tight race within the margin of error.  Gillespie’s Trumpian turn appeared to turn off suburban Virginians, who came out to the polls to dish the Republican a 7 point defeat.

Why we loved this site:

Great implementation and innovation of user engagement features: Ed Gillespie’s site is the golden standard of political campaign features.  The Gordian staff considers sharp execution of Quick Donate and Volunteer platforms as must-haves for any campaign website.  Gillespie’s site does well to direct voters and supporters to the right pages.  

Another huge breakthrough is Gillespie’s display of endorsements.  His approach is similar to many political firms and businesses who name-drop clients to show the prestige of their companies.  Adding an endorsements section helps build legitimacy with single-issues voters and remind the base what you stand for.  

The most important feature of Gillespie’s site is the integration of campaign text updates.  Marketing experts are right when they say text updates are invasive and inappropriate for most platforms– but during the fever pitch of an election, TOTV (text out the vote) can make the difference and triple your engagement rates on internet platforms.  Simply put: texting gets people to the polls, and Gillespie was at the vanguard of implementing it.

Room for Improvement:

Unoptimized graphic design: Implementing pictures for all of the issue buttons on the website’s homepage is great, but it looks sloppy when almost every title and header covers Gillespie’s face.  Mobile optimization of his videos on his “Meet Ed” page is catastrophic and collapses both of videos into one another.  Showcasing photos and videos of the candidate can be done well, but it’s difficult.  Campaigns need to give their digital team more realistic expectations to fit the pictures to their overall site format or more liberty to use alternative designs to avoid these sloppy mistakes altogether.

6.) Jon Ossoff (D) – GA-6 Congressional Loser

Democrats lined up the Georgia-6 special election as the first referendum on Donald Trump after the President’s election.  Jon Ossoff emerged as the Democratic champion for the race.  Each of the 2017 special election districts leaned Republican, but pundits speculated that Georgia’s sixth district would be the closest race for Republicans, with a razor-thin 1.5 point victory for Trump in the 2016 election.  Polls showed Ossoff in a neck-and-neck race in the district’s runoff election with Republican Karen Handel up until election day.  When Karen Handle won by two points in June, Democrats were quick to play the blame game about the election results.

Why we loved this site:

Simple and effective – Ossoff’s website is an example of what can be achieved if you have great fundamental web design and political communications.  The minimalist design draws attention to what matters: This is Jon Ossoff, and this is how you can support him.  The “bells and whistles” of a campaign website are expensive and often unnecessary.  Before your campaign doubles the cost of your website for flashy animations, make sure your website is focused on achieving its goals.

Room for improvement:

From a web design perspective, no “wow” factor.   I’ll admit that I’m writing this after looking at 50 campaign websites from every kind of race, including local, state and national races.  I can’t help but wish for something unique that energizes this website.  

He has a great video on the front page.  Maybe video-integration could’ve been it.  

He uses a font similar to Bernie Sanders’.  Maybe he could take a page from Bernie and shift the focus to constituents and grassroots supporters.

Campaigns do not need to rely on gimmicks, but it helps to have one thematic element to the site that stands out to an audience.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Archie Parnell 

Although Archie Parnell lost his special election in South Carolina, Bill Scher still praised Parnell’s efforts as “the Best Democratic Campaign of 2017”.  He ran hilarious campaign ads that lampooned House of Cards and Trumpian charisma.  He didn’t nationalize the race and he didn’t engage in vicious mud-slinging.  We love the way Parnell ran his campaign, and so did voters.

He lost by four points in a Republican distract that Hillary Clinton lost by 20 points.  Despite a disappointing defeat, Parnell closed a massive gap.  

And he’s running again in 2018.  We hope Parnell’s campaign can be an example for red-state and purple-state Democrats.  Run positive, run humble, run as a personal contrast to Trump, not explicitly a political contrast.



Next: The Top Campaign Websites of 2017, Part 2