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.
Without further adieu, here are the two best websites of 2017. These winning candidates delivered fully-fledged digital experiences. Northam’s campaign brought a website that delivered sharp, attractive and functional features. It’s hard to find a significant negative aspect of his website on any front. While Gianforte’s website had some minor design flaws, his integration of photos helped highlight his campaign’s admiration of the state and convey his personality and character.
1.) Ralph Northam (D) – VA Gubernatorial Winner
It should be no surprise that Ralph Northam, the king of the November special elections, takes the number one spot on our list. Northam faced a strong Republican challenger under a national spotlight. Democrats looked to Virginia to turn around a tough special election cycle. Going into November, the Democrats lost three consecutive losses in competitive special elections. Republicans sought an opportunity to stifle Democratic momentum as Trump’s approval ratings hit an all-time low. Northam carried a close lead going into the election. On Election Day, the Virginia Democrat won by nine points in a shocking blowout.
Why we loved his site:
User-friendly design that makes it easy to engage with the candidate. Northam’s splash page opens up with a great campaign video. The website leads straight to an email newsletter page with a toolbar that features sleek buttons to encourage volunteering and donations. Everything that a voter needs to access can be found on the opening page.
The website works great on mobile, too. Sharp mobile-functionality is the new norm. Voters look to their cell phones for quick information about issues, volunteering, and donating. If a site crashes, campaigns lose a massive source of traffic. If email, volunteering, and donation buttons disappear on mobile, campaigns make it that much harder for their supporters to help the campaign. Even the best sites on our list struggle on mobile.
The Northam campaign website does what only the best campaign websites can offer. It tells a story about the candidate and encourages the voter to interact with innovative design and user-friendly formatting.
Room for improvement:
Only two minor tweaks. The Gordian staff loves to see a Quick Donate platform with dollar amount buttons to get potential donors to the donation platform as quickly as possible. Fundraising is a critical part of campaigns. Campaigns can fundraise better by reducing the clicks it takes to get their donation can drastically increase the number of donations.
In addition, an intricate platform like Northam’s website can be tough to manage on mobile. This is a trade-off that digital staff has to consider when making a content-rich website– what do you sacrifice for the mobile platform? Are you short on donations? Volunteers? Do you just include it all and hope for the best?
Stuffing the mobile platform can discourage the audience from returning to engage. We had to nit-pick the site to death to find room for improvement. Northam’s website achieved its goals in spectacular fashion.
2.) Greg Gianforte (R) – MT Congressional Winner
Greg Gianforte stole national headlines in Montana’s June special election for physically assaulting a reporter from The Guardian. We expected the campaign to crash and burn on Election day.
It was going to take a meltdown for a Republican defeat in Montana. Gianforte, a tech entrepreneur and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, held a double-digit lead over his Democratic challenger.
Despite being charged with misdemeanor assault, Gianforte won the election with a 50.2 percent plurality and a 6 point lead over his Democratic challenger Robert Quist (also featured on this list). The Republican victory was expected in a populist, conservative state, that Donald Trump dominated in2016. Gianforte delivered the victory despite a chaotic end to the campaign.
Why we loved this site:
Storytelling with Montana flavor — Too many campaigns view photography and visual storytelling as an afterthought. They leave their website full of blank pages rammed full of text. Maybe they include a button or two. Gianforte’s team outfitted his Issues and News pages with beautiful photographs of the state and sharp photographs of Gianforte himself engage with potential voters.
Gianforte’s digital team took a unique approach to their website by featuring a “Montana Moments” page. This page showcases the candidate’s hobbies as an outdoorsman, hunter, and fisher in a state defined by its natural beauty. This page hits two birds with one stone: it flatters the state, and it adds a personal touch to the website in an era where voters are turned-off by robotic, “career politician” candidates.
Room for improvement:
Weaker visual integration of volunteer and donation platforms: A website’s home page is the equivalent of campaign headquarters. If volunteer and donation platforms are pushed to the sides or fading into the background, the campaign should expect their audience to push aside the idea of volunteering or donating. Gianforte’s website does just that. We recommend bolder colors on volunteer/donation boxes. Place them front-and-center on your homepage to make sure it is as easy as possible for your audience to access.
A campaign website should absolutely strive to be as visually stunning as Gianforte’s website. Do not, however, cast aside practical concerns for aesthetics. A web platform can supercharge engagement.