SEO and Political Campaigns Done Right Requires Planning
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) covers a number of strategies that can be used on a website to help it appear higher in search engine results. Smaller political campaigns generally underutilize SEO as a cost effective way to drive a message and save on ad spending. This lack of planning is a shame, as SEO is a completely free way to gain exposure to voters. Like any other component of a campaign, SEO should be addressed strategically so that maximum results can be achieved with a campaign's limited resources.
The first part of the strategy should be defining the keywords that are important to your race. This should include combinations of the candidate's name and the office he/she is running for, along with combinations including generic political terms and issues that people may search for. To get an idea of the kind of search volume your terms generate, you can use the Google Keyword Tool. It will also suggest keyword variations that might be useful. It can be a challenge to measure volume since interest in a campaign can be low initially. A good tip to determine relative importance of keywords early in a race can be to check you generic terms for a higher profile race.
Once you have defined your keywords, you need to execute on your strategy. For information on how to approach SEO in general, a good place to get information is straight from the horse's mouth: Google's SEO Starter Guide. Below are some tips specifically for political campaigns and the challenges they face.
- Start your website early.
Seeing results from an SEO campaign takes time -- at a minimum a couple of months. The earlier you begin your strategy the better off you will be. In political campaigns, typically the site is being built from scratch as well. This means that a new domain will likely be used and Google will need to index and rank it for the first time. We recently launched votethesite.com and got all kinds of awesome inbound links but it still took Google a month to give it a rank.
- If possible, blog, blog, blog.
By frequently updating a blog, a campaign will continually be adding additional content to Google's index. This content will make it easier for visitors to find the campaign's site through a keyword search. Additionally, a good blog will motivate supporters to be more active and possibly blog about the candidate themselves generating links to the campaign site.
- At a minimum have a news section.
If blogging isn't possible for the campaign, at least have a recent news section that is frequently updated. The more often a site is updated the better it will perform for search engines.
- Candidate and State/Race in title.
The keywords that you use in the titlebar of your site as well as main headings will be the keywords that search engines most associate the site with. Be sure to use the candidate's name as well as information about the race in these areas to perform best for those crucial keywords. Your Content Management Software should give you control over at least your title tags – if it doesn't, make sure the developers make it the default for each page to contain the candidate's name and district.
- Get social.
If you're campaign website is innovative you will get noticed. Take advantage of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter at a minimum. These venues can be a great way to drive traffic to your site and motivate supporters. If you create especially creative content you can even capture the attention of social news sites and drive massive donations. This was done in the last cycle by a candidate running for a Kansas State House seat.
There's nothing worse than having your name Googled and bad press showing up at the top of the rankings above your actual campaign website. This mishap is completely avoidable by putting forth a little extra effort and making sure that your site is optimized for Search Engines. A golden rule of campaigns is to always be in control of your own image – a SEO strategy allows you to shape the first impression that voters get of you when doing their due diligence.