Political Campaign Website Launch Checklist: Do’s and Don’ts

Before launching your political campaign website — or after extensive edits are made — verify that everything looks right and functions. A simple mistake could potentially generate negative publicity or result in lost campaign contributions. It’s time well-spent. Depending on the extent of the edits, take a manual site back-up and store separately from the site.

After final review, publish the site. This process varies, depending on how the site was developed. If you followed our tutorial on displaying a “coming soon” message while building the site, all you need to do is take the site out of maintenance mode.

Make sure your campaign website does the following:

Do assign a high-level campaign staffer or volunteer to review and approve all content

Before launching the campaign site or updating a page, thoroughly review all content, especially if demo content or placeholder text was used. Double and triple check testimonials. Don’t release a site with fake testimonials or photos with race and gender labels that could generate negative process. While proofing, verify page titles, page content, and URLs. They should fit together logically.

If the site is written in multiple languages, ask multilingual staff and volunteers to review content. Do not rely on Google Translate to create one’s site.

If your site is built using WordPress and you see URLs with question marks (?) and numbers, follow this simple WPBeginner tutorial on how to update permalinks. Sensible URLs improve usability and meaningfulness and can help with search engine rankings.

Do check that the site resizes well across phones, tablets, and desktops

Look at images and text, especially in places where text overlays imagery. Ask trusted supporters to review the site on their phones, tablets, and computers. Use online tools as aids: resizeMyBrowser and ami.responsivedesign.is help you see how the campaign site looks at various popular sizes.

Do check how quickly the site loads in one’s browser

Data analysis by Google shows that an increase in page load time from 1 to 3 seconds results in a 53% increase in bounce rate from a website.

If you have repeatedly viewed your campaign website, content stored in your browser may give a false impression of how fast the site loads. Deleting cookies and the cache stored in your browser can fix that. The steps to do this vary by browser, so check your browser’s online help for how to do this.

Another alternative is to use an online tool to evaluate page load time. Pingdom is one such tool.

Would you like to have your site audited? Get in touch!

Do use easy to read color combinations and fonts

Is there good contrast between colors? What font sizes are used? Are the fonts easy to read? When looking at headlines on a page, is it possible to see a hierarchy of ideas or are all headlines the same or nearly the same size?

Do include an easily readable logo

Is your logo on your site? If so, does it match the version used on other campaign materials?

If using WordPress and your site supports a retina logo, include it for optimal appearance on high-definition screens.

To further brand your site, add a favicon which will display in browser tabs. If using WordPress, WPBeginner offers a tutorial on how to create the icon and add it to your site.

Do match branding elements used elsewhere by the campaign

Are the colors the same? Are the fonts similar? (There may be differences between printed items and the web for improved readability. But, if you use a serif font for body text elsewhere, you site should do the same.)

Do link to your campaign’s social media profiles

If your campaign is active on social media, link to those profiles — but only if the campaign is regularly posting and interacting. Remove any pre-built social media icons and links that are not relevant to your campaign. Don’t leave a Facebook icon that generically links to https://www.facebook.com instead of your campaign’s Facebook page. Even worse is to leave links directing site visitors to the social media profiles of the theme maker or web development company that built your site.

Social media icons should be large enough in size to be readily seen and clicked on by site visitors, no matter what device is being used. Links to posts should ideally be visible to site visitors without requiring having a social media account on the linked to platform.

Do include a contact page

Make it easy for those interested in your campaign to reach a person. Organize campaign operations so that calls, emails, texts, and social media posts are responded to quickly and professionally.

Do include appropriate disclaimers

Check local, state, and federal laws that govern your race. There are typically requirements to include “Paid for” language on the site which is most often placed in the footer. If you served in the military and are using photos of yourself in uniform, include the appropriate “non-endorsement” language. Lastly, clearly list contribution limits and related info on donation / contribution pages so that someone doesn’t make an improper campaign contribution out of ignorance.

Do make it easy to navigate your website

Is it obvious how to return to the home page? Does the footer include links to key pages? How does the menu resize on mobile devices? Is it still easy to navigate? If a drop-down or nested menu is used, how easy is it to access sub-pages?

Do make links obvious and easy to click

But not too easy if on mobile. Links that take up too much of the screen make scrolling difficult.

Do check all forms

Test all site forms. Verify that when a form is submitted, the appropriate campaign staff and volunteers are notified.

Check campaign contribution forms using real credit cards, keeping in mind not to violate any campaign finance rules. Is the payment received? Is a confirmation receipt sent? Depending on the email service used for mailings, is the person either added to a donor list or tagged as a donor?

Do install Google Analytics and Other Tracking Technologies

Add Google Analytics, Facebook pixels, and other technologies for tracking site usage and for potential retargeting efforts. Cross-check that the site’s cookie and privacy policy are in keeping with how data is being collected and used.

In the days following the launch, check that data is being collected. Look at Google Webmaster Tools too.

Once you know that the data is being collected, review the data regularly. Look at it in context of marketing and other initiatives undertaken by the campaign. Is site traffic increasing? Did adding a pop-up result in more newsletter sign-ups or not. Adding tracking code to links can help with data analysis.

Depending on one’s budget, investing in services that support A/B testing may be useful. Running A/B tests allows you to see what text or other website elements are more effective in prompting a website visitor to action than others. WPBeginner offers a tutorial on how to use the paid MonsterInsights plugin in conjunction with Google Optimize for A/B split testing.

Do optimize images

Are images optimized? Excessively sized images impact site load times. Use this WPBeginner article comparing WordPress image compression plugins as a guide to selecting the right plugin.

Do promote search engine optimization (SEO)

If using WordPress, install and utilize the features of an SEO plugin. For other website platforms, check the online help on what steps to take. No matter what platform you use, this WPBeginner article recommends tools and services to improve and monitor your site’s placement on search engines.

For WordPress sites, double check that search engine indexing is enabled. In the Administrative interface, go to Settings >> Reading >> Search Engine Visibility.

Robots.txt should be set to promote search engine indexing. For more, consult this WPBeginner tutorial on optimizing the robots.txt for SEO.

Do check the admin email address

In WordPress, go to Settings >> General >> Email Address. The address used should be for someone who will check the messages and take action if anything appears amiss.

Do confirm the timezone set for the site

Since WordPress allows content to be scheduled in advance for publication, double check that the timezone set for the website matches the campaign’s primary timezone. Otherwise, someone may schedule a post to be published at 10 AM Eastern on Monday morning, only to have the post actually appear on the site at 10 AM Pacific, thus causing concern that the website is not technically working.

Do remove unnecessary content

If there are drafts, delete them so that they are not accidentally published. If using WordPress, unnecessary revisions can impact performance. Plugins can remove old revisions, but keeping versions may be useful to the campaign if opponents make claims about what the candidate had on his / her website.

Do have a valid SSL Certificate

A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate authenticates a website and encrypts data. Sites that do not want to be penalized by Google should obtain one from a reputable source. A properly installed SSL certificate causes a lock icon to display in most browser windows. It also prevents a warning from being displayed by the Google Chrome browser, which may intimidate some site visitors.

To obtain an SSL certificate, check with your web development company or web host.
Many web hosts offer this service, in some cases for a fee. Let’s Encrypt offers free SSL certificates, though they are harder to use on some web hosts who want to sell the certificate to customers.

Do verify that requirements were met

Review requirements and expectations. Has all the functionality and content that was discussed and agreed to be part of the site there? Depending on the size of the overall development project and extent of change requests, little items can easily be fall through the cracks. This step rises in importance if making the site public triggers final payment to a vendor for completion of services.

Do take a manual back-up

Back-ups are your insurance if anything goes wrong.

Test back-ups from time to time. There’s nothing worse than needing to use a back-up, only to find that it is out-dated or broken. It’s also advisable to look at how many back-ups are available. Some hosting plans only offer the previous day. In some cases, hackers may have done something to a site more than a day ago, so the previous day’s back-up won’t be worth it.

Better to have more back-ups, along with a few manual back-ups.

As an additional precaution, keep some back-ups entirely separate from one’s site. If storing files is an issue, old back-ups can be deleted as new ones are taken.

Do plan to regularly update the site

Following site launch, continue collecting and adding content to the site. While some parts may not change throughout the campaign, others will evolve. One quick strategy is to embed popular social media posts in relevant places. This will extend the lifecycle of the posts if site visitors comment and share them. Be sure that the events calendar shows that the candidate is out meeting voters. Periodically review photos too. If it is now summer and all site photos are wintery, look at incorporating or swapping out shots that reflect the time of year.

As part of the update process, ensure that there is an established sign-off process.

Do make security and site health monitoring a priority

Having your site go down at a crucial time due to the efforts of a hacker who disagrees with your policies can be embarrassing. Take the time to protect the site. Make sure that the site is being monitored for potential hacking, web spam, and other improper activity. It’s also important to be aware of potential site outages by having uptime monitoring software in place.

Additional approaches to security include limiting the IPs that have access to the back-end of the site, utilizing strong passwords, and blocking a user after a handful of unsuccessful login attempts during a short period of time.

Once the site is launched, check that the systems are working.

Do change the default usernames and passwords

If there is an account with a username of “Administrator” or something similar, change it. Require use of strong passwords. (“password1234” is not a strong password.)

Take this opportunity to further review site access. Individuals initially involved with creating the site may not need access moving forward or require a different level of access. Many content management systems, for example, have a “writer” role that allows authorized individuals to create content, but can not actually publish it.

Do let others know your site is online

Once your site is online, start asking reputable sites to link to your campaign site.

Make sure your campaign website doesn’t do the following:

Don’t hide content

Tabs and expanding accordions are useful design elements. Depending on how they are created, it may be difficult for search engines to index and cause confusion for some site visitors. Features to show / hide content should be used with intent, not because it’s cool.

Don’t have broken links

Broken links frustrate users and negatively impact how search engines perceive your site. Check that all links work AND go to the right place. In cases where a link goes to another website, open the link in a separate browser window.

If a separate staging site was used as part of the development process, disable it before checking links. Otherwise, it may be harder to detect any links that are on the new site that refer back to the staging site.

Don’t excessively use pop-ups

Too many site pop-ups or ones that appear too quickly may prevent site visitors from staying and interacting with your site.

Set configurable rules if the pop-up service or plugin offers this feature. One rule to consider is altering pop-up behavior on mobile devices. Another rule to potentially set: Don’t display a pop-up donation request while a site visitor is on a donation page. The pop-up could disrupt the process, resulting in a lost donation.

Don’t underline text to make a point

Many website designs use underlining to highlight clickable links. Avoid underlining as a way of emphasizing a point.

Don’t use any unlicensed software or imagery

It’s stealing. Don’t do it. If in doubt, do something else.

Don’t use “uncategorized” as a default setting if using WordPress

By default, posts and pages default to an “uncategorized category. Instead of leaving as is, alter it to “Miscellaneous” or another general term. To make the change, follow this WPBeginner tutorial on renaming “uncategorized”.

Additional reading:

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