Domain names are campaign assets. Your website is the only online place where you control every aspect of the experience from colors, to layout, to content length, etc. To build your home online, you need a domain name. And picking the right domain name — or domain names — can make the difference between a positive or negative experience for your constituents.
Case in point: At a Democratic Candidate Presidential Debate held on July 31, 2019, a statement by former Vice President Joe Biden was interpreted as a call to visit a website.
It wasn’t. It was an invitation to receive campaign updates by text.
Following the flub, the Biden campaign emailed fundraising appeals to supporters.
But all this was after others quickly snapped up domain names similar to what former Vice President Joe Biden said — or what people thought he said — for their own purposes. One of the purchased domains — joe3030.com — redirected to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s site.
This is not the only instance where a quick-thinking individual capitalized on a mistake made by another campaign. In 2017, after marketing materials promoting Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore contained a typo, a domain name was purchased redirecting visitors to the website of his opponent Doug Jones.
At this point, you may be wondering “What is a redirect?”
A URL redirect is a way to send users and search engines to a different place on the internet. Think of it like mail forwarding one sets up with the USPS so that letters and packages are delivered to your new address following a move.
As you plan your run for office, the number of domains you need depends on the type and size of your political campaign. Review these tips to secure the right domain(s) for your political campaign website and follow the advice that fits your campaign’s strategy. Be sure to follow all appropriate elections laws when purchasing and maintaining domain(s).
Step 1: Brainstorm Domain Names
The Candidate’s Name
There will be potential voters who will assume the official campaign site is the candidate’s name plus the “.com” extension. Purchasing the candidate’s name prevents someone else from obtaining the name and posting potentially damaging or misleading content. Once purchased, the domain does not need to be used for the campaign site. A redirect can always be configured.
If the domain name is not available:
- You may be able to buy it in the future. Review the site that is currently displaying at the domain you want. Does the site appear to be actively in use or has it been abandoned? Visit Whois to learn who owns the domain name and when it is currently scheduled to expire. If contact information is visible, ask if the domain might be available for purchase.
- Monitor the domain for availability, especially if it is scheduled to expire during the campaign or if the candidate is considering future runs for political office. Domain registrars and services like DomainTools offer alerting services to keep your informed.
Common Mispellings of the Candidate’s Name
Jon or John? Caitlin, Kaitlin, or Katelyn? Think of the ways your first or last name are often incorrectly spelled on incoming mail, on coffee orders, etc. If you don’t cover these alternates, opposing candidates or PACs may purchase them for nefarious purposes.
If an opposing candidate nicknames you, consider purchasing that as well. President Donald Trump periodically refers to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” While the Warren campaign says that they do not own the domain “Pocahontas.com,” the domain redirects to a page on Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign site.
After being nicknamed “Cocaine Mitch,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell embraced the moniker and sells campaign related swag. The domain cocainemitch.com, however, forwards to a page operated by the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Another example of a nickname inspired domain is “wrongpathmcgrath.com.” The website focuses on Democrat Amy McGrath, who is seeking to run against McConnell in 2020. The website footer says “Paid for by the McConnell Senate Committee.”
Campaign Tagline and Relevant Catch Phrases
The slogan for Democratic Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar is “Amy for America.” The URL “amyforamerica.com” redirects to “amyklobuchar.com.”
“BuildTheBorderWall.com” is a joint effort by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and The Republican National Committee while “PromisesKept.com” is tied to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. For larger campaigns, micro-sites gather valuable data analytics, segment potential voters, and deliver a focused message. Smaller campaigns may not have the resources to manage multiple sites.
TIP: Struggling to come up with domain name ideas? Try DomainsBot or review our breakdown of conventions used by 2020 Presidential candidates.
Step 2: Evaluate & Finalize Domain Names
You have a list of domain ideas. Now begin prioritizing your options.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to purchase all your preferred domains initially. Start small. Purchase additional ones throughout the course of the campaign as additional funds are available or opportunities arise. Just know that there is always a risk that a domain available today may not be there tomorrow.
How does the domain name look?
How does it look on draft campaign literature in the font(s) that will most likely be used by the campaign? Some letter combinations can be difficult to read.
How easy is it to type and swype the domain name?
Is it hard to type using a keyboard? What about when on a laptop or phone? If a domain is long or difficult to type, seek a shorter alternative. Look to see if auto-correct tries to change alter what is being typed.
How easy is it to say the domain name?
Will it be easy to say while speaking to a crowd? Will the audience remember it?
Is the domain name brandable?
Is your domain name memorable? If your website hosting provider offers a free domain name, read the fine print. Can you take the domain name with you if you decide to switch to another web host? Will the web host’s name be part of your site’s URL? If you use a free WordPress.com plan, the domain name will look something like mycampaignsite.wordpress.com. (You can use a custom domain with their paid plans.)
Is the domain name too generic?
How common is your name? Are there candidates elsewhere in the country running for office with a same or similar name?
Does the preferred domain name match the campaign’s social media profiles?
Domain names that do not match social media profiles, especially if each social media profile is unique, can create confusion. Namech_k, namecheckr, knowem enable checking domains and multiple social profile names in bulk.
Should you buy domains with different extensions?
A competitor or other group may parody one’s site by purchasing a domain similar to your main campaign name, but with a different top-level-designation (TLD). Think .info or .org instead of .com. This can make it hard for website visitors and search engines to determine what is real and what is fake.
TIP: Don’t go too crazy purchasing different extensions. First, it’s an expense. Second, research shows that not all top level extensions are trusted. Extensions like .gop and .dnc are not being used for the primary sites of individuals running for President.
What are other candidates doing?
Voters may assume all candidates are following the same pattern for their website domains. If budget allows, take a “keeping up with the Joneses” approach. If candidates in your area are following a domain name convention, like “candidate last name” + 4 + “position title” or “candidate last name” + 4 + “geographic area” (examples: smith4mayor or smith4anystate), you should too. Additional variations to watch for may include use of a candidate’s first name, the election year, the word “vote,” etc.
TIP: If you decide to use the number “4,” look at purchasing a domain that uses “for” as well. A person hearing your domain may assume “for” instead of “4.” Hyphens in domain names are also problematic.
Step 3: Purchase Your Domain(s)
Before purchasing your domain(s) from a reputable source, determine who or what entity will purchase the domain name(s) in keeping with applicable election laws. WPBeginner offers a step-by-step guide on how to purchase domain names from several sources.
An easy — though not necessarily the most economical — way to purchase your domain name(s) is through the web host you plan to use for your site. This centralizes your campaign data in one place and is one less account to keep track of long-term.
When purchasing your domains, expect prices to vary by extension type. As you proceed through the order process, watch for upsells. If you purchase a .com domain, the .info may be available for an additional small fee. Multi-year purchases may also result in cost savings (and prevent a domain from accidentally expiring during a campaign cycle).
When purchasing your domains, opt for private registration, unless this violates a relevant campaign law.
You may also be asked about Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates during checkout. SSL certificates are a must for conveying to site visitors that your site is authentic and secure. More information can be found in our What is an SSL Certificate? explainer article.
TIP: Before pressing the final “Purchase” button, google for coupon codes.
Step 4: Put Your Domains To Use
With domain name(s) purchased, you are now one step closer to your campaign site being online.
If you simultaneously purchased domains and web hosting, your service provider may have automatically placed a “coming soon” or similar page at your domain. For WordPress sites, install a maintenance mode plugin to easily show a splash page while work continues on your site. For campaigns in stealth mode, look for options to prevent indexing of your site. Just don’t forget to disable once you officially launch.
For any extra domains, set up initial redirects so you don’t forget to do it later on once the campaign is underway. Search the online help where you purchased the domain for instructions on what to do. You can always change where a domain points or later use it for an additional site.
Redirects do not require an additional site to be built. They can be configured to forward web traffic to another page. The redirect does not need to go to a site’s homepage, but this is a safe option. If you forward to another page, have a process in place so that the page is not accidentally deleted or moved.
We also have tips on how to create website content.
‘Dark Psychic Force’ domain names redirect to Trump, DNC after Williamson debate comments (The HILL, 07/31/2019)
‘HickForSenate.com’: Web names registered in case Hickenlooper jumps to Senate race (Colorado Politics, 08/08/2019)