Why not do my own website?
We get asked that a lot. To be sure, there are some great web platforms out there. WordPress was atrocious when we first started Blue Utopia in 2004/05. Since then, it has become a powerful and impressive platform for developers and non-developers to create great websites. It’s one of the reasons we support WP as a CMS option within our own campaign system. There are others too -- Wix, Squarespace and pretty much every domain registrar offers some tools for building your own website.
The question isn’t so much; can you create a good-looking and functional website with these platforms. If you have good staff or volunteers, you probably can. The question is how much time and money is it going to cost you for all the things you cant see today.
The list of pitfalls can get quite long. Like, if you relied on a volunteer to build your site and you have to make an update, can you? What is the size of your web server and can it handle a spike in traffic? Do you have easy integration to your back-end data system? How available and seamless are online donations? That’s just a few and this article could easily be 50 pages long.
I'm going to focus only on one aspect: your site’s search relevance. In other words, if someone is searching on your campaign, can they find you and how easily? To that end, we’ve tested several relatively new campaigns with a simple search of the candidate’s name on Google (sorry Bing).
1. State Candidate in Colorado
This highly-qualified Democratic candidate used WordPress to put up a decent-looking site. It has all the basic functionality you might think to look for and he probably got it launched for very little cash. But the quality of the site isn't the point of this article. Search relevance is. And if one of his supporters searches for him by name -- a middle of the road name in terms of prevalence -- Google isn't returning his site in the first page of results.
State Candidate in Louisiana
This Republican candidate in Louisiana (we selected campaigns pretty randomly) went with a republican firm. Unfortunately he can't be found at all on the first page of Google's search results. He does have a somewhat common name but so did the previous example. To the extent your website is an important part of your campaign -- pretty much a given for most candidates seeking office -- then not being found on search engines with a name search is an absolute death sentence.
The previous example was a candidate with what could be considered a somewhat common name. So we did a second test. Turns out in the same area (LA), a PAC with a not-so-common name used the same firm to launch a website at around the same time. A Google search of the term "Take Back Action Fund" landed them 8th on the results page; clearly better than the candidate but behind other organizations with similar words in their name.
Mayor in SC
On the flip side is a campaign for mayor of Charleston. This campaign went with Blue Utopia. Like the others, the candidate has a middle-of-the-road name in terms of commonness. Unlike the other candidates though, a search on Google using just his name displays him #1 on page 1 of the results page.
The fact is that a nice-looking site isn’t very useful if people aren’t able to find you. There are tools that can help your SEO and firms that will help you (for a fee).
Blue Utopia's web system does all this for you, automatically. And for free. The campaign platform has a series of tools that work in the background to ensure your site is registered and indexed properly. Then it provides real-time help when you’re creating content. Leave out a critical element in the SEO algorithm and we’ll let you know it so that you can fix your page immediately. All of this matters when people are trying to find your site.
So when a person asks us why they shouldn't just build their own website, search relevance is just one answer among a many.