The four “must haves” for campaign websites

With more and more unions relying on Internet campaigning to support their campaigns, it’s essential that we do everything we can to make them effective and successful. Indeed, a campaign website is increasingly essential to the success of campaigns that traditionally would have only included posters, leaflets and stickers.

A union’s website can be the first (or only) interaction that a potential member or supporter has with the union. So it needs to be a good experience. While many unions are increasingly using social media, a Facebook or Twitter account for your campaign, without a specific campaign website, is like tying one hand behind your back. You’re operating at half-effectiveness.

A campaign website needs to not just exist, it needs to perform. It needs to attract visitors, educate them and convince them to take action. There’s no point in having a website “just because”. Today, the web is social and interactive. It’s not static like most union websites tend to be. As such, a union’s campaign website can no longer just be an online media release. It needs to integrate search, blogging, social media and engaging content (such as photos and videos).

Today, increasingly potential union members and supporters like to do online research. They are used to this through their typical web behaviour – where you read reviews and conduct research on  goods before you buy them. Many people turn immediately to Google (or, less likely, Bing) to find out about an issue, a service or a product. Making a decision to join a union (or support a campaign) is no different.

So, here are the four must-haves for your union’s campaign website.

1. Make it easy to find

It would be a disaster for a union to spend thousands of dollars (or more) on a campaign website only for it to go unvisited and unnoticed. There are several easy ways to make sure your site is easier for people to visit.

  • Try to build inbound links: Building inbound links (where other websites link to you) is a simple way to get found. This can be done through traditional media and public relations — getting news stories mentioning your website. However, many unions forget to do some basic things, like ask peak bodies (Trades Halls, ACTU) to link to their campaigns. Search engines use as part of their algorithms, the number of quality, trustworthy sites that link to yours. Getting news sites and other union sites to link to your campaign website helps it be found. Additionally, don’t forget about blogs and bloggers — and if your organisers or members keep a blog, ask them to write a post about your campaign site (or send a link to Creative Unions). You could also ask to write guest posts (so long as you have a pre-existing relationship with the blog).
  • Do some basic search-engine optimisation (SEO): SEO basically means making your website easy for programs like Google, Yahoo or Bing to find and archive your content. There are a lot of companies that promise the world with SEO — like “guaranteed first place”. While there is a science to SEO (and if you have the money, you should talk to your website designer about it), even a basic attempt at SEO will significantly improve the ability for your site to be found. SEO is based on “key words” – and there are different parts of your web page that search engines look at, such as headlines, sub-headings, image tags and links. Content management systems like WordPress do SEO “out of the box” fairly well, and most open-source CMSs have good quality free SEO plugins. The main thing is to keep your “key words” in mind when writing your page — and absolutely ensure you include your keywords with your images (e.g. “ALT text”).
  • Don’t forget your title tags and meta tags: This is something that can easily be missed — even for major companies and online groups. The Title tags  and Meta tags are information that is contained in the background of your website, visible only to search engines. The Title tags also appear in your browser at the top of the page or tab (next to the favicon). They are also displayed by search engine results. Most open source CMSs (like WordPress) manage Title and Meta tags automatically, so you don’t need to be a coding genius, but some may require set up.
  • Make sure you have a site-map: Search engines use site maps to sift through your web pages easily and find updated content. The best-practice site-maps are called XML site-maps, which are basically a special kind of file that lists all your website’s pages, and when they were updated. This is constantly overlooked — and for unions with large websites with lots of pages, it means that many of those pages will be extraordinarily hard to find. Open source CMSs have plugins that will automatically create XML site-maps for you, and if you are getting a consultant or developer to build a campaign site for you, make sure you ask them to create one.

2. Get good design based on usability

Atosha and I founded Creative Unions to promote good union design. Once you’ve managed to get a supporter or potential member to visit your campaign site, you want them to stay on your site and (mostly likely) take some kind of action.

This is where good design is essential. If your site is not user-friendly, intuitive and pleasant to navigate, your visitors will leave. Most websites have a “bounce rate” (the number of people who look at only one page on a website) that is between 30-60%. Many times, those visitors will never return — and why would they if their experience was frustrating and pointless. (Think trying to find a contact email address or phone number on a bank website!)

There are some simple things you can do to make a good impression the first time someone visits your campaign site — and studies have found that good design is the most important element.

I’ve written about making great campaign websites here. To reinforce those points, here are some extra tips:

  • Have a simple colour scheme: The right use of colours can make the important information stand out, while not distracting the viewer. Having lots of colours, or clashing colours, can reduce usability and create frustration.
  • Avoid unnecessary animation: If your union’s digital consultant suggests flash animations, say “no”. Don’t use animated gifs, background music, scrolling news tickers, or other “cool” gadgets and media. Things that move on a web page grab the eye and can distract from your most important content. If something does move on your site, make sure it is the important thing, and that it supports to goal of your site.
  • Use intuitive navigation and layout: Follow the F-layout for content, and make sure your menu makes sense for the main pages people will try to find (e.g. contact, join, about). The (in)ability to easily find what they are looking for is one of the main pieces of feedback for websites. The key for good website navigation is to keep it simple and not to have too many layers or levels. Less is more with design, so don’t feel compelled to cram images, icons or photos on each page unless they really add to the purpose of the page.
  • Typography must be readable: Fonts, and font colours should be easy to read. Don’t make them too large or too small. Make the difference between header-types clear. Use bullet lists, section headers and short paragraphs.
  • Maintain consistency between pages: Key design elements, such as colours, logos, navigation, links, etc, should remain consistent between your homepage and sub-pages. This doesn’t mean every page should be the same, but it should recognisably be the same website when you go to different pages.
  • Use the right images: Unless there is a very good reason, don’t use stock photos. Make sure the images you do use are specific to the content of the page, rather than generic. Tests on stock-photos versus photos of real, relevant people show that the real images win every time. Unions are in a great position to use images of members or organisers — this should be a great strength.
  • Keep accessibility in mind: People with disabilities, especially visual impairment, use the Internet. Make sure your website is compliant with basic international usability standards (and demand this if you are outsourcing your campaign website creation to a consultancy). With this in mind, you should also try to make sure your site works on mobile phones and tablets, and a range of Internet browsers (Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, etc).

3. Have engaging content

Now people have found your site, got a good first impression, you need to make your content engaging and your calls to action compelling. When thinking about this, keep in mind the 10-second rule and ask: will a visitor know immediately what to do when they reach this page? Will they understand what page they’re on without help or explanation?

If your campaign website has a clear goal, with a clear call to action, it should be readily apparent to anyone visiting your page what they should do — read the article, sign the petition, sign up to the email list, or donate money.

  • Use clear headlines: Make your most important ideas and calls to action prominent — using headlines and page titles. Make it clear why the visitor (potential member or supporter) should support your campaign or join your union.
  • Include calls to action and next steps: Even if you just have a blog post or campaign update, make sure you include something for the viewer to do once they have read the update. If they’ve received their update, ask them to do something (share the page with friends, donate, join, etc).
  • Test your copy with A/B testing: A/B testing means using two versions of a page with slight (or large) differences to test which version is more effective. It’s fairly easy to do, and can result in significant improvements to the number of people who complete your call to action. Especially for your home-page, don’t assume that they first version of the text you’ve written is the best or most effective. You can see a good example of A/B testing at work here.
  • Don’t use jargon: Don’t use jargon or language that only insiders would understand. Unions are serial offenders in using industrial gobbledygook. Specialist terms and acronyms should be avoided. Spell things out if you must use technical terms, but avoid them whenever possible.
  • Keep things simple, short: The shorter and more concise your website text, the more likely it is to be read and understood. Don’t try to be clever with word-play or cliches. With your campaign website, you want to be immediately understood, and you want your call to action to be crystal clear.
  • Consider a campaign blog (but only if you have the time and resources): Blogging is great for most of the things I’ve written about here. It keeps content fresh and updated, blog CMSs have good out-of-the-box SEO and it is a great way to get inbound links. The downside is that blogs need to be kept updated — which means someone in your union needs to continually update it. A blog is probably most appropriate for your main union website rather than campaign site.
  • Make your content sociable and shareable: Add “Tweet this” and “Facebook like” buttons to all of your pages. Social sharing is a great source of traffic — with the added benefit that the people visiting from these sources are more likely to hold similar views to the original person who shared the page. Most CMSs should include plugins or widgets that make social sharing easy.

4. Have goals for your campaign website

I have consistently advocated for union campaign websites that have specific goals and purposes. There’s no point in having a campaign site “just because”. It should have a specific purpose and goal. For campaign sites, you probably want supporters to do something. Campaign sites should therefore care about “conversion” — converting a visitor into a supporter, or a potential member into a member.

Calls to action are the key to measuring your campaign website’s goals. Most calls to action involve asking visitors to fill out a web-form with their email address and other details. You should be able to easily compare the number of people who view your call to action and the number of visitors who actually complete it (your conversion rate).

  • Have a clear call to action: Make the call to action the most prominent part of your page. For simple campaign sites, you should probably make the call to action the centre-piece of your home page.
  • Less is more: By the time someone has reached your campaign site, it is likely they have a fairly good idea of whether they will support your campaign or not. You don’t need to spend a huge amount of time convincing them, just to make it easy for them to take action.
  • Here are four effective calls to action to use for inspiration.
  • Consider the “engagement funnel”: What happens once someone fills out your form? Are they taken to a “thank you” page? Are they given an additional, secondary call to action? Will they receive an automatic email confirming their action? Have an answer to these questions. Think about how you can keep your new supporter or member engaged.
  • Only include essential fields in your forms: There is a temptation to collect as much information as possible in your forms — address, workplace, postcode, etc. The more information you ask from people, the less likely they are to fill out the form. Think about the minimum information you need, and consider how you can subsequently get more information from supporters after they have signed up to support your union’s campaign.
It’s also definitely worth considering how your campaign site integrates with your union’s existing systems — such as bulk-email system, membership system, or finance system (for donations).


Online campaigning has changed forever how unions engage with members, potential members and supporters. It is growing rapidly, and in Australia almost everyone has access to the Internet, social media and email. Unions cannot ignore it, and we certainly cannot use it poorly.

Online campaigning is more than just having a website for your union. It should integrate your social media engagement, email communication, media management and on-the-ground organising. Any campaign website you create for your union should be adaptable and easily changeable. Just like organisers continually refine scripts and talking points, so you should continually test and improve your campaign websites.

These four points are guidelines for your union’s campaign site — and if you are not building the site in house, then hopefully this article gives you some questions to ask your digital consultant.

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