Tag Archives: Politics Online Conference

Web Analyitcs Key to Any Online Communications

If there’s one major takeaway from the Obama Campaign, it’s that good data in public affairs – and knowing how to act on it –  leads to greater efficiencies and conversion success.

I had the pleasure of moderating a talented panel last week at the Politics Online Conference that featured:

Dan Siroker, founder of Carrotsticks, and led the analytics team for the Obama Campaign.  He later served as the Deputy Director of New Media for Change.gov.  He shared some great insights into understanding what users are doing on a campaign website or how they react to to email can assist political campaigns at all levels.

Mark Skidmore, director of advertising and promotion at BlueStateDigital, focuses on search, banner, social media and online advertising for public affairs clients.  During the 2008 election cycle he directed ad strategies for over 10 PACs and 501c3s, including the Presidential Inauguration Committee, Wal Mart Watch and others.

Matt Yalowitz from the Googe Election & Advocacy Team.  He’s a Chicago local campaign veteran now working in Ann Arbor who brought some great insights into search and search advertising.

Siroker led the Obama analytics team of six people who he said “helped to optimize everything,” including emails, donation and MyBarackObama.  He shared five major lessons learned from the campaign:

  1. Understand the user funnel – visits, sign-ups, donations and conversions.
  2. Focus on the weakest link. Before the Iowa caucus, the weakest link in the campaign was getting email sign-ups.  The analytics team experimented with flash pages that rotated three images, four videos and five sign up buttons.  The team found that images were more effective than videos.  After the tweaking, the campaign received 4.4 million new email submissions.
  3. Segment into friends. Split the database into meaningful subsegments.  Depending on who the person on the receiving end of the communications was, they would receive different messages, like “donate and get a gift,” “donate now,” “please donate,” “contribute,” etc.
  4. Circumstances matter. When Sarah Palin knocked community organizing in her RNC speech, Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s email that night received the largest one-day donation response in any day during the campaign.  Know when the right circumstances arrive and take advantage of them.
  5. Assumptions are wrong. Question them, test them and then test them again.

Mark Skidmore focused his remarks on how to drive people to a public affairs website.  Search, he said, is central to any web strategy.  Eighty percent of new traffic comes through search.  It’s important to conduct a search strategy that puts an organization out in front early and often.  That’s the best way to see results and reach some efficiencies.

When developing web content, it’s also important to have a long-term strategy that organizes content well.  A campaign can adjust by seeing what content gets the most hits and promote that to the front page and see how it does with other content around it.

He concluded with urging people to get outside the data as well.  You have to take a holistic approach to a web strategy that includes looking at data and looking at it from 10,000 feet above ground too.

Yalowtiz discussed the difference between micro and macro conversions.  Macro conversions are voluntary sign-ups or donations.  Micro conversions are more granular data, like how much time a user spends watching a video, time on a site, page views, etc.  He said this distinction is important because otherwise, analysts would be drawing conclusions based on 10-15 percent of conclusions.

Campaigns, Yalowtiz said, should be integrating their web strategy with traditional media.  Unique tracking codes, phone numbers and splash pages can help put the right metric on conversions and see the effectiveness of an integrated campaign.  Furthermore, different splash pages and 800 numbers can be used for different geographies.

I started the Q&A asking about page views because some say that the longer a user stays on a page the better, while others argue it may mean that a user can’t find what they’re looking for.

Siroker said that overall, web users’ attention spans are short.  An analyst has to look at the average time a user spends on the site to get a good idea of what  long or short page views mean.  Overall, multiple pageviews are good.

Skidmore urged people to examine how many clicks before conversion.  That average will give analysts a better understanding of how content effects conversions.  It’s important to strike the balance between poking around a website and conversions.  He argues five steps to conversion is a too high an average.

Furthermore, Skidmore urged people not to use Flash because that is not read by search engines and therefore hurts a web page’s SEO.  Google only reads HTML.  Building a site map is important to helping SEO, on the other hand.

Yalowitz talked about creating a pattern that users can go through that will lead to conversions.

Finally, here’s some great pointers from the panel.

  • Questions to ask SEO experts:
    • Where are visitors coming from?
    • What does my architccture look like?
    • Are the incoming links to my website quality?  How can I improve the quality?
  • Make issues work against each other on the site
    • Silo them and find out which works better.  Promote that to the top of your page
  • Worried about investing in a good website and analytics?
    • Focus on ROI – $x will bring a return of $x donations, emails, etc.
    • Look at the most successful month(s) what were you doing during those months?
  • Geo-Target Message
    • Not everyone receives the same message.  Talk to people about issues that matter to them.

The Next Generation of Election Websites

Here are highlights from another great panel at the Politics Online Conference, which probed the evolution of campaign websites and captured what we have learned.

Republican Strategist Rob Kubasko began with an entertaining brief history of online campaigns.

1996 – all about having a website

2000 – proved that donations could take place via the web in a big way (McCain)

2002- the “kitchen sink” syndrome of cramming everything into a website

2004 – the buzz is about blogs and communities

2006 – enter online video, a la the George Allen moment

2008 – the year of social networks

Kubasko put it simply that campaign success starts with messaging, is advanced by design and is driven through online tools.  I liked one line he said about design: “If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.”  It’s like the old adage in branding that if you’re about everything, you’re about nothing.

Sam Graham Felsen, who served as chief blogger at the Barack Obama Campaign and came over from the traditional journalism world (the Nation), said the big winner for the campaign was the least sexy tool…email.  It alone was the leader in generating offline actions.

Sam Graham Felsen

Sam Graham Felsen

Meanwhile, he talked about the message strategy of the campaign from the outset that emphasized less about the candidate and more about people and building a movement around the values the candidate embodied.  He recalled that the majority of his blog posts at the beginning of the campaign were not about Obama, but about people around the country who wanted and hoped for change.

Plus, this message, Felsen said, was made that much more poignant through online video.  The Obama campaign had a videography team that shot and edited like 2,000 videos and got as a granular as creating videos for every Obama affinity group imaginable.  That was very helpful in story telling and giving a medium for people to relate to the campaign’s values.

Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor Nicco Mele reiterated the importance of email, saying that in a recent talk at Harvard, David Plouffe said he wished he sent more email (to the astonishment of many who were flooded with Obama emails during the campaign).  A very smart thing Nicco said afterwards was that Dominos Pizza could have managed its crisis so much better had it collected customers’ emails and therefore had a direct channel to its target audience .

Mele’s key takeaways from 2008:

Video proved a transformative medium in message delivery

Organizing means better data collection and management

Good fundraising means good email lists and copy

Obama, McCain Social Web Gurus Square Off

This really was the main event at the Politics Online Conference.  Joe Rospars, Director of New Media and Michael Palmer, eCampaign Director for John McCain, went one-on-one and did not disappoint.

Joe Rospars

Joe Rospars

The wounds and the elation of the election were apparent from both parties as Rospars and Palmer traded jibes and their former staffers in the audience collectively snickered at each underhanded remark.

But the takeaways from each campaign leaders only added to the intensity of the panel.  Rospars opened with a great line, saying he managed “everything internet and nothing technical.”  This absolutely resonated with me, where I work a lot on new media and online communication strategy but not on back-end web development.

For Rospars, the key was integrating the new media part of the Obama campaign with everything else.  He talked about an ethos permeating throughout the Obama campaign staff that placed a premium on respecting people, talking to them honestly and encouraging them to take control of the political process.  Rospars noted the untapped potential in respecting peoples’ abilities to get excited and organize themselves that was more fully realized in 2008.

Palmer made the point that new media, no matter how sexy it is at the moment, is just a tool in the toolbox just like direct mail, door knocks, phone calls, etc.  Like many other speakers at the conference, Palmer argued that new media is effective only if a candidate had a compelling message and stood for something voters can rally around.  The difference between the Obama and McCain Campaign, Palmer argued, was the “enthusiasm gap.”  Plus, Palmer admitted that McCain just could not sell himself as embodying new media when he admitted that he himself didn’t email, Twitter (at the time) or anything else related to a computer.  That just put McCain at odds immediately with an online spirit.

Rospars noted that campaigns in 2008 are conducted largely in the same way as they were previously.  Online media simply made data gathering, door knocking and phone calls that much easier.

But, online video channels, like YouTube, were really important for the Obama Campaign.  It basically provided the campaign with a medium with unlimited space to tell a story and control the message.  On the other hand, users could also post video on what mattered to them regarding the campaign.  While this was out of their control obviously, user generated video gave the Obama staff another avenue to interact with people engaged in the election.

The last bit of valuable insight Rospars shared was with regard to Obama merchandise.  He discussed the exciting part of the campaign was actually having a design team independent of the Washington establishment and allowing their creativity to really guide the branding process.  Clearly, that matched well with Obama’s brand.  (Palmer called Obama’s logo a donut with a piece of bacon going across the middle).  The campaign was able to “trade” campaign branded items for donations.  That was part of the popular phenomenon.

Headed to the Politics Online Conference

I’ll be back at the Politics Online Conference in Washington, DC this weekend and early next week.  The conference is put on by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University and is being co-sponsored this year by Campaigns & Elections magazine.

I found out about the conference last year, after I interviewed the Institute’s Director Julie Germany, for a research project I was doing on the confluence of the social web and public affairs for my master’s program.  Julie encouraged me to nominate some work I had done for Daniel Biss’ campaign for state assembly and sure enough we won two awards, known as the Golden Dot Awards, at the conference.  By the way, Julie is the most consistently funny and entertaining Twitter user I have ever seen.  Anyone looking to do Twitter right, should see how she does it.

So, I’m headed back to the Politics Online Conference this year.  I will be moderating a panel for one of the conference’s many interesting breakout sessions, called:

Tinkering Your Web Strategy: Using Analytics to Understand Your Traffic and Making Adjustments

April 21, 3:30 p.m., Meridian D & E

Description: Who is coming to your candidate’s website? What do users do when they get there? How did they find you in the first place? Where are users who visit your site coming from?

Web analytics can open doors to a political or public affairs campaign to understand their web traffic and adjust their communications strategy accordingly. Having a great website with all the bells and whistles looks great on the surface. But, how do we read a web analytics report and what indicators do we look for? How do we make adjustments? Answers to these questions are vital for campaigns at any level.

·        Ben Weisberg (Account Manager on the Elections and Issue Adcocacy Team at Google)

·        Mark Skidmore (Blue State Digital)

·        Dan Siroker (Founder of CarrotSticks)

·        Jesse Greenberg (independent strategic communications and public affairs consultant)

I’ll be blogging on conference highlights next week and at the conclusion of Sunday’s e-democracy unconference.