How can your campaign or non-profit use advertising online most effectively to grow your organization’s base of support, spread your message, persuade voters, increase donations and more? In the progressive world our budgets are often small, so you need to make sure it goes far.
Start with thinking through what is your goal. Are you trying to recruit new supporters, reach existing supporters, persuade voters, or spread your message? Different goals have different methods. Before you spend a cent, you should sort out what you’re trying to achieve, and also consider what kinds of materials you have to advertise. Video or print or search text snippets all can and should be handled differently.
Also you’ll need to consider your timing. Some options can be rolled out faster than others, so make sure your plans allow for enough time. Email list buys may take a week or longer to collect the promised amount of email addresses. If you’re running a campaign, you may or may not be able to make back the sunk costs by doing resolicits of your list before Election Day. Google, Facebook, Twitter – may take hours or may take longer for your ads to get through their approval process and start running.
Keep track of the ongoing advertising you’re running: ads may get less effective over time and need tweaking, especially Facebook. With regular experimentation, you can continually improve your results. Also good record-keeping can help you figure out the costs per new supporter acquired after the fact, to measure results of different methods against each other. (Make sure that you are using tracking codes, conversion pixels etc. as much as possible to track what is coming in via where.)
Finally, on all self-serve options make sure you put an end-date on your campaign. You don’t want to keep accruing charges on your credit card after Election Day is done or you won on your issue! Some methods let you set a total budget as opposed to or in addition to a daily budget: this is a great backstop in case of wild success, when your budget gets spent much faster than originally planned.
Online advertising costs are generally measured in three basic ways:
* CPM (cost per thousand impressions)
Examples are Banner ads, Blogads, some online newsletter advertising like through AlterNet, Mother Jones, The Nation – and you can often buy CPC advertising this way instead
* CPC (cost per click)
Examples are Google, Facebook, Twitter
* CPA (cost per action)
Examples are Care2, Change.org, DailyKos, Democrats.com, LeftAction
* Landing Page = Webpage where a visitor lands after clicking on advertising
* Click-Through Rate = Ratio of viewers that click on your advertising
* Conversion Rate = Ratio of visitors taking action on your landing page (i.e. signing up for your emails)
* Opt-In: Individual actively joins a list
* Opt-Out: Individual is added to a list without their approval (has opportunity to unsubscribe)
Beware of opt-out lists. Just because a vendor’s database is 100% opt-in, it doesn’t mean they are offering you opt-in services. Make sure you know what you are paying for. Opt-in is much more expensive than opt-out (because it’s better quality), not all vendors offer it.
- Method: Search Engine Advertising
With this method you can reach people who are actively searching for info on your topic, campaign or organization. “Contextual advertising” means your ad only shows up if it fits the context of the search or page. This advertising is usually text-based, but you can do images on sites that are a part of the Google content network.
It can be cheap! (Can even be free for 501(c)3 non-profits: apply for a Google grant.) You set the price per click, and the maximum daily budget.
You also set the targeting. You can choose geographic location: can go whole state, by region, or even by city. Unless you have a race or issue of national interest (hint for political campaigns: you probably don’t, unless there’s been a You Lie Joe Smith moment), keep your targeting local where people would care most/and search on your issue.
You set the keywords – which terms your ad will show up under. Advertise on your chosen issues, your name, your opponent’s name, common misspellings. If your name is something common like “Joe Smith”, this may be the only way to get your campaign to show up well on Google searches.
You choose where your ads can run (sort of). Google has their search, plus the content network (blogs, newspapers, etc). Start with plain search, content network is trickier. Note for content network: your ad needs to be more noticeable, because it works based on attention-getting. Search advertising works on blending in with the query. Also note that if you’re a 501(c)3 non-profit org with a Google grant, the grant only applies to search advertising.
Don’t forget search engine optimization: Free traffic! This can be accomplished by choosing a good url that includes your best keywords, using keywords in the title and body of the page, frequently updating the content on your website, writing content that includes frequently searched keywords, and getting others to link to your site. There’s lots of in depth guides out there on SEO, it’s worth doing some reading to get it right.
- Method: Social Networking Advertising
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn advertising is self-serve, and the usual option is pay-per-click. You choose daily budget and cost per click. Many different social media sites offer conversion tracking, and you can easily test different versions of creative, call to action etc. to find the best performing mixture. Costs vary, but this is definitely worth trying for most organizations since you can get started at such a cheap price point. Social media advertising also has spillover effects – if somebody fans your page, it may broadcast to their friends that they became a fan so you benefit from network effects. But carefully consider whether building up a big Facebook or Twitter fanbase helps your organization in the long run – it may be better to run ads directing people to a link to sign up for your email list, so you control the communication channel and not Facebook. Also note that you can now do voter-file targeted advertising on Facebook yourself, rather than needing to go through a vendor. Make sure to upload your house email list as an audience and suppress your existing supporters from your paid campaign, if you are looking to recruit new people.
You choose the targeting. Make sure you target only people in the geographic area of your campaign! Also if you are trying to reach new supporters, make sure you are NOT targeting existing fans. There’s new exciting methods of lookalike targeting on social media too, targeting people that are similar to your existing supporters. This can be a very cost-effective method of finding new supporters.
Most effective to grow your own page’s supporters. Online advertising can be effectively used to take traffic to your website though for email signups, if the ask is compelling. It’s not so effective for fundraising (at least, not yet.. although the latest research shows there are benefits to layering on a fundraising ask on social media to the same people at the same time as they are receiving your ask via other channels like mass email. There are intriguing things you can do with targeting people on your email list, and putting the same fundraising message on Facebook ads as when you send out a mass email. Or targeting audiences that are similar to your existing audience, as mentioned before.
Content gets stale pretty fast on social media – expect click through rates to fall off a cliff after just a few days. You’ll need to keep changing up text and/or graphics and/or targeting to keep it fresh and performing well.
Try different things, and turn off what doesn’t work. You can see in a matter of hours if an ad is effective or not.
- Method: Banner Ads
You can buy ad space directly on a site, or on several sites/to specific demographics by using an ad agency, or banner ad networks. These tend to be more expensive AND less effective in terms of clickthroughs than Google/Facebook, so you’ll probably want to use professionals to get the most out of your campaign.
Banner ads are priced via CPM, sometimes per click. IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) specs several different sizes.
Note: some sites (like many newspapers) run both Google Adsense and banner ads. Google can be a cheap backdoor to advertise on sites that you cannot afford the banner ad rates on.
- Goal: Supporter recruitment
How much is a new member “worth” to you? What are the average costs via the different methods you have now?
You could run issue-based campaigns with Care2 (opt-in), Change.org (opt-in), DailyKos (opt-in), Democrats.com (opt-in or opt-out), and LeftAction (opt-in). The CPA may vary. There will be minimum buys also. This is probably only cost-effective for national groups, statewide races or organizations, or Congressional/city-wide races or orgs in major metropolitan areas.
You could also run a petition-based campaign on Google or Facebook. This is more cost-effective for smaller campaigns. For larger campaigns, you’ll need to track carefully to make sure this is more cost effective than doing a list buy through a list vendor. You’ll generally see a cheaper cost per signup via Facebook, because the demographic targeting is better than with Google and the audiences are larger than with Twitter.
If you do a Facebook campaign aimed at growing your Facebook page, this should be pretty cheap with good targeting. The low-hanging fan fruit should be possible to pick up for $1 or less per fan. Same thing with Twitter advertising to build your Twitter following.
You could do an Email append (iffy unless you do it opt-in): You send your supporter (or donor or volunteer) list to the vendor, they look up known emails in their database & send an opt-out or opt-in request to them, then give you list of responses. You’ll need to have a large enough amount of email addresses for this to clean in order for it to be worthwhile – they do have minimum amounts for buys. Also the data can be iffy too, check to see whether they are doing an individual match or household match. Different people in the household may have wildly differing political beliefs. You could also do a ECOA (electronic change of address), many vendors offer a service like this: The vendor looks up updated email addresses for people on your list with bouncing emails. Just like with email append, you’ll need to have a large enough amount of email addresses for this to be cost-effective.
Special note for campaigns and non-profits using NationBuilder: there’s a new append service offered from Accurate Append that can append email addresses and phone numbers to your Nation at very affordable rates. For campaigns and non-profits using other tools, you’ll need to do an email list export, send to the vendor (ask for a free match test first so you get a sense of what they can match), and then re-import into your system.
- Goal: Online fundraising
Many campaigns have had a lot of success with Google AdWords on their candidate (or opponent’s name). Motivated people are doing Google searches, so that is easy traffic to convert into donations.
Some organizations and campaigns have used Facebook advertising successfully for fundraising too. If you try this, aim your ads at supporters only to have the best chance of recouping your costs and turning a profit. Also as noted before, try layering on the Facebook ask with asks via other mediums such as email to the same audience. If you have a 501c(3) nonprofit, apply to use Facebook’s fundraising tools — including a Donate Now button on your page.
Email append to your donor list may be effective too, but handle it very carefully – do not want to offend your donors by sending them a lot of unsolicited email.
You might be able to do blogads cost-effectively (since it’s somewhat of a pre-screened audience), if you pick the right blog with an enthusiastic audience for your message.
- Goal: Voter Persuasion
This is usually where your traditional media firms will do display buys on the online properties of traditional media sites (like major newspapers in the district etc.) to push out graphics and/or video. You could also try online advertising on YouTube and Hulu, Pandora etc. Make sure your media consultants have an online GOTV plan – broadcast television is a harder and harder tool to use to reach voters. Cable and online can get you wider reach. Look for online banner advertising targeted directly to people matched from the voterfile: so that you are not wasting money talking to non-voters.
Facebook has a lot of potential for voter persuasion, since you can target locale and key demographics. You can also do voter-file matched advertising yourself on Facebook, rather than needing to go through a vendor for it.
- Goal: GOTV
In the past, a popular online advertising method was to do a “Google network blast” to carpet-bomb your geographic area on or around Election Day with online ads. This can be expensive, but far cheaper than a network TV buy in most places. If you do this type of advertising, most everybody in your targeted area will see your ads all day as they surf around the web. So make sure you’re running it in areas where turnout benefits you much more than your opponent. Now people can use geofencing to target just the area around a polling place, for example, so you are reaching people while they are on their phones standing in line to vote!
Facebook doesn’t have such a catchy term, but you could build your own. You can change the pricing of your ad from pay per click, to CPM (pay per impression). Then put a really high bid on it, and it should saturate your audience until the money runs out.
You could also put together some display ads and/or blogads to reach friendly audiences for GOTV. It is often cheaper and easier to reach only people in your target area if you use site-targeted Google AdWords instead of display ads.
Also some vendors offer to match the voter file to online “cookies”, enabling you to run online ads targeted to specific voters. This is a great advance, to go from carpet-bombing to microtargeting for your online display advertising. Check out DSPolitical’s new self-serve tool for campaigns, DemocraticAds.com.
If you’re going to do a big ad buy, consultants are worth it in the money they’ll save you by using good targeting and advertising best practices. This is especially true for display advertising, which is hard to do effectively. For smallish buys, you can try yourself with the self-serve options out there.
*Search Engine advertising:
*Voter-targeted ads (self serve):
Have more questions, or want to get started with or fine-tune the online advertising for your campaign or organization? Contact PowerThru today!