Bernie Sanders, the 77-year-old socialist running for the Democrat nomination for president, is a trendsetter. His 2016 primary challenge against Hillary Clinton showed the power of grassroots, online fundraising and provided the proof of concept that demonstrated a campaign can be built largely on small dollar donors alone.
In 2018, we saw liberal candidates across the country follow his lead and it has become such an important part of the 2020 presidential primary that the DNC has made it a debate pre-requisite on par with polling. Reliance on grassroots donors has become a badge of honor for candidates and the eye-catching fundraising totals have led to dozens of headlines. All thanks to Bernie Sanders.
This is the second installment in a series of conversion funnel teardowns for Democrats running for President in 2020. Here’s a quick refresher on the criteria I’m analyzing:
- Is the campaign easy to find on Google?
- Does the campaign’s website load quickly? Data shows that faster load times lead to higher conversion rates.
- Does the campaign have clear email capture and calls to action on the homepage?
- Do subpages, like the about page, blog posts, etc. also have email capture and calls to action?
- Are the campaign’s online ads geared towards driving conversions?
- Are the landing pages for these ads optimized for the maximum number of conversions?
- Does the campaign use effective email automation to drive supporters through the conversion funnel?
- Does the campaign redirect traffic to donation pages after a user takes action? Are they customized to the earlier action?
I’m not critiquing website design or branding because that’s an area which has already received significant attention, nor am I analyzing ad spending, rather focusing on the strategy behind the ads.
Other Teardowns in this Series
Bernie Sanders’ homepage is in the top organic spot on Google, but the campaign has still spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on search ads this year. Unfortunately the transparency report doesn’t provide much in the way of information about targeting and placement, so these could be ads within other Google properties, like Gmail, or targeted around specific long tail keywords.
The website loads in just 0.576 seconds and presents a very clear call to action on the homepage. In fact, it’s the only thing a site visitor can do on the homepage. That’s how focused Sanders’ team is in converting organic site traffic.
After a user signs up here, they’re redirected to a donation page, but it’s a rather generic ActBlue page without any additional design elements like a photo, custom styling, and the copy hasn’t been updated recently.
BernieSanders.com has 25 issues subpages, each with strong search engine optimization (SEO), but none of them have email capture, which means that a supporter who has spent time browsing these popular pages can’t move through the conversion funnel without navigating to separate pages. I estimate that as high as 10% of visitors to these pages would convert if they were only asked via a clear call to action. And depending on how much traffic those pages get, they’re missing out on a lot of conversions and data.
When I signed up on the BernieSanders.com homepage, I didn’t get any email confirmation of my activity, no welcome email – nothing. This is a major missed opportunity in terms of online donations at the moment a supporter is engaged and interested, but it’s also likely harming the campaign’s email deliverability without an early engagement.
Instead, it appears my email address was added to the usual flow of emails to the list, which over the weekend was promoting the senator’s new book.
Now, I’m sure that email is performing well for die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, but it’s a significant leap from “signed up on the homepage” to “bought a book” for new recruits. Again, it’s critical to begin developing a sender reputation built on clicks and engagement with new subscribers and an email automation will accomplish that.
The Sanders campaign’s Facebook advertising is list building via petitions on some very familiar issues, like minimum wage increases and abortion, but what jumps out to me is the same ads are being targeted to dozens, possibly hundreds, of different segments on the platform. This indicates the campaign is optimizing their bidding strategy around their prospects rather than based on creative which shows a level of sophistication from someone who has done this before.
The Sanders campaign is also paying to promote these messages on Twitter, although not at the same scale.
When a supporter clicks on an ad, they’re taken to a well-designed landing page that’s focused and is optimized for mobile devices. I think it’s notable that the campaign isn’t collecting mobile phone numbers on these forms as an additional fundraising channel. The campaign would see a better conversion rate if they customized the language on the “Submit” button.
Another interesting characteristic particular to the Walmart landing page is the addition of a three question survey, which does include a donation priming question. While the campaign may be missing out on some conversions because of the additional form fields, they are likely screening out leads who may not donate. This conversion data is likely being fed back to Facebook to optimize their bidding and targeting strategy.
After a supporter completes the form, they’re redirected to a donation page. In the instance of the Walmart ads, the donation language is customized around that issue, but on the Hyde Amendment, there’s no customization of the donation language.
Also of note is that the Sanders campaign is running ads that direct supporters to donate directly from social media and are likely aimed at known donors who have ActBlue accounts capable of one click donating.
Before the grade, a refresher on the criteria:
- It’s easy to find the campaign’s website on search and it loads quickly.
- The homepage clearly directs supporter to an email capture, but key, popular subpages that likely have lots of traffic don’t have calls to action.
- Once a user signs up, they don’t appear to begin an automated email workflow and become part of the general email program.
- The campaign’s ads are laser-focused on conversions and direct to customized landing pages, but some of the donation pages don’t include customized language speaking to the issue a user is supporting.
Grade (as of 6/10/19): A-
The Sanders campaign is serious about their online donor program and in many ways, they are setting the stride for the field, but I was surprised to see some easy areas for improvement like email automation, email capture on subpages, and customized donation language.
I realize campaigns are hard work and I’ve got lots of admiration for the men and women in the arena, so if you’re from the campaign and reading this and think I’ve gotten something wrong, just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org