How Paid Search Can Help Elect the Next President

The majority of our paid search clients are Business to Business advertisers, so our focus is less on retail marketing. However, with the election less than one year away and this study from the Rimm-Kaufman Group fresh on my mind, I wanted to take a look into providing some insight to the value of using paid search for potential candidates in the 2008 election and beyond.

According to the article, politicians are some of the slowest and least sophisticated adapters of paid search.

I did a quick survey of my own today, looking to see which candidates were leveraging paid search, and which candidates were not. I did searches for all of the major candidate names, and primaries. I also searched under specific hotbed issues such as “abortion” and “immigration”. I also searched under extremely general terms such as “election 2008”, “president” etc.

I found that across the top 3 search engines, all candidates present under Paid Search were only advertising under their name and variations of their name. The one notable exception to this is John McCain who was also advertising under very broad terms such as “President”, “Iowa primary”, and a single competitors name: “Hillary Clinton”.

The table below shows which candidates were present on which of the top 3 search engines. Only 4 of the top 8 candidates were found advertising on Google AdWords. Also 3 of the 4 advertising with Google were also found advertising with Yahoo, and 3 of the 8 were candidates were on MSN.

Presidential Candidates Paid Search Placement

This data was accumulated by KoMarketing Associates on December 27th at 11:00 am EST.

Here are a few ways candidates and marketers should be looking to leverage the power of Paid Search in their political endeavors.

Paid Search as a Fundraising Tool:

  • Howard Dean was the first presidential candidate to utilize the Internet as a fundraising device. In the past, candidates usually tap wealthy and established donors for fundraising, but Dean’s funds came largely through small donations over the internet.
  • When I looked at how the candidates were using paid search, and their Web sites, to facilitate donatations, the majority were either awkwardly absent from my search queries, or their Web sites’ landing pages were more for information seeking purposes than for facilitating fundraising. With more attention to paid search, I bet that hundreds or thousands of smaller donations can be brought in through this cost effective medium by pre-qualifying the traffic, and by easing them into a simplified donation process.

Paid Search as a Polling Instrument:

  • Out of the top candidates featured on Google, none of them targeted their ad specifically to me as a Massachusetts resident (or technically as a user with an IP address in Massachusetts). To me this is an oversight – with the proper regional targeting in place the candidate (or rather the candidate’s managing team) could know exactly how many searches, clicks, forms, donations, etc came by a state by state or region by region basis.
  • Also, amazingly, I’ve found that when I searched for a particular front-runner, no additional candidates would be displayed in competitive ads. With the aforementioned regional targeting in place, the candidate could also know how much buzz the other candidates were receiving state by state. Granted, I am not a political analyst, but that seems pretty useful to me. Here the main strength of paid search is its extreme cost effectiveness at driving traffic and collecting data on an important communications medium for candidates – internet search.

Advice for the Candidates:

  • The keyword depth for the candidates that are displayed is very thin. There is a lot more value in paid search than in specifically advertising to people that already know your name. There are currently no advertisements under important issues such as Immigration and Social Security, and out of the featured candidates, only John McCain was advertising under another candidate’s name.
  • Ads could be optimized and rotated to test the effect of political messages or branding, bounce rates could be analyzed to determine which landing pages were the most appealing to donors. The list goes on and on.

The traffic is there. The Web empowers voters to seek information and support their chosen candidate, but it is up to the candidates to rise to the challenge and harness this traffic.

Be advised, the opinions found here are not meant to be partisan in nature and the opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the author or of KoMarketing as a whole.

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— Katie Meurin, SEO Manager at Southern New Hampshire University

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