Schiavo Case Spurs 'Living Will' Searches, Keyword Buys
Queries on the terms "Schiavo" and "Schiavo case" Tuesday morning, on search engines including Google and Yahoo!, returned sponsored listings for a smattering of marketers. One advertiser was the Los Angeles-based LegalZoom.com, a service that helps consumers prepare documents such as living wills. Another, Eustis, Fla.-based CATgear.com--whose campaign was discontinued by Google later that day--sells merchandise with religious messages.
Schiavo, who suffered brain damage in 1990 and is now in a "persistent vegetative state," has been kept alive through a feeding tube, which was removed Friday after a protracted legal battle between her husband and parents. Over the weekend, Congress passed emergency legislation conferring jurisdiction on the federal courts. Her husband maintains that she wouldn't have wanted to live in her condition, but her parents disagree. She didn't have a "living will," which would have spelled out her wishes.
LegalZoom, which has a text ad reading "Make a Living Will Today," began purchasing the keyword "Schiavo" on Monday, said Scott MacDonell, owner of MacDonell Media, LegalZoom's search marketing firm. MacDonell said he didn't know how many users who queried on "Schiavo" have so far clicked on the ad.
Likewise, CATgear.com's Dominic Catalano, who buys Google keywords through the AdWords program, said he added the word "Schiavo" to his list of keywords several weeks ago, and didn't know what kind of click-through rates he was receiving. Catalano said that Tuesday afternoon, Google informed him that his ad had been discontinued.
Google declined to comment on specific advetisers. But a spokesman said that ads can be discontinued if they don't generate sufficient click-through rates. Google's AdWords policy states: "Your ad text and keywords must directly relate to the content on the landing page for your ad." CATgear's landing page had offers for products such as "pro-life" t-shirts.
While LegalZoom and CATgear were among just a small handful of marketers to bid on the name Schiavo, the words "living will" have become much more competitive this week, said MacDonell.
LegalZoom has purchased the term "living will" for years, but traffic generated by searches on the phrase increased approximately tenfold in recent days, estimated MacDonell. "Every time there's a big news story, there's an increase in volume and increase in interest," he said. But, he added, prior spikes have paled in comparison to the increases of the last few days.
Research from Hitwise appears to back up MacDonell's claims. For the four weeks ending March 19, the search term "living will" was the 10th most popular search term that drove visits to legal Web sites--Hitwise's roster of 281 law-related sites such as law firms' sites, legal reference sites, and sites devoted to online services or advice. By contrast, for the week ending Feb. 4, "living will" was just the 24th most popular term driving visits to such Web sites.
What's more, in the week ending March 19, the volume of searches on "wills" increased by 236 percent, while the volume on "living wills" increased by 196 percent, compared to the week ending March 12, according to Hitwise. The volume of searches on "terri schiavo" also increased by 329 percent for the week ending March 19.
Fathom Online's Matt McMahon, executive vice president-corporate development, reported that the agency saw activity around the terms "wills" and "life support" on Tuesday.
The Schiavo-related keyword buys are just the latest example of marketers bidding on search terms that relate to current events, said Josh Stylman, managing partner of search engine marketing firm Reprise Media. For example, he said, the strategy, which he calls "opportunistic search marketing," was used during the last election--in which campaigns bought their candidates' names as keywords--and for the Super Bowl, in which television advertisers bought words relating to the football game. But, he said, only the "savvier marketers" have so far caught on to the technique.