Candidates Flip Flop (Search Strategies, That Is)
Leading up to their Sept. 26 debate, Democratic nominee Barack Obama ramped up search engine marketing efforts while Republican rival John McCain scaled back, marking a shift for both.
Search marketing firm SendTec found the Obama campaign capitalized on the Mississippi showdown with McCain by bidding on debate and issue-related keywords including "debate winner," "presidential debate," and "economic crisis." And ads and landing pages were designed to direct viewers to watch the debate.
McCain, by contrast, didn't try to build a similar search campaign around the debate. Most polls immediately following the debate gave the win to Obama while most commentators declared it a wash.
A prior SendTec study had shown McCain with the more aggressive approach to paid search, buying keywords tied to election issues and outbidding the Obama campaign on terms such as "Joe Biden."
The Obama campaign has otherwise been seen as far more Web savvy than McCain's in using social networks to attract millions of "friends" and supporters and raise hundreds of millions in online donations. Now it appears the Democratic candidate is focused on sharpening his paid search strategy as well.
"I think the Obama campaign realized that by not tapping into search results on issue-related terms, they were not reaching the undecided voter during the decision making process," said Janel Landis, senior director of search development and strategy at SendTec.
The latest SendTec report found that both candidates, however, had missed search marketing opportunities around the debate. Besides "economic crisis," neither bid on terms related to key issues including Iraq/Iran, war, bailout plan or Wall Street.
While McCain didn't bid on any keywords to announce his victory, he did buy a display an ad on WSJ.com declaring, "McCain Wins Debate!" But due to a data entry error, it appeared hours before it was announced that McCain would even participate.
Separate research released by eMarketer Tuesday suggested buying keywords tied to election issues is more important than ever. It cited Yahoo findings that search engines ranked first among voters online as the most influential media source for political information.
Voters are searching for terms such as "healthcare," "economy" or "war in Iraq," as well as seeking out information and interaction with the candidates and each other. Overall, 42% of U.S. adults say they turn to the Internet for political information and 83.5%, or 162 million people, will use search in 2008.