Search Focus: Getting the Message to Voters

Candidates who start with search engine marketing will have the advantage

In 1992, Bill Clinton said he owed his election to all the young voters. I remember being just out of college and tuning into MV, along with half of America, to watch the widely anticipated Rock the Vote event. It was the first time that a candidate had directly addressed my demographic. Whether he preferred boxers or briefs, by appearing on the only network that was exclusively for youth, he forged a real connection with the voters of my generation.

Fast-forward 15 years. Now, candidates will have to do much more than appear on one outlet to make a difference. They'll need to go online, through myriad channels, to really connect with the voters. The good news for them is, if they do it right, they can use the different channels to be far more influential than Bill Clinton could possibly have imagined in 1992. Candidates who start with search engine marketing and expand to other outlets will have the advantage.

Candidates who use search smartly will know what the voters are searching for. With a broad keyword list, they can identify which issues are of the greatest interest to the Internet searching population. The electorate will literally be telling the candidates what they want information about, on a scale unprecedented in American history.

Ad copy can be tested to determine which message the searching electorate responds to in association with the particular candidate. Candidates can also test messages on landing pages to see which ones drive searchers to take some action, such as reading more about the candidate, or making a donation, volunteering, or buying paraphernalia like a T-shirt or bumper sticker.

Further, candidates can segment their audience by district. Searchers in a hostile district might respond to different messaging. They could be taken to a landing page written and designed to sway a swing voter, or even an opposing voter. They could test which copy and design were most effective at swaying voters, and use that to inform the rest of their campaign. Analytics will also give candidates a good estimate of how they're doing overall, district by district. Demographic information such as age and gender will be available to candidates advertising on Microsoft's Windows Live search engine.

It will be crucially important to all candidates to have top-level SEM and SEO, not just to inform their messaging but also because the SERP for certain keywords is bound to contain mixed messages. Some will be supportive of the candidate, while others will be negative. It will be vital that candidates take up as much screen real estate as possible. Furthermore, as content changes, so will the SERP. This may necessitate constant review of ad copy and the position of the sponsored link.

Candidates shouldn't stop at search. Rather, they should use search to inform a broader display-advertising campaign. They could segment users based on where on the site they are going, make deals with the bigger networks, portals, and community sites and re-message to those segments when they're online. For example, a candidate could show a relevant message to all the people who visited the page on his site who discussed the abortion debate. It will be interesting to see if sites like MySpace segment their audience, and offer candidates the opportunity to target different segments. I think they should, as there is a fortune to be made there.

Candidates have a huge opportunity to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. It's not as easy as going on MV, but if it's done right, they'll please both their boxers and briefs-wearing contingents.

David Honig is vice president of media services at (

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