How Search Marketing Impacts the Presidential Election
With the presidential election campaigns in the homestretch, the two parties are making one last push to get their messages out to the voting public. And this year, more than any previous election, they're using the Internet to do it. In particular, they're using search engine marketing.
In a session at the Search Marketing Expo East conference held in New York Oct. 6-8, a panel of political search experts, both Democrat and Republican, squared off in a lively discussion of the various roles SEM and the Internet are playing in this year's presidential election.
Although the use of the Internet as a campaign tool is growing, it still plays a relatively minor role in this year's presidential election. In the 2004 presidential election, only 0.8 percent of the combined marketing budgets were spent online, roughly $40 million. This year, the campaigns are looking to double or triple that spend, said Peter Greenberger, team manager, elections and issue advocacy for Google.
The ability of political campaigns to geo-target ads with specific search and display advertising for a particular region is the most efficient way to spend your campaign dollars online, Greenberger said. This logic also applies to keyword searches for a particular state or region. For example, if you ran a keyword search for "McCain" in New Jersey, you'd see a targeted ad about McCain protecting the Jersey shore, said Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist for the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign.
Search marketing in an election is about pure awareness, said Mindy Finn, partner at the media consulting firm Engage and former director of e-strategy for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The conversion metrics to track include the amount of traffic driven to the site, donations, the number of volunteers and the amount of traffic driven to video ads, among others.
Candidates and political campaigns are hesitant to invest more of their marketing budgets online because the effectiveness of the ads is hard to measure, says Diane Rinaldo, political advertising director at Yahoo. "Every dollar is so important, people want to know how their money is driving votes." Add that to the fact that television advertising historically dominates political marketing budgets, and the Internet is still somewhat of an unknown quantity.
"Education is still very low [for the Internet]," added Finn. "People don't want to spend money on what they don't know."
The value of blogs
One online tool political campaigns have taken advantage of is blogs. The interactive forums provide a venue for candidates to disseminate information and serve as a gathering place for supporters. For example, Justine Lam, former e-campaign director, Ron Paul 2008, Ron Paul for President, said blogs can be a useful tool for campaign staff to learn what supporters feel could be done better in the campaign.
But be careful, cautioned Tracy Russo, president of online communications and strategy firm Russo Strategies and former chief blogger and deputy director of online communications for John Edwards for President. "You need to consistently have fresh content on your blog. Don't recycle press releases or pictures of the candidate shaking another hand. It's boring."
Is your heart into it?
When it comes to politics, winning is the only goal. Search marketing is just a means to an end. But it's a 24/7 job. "You have to have a passion for it; you can't fake it," said Frenchman. Why else would you be up at 3 a.m. working if you didn't want to be doing it, he remarked. "It's around the clock; it doesn't shut off."