The immense power of search engines to reach people and influence behavior based on information discovery intentions is beyond debate. Still, with the 2008 Presidential Election little more than one year away the ability to quickly find relevant information on the candidate’s views and positions from the search engines, namely Google, is extremely poor.
The Emerging Search Electorate
The current situation on Google is so bad that I feel sorry for us as an electorate.
The role of search engines in helping people form decisions has increased tremendously since the last Presidential Election. With this in mind, it is incredibly surprising search is not being used more effectively by the candidates in reaching out to voters. Finding relevant information about candidates directly from the search engine results page (SERP) is actually quite difficult.
These stats on news, information gathering and search from <a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_News.and.Broadband.pdf
“>PEW highlight the disconnect between voter behavior and the current media strategy of most candidates:
• 39% of all Internet users go to sites like Yahoo or Google for news; the figure is 44% for broadband users
• The under 36 Demographic is much more likely to ONLY get their news information online.
• Search is the primary news and information source for the under 36 Demo
• 40% of broadband Internet users ages 36 through 50 get news online daily
• 43% of broadband Internet users over age 50, get news online daily
Connecting with the Voters: The Search Engine Results
The natural search results are fairly consistent across the candidates. The candidate’s sites, Wikipedia and news sites dominate the top-ranked links on name queries. Google News appears above the fold though usually not on the top results. For more detailed queries on policy positions, platforms and ideas the candidates own sites are trumped by news sites, .org sites and bloggers. It seems very important for candidates to keep a very close eye on the Wikipedia.
In this digital election the most important and most targeted opportunity to reach voters exists in the same places it does in all other media. Paid advertising.
The following performance overview measures the strategy and execution of paid search campaigns of the major candidates at this point of time. The results show a miserable failure.
2008 Presidential Election SEM Performance Scorecard
One glaring error in strategy that I need to emphasize. Buying the keywords, whether they are clicked on or not, provides an understanding of the issues and behaviors effecting voters that makes a polling service look like grade school questioning. This impression data is a goldmine of information based on action, not polling, that politicians should be leveraging. After the debate, what candidate did voters search on most? After Sunday morning’s papers and talk shows, what issues were searched on most? In key geographic areas, what is the interest level in Iraq vs. Immigration?
In fact, the local level is where the real gold can be mined. Only Barack Obama seems to be doing local ad buys (in New York City). I guess this is asking too much strategically. Most candidates are not even measuring the volume of search queries on their own name!
Mitt Romney stands head and shoulders above all others in search. Compete shows him winning the traffic contest in his party as well. You have to think his SEM efforts are playing a major role.
Beyond Search Basics to Targeting
If candidates are not even doing the SEM basics yet how can we expect they will leverage the more targeted opportunities to connect with voters through interest, behavioral and content targeting and testing technology. Only Romney had targeted landing pages and most every site I looked at was woefully poor in conversion optimization. Others agree. With online contributions 15-30% of total fundraising what candidate wouldn’t want even a 10% bump in donations through some site targeting and testing?
With all the press coverage about how digitally connected this year’s Presidential Candidates are to the electorate the search engine landscape proves this is just more doubletalk from big media. Having a YouTube debate does not make this a digital election. The candidates can do better. The voters deserve it. In fact I just may place my vote based on how well the candidates deliver relevance to me. I have a feeling I’m not alone.