During the pre-primary season I took a look at how the candidates were doing with SEM. The results were not pretty. Today, more than a year later, after both party conventions are over and the race is on I decided to revisit the SEM landscape of the Presidential election. Once again the results surprised me.
I conducted a heuristic evaluation using the scenario of a person looking for information on the energy plans of both candidates – arguably one of the most important issues in the election.
My first query on Google was in the manner most people search, a generic query. I did a search for “McCain.” There were two ads present. Both pro-McCain. One for McCain’s main site and one for a McCain-Palin site.Note: All screen images can be enlarged by clicking on them.
After clicking the top sponsored link I went to the landing page below. The video auto rolls and the page itself presents four navigation options in the right margin with clear calls to action. Not a bad page though it would benefit by having a clear headline.
I was able to clearly find and click the “learn more” button and then on the next page the global navigation for “Issues” had American Energy as the first option. Mission accomplished.
My next query was a generic one for “Obama.” There were four ads here with one being anti-Obama. The top sponsored ad from Obama’s site had clear messaging and a strong call to action.
The landing proved much more difficult. In fact, I was unable to complete my goal on the landing page.
I could not enter the Obama site without first giving personal information (email & zip code). There is no option to find out Obama’s positions, watch his videos, donate – nothing can be done without first giving out information.
This breaks two of the cardinal rules of landing page optimization. Never ask for personal information unless 1) the person is explicitly assured they will get something of value in return and 2) they understand why you are asking for the information and what you are going to use it for. Think of it as a mini-contract you make with your audience. Obama’s landing page breaks these rules.
Next, as many people are want to do, I proceeded to refine my queries. When we look at more detailed queries McCain’s lead in this race grows.
A search for “McCain energy plan” delivers an ad targeted to the keywords “mccain energy plan.”
Clicking this ad drops us on the most relevant landing page on his site – his plans for energy. Well done.
A search for “Obama energy plan” should be a cause for concern for the Obama camp. My query had a targeted McCain ad (that again goes to that relevant landing page) and a local ad for Obama’s official site that goes to his homepage/landing page roadblock.
After these scenarios I decided to put on my optimizer hat (yes I have one) and dig a little deeper. I found a couple of other interesting pieces of optimization information.
Mccain is taking the query parameter from Google, &t= (and term equals)”mccain” and using it segment data. Segmenting on the keyword level is the best way to optimize and deliver relevance from search. They also create a session ID and segment from channel & source (Google).
Obama’s team is only collecting segment information on the channel level “SEM” and source (Google). Not much useful information here to deliver relevance.
Lastly, I decided to keep my cookies and do a follow up generic search and site visit to see if the experienced changes at all on either site. A second “mccain” query took me to a different page their “home page” rather than landing. This could be rule based on the cookie or testing however follow-on queries suggested this was a rule.
A second “Obama” query and landing brought me back to his roadblock page again.
Doing this research gave me an incredible wake-up call as to the power of Google as a media outlet to influence the distribution of information on the candidates. Still, it’s up to the candidates marketing teams to leverage this power. Clearly, McCain’s is (surprisingly) doing a much better job here.
It also seems so important for the candidates to optimize their SEM efforts and use advanced tools for landing page testing (they’re not) and content targeting (they’re not). What an incredible lost opportunity. With all the money being spent on 30-second ads it’s a black eye to Internet marketing and a colossal failure of their strategists to better understand the electorate using data to provide better experiences online.
My vote is that online targeting and optimization would translate to more votes offline.