Candidates' SEO and Search Marketing

McCain and Obama’s online marketing battle reveals the two camps’ approach to their competition- who more effectively uses stealth.

Obama’s camp has used the internet successfully to raise money, activate volunteers and keep in constant contact with his supporters. As an Obama supporter, I have experienced this first hand, particularly since I signed up to receive text messages. I was notified of his running mate before it hit the media outlets.

McCain has been more successful at search advertising associated with top issues. In particular, his campaign has been aggressive at buying up key words that would be entered by Obama supporters and diverting the traffic. For instance, last night, we went looking for the DNC’s website to watch the convention speeches. The first link from the results actually went to a Republican site. Well done! According to a WSJ article, as of last Wednesday, a search for “Joe Biden” returned a link labeled, “Joe Biden on Obama” that links to McCain’s site.

Obama has better organic or non-paid results when his name is typed in, suggesting that his team has properly optimized its pages for search, called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In fact, according to Nielson Online, the 3.3 million unique visitors to Sen. Obama’s Web site in July was more than double the 1.6 million visitors to Sen. McCain’s site.

Regardless of which candidate you support, it is a mixed blessing that both camps are effectively using the internet to get their message out in front of voters. While it is encouraging that online marketing has played a more significant role than it did in 2004, reflecting a recognition of the internet’s importance beyond campaign donations, I still find it discouraging on another level. I had innocently hoped that this most populist medium would remain above the negative attack ad culture that misleads while misinforming. Unfortunately, as with all things, once it is clear how to manipulate results, the gloves come off.


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