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The Search-Driven Election

By - February 13, 2007

Interesting post on who’s buying keywords this early:

To my surprise, only five of the 17 presumed candidates have purchased keywords on search engines. And if you take a closer look, it’s the Republicans who are doing a significantly better job of using search to communicate with the electorate.

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13 thoughts on “The Search-Driven Election

  1. BODY GUARDS says:

    ///’Republicans are purchasing the names of their opponents (i.e. Romney purchased the keyword “John McCain”) whereas none of the Democrats seem to be cross-pollinating.’

    This strategy appears to border on poor ethics. Wonder how the average surfer is reacting to this tactic?

  2. It’s just as interesting question why the search engines are failing to show users the most relevant site for their query on the top.

    In the example used in the article, people searching for “John McCain” today are dramatically more likely to be intersted in his Presidential campaign than his statement on the floor of the Senate regarding General Casey’s Nomination for Chief of Staff of the United States Army (to give the top story on the site that’s currently rannked #1 for his name).

    Yet, the campaign site is only ranked #5 on Google, #5 on Yahoo, #4 on live.com, and doesn’t even show on the first SERP on ask.com.

    Microsoft wins this little contest, but just barely, and not convincingly.

  3. SorenG says:

    “Four Republicans (Romney, McCain, Giuliani, and Tancredo) are using search to reach voters compared to two Democrats (Vilsack and Richardson).”

    I do a search for Barack Obama and see a sponsored title “Who is Barack Obama?” that leads me to barackobama.com. Seems like he is using search to me, but his site comes up first anyway so it really does not seem to matter as much.

  4. Mark says:

    I think what’s most interesting about this, or scary, is that the fat cats are waking up and seeing the power of the internet / search. In days gone by, they blew off the internet, simply wasn’t worth their effort, or so they thought.

    God help us when all those negative ad campaigns get frontpage on Slathdot of Digg.

  5. JG says:

    I have the same question as Jakob Nielsen. Why should a presidential candidate have to buy ads under his own name, at all? If Google is showing the candidate ranked first, why buy an ad? And if Google is not showing the candidate ranked first, the problem lies not with the advertiser, but with Google’s ranking algorithm. Google’s serp relevance needs improving, because bad serps are forcing candidates to buy ads for their own names.

    I guess one point of buying ads would be to try and shift opinions and perceptions, i.e. buying your opponents name to lead people away.

    But if that is the usage scenario of presidential race advertising, that flies in the face of everything Google ads are supposed to be. Google ads are supposed to be “relevant”, not “anti-relevant”. Seeing an ad for garden hoses when searching for Barack Obama would be an example of non-relevant advertising. Seeing an ad for Hillary Clinton when searching for Barack Obama would be an example of anti-relevant advertising.

    And supposedly Google only shows relevant ads, not non-relevant or anti-relevant.

    So I am at a loss of understanding as to how a presidential candidate is supposed to actually use Adwords, if Google is working as it should, and only showing relevant information.

  6. nmw says:

    why “search driven”?

  7. In regards to pay per click ethics issues for political campaigns, you bring up a great question, BODYGUARDS. For me, I think it comes down to intent.

    Let’s imagine a campaign pitting Candidate A against Candidate B (I want to stay away from real politicians and don’t want to try to outdo the South Park episode or current PSA radio ads). Candidate A is very well known and most people know his public stances. Candidate B is not as well known and needs to get her name out there.

    Is it wrong that if someone’s searches for “Candidate A”, Candidate B puts up an ad inviting someone to learn more about what she stands for and how she differentiates herself from Candidate A? To me, no.

    Instead, imagine she puts up an attack ad for when people search for “Candidate A” telling voters that he kills blind sloth orphans. That’s a little more questionable on my moral scale, although it doesn’t seem too much different than the negative campaigning that occurs each election year.

    Anyway, it’s about time the politicians started embracing the internet to get their message out.

  8. JG says:

    Is it wrong that if someone’s searches for “Candidate A”, Candidate B puts up an ad inviting someone to learn more about what she stands for and how she differentiates herself from Candidate A? To me, no.

    Wherher it is “wrong” is the wrong question. Google says that they are only showing ads that are “relevant”. So the question should instead be, is Candidate B relevant, when someone is searching for Candidate A?

    When someone searches for “Toyota”, would a Honda ad be relevant? When someone searches for “Montana” would an ad for Kentucky be relevant?

    Personally, I think the answer is no. If I say Toyota, I mean Toyota. If I say Montana, I mean Montana. If I say Candidate A, I mean Candidate A.

    Anything else is not relevant, and Google should not be showing it. Whether it is right or wrong to show such ads, it is not relevant, and that is the driving engine behind what Google does. If Google wants to change its PR, change its story, and say that the ads it shows are no longer relevant, then that’s fine. It would be perfectly “right” for Google to make this public change. But until it does this, showing those non-relevant ads go against what Google stands for.

    Thoughts?

  9. nmw says:

    Yea — that’s why I think it’s not “search driven”.

    Maybe “pseudo search driven”? (though “non-relevant” is also good — or how about “wannabe relevant driven”?)

  10. JG says:

    nmw: Yes, I like “wannabe relevant driven”. To expand upon that, how about “want to purposely change your, the searcher’s mind, about what you think is relevant to what we think you should think is relevant driven”

    There is nothing “wrong”, in general, with that sort of advertising. In fact, most of advertising, throughout most of history, is based on trying to change your, the viewer’s mind.

    But Google is supposed to be different. Google has said for years, and we have tolerated (to varying degrees :-) their ads for years, because the ads were supposedly relevant, not wannabe relevant

    If we have now switched into a mode where, instead of relevance, Google is showing us ads that are “wannabe relevant”, this needs to be publically, vocally announced and made clear to all Google’s users. Because this is a significant departure from all the PR over the years that got us to psychologically accept advertising on Google in the first place, and feel good about it.

  11. nmw says:

    I’m not even sure the ads were *supposed* to be relevant in the first place. I think it was sometime last year that Google started this “adwords police” thing. I think you could probably still buy the moon via adwords — maybe that’s a “bug” or something like that. I’m really happy it’s all automated, otherwise who knows? — maybe George Bush might *dictate* what Google oughta be calling relevant or something like that. Long live “Wisdom of the whatever”.

    :) nmw

  12. JG says:

    Oh, of course ads were supposd to be relevant in the first place. That was their whole revolutionary breakthrough. Whereas banner ads were just eyeballs-per-million or whatever the popular metric is, Google ads were (are) supposed to be relevant to the searcher.

    Check out this Google page, explaining it all:

    http://www.google.com/ads/indepth.html

    Here is a quote from that Google page:
    Bringing people, information, and ideas together is precisely what Google does best. Google presents relevant information to search users who ask for it. Some of that information is advertising – but advertising that’s fundamental to the overall search experience, advertising that the user wants to see. When you combine relevant search results with relevant advertising, the sum is a superior search experience.

    Note, in particular, one line: “advertising that the user wants to see”. When I am searching for Montana, do I want to see ads for Kentucky? No. When I am searching for Candidate A, do I want to see ads for Candidate B? Similarly, no.

    I agree with you that we really don’t want George Bush regulating the adwords market. And Google has every right to sell and show whatever ads it wants to, in whatever context it wants to, at whatever size it wants to, in whatever form, etc. My objection is just with them calling such ads “relevant”. I find that their usage of this particular term, in this way, is odious.

    I would be much happier if they were more straightforward and called Google Adwords like they are: targetted. The keyword-based nature of the search means that, as an advertiser, you can target your ad to someone doing that search. But “targeted” is not the same as “relevant”. Candidate B can target people searching for Candidate A. But that does not mean Candidate B is relevant to someone searching for Candidate A.

    Google might counter, and claim, “well, a lot of people click the Candidate B advertisement, after having searched for Candidate A. Therefore, it must be a ‘relevant’ ad, right? Well, again, no. That still does not mean that the ad is relevant. It just means that the ad is well-targetted. As an analogy: You can try and sell beer and liquor an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and you can betcha that there will be a lot of people there who desire to “click” on your product. But consuming alcohol isn’t really “relevant” to the purpose of the meeting. It is just that the alcohol is rather well-targetted to that particular demographic.

    I just wish Google would lose the pretense. (I wonder what the world would look like if Google adopted the motto “Don’t Be Pretentious” instead of “Don’t be Evil” ;-) The ads really are not relevant. They may be targetted, but they are not relevant.

  13. nmw says:

    Very good point — I had never read that. The way I see it, perhaps Google *thinks* those ads are relevant (to “earning money” ;)

    I never thought they had to be relevant. I thought they just took over overture’s PPC model (with the added whistle that clicks were supposed to happen for the ad to show up). Well, I guess they happened — but like you say: that has *nothing* to do with relevance.

    It will be intersting to watch this unravel — and maybe getting some politicians caught up in the mix will make the evening news more entertaining….

    ;) nmw