When last we reported, John McCain had pretty much ceded social media to the already brilliant Obama strategy but instead had set up his own, quite effective search engine strategy to get to the undecided and independents – those most likely to use search to find out where the candidates stand. Many observers including this blog and Reprise Media Managing Partner Joshua Stylman publicly drew attention to this disparity in resource allocation.
It looks like the Obama campaign heard us.
Andaiye Taylor, Media Analyst at Reprise Media and a resident election specialist tells me that beginning two weekends ago the Obama campaign began to expand their keyword bids from generic Obama/Biden names with non-optimized landing pages to issues keywords and even Sarah Palin’s name – with the relevant landing pages to match.
Oddly this has coincided with a decline in McCain’s search engine presence which seems to have retreated back to focusing on his and Palin’s names. Talk about your reversals! It’s hard to say why McCain would pull back – it could simply be that his bids are lower than Obama’s and his landing pages are less relevant. In this scenario all Obama had to do was get on the field to immediately put a dent in what McCain was doing. This extends to placing ads against each other’s VP picks – Obama has also made what appears to be a canny strategic decision to let McCain’s name alone and concentrate on Palin – who’s still new on the scene and actually garners a significantly higher search volume, suggesting that some voters still want to know more about her. Conversely McCain’s clever ad linked to searches for Joe Biden was nowhere to be seen.
On issues, Obama has refrained from the most part from terms like “seven houses” or “13 cars” which may only attract partisans. Rather he has gone for “economic crisis” (which McCain used to have the only presence on – now it’s the other way around) and “debate.” Surprisingly McCain – who just a month ago was quite aggressive on issues – has nothing for “earmarks” despite making their use a central line of attack on Obama on Thursday night.
The fact that Obama too has failed to jump on “earmarks” as a way of turning that attack against his opponent amongst searchers (take a look at the sharp jump in searches above) still drives home the point that although Obama has rapidly turned the tables, neither candidate has made as thorough use of search engine marketing and strategy as they could have.
One of the key strengths of search advertising is the ability to quickly change up your campaign creative and landing page to capture the greatest number of targeted searchers. Neither candidate pivoted off their own, nor each other’s best moments in Friday’s debate. Give Obama credit for at least using “debate” as a keyword but why not “middle class taxes ” or “Kissinger?” Similarly McCain is nowhere on these.
So what advice would I give the two candidates on search marketing?
For McCain: What happened man? Don’t get all “mavericky” and fall victim to those who want you to funnel money back into TV spots – it may be the comfort zone for most political ad gurus but it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Or the healthy way to do it as your supporter Wilfred Brimley might say. Get back on the horse and start buying up those issues again and this time, try to be more consistent with relevant landing pages because you actually have some competition now.
For Obama: A solid (if late) start but now it’s time to really flex your moves – grab on to those hot topics while they are still relatively cheap (may I suggest “wall street crash” as a good one for tomorrow) and get moving.