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Searching for “Hilary”


Although I am a registered Republican, I am first and foremost a capitalist. So much of the last ten weeks of my life has been developing and managing an online outreach campaign on behalf of one of the Democratic presidential candidates.

While I have learned a lot about the internal divides within the Democratic Party – and at times wondered how we Republicans ever lose elections to these people – I have also gotten an insight into the American voter on a state-by-state basis. I’ve come to one conclusion: a good number of Americans still don’t know who Hillary Clinton is.

In purchasing Google Adwords, I have gotten a behind-the-scenes look at what people are searching for, and the numbers are staggering. In Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, more than two-thousand people per day misspelled Hillary Clinton’s name; In Indiana and North Carolina, one out of six searches for Hillary Clinton have just one “L” in her first name. Another five percent are looking for Hillary Rodman Clinton, who apparently served eight years First Lady of the NBA Bad Boys Club.

It’s not as if Hillary Rodham Clinton weren’t First Lady of the United States for eight years, or that her first name were not printed on her campaign materials – the signs and placards at all her events let you know which Clinton is running: Hillary! Yet people who own computers and are researching the candidates still don’t seem to know her yet.

Unfortunately for those people who do not yet know who Hillary Clinton is, Googling her isn’t going to tell you much. The first page of results yields her official campaign website, her Senate website, the White House website and her MySpace profile, all of which will tell you what she wants you to hear. The rest of the links – CNN, Washington Post and the New York Times, for example – only give information on the candidate from a media-filtered perspective. The only “independent” source is Wikipedia, and I imagine the Kossacks will get to that page at some point.

Perhaps more interesting from my perspective is who advertises to the Googling masses for each candidate. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made a point of “owning” their search pages. Search for either candidate and their own website is the sponsored link that returns – at a cost of somewhere near $3 each time someone clicks on the link, a fortune in click-through ad rates. Go try it and come back, while the folks in Mountain View ring the cash register. Somewhere there is GOP experiment that might be called “Spend Obama’s Money Experiment” waiting to happen.

When I Google Clinton, an ad for Time Magazine shows up, and when I Google Obama, I get the Chicago Tribune, along with an ad saying Obama gets an “A+” on Middle Class Issues, but when I click on it, he really has an 80% rating, with 50% absences. That website must be grading on a curve!

The role of the Internet in politics continues to evolve. While the blogs were all the rage back in the 2004 campaign, segmentation and specialization in readership and editorial has made them little more than an echo-chamber for preaching to the choir.

With contextual advertising – buying ad depending on what the reader has called up on the page – it is possible to do some very elegant micro-targeting. Look up the MySpace profile of a veteran of the Marine Corps, as I did a few weeks back, and see an ad from John McCain, targeted directly towards service members and vets. But this is also a risky strategy because such ads could also end up on less-than desirable websites using similar keywords – “service” and “men” in their contexts. For my editor’s sake I won’t link to them here, you will have to use your imagination.

With search marketing, there is the prospect of reaching persuadable voters, who for whatever reasons are going online to look for information about the candidates. And right now, a well placed search-marketing ad campaign can be done efficiently if targeted to the right search terms and geography.

But as more political consultants and interest groups realize that they, too, can end up on Hillary Clinton’s search results – and get a decent click-through rate – it may be that the real winner in this primary and future elections is neither Clinton nor Obama. It’s Google.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:27 AM | Permalink

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