The Audacity of SEO

June 8, 2008


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Well now that we have survived a grueling 16 months of Primary Elections, its time to reflect on just how “ optimized” our candidates really were. Was Search Engine Optimization (SEO) a major factor in selecting the Democratic and Republican presumptive nominees and if so, how will it play out in the General Election?

Well, based on the early exit polls, it looks like the candidates who were the most search engine savvy, were the ones that squeaked in under the wire, with keywords to spare.

Compete, a search analytic metrics firm reported that Obama consistently beat Hillary Clinton 2 to 1 in Web traffic, 4 to 1 in Wikipedia article readers, and 10 to 1 based on the time viewers spent watching their videos on YouTube.

Compete also measured something it called “FaceTime,” which tracked the amount of time viewers spent with each candidate across several leading social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and LinkedIn. Obama trounced Clinton there as well, with a 78 to 21 percent share.

In May, a month prior to Barack Obama becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee; he must have been pretty confident of the outcome of his campaign, as he posted an Internet marketing position opening, which listed the job duration as “indefinite.” The recruitment ad was posted on the ClickZ’s network, and the Obama for America Campaign listed the position as full time, where only applicants with search engine marketing, SEO, display advertising, Flash animation, and Web video experience need apply.

Obama’s campaign has been Internet savvy from the get-go. While last century, the GM assembly plants in Flint, Michigan were a mandatory destination for presidential candidates, this election cycle, a new industry giant became the requisite campaign stop. And while Obama, McCain and Clinton all visited Google’s HDQ in Mountain View, California, Obama was the only candidate who actually spoke at the Googleplex, where he outlined a detailed 21st Century technology plan.

During Senator McCain’s tour of Google, he was wise enough not to refer to the company in Bush-speak as “the Google,” but nonetheless failed when quizzed by Eric E. Schmidt, Chairman & CEO about computer memory configuration. When asked: “How do you determine good ways of sorting one million 32-bit integers in two megabytes of RAM?” McCain pleaded ignorance. Six months later, when Senator Obama was faced with the same query, he replied in fluent tech-speak (“A bubble sort is the wrong way to go”) – for which his quip brought down the house!

Benefiting from sponsored links leading to landing pages, Clinton’s and McCain’s pages made immediate and targeted requests for donations. In fact, it was hard to get away from Clinton’s extended hand. Navigating away from one donation prompt only led to yet another plea to help put her fundraising deficit back in the black!

When compared to all the rest, Obama’s was the first Internet-based campaign to win mainstream success. His online donor base consisted of about 1.5 million, one third of which also belonged to his social network site His campaign also included opt-in mobile marketing, video content, a blog, an e-commerce site for Obama merchandise, and accounts with 16 other social networks (compared to Hillary’s 6 social networks).

Obama’s campaign also designed a number of innovations not used by his competitors. His website used wikis — online collaborative software — to coordinate and churn out precinct captains in both California and Texas. It created a counter-viral e-mail campaign to combat the anonymous e-mail smears that questioned his religious faith and patriotism. It set up policy pages that solicited ideas from supporters, and at one point, the campaign petition for letters from supporters over the Internet to lobby the undecided Super Delegates.

In 1963 John F. Kennedy was considered by some to be the first President elected through the power of television, due to his youthful good looks being in marked contrast to his perspiring opponent, Mr. Richard M. Nixon. In 2008 Barack Obama may become the first President elected in part through the power of search marketing.

Interestingly, according to a report from iCrossing, a digital marketing company, John McCain has spent more than Obama and Clinton on paid candidate-related and issues-related search engine keyword marketing, yet Obama still leads in overall searches conducted.  Now that the contours of the general election campaign are clear at hand, it will be interesting to see if Obama starts to shift more resources towards organic search, and if McCain changes up his approach to more closely resemble Obama’s.

So it looks like SEO is driving the political bus of the 21st Century and its keywords all the way to the finish line!