UPDATE: In terms of visibility, McCain came out ahead, showing up prominently in searches for several issue-based terms.
Senator John McCain's presidential campaign spent less than half what fellow candidate Senator John Edwards did on issue-based search ads in May, but McCain got far more bang for his buck. That's according to a new report from search firm iCrossing, based on data from AdGooroo and Google AdWords, and a survey from Opinion Research.
iCrossing estimates Democratic presidential hopeful Edwards' campaign spent 64 percent of all issue-based paid search spending in May, according to its "How America Searches: Election ‘08" study. In contrast, Republican Senator McCain's camp accounted for an estimated 29 percent of issue-based paid search ad spending in May.
However in terms of visibility, McCain came out ahead, appearing prominently in searches for "stem cell research;" "pro-life;" "campaign finance," "electoral reform;" "ethics reform;" "government accountability;" "government reform;" "lobbyist;" "special interests;" "tort reform;" "DNC" and "RNC." Edwards' adswere highly visible only in results for searches on "Iraq" and "war in Iraq."
"McCain is taking a very sophisticated approach to Google search engine marketing," said Michael Bassik, vice president of interactive marketing at political consulting firm MSHC Partners. At this point, said Bassik, most candidates "are still really focusing on using search to solicit e-mail addresses and contributions." Therefore, many care only about targeting ads to keywords associated with issues that generate the most action for the least amount of money.
Spending from Republican candidate Mitt Romney comprised a small slice of the pie: 3 percent, according to the report. It shows ads for the former Massachusetts governor were relatively prominent in results for "ethics;" "family values;" "war in Iraq;" and "social conservative." The study finds ads for Senator Barack Obama, whose campaign accounted for 4 percent of spending, appeared in searches for "Iraq" and "war in Iraq."
It appears as though campaigns for Republicans Rudy Giuliani and renegade Congressman Ron Paul spent negligible amounts on search. They still appeared in paid results on issue-based searches. Giuliani showed up in searches on "flat tax;" and Paul for "war in Iraq" queries.
According to the report, 89 percent of voters using search engines to find election information have conducted searches on a relevant issue. "Potential voters are really interested in the issues and where the candidates stand on the issues," said Noah Elkin, VP of corporate strategy for iCrossing. Candidate campaigns should employ search ads to readily connect candidates to the issues when people search on them, he continued.
"Hopefully, candidates will realize how valuable search marketing can be," said Bassik, adding, "It delivers information directly to a motivated voter actively searching for information on a candidate."
To determine its findings, iCrossing analyzed 126 election-related issue keywords along with candidates' site URLs to determine which campaigners had a search presence. The company also factored in rank and coverage data from search marketing research firm AdGooroo and Google AdWords data on keyword costs.
In addition to estimating search ad spending and visibility, Opinion Research Corporation surveyed over 1,000 study participants about their search habits when it comes to election-related information. Some who used search engines to gather election info conducted searches on the candidates themselves.
Most searches followed party lines. Democratic hopeful Senator Barack Obama was the most-searched candidate of all, prompting searches by over 50 percent of all people using search engines for election information, and 60 percent of Democrats in that group. Forty percent of all election searchers sought for information on Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, and about 57 percent of Democrats in that segment did.
Thirty-seven percent of all search engine users searched for ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, while 51 percent of Republicans in that segment searched for the Republican candidate. About 23 percent of all searched for McCain, and 28 percent of Republicans searched on the Senator's name.
Often, more Independents searched for lesser-known candidates or potential candidates than did members of those candidates' own poitical parties. Potential right-leaning candidate Newt Gingrich was sought by 18 percent of Independents, and just 10 percent of Republicans. Republican candidate Mike Huckabee drew searches from less than 5 percent of Republicans compared to 12 percent of Independents. Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich was searched on by just 5 percent of Democrats, but drew searches by 14 percent of Independents.
"It makes sense," said Bassik. "These are candidates on the fringes who do not fit the mold of a typical voter."
UPDATE: This story originally incorrectly reported spending from Republican candidate Mitt Romney comprised 35 percent of all issue-based paid search spending in May. That number was actually 3 percent.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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