The Old, Ignorant Politician’s Guide to Search Marketing for Your Election Campaign
Most politicians are old; it's basically a job requirement. It makes sense. The accruement of knowledge takes time and learning what to do with it takes practice. Not many politicians would be classed as outright "ignorant", but I'm afraid that if you can't tell me, generally, the difference between Facebook and Google, you've got some modern learning to do. And let's face it, we can't learn ourselves any younger, so it's all politicians really have. The fact is the Internet, search engines, keywords, and link graphs are all areas of knowledge that politicians, or at least their right-hand-peeps, need to get their over-educated heads around, right about now.
To their credit, our would-be leaders are beginning to understand (at least the power of) social media, but are failing to comprehend how social media really intersects with search engines, keywords, the link graph, and the simple fact that searchers are actively seeking information. That's a lot to learn, but a first step towards a functional understanding of our strange little online world might be achieved via our easy to comprehend friend, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing. It's a quick and simple way to get your political paws on real-life search traffic, so you can see the power of turning the tables — of appealing to people looking for information about issues, instead of just broadcasting information about issues out to as many people as possible, in any direction they might be looking. Who do you think is more likely to vote? So why am I talking about electioneering at a time when nobody's doing it? Last year, towards the latter end of dual American and Canadian federal election races, I wrote a post about the state of PPC advertising use by the candidates on both sides of the border "I didn't have a method of data collection or anything statistically significant, I just tried searching for terms at Google (via the "view your ads in different places" geo-targeting feature in Google Adwords), and I had a lot of trouble finding relevant political ads for relevant key-phrases. This year I'd like to be a little more proactive — Canada (yes, it's a weird place) might have another federal election as early as the next few months (sigh), and setting up online campaigns is something you want to start early in the election cycle and evolve, not start late. So I'd like to outline the basics of what someone running for an elected position in North American (or, you know, anywhere) should consider in terms of online campaign marketing. I don't mean from the community building, online campaigning, get people talking perspective, but from the search perspective — where search engine optimization (SEO) and PPC advertising allow you to get your (in this case political) message in front of people who might actually be interested in it, because they're searching for it. Understanding this difference is essential: Search is the only medium where you're answering questions posed by people who are actively seeking an answer, whereas grassroots marketing is simply asking people who already know you to spam people they know with your message, and broadcast marketing is just plain old traditional spam, pushing messages towards people who didn't request them. Who is more likely to be a fence sitter in decision mode? The complexities of setting up a full political Social+SEO campaign are beyond the scope of this lill'ole article (if you happen to be someone who actually is interested in those complexities, ahem, shameless plug, my first name at g-mail pls), instead let's look at the essential paid search campaign. PPC is the fastest (legitimate) way to send genuine search traffic to pages which present your message in exactly the way you want it presented — viral social-media messages, which history has now proven should be part of your campaign also, do not allow you to control the content being presented nearly as comprehensively, because they require an element of sensationalism (or some other obfuscation, angle or opinion) in order to get passed around. PPC is still horrifically underutilized as a medium for political advertising. According to Rimm-Kaufman less than half (only 44%!) of the 2008 US presidential contenders used paid search at all. They also found that the methodologies used in political PPC campaigns are simply not as sophisticated as in private enterprise. Ad copy, landing page testing and conversion tracking were not common. In a meager attempt to begin a slow remedy of this situation, I offer some very general steps towards setting up a not-ridiculously-pathetic political PPC campaign. I'm not here to teach you Adwords or the other PPC systems, but just to give some basic "here's what you have to do or get done" information.
Step 1) Map Your Issues
Get a list of every single issue, positive and negative, that may be a factor in the election race. Put it down on paper. I know you still like paper, you're old. Give this list to someone who is good at keyword mining (get an SEO to train a marketing-savvy campaign staffer) — a decent common-denominator search keyword research tool is Google's own Adwords tool. Keep in mind though that this tool is build to work within the world of Adwords, which requires some understanding in order to interpret the numbers presented for all phrase, exact, and broad-match options. If there are some issues that have strong geographical associations, make a note of the places and the association so that you can build a different advertising message for different regions. Do this even if that association simply means one area tends to have one opinion, and a second, another - one fish two fish, red fish blue fish.
Step Umm) Not Really a Step At All
This is just a little aside about what I like to call "searcher intent". For each of the phrases that will be returned to you by your keyword searching slave, umm, volunteer, you have to make an intelligent inference about what that searcher might be looking for, and what you might want to present them. This, in many cases, will be intuitively obvious, but doing the work of examining the searcher intent of your phrases, and ensuring you appeal to that intent in your ad-copy (for better ad click through rate) and on your ad's landing page (for better 'conversion potential'), is something that I simply haven't seen done yet for a political campaign. This is the element of craftsmanship that separates a good, effective paid search campaign from a useless one.
Step 2) Group Your Keywords
If you're the keyword researcher, at first just worry about producing as exhaustive a set of lists for as many of the phrases as you can (lots of worksheets in an excel workbook). After this you can then worry about doing some logical (or keyword based) groupings of phrases for your ad-groups. It might be wise to group your keywords based on searcher-intent where it applies, this way you can likely appeal to a large portion of the keywords in that group with specific effective landing page copy — in general just build as many small tightly-focused ad-groups as is technically possible. Do not forget to comprehensively cover your own name and people within your party. Online reputation management in a political campaign necessitates proactive self-referential ads. Even if the keyword research tool doesn't show people searching for specific issues yet, but you predict them to, bid now, and bid on issues in conjunction with your name and party name. People want to know where you and your party stand on specific issues — don't let someone else tell them. Also consider building a strategy for bidding on opponent names, as McCain did in the last race. You'll want to get some specific advice on match-type choices, all I can say in general is, if you do a lot of indiscriminate broad-matching you'll lose some of the value that comes from the specificity of being able to infer searcher intent. Don't ignore broad match, just use it strategically. Now go back to your original list that contains information about opinions in different places, and where appropriate, make a note of which groups are going to require ads and landing pages to be geo-targeted. Geo-targeting your campaign means people searching from one area can be shown one ad, while those searching from another can be shown a different ad (reading that sentence should have made any politician smile).
Step 3) Write Your Ads
So ad-groups are just our logical groupings of keywords mentioned above. When those keywords are searched for at Google, an ad has to show, and it has to point somewhere. This is what campaign staff are for — get your minions to write hundreds of those juicy little character-limited ads (give them the character limits for Adwords and whichever other platform you'll be advertising on, as the requirements might be slightly different, and breaking up the ads words appropriately is most certainly minion work). Hey, ad writers, you're going for high click-through-rates for your ads based on the keywords that will trigger them — this is a political campaign, don't be afraid to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Adwords is a democratic system, ads that make Google more money (get clicked more) will be shown more. Just make sure there are a few variations for Google to choose from in each ad-group. This is your first line of offence in appealing to searcher intent, so be sure that the ad-copy-writer is writing based on the keywords that will be triggering the ad, and that they understand the essential concepts. If you've incorporated geo-targeting into your campaign, be sure that the writer understands where the ads are going to be triggered from, and what you want to say to that specific region.
Step 4) Write Your Landing Pages
This is where you have carte blanche to completely screw up your efforts if you wish. One major technical caveat, your landing pages have to match up very well with the keywords in the search that got the visitor there. If you fail to match keywords to content, you'll likely be penalized by Google or other PPC providers for not being relevant enough, and you'll be charged more money for the same service. Read up on "Quality Score" to learn more. This doesn't mean stuff every single keyword variation into your landing page, but be sure to include your core keywords from the ad-group. The implication of this caveat is that you need to be relevant in order to be in a position to influence the person who clicked on your ad. Once you've worked out a process of creating landing pages for each ad-group that cover the core keywords in their copy, you have the opportunity to tailor that copy so that it appeals to the searcher intent, and your ad-copy. Notice I didn't say tailor the copy so that it displays the same message as your print and television advertising, tailor it to the searcher intent of the search phrase, and any modification of that intent that your ad might provide. If you've bid on too many phrases and can't create content for each keyword, back up and try to extrapolate the dominant searcher intent in that ad-group. Again take geo-targeting into account.
Step 5) Launch & Pay Attention
Paid search in conjunction with a good web analytics program like Google Analytics allow for a lot of insight into the effectiveness of your campaign. There may be no traditional "conversion" metric to focus on or judge your visitors on (if you have a contact form, for instance, and it is not the ultimate goal for all visitors, it should not be used as a measure of success), and so you should be focussing on engagement metrics. Engagement metrics involve things like time on site, and bounce rate (a complex one if you present a lot of information and no call to change pages on your landing page). You should also be sure to enable some advanced functionality in Google Analytics so that you can see the full search term entered by people arriving via a broad-match in your PPC campaign. Once you have full search term access you can evaluate for searcher-intent, and you can also segment by variables like location of the searcher, gaining valuable insight into things like which issues matter most to specific constituent regions. The practical use of web analytics cannot be overemphasized (even if its power extends a bit outside of the original scope of this post), and at a minimum should be used to refine and guide your PPC efforts over the course of your campaign.