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9 Tips For Effective Political Paid Search Advertising

In Search and Politics ’08, RKG’s report on paid search advertising in the 2008 Presidential campaign, we found that the majority of candidate’s PPC efforts are either non-existent or under-optimized. If the candidates want to start using paid search effectively they don’t have much time before the primaries start.

After seeing the state of PPC advertising in the campaign, we added a section to the report detailing our thoughts on best practices for political paid search advertising. Here’s an excerpt of our suggestions:

1. Spend Advertising Dollars On Paid Search.
Invest sufficient advertising budget in paid search. For every $100K in spent on television advertising, allocate $5K for paid search marketing.

2. Advertise On Your Own Name.
By advertising on your candidate’s name, you ensure voters see your message when searching for your candidate. You should bid to control the first position on the page. Review ad copy weekly, then daily as the election approaches. Keep your message aligned with the news cycle. Provide the search engines multiple copy versions, instructing the engines to serve the ad with the greatest click-through rate. Include common misspellings: Hilary, Kusinich, Guliani etc.

3. Advertise On Issues, And On Your Name + Issues.
Advertise your candidate on searches for specific issues of interest to voters (for example: abortion, Iraq war, illegal immigration, tax reform). Run ads on search queries which contain both your candidate’s name and these specific issues (for example: Giuliani and abortion, Clinton Immigration). A campaign must always advertise on key issue + candidate terms. The internet is full of competing candidates, opposing interests, and misinformation. Through advertising, voters who would otherwise reach a page harmful to your candidates’ interests may instead reach your site and your message. Craft specific hard-hitting ad headlines targeted for each issue. Include common misspellings.

4. Advertise On Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.
Buy as many clicks as you can on all the search engines which meet your cost per conversion or cost per impression goals. As a rule of thumb, allocate 70% of your paid search budget to Google, 20% to Yahoo, and 10% to Microsoft.

5. Advertise On Other Candidates’ Names.
You should also advertise on the names of competing candidates in the race, especially those in your same party. These ads do not have to be negative or attack the other candidate. Rather, they should encourage searchers to visit your website with the promise that your candidate is a better choice. For example, liberal (or conservative) voters seeking a liberal (or conservative) website could click on an ad to learn more about a more centrist candidate, if that searcher encountered an ad with a compelling headline and ad copy.

6. Choose Good Landing Pages.
You must bring search traffic into relevant targeted landing pages on your site. You should not land search traffic on donation pages (unless the search term specifically mentions donations). Most searchers seek information, rather than fundraising pitches. Searches on a candidate’s name should land on either the campaign’s homepage, or (better) a brief outline of the reason searchers should vote for your candidate. Searches on specific issues, or a candidate’s name + an issue, should land on a dedicated page outlining your candidate’s position on that issue. Searches on opponent’s names should land on dedicated pages comparing your candidate to that alternative, suggesting why your candidate is a better choice for voters.

7. Track Impressions, Clicks, Costs, and Conversions.
Most site visitors are seeking information. Nonetheless, adopt a direct marketing perspective for purchasing paid search. Strive to get your visitors to complete an action. “Conversion events” could include requesting more information, providing an email address, signing up to volunteer, and/or donating money. Use web analytics tools to track the number of visitors who complete each action. Compare the number of conversions to the cost of the advertising which drove their visits. There are both free and paid tools available for this tracking. Optimize your pay-per-click ads, increasing bids on those which drive good volumes of desired actions at favorable costs.

8. Use Keywords in PPC Ad Headlines
The engines present words in the ad text which match words in the search query in bold. This bolding makes the matched terms more visible, increasing click-through rates and lowering your cost. For example, a search for Immigration Clinton should include both “Clinton” and “Immigration” in the headline.

9. Customize Your Display URLs.
To increase relevance and click-through rates, match your display URL to the query. The domain itself must be valid, but you may append a subdirectory to indicate the searcher will reach a targeted landing page. For example, for a search on Hillary Clinton Iraq, the Clinton campaign could use a display targeted display URL such as www.HillaryClinton.com/IraqWar

I’d be very interested to hear what others have to add to this list.

Here’s the link to download the study:

* PDF: rkg-search-and-politics-2008.pdf

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