Clinton, Trump and SEO

By Denise Konkol on August 3, 2016

Pay per click for politiciansThe 2016 election isn’t the first to utilize digital marketing and social media to get the candidates’ messages out. Most experts point to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign as the first to us social media with great success.

However, eight years is an eternity in the world of SEO marketing, and as the field of candidates has finally been whittled to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, metrics on how well each candidate is doing is far more detailed.

A report done in April 2016 called the United States of Search found that from February of this year, search volumes for election-based searches increased to 69.3 million, with some individual keyword searches tripling from the prior three-month period. In addition to the candidates’ names, issues like immigration and gun control saw increases.

It’s not terribly surprising that people seeking information on candidates didn’t first go to the respective websites. Research has increasingly shown that organic search is the channel of choice for consumers when researching or evaluating a purchase decision, so it follows that they’re more likely to do so when making a voting decision as well. And campaign websites are designed to get you to vote for their candidates, not necessarily give you the unguarded truth.

The early

When there were 14 candidates, digital marketer Chris Berkley did some digging on which presidential candidate successfully worked SEO based on a number of keywords likely to be used in searches. Despite his affinity to be on Twitter 24/7, and his exposure in the press, The Donald didn’t come out on top. While he was only one of four candidates to rank high enough to win a category (being on the first page of search), he only captured two searches: gun control and immigration. The big winner? Bernie Sanders, (584 keywords with a total search volume of 195,710)which may tell you that SEO success doesn’t always translate to success at the polls (Hillary Clinton came in second). Considering that his supporters are also younger, it’s not a surprise that they would use web searches to gather information on him.

However, Sanders’ numbers in terms of search volume pales in comparison to Trump’s. With just two search terms, Trump garnered a YUGE 933,430 in search volume, placing him at the top.

Analysis also revealed that Trump is the most searched candidate in the race, with 31.59 percent of all searches in the U.S. prior to his nomination. Sanders came in second with about 21 percent and Hillary far behind. However, having been in the political spotlight for about 40 years, Clinton may be such a known commodity that people don’t need to know much more about her.

So the question is, can SEO and social be used to win an election?

Smart campaign strategists will use the search data to determine which states are concerned the most about certain issues. Metrics can also tell them where this information is being digested: on major news sites, the candidate’s website or social media. As the campaigns mature, trends can also be recorded to indicate any growth or shift in these searches for the candidate as well as their opponent.

Google has thrown its hat in the ring as well to help the candidates assess search. “Candidate Cards” were offered to presidential candidates at the beginning of 2016. This is a new feature for the 2016 race, and while not advertisement, it offers “a prominent placement for the candidates’ own messages and content in a horizontal carousel in search results,” according to Google.Trump Clinton Google Candidate Cards

Structured search results will appear as Twitter posts currently appear for candidate-related queries. However, “Candidate Cards” is more flexible, offering more than 14,000 characters that candidates can publish and up to 10 images per post.

The feature also allows candidates to speak directly to voters and control some of the content in the search about them.  Another way we determined this measurement or to get the message out further is to run pay per click campaigns for politicians.  This is particularly of interest during debates when search spikes by more than 400 percent. Cards appear when their ranking algorithms indicate that searchers want to know more or hear from a candidate.

Bing Political indexActually, Bing had Google beat to the punch, introducing a similar “Bing Political Index,” if you prefer using their search. If you’re looking for “2016 elections,” “presidential election” and “presidential race” you will see the “Election 2016” box. From here, you can click on the “Bing Political Index,” “Candidates” and “Timeline” without leaving the search results page.

The information populating the index is based on search and social data, along with analysis from

According to the Bing Search blog, “BPI assigns a candidate score and a public score for ten of the key issues that shape the 2016 election cycle: education, environmental issues, tax reform, abortion, gun control, immigration reform, drug policy, LGBT rights, healthcare and Social Security.”

A post mortem done on the 2012 election gave campaigns four more years to improve and refine what data could be gathered and how to use it. Among the lessons learned from the Barack Obama – Mitt Romney contest were to beef up presence on social media and while repeating the message in various ways, to be more intimate with the voter. Whether it meant personally connecting or responding, being local or adding those “genuine” moments from along the trail to make the candidate as warm and fuzzy as possible, expect more of the same.

Of course the command going forward from 2012 was also to create SEO through strong content and track results. That was four years ago, a lifetime in the world of digital marketing, and numerous revisions from Google on analysis, ranking algorithms and keyword testing later, 2016 candidates have more tools and more reliable data at their fingertips to make their case to the voting – and searching public. The Trump-Clinton contest could therefore possibly be decided on the strength of their SEO strategists, rather than their respective platforms.


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