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How Google Helped Buy the US Presidential Election

The 2012 US Presidential election is now upon us. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have been formidable competitors fighting for more than a year for the awareness, support, donations, and ultimately the vote of each member of the American electorate.

iSpionage is a research tool that, among many other things, helps businesses and agencies quickly uncover keyword and long tail keyword phrase ideas for consideration based on analyzing a competitor’s keywords. We analyze information on what keywords are being bought on search marketing platforms like Google AdWords, on landing pages, on websites, etc. and turn this into competitive search marketing intelligence.

While it is tempting to think that nothing new can be learned from one specific competitor, it really isn’t wise to assume that you are smarter than all your competition. Today though, let’s take a peek at each of the Presidential candidate’s PPC marketing efforts and see what conclusions we can draw.

Just by simply placing each candidate’s URL into iSpionage we can see:

Summary Statistics:

  • Since formally announcing his intent to pursue a second term as President of the United States of America nineteen months ago, President Obama has run a total of 1,815 ads. This is just over 10 times as many different ads as the 174 ads which Governor Romney has run since declaring his intention to run for President seventeen months ago. As such, President Obama had about a two month search marketing jump on Governor Romney.
  • President Obama is currently bidding on 22,674 different keywords and long tail keyword phrase combinations to drive traffic to his ads. Governor Romney is bidding on about 6,673 PPC keywords to get his message across – or about 30% of the amount being bid on by those running the president’s campaign.

What insights might Mitt Romney’s campaign have garnered by investigating President Obama’s search marketing activities more closely?

The main conclusion it seems fair to draw from these statistics is that the scale and breadth of President Obama’s search marketing efforts seem to have eclipsed Governor Romney’s to a fairly sizable degree.
Let’s dig into the details by sorting Barack Obama’s results by “Days Seen”, to get a sense of the early ads he was running:

Barack Obama’s longest running ad “100,000 Jobs for Veterans” is connected to the keyword phrase “best jobs for veterans” and 334 days ago was created with the intent to seek support from veterans. Were they aware, Romney’s team may have noted the fact that veterans were particularly on the minds of Obama’s digital team, helping provide guidance for the development of appropriate key messages.

Romney’s team may have also noted that the search volume for the phrase “best jobs for veterans” was actually quite low – only 480 monthly searches. It would be wise for them to look at the “Destination URL” to better understand the specific message that the President conveyed to veterans – but also to look for new keywords and search phrases with more potential traffic associated with them.

Tip: When creating keywords, always try to think like your target audience and put yourself in the shoes of your customer.

The data shows that not many veterans type in “best jobs for veterans” into Google. It turns out that more vets simply search for jobs that complement their skills regardless of the fact that they previously served in the military.

By sorting results by Search Volume, we can see the following:

The search phrase “how can I find a job” has the highest associated search volume. This widely dispersed ad ran for only 6 days in August of 2012. It appeared for the first time following the July jobs report which was published on August 3, 2012. The July jobs report basically indicated that hiring in the US was picking up, but that unemployment had risen slightly. Given that the economy and employment have been the number one issue of this election cycle, it is understandable that President Obama’s team would want to put out an ad like this. Following this mixed jobs report during a critical juncture in the election cycle, it was critical for the Obama team to use every tool at their disposal to attract as much traffic as possible to this message.

The “Fact Check: Paul Ryan” ad is equally interesting. This widely targeted ad came out two days after the Vice Presidential debate which took place on October 11, 2012. It was widely reported that Biden and Ryan got a “little prickly” when debating the future of healthcare. It appears that perhaps the President Obama’s digital team felt it would be useful to try to continue to get their healthcare message widely delivered and address public statements and assertions made by Vice Presidential candidate Ryan.

The Romney team might conclude that the President’s digital team uses PPC advertising tactically to help shift the prevailing winds of public sentiment as much as possible. In our last post, we showed how simple it is monitor the activities of your competitors by setting up Competitor Alerts. Against a sophisticated competitor using PPC as tactically as the Obama campaign, it would be good idea to have an alert running for them. By recognizing and better understanding how your competitor takes advantage of the search marketing weapon, you can take steps to improve your own results.

What insights might Barack Obama’s campaign have garnered by researching Mitt Romney’s search marketing activities more closely?

Shifting gears, let’s take a closer look at Mitt Romney’s organic search marketing strategy and tactics. By looking at the SEO reports, a few conclusions can be drawn that could have helped the Obama campaign.

The first thing you will notice (for both candidates) is the heavy use of their own names. No, it’s not that they are both megalomaniacal. This approach is logical given the candidates’ name recognition and the fact that both candidates are written about so much by the media.

Paying for a keyword phrase with a company name in the phrase would only make sense if your company brand was commonly known and. Most of us are trying to become household names though and so we have to discover keywords and keyword phrases that are semantically related to words people may associate with your product, service, company, or brand.

Faster Organic Keyword Discovery

iSpionage can help uncover the keywords that a website ranks highly for organically. This can help you discover insights about your competitor’s SEO strategy. By looking at keyword data and their website content, you can learn how your competitors are going about optimizing for those keywords and long tail keyword phrases. Long tail search phrases often do not have a great deal of search volume, but they also often convert better than more general keywords because of their higher relevance and specificity.

If we sort Romney website’s SEO keyword tab on the Average Search Volume column, we can review the more generalized terms where the search volume is high:

From this data, Barack Obama’s campaign team would be able to see how the Romney’s site is optimizing around such topics as “jobs” and “healthcare” two of the main message points Governor Mitt Romney has used to gain votes during the 2012 election. The beauty of the iSpionage system is that it helps you uncover not only what a site is intending to communicate – which you could understand just by reading the copy – but it helps you see what terms are truly being searched on. It is therefore a better indicator of message delivered not just the message they intended to deliver.

From President Obama’s website, a Romney’s campaign team armed with iSpionage would be able to see how the President is optimizing around such topics as “jobs” and “unemployment” but we also see keywords with high volume around the keyword “women”.

Much has been written in the media over the past year about the importance of the female vote on the outcome of the election. We can see from the search results that the Obama campaign has recognized this and is crafting web content to speak to and influence the female portion of the electorate directly.


Today we covered some of the important parts of the planning phase including paid and organic keyword discovery and analysis by looking at two formidable competitors. In future, look for other steps of the continuous improvement cycle to be covered.

Hopefully by reviewing the PPC and organic search marketing insights that can be accessed using the iSpionage system, you have a better sense of how you can utilize it for your own purposes. By providing a simple way to generate organic and paid keyword insights directly from top competitors, we provide you a very useful tool to more quickly achieve success with your own search marketing initiative.

However the election turns out, we feel that having iSpionage in your corner would be helpful to either candidate – just like it would be helpful to you and your business.

Did you draw any of your own insights from iSpionage? Take a look for yourself and use the comments section below to let us know what you think!

Supercharge your PPC strategy today with competitive insights complements of iSpionage.

Key Concepts:

  • Why not let your competitors do some of your keyword research for you? By learning from your best competition, you can shorten the time to success.
  • Sometimes you’re just too close to your own company, brand, product, or service.
  • iSpionage can help you see the wider forest, not just the trees in front of you.
  • It’s good to do a sanity check and compare your keywords universe with others.
  • You may find that there are keywords and keyword phrases in use in your industry that you would never have realized independently.

With help from iSpionage search marketing success can be achieved more quickly than ever before.


Chris Sparks, iSpionage Director of Marketing
Chris is an online marketing and content strategist here at iSpionage building awareness and engagement within our target markets.