According to an exclusive story in the National Journal Online, John McCain has outspent Barack Obama for two consecutive months in search engine advertising.
Written by Lucas Grindley, the story, entitled, "McCain buys his way to top of Google," cites Nielsen Online data that shows McCain bought 7 million "sponsored search link impressions" in June and 5.4 million in May, compared with 1.15 million for Obama in June and 1.8 million during the previous month.
Since search engine advertising is sold on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis instead of cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM), it's unclear if McCain's dramatic lead in impressions generated equally dramatic number of clicks.
It's worth noting that one of the top five sites where McCain bought image-based banner impressions was ... the National Review. However, the other five included Topix and The Washington Post, so it's not clear that you can read anything between the lines here.
By comparison, the top five sites where Obama bought image-based banner impressions included Yahoo, CNN and MSN. Plus, Obama bought 80 million banner impressions in June, compared with McCain's 16 million.
So, what's all this mean to search engine marketers?
For his story, Grindley interviewed Peter Greenberger, who manages the "small but growing" elections and issue advocacy team at Google. Greenberger speculated that the Presidential campaigns were in a "persuasion phase," where candidates might be more interested in banner advertising.
"You are not looking for that active voter who maybe knows who he or she is voting for," said Greenberger. "You are looking for that more passive voter who is reading information but not quite ready to commit."
Hmmm. I wonder if Greenberger has seen the new study conducted by Enquiro Research with Google in Europe that found the ability of unclicked search ads to build brand. If he hasn't, he can click on "Digging Still Deeper Into The Search Branding Question" and read the blog post by Gord Hotchkiss, the CEO of Enquiro.
Of course, Gord would be the first one to tell you that the debate over the search branding question is far from over.
But, if I were working in the McCain or Obama campaigns, I would run, not walk, to get my hands on the latest research. Gord is a Canadian, so he doesn't have a horse in this race. And, if this upcoming election is as close as the latest polls indicates that it is, then neither presidential campaign can afford to leave even a small amount of search branding value on the table.
As for the search engine marketers who read this blog, I would also encourage you to run, not walk, to get your hands on this latest research. As Gord says, "search can be the most important brand tool in a marketer's arsenal, if it's used in the right place. It's a matter of understanding what search can do and what it can't. And, even more importantly, understanding how to measure that value."