SEO Baseline: U.S. Presidential Election 2008

Now that the Democrats have finally picked Barack Obama to run against Republican John McCain in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, I thought it would be a good idea to baseline the two candidates’ Web sites from a SEO perspective. I also thought we could look at some famous search terms of the past, and examine the Google SERP landscape to see who’s spending money or holding trust in the results right now for relevant terms.

In order to kill the suspense right now: the “libtards” are slightly ahead of the “neocons.”

“The Next President”

A few Googlebombs made the rounds during the 2004 presidential election season. The Googlebomb was victoriously defused in early 2007, removing the White House site as the top result for “miserable failure.”

Many SEOs, myself included, believed the Googlebomb “fix” involved not crediting high instances of inbound anchor text unless the text was also visible on the page. This theory was supported a short period after the “defusing,” when the White House site was back on top for “failure,” simply because the word was included in the headline of an article on the home page, which immediately “validated” the links. The word was removed et voila, no more number-one rank.

Other than this being a great story to tell people who don’t understand the power of links, or SEO in general, it’s testament that anchor text works. Will this year’s candidates use a more self-directed approach and try to rank for election-related terms or phrases? Obama’s official Web site ranks ninth in Google for a search for “next president.” John McCain’s site is nowhere to be found.

I won’t focus on paid search listings in this article, as both candidates are likely to ramp up in that area over the coming months. However, a glimpse of the variety of sites that will be bidding for relevant terms is evident in the search for “next president.”

Two paid results appeared for me: one purchased by Asia Society with the title “Advice for Next President” and the description: “Obama, Clinton or McCain – Find out who Asian leaders prefer.” The other leads to a Generation Engage listing urging you to “Learn about the 2008 Election” with the description: “Who is your candidate? – Watch GenGage Candidate Videos.” These people better enjoy the five-cent clicks while they last.

Using Multiple Domains

An early strategy of the Obama team (including possible non-solicited evangelists and supporters) may also be to use a reputation management style of SEO and target multiple favorable domains for election-related terms.

I was researching the 2004 election and used the search “Kerry ‘next president’ website,” and found an interesting listing at number four: The intriguing part was that the Google SERP title for that domain says “Barack Obama For President!! Time to put some dignity back in this…” It turns out that the site is now housing pro-Obama content, and that Google is pulling an “h3” header for the title, since the home page simply uses “Home” at the Page Title. The description is more Obama supporting text from on-page.

Either the Obama team has contacted the owners of and made a deal, or the likely Democratic Webmaster has chosen to evangelize Obama. In either case, this is just one of many sites that could possibly keep negative sites about Obama down in the listings.

When performing a brief analysis of the backlink anchor text of the Obama site, we can also see a number of links using the term “Barack Obama Muslim rumor.” This is evidence of reputation management being undertaken, in order to help push down the hate sites and other drivel being put forth by some more aggressive anti-Obama entities.

Fortunately, many of the racist sites already have enough negative factors associated with them that they likely can’t overcome the primary Obama site.

Content on Obama’s site that refutes the Muslim rumor ranks at number seven in Google for the term “Obama Muslim rumor,” and likely will rise as more people link to the Obama domain.

Where is McCain?

John McCain does pretty well for a search of his name. Of the top 10 sites, none are obviously negative, and it takes to the second page to find a decently constructed anti-McCain site at number 13. However, many of the terms that I checked that are relevant to the election yield zero McCain results on the first page.

In a head-to-head battle, John McCain ranks on the first page for “2008 president,” just behind Obama. Obama also has a second listing at number 20, and two sites of candidates that aren’t even in the race anymore (Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney) are potential fodder for page title changes that would support their endorsed candidate.

This article was meant to briefly scratch the surface of the landscape for organic listings related to the 2008 election. In a few months, I’ll follow up with a more in-depth article, and I’m sure other writers are planning similar topics.

In the meantime, share your thoughts on strategies for the presidential hopefuls at the Search Engine Watch Forums, or if this really fired you up, apply for a job on Obama’s team.

Frank Watson Fires Back

Timely topic, mate. I see there are three paid ads for McCain, but Barack has eight, and they’re even up for his wife — though that could be broad matched. Interestingly, over at Yahoo all the ads are selling shirts and banners, etc. No official paid search there. Guess this is a Google election.

You can get new McCain and Obama from eBay Express. I wonder if that will be in place after the election so we can buy ourselves a replacement, if we need one?

Obama has an ad at the Search Engine Watch Job Board looking for someone to run their online optimization. My advice to whoever takes the job: run ads on Yahoo and Microsoft. I think you’ll get the vote of many Google users. Yahoo and Microsoft users are the old-school set, and may be the ones to win over.

Join us for SES Toronto, June 16-18 at Metro Toronto Convention Centre (South Bldg.).

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