Digital State Marketing – Is this the first SEO campaign in UK politics?

March 23, 2011 - Digital State Marketing

The 2010 United Kingdom general election debates were designed to allow the three main parties leaders a change to discuss the matters surrounding the 2010 United Kingdom general election. The first of which on the 15th of April heralded the first time such live debates have occurred in a UK election. It would be fair to conclude that the winner of the night was the man who many had, to this point at least, written off in the General Election – Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg.

Within five minutes of the debate closing, the now legendary tag line ‘I agree with Nick’ – which came out of the mouths of both Labour leader Gordon Brown, and Conservative top man David Cameron during the debate – began reverberating around the modern-day political talking shop otherwise known as Twitter.

The SERPs became awash with real-time proclamations of support for the young upstart Liberal hopeful. SEO hopefuls began registering every conceivable domain extension in the hope that they might ride this wave of activity. Google Insights for Search registered a sizeable spike in search volume. Yahoo identified the furor as the buzz term of the moment. The SERPs were, and the following morning still was, awash with activity.

Just how big a part will the channels of the internet play in determining the next resident of Number 10 Downing Street? Has the internet redefined the way in which political parties must channel their propaganda? Have the main parties been active enough in their online marketing efforts?

The Conservatives have taken the lead, establishing paid search campaigns in Google and bidding on their competitors’ terms.  Which, John Prescott then attempted to use to Labours advantage  by urging his followers on Twitter to go to Google and to type in terms related to the election so that the Tory party’s Adwords Ads appear, and then to click on them to waste the Conservatives’ Adwords budget.

Clicks on Adwords cost the advertiser every time a click is made, and once the daily budget is exceeded, the ads will stop appearing. However, clicking on Adwords Ads deliberately to stop a competitor’s ads appearing is click fraud, and Google takes this very seriously. Also, there are measures in place to detect when multiple clicks are coming from the same source, or patterns of clicks are emerging just to use up an advertiser’s budget. It is therefore likely that Labour’s efforts wouldn’t have dented David Cameron’s Adwords budget too much.

According to the Financial Times, the Tories were bidding on parliamentary search terms, such as ‘budget’ and ‘hung parliament’. The FT also stated that the Tory party was bidding on specific geo terms for local constituencies, which would work out much cheaper as geo targeting your ads is a better way to get results. For example, searching for ‘General Election Devon’ or ‘General Election Cumbria’ would produce far fewer results, and as such would be less competitive and cheaper on Adwords, than appearing for ‘General Election’.

Labour has a smaller advertising budget than the Tory party, so has reportedly been spending its money on SEO and an effort to become a Google News Publisher. Hopefully Labour started its SEO campaign some time ago, as in an area as competitive as politics it can take a long time to garner natural search rankings.

The Liberal Democrats, to this point at least, have neglected their online marketing strategy; to the point where we can say with some conviction that Vince Cable has forgotten to budget for it. However, due to the interest generated from the debates the Liberal Democrats are gaining interest from social websites, for example.