Twenty-eight days ago, the 2016 United States Presidential election campaign season reached a level of circus-like entertainment once thought impossible when the first Presidential Debate was hosted.
As time has passed and two more debates have taken place, tuning in has not been something for the squeamish or faint of heart, and yet the whole world continues to get their popcorn ready to see what happens under the proverbial “big top.”
You probably don’t remember what you were doing when the first Presidential Debate took place, but I bet there are several things you DO remember, like . . .
- The number of people you have blocked or unfollowed due to your conflicting political beliefs
- The funny meme your friend shared on Facebook of that loathsome candidate from the other party
- The ad you had to view about the candidate you favor for days after the debate
- The incessant coverage of election analysis, and analysis of the analysis, in your social feeds
Since so much of the media we consume today is online, our presidential candidates (and their loyal followers) have taken to the web like never before to raise awareness of the issues they want to change, influence undecided voters, and drive donations to help finance their campaigns.
How Is Each Candidate Using Digital Marketing?
I’ve been pouring over the digital marketing campaign strategies deployed by the committees created to elect Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during debate season. This required a death-defying act of courage on my part because there was a lot to cover – the campaigns are both omnichannel and each has its own respective characteristics to reach the voting public.
As part of accomplishing their goals of keeping the other party’s candidate out of the White House, my eyes have been fixed on how each campaign has been using five key digital marketing strategies:
Below, I hope you’ll come away with a sound understanding of how each campaign is using the strategies documented above. What are they doing well? What are they not doing so well? What opportunities may they be missing out on?
SEO Strategies For The Presidential Nominees
Historically, search engine optimization strategies have not been a top of mind concern for presidential campaigns. With so much search volume done on the candidates centered around phrases that include their names, it just hasn’t been necessary.
This election season, however, things appear to be different . . . and each campaign is taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them through SEO. This time around, the two major presidential candidates are using SEO as a method to position content related to the major issues of their platforms. According to data analyzed from SEMrush, HillaryClinton.com and DonaldJTrump.com both have web pages that rank on the first page of Google (top 10 positions) for 157 keywords.
Based on the reports of what keywords each candidate’s site ranks for on the first page of Google, they want you to read more about their positions on the following topics as you make your decision:
- The economy
Both campaigns are also interested in you viewing what influential leaders and celebrities have gone on record as endorsers. Research suggests this could have an impact on who you vote for, and it is well known to work as a tactic for increasing online conversions. Endorsements are a specialized twist on testimonials, which is an old school website trust signal traditionally used in online marketing campaigns.
Oh, and they want you to help them raise money by donating and buying apparel. Lots and lots of apparel. Clinton’s website and Trump’s website both rank in the top 3 positions of Google for phrases like campaign merchandise, campaign store, presidential signs, and presidential shirts.
SEO Campaign Strategy Suggestion
While there are only a few weeks left before the election, one thing each campaign may want to consider is publishing articles optimized to rank for searches related to their opponent’s platform. Over the next few weeks, undecided voters are likely to start researching each candidate’s position on the issues with a higher frequency.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see an article from Clinton’s website that outlines Trump’s plan for immigration, presents her plans as an alternative, and then explains why his position is not the better choice for the country? Trump’s campaign could do the same thing, and each campaign could then try to optimize their pages to rank for searches like:
- Hillary Clinton immigration plan
- Donald Trump immigration plan
- Donald Trump immigration quotes
- Hillary Clinton on foreign policy
During this election, there may not be many undecided voters left. But for those that are undecided, this may be a great way for each campaign to present its plans while voters are researching the other candidate’s positions.
PPC Strategies For The Presidential Nominees
While I don’t have personal access to the AdWords accounts of either campaign, data I reviewed in the Advertising Research Positions tab compiled for each domain using SEMRush makes it pretty clear how each campaign is using AdWords strategies for each campaign.
At the highest level, each campaign is using paid search advertising to drive donations. The downside to their strategies? Both are taking a “spray and pray” approach to this strategy. According to the SEMrush reports, Team Trump and Team Clinton both appear to be using a broad match bidding approach built upon the last name of each candidate. This means that anytime you do a search with the word “trump” or “Clinton” on Google, you are going to see their advertisements.
Check out the screenshot below of Trump’s Paid Search Positions . . .
. . . and now check out the screenshot of Team Clinton, which appears to be taking this approach one step further by even bidding broad match on her first name.
PPC Campaign Strategy Suggestion
Again, I do not specialize in running AdWords campaigns. However, why isn’t either party using the ambush pay per click approach that the John McCain campaign leveraged in 2008? While it obviously didn’t result in McCain winning the election, it did serve as a fantastic digital marketing strategy for trying to sway voters. In a campaign season where no rock seems to be left unturned, and no mud appears to be too dirty to sling, I’m very surprised this tactic is not being leveraged by either campaign.
Social Advertising Strategies For The Nominees
When it comes to advertising across social media networks, the strategy for both candidates seems to be two-pronged and very, very clear:
- Get voters registered
- Make the other candidate look bad
In addition to image and video ads on the major social networks, Hillary’s camp is also using Internet radio and other streaming audio applications to help spread the message. Truth be told, I heard multiple ads from her campaign on Spotify while listening to some of my focus playlists in the time it took me to compose this post.
I can also attest from personal experience that Trump’s camp is aggressively using advertising on YouTube. Is anyone else tired of seeing political advertisements and not being able to skip them before their YouTube videos load? I know my kids are!
Social Advertising Strategy Suggestion
Both parties are already taking an attack approach to their advertising on social media. That said, they seem to be sticking to showing ads like that to individuals who have already decided to give them a like or a follow.
If these campaigns were honest with themselves, just for a second – do they really believe showing an ad to someone who already supports their campaigns will have that much of an impact on their voting outcomes?
Instead of once again taking a “spray and pray” approach to their digital marketing, or catering their social advertising to voters who share their political beliefs, these campaigns should instead be focusing their efforts on personalizing their messages to undecided voters.
As close as we are to Election Day, it is probably too late to make such a swift strategy change. But if either one of these campaigns focused their visual content efforts on creating infographics for Pinterest, or custom graphics for social networks that spoke to the major issues keeping undecided voters on the fence, their efforts may come across as less frustrating, and more effective.
Retargeting Strategies For The Nominees
Did you visit the website of your preferred (or your despised) presidential candidate at any time during this lead up to Election Day? If so, then you have probably also seen their ads running constantly as you navigate the web. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. is leveraging this crazy awesome advertising strategy in an effort to drive donations and stay top of mind with donors and voters.
While Team Trump is pretty actively using display ads in its retargeting strategy, the campaign appears to have been paused sometime in the month of September. According to data collected by SEMrush, these display ads were last seen around September 8.
Team Clinton, on the other hand, is not using retargeting as part of its digital campaign. Instead, they have relied on text ads as part of a Google display network campaign.
Retargeting Strategy Suggestion
For Team Trump . . . why did they stop using this strategy with two months to go? With the other campaign not using this tactic at all, they could have kept their visibility online with their strongest supporters and with influential undecided voters who visited their website at the most critical time of the campaign. Missed opportunity here.
For Team Clinton . . . why haven’t they created any creative for these campaigns? A major missed opportunity here, and hopefully they figure out how to enable this tactic at this critical time.
Analytics Strategies For The Nominees
Both campaigns are doing a thorough job of monitoring the site activity of their users. According to information collected by the BuiltWith Technology Lookup, DonaldJTrump.com has 11 different Analytics and Tracking tools included in its code. By comparison, HillaryClinton.com has 11.
Below, for your viewing pleasure, is a comparison of the tools each campaign is using on their sites to track your activity. In the interest of bipartisanship, the sites are listed alphabetically.
- Google Analytics (and Conversion Tracking)
- Facebook Pixel
- Twitter Analytics
- Lotame Crowd Control
- Adobe Dynamic Tag Management
- Omniture SiteCatalyst
- Krux Digital
- Bing Universal Event Tracking
- Google Universal Analytics (with Conversion Tracking)
- Yahoo! Web Analytics
- DoubleClick Floodlight
- Facebook Domain Insights
- Yahoo Dot
- Quantcast Measurement
- Bing Universal Event Tracking
Analytics Strategy Suggestion
None. I mean, I know in the back of my mind the government is always watching, but the amount of Analytics and Tracking tools these sites have embedded in their source code is overkill, and a little bit creepy.
For comparison, BuiltWith reports that Amazon only has five different Analytics and Tracking tools in its code, and Facebook only has three.
Closing Statements On The 2016 Presidential Digital Campaign Strategies
Because we are now eight years removed from the dawn of a new digital marketing revolution on political campaigns, neither of the two major political campaigns are blazing any new ground with their use of SEO, PPC, social media, retargeting, and analytics to sway voters, raise money, and win the US Presidential Election. They do seem to be overanalyzing our activities on their site, but that is part of the digital marketing culture in today’s world – there isn’t much any of us can do to stop them.
Both campaigns have been very effective at positioning themselves through Google Search to drown out the mainstream media on the major political issues. This commitment to ranking for the issues should help any undecided voters make your decision easier when Election Day arrives.
With that said, their advertising strategies – both in paid search and social media – seem to be wasting donations because the data implies they are using a “spray and pray” approach in areas where personalization has become the norm for the voting public. Also, the absence of retargeting in the digital strategy of the Clinton campaign presents as a major missed opportunity for staying in front of undecided voters.
If their digital campaign strategists continue to work in politics following this election season, hopefully, they all continue to focus on the helping their candidates own the issues. They also need to figure out ways to better leverage personalization to sway voters to the candidate they represent.
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