Google is the biggest search engine on the planet. In the month of June, in the U.S. alone, its algorithms delivered answers to 3.9 billion questions. That’s fully half of the search traffic in the country.
AdWords is the service that enables Google to pay for all those searches. If you use Google, you’ve seen AdWords — it powers the text advertisements that show up on the right side of your search results.
AdWords works like this: the advertiser bids in an auction for search terms, creates a block of text to display with the search results, and then pays a cost per click every time someone follows the ad to their website. Even though Google only makes pennies on each ad, this service is the reason for the company’s billions in revenue. And because advertisers only pay when someone actually clicks on their text, hundreds of people can see the ad, and it won’t cost the buyer a thing.
This is all to say that Google and its ads are one of the most important media outlets on the web. You’d think that the presidential campaigns would recognize that, but for the most part, you’d be wrong.
Wired Magazine has a good survey of the candidates and their search advertising. Their take:
[M]ost of the presidential candidates are sitting on the sidelines as American voters search for timely information about political issues or campaign events.
The exceptions include Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who use Google’s AdWords keyword bidding program around searches for issues and news events. On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama appears to be the only one using AdWords in the same fashion, though Edwards has purchased keywords in the past.
While many of the candidates do buy the search terms relating to their own names, most fail to buy political- or event-related terms. Like the Googler quoted by Wired, I expect that by the start of the primaries, most of the campaigns will be buying ads in conjunction with breaking news and using tools like Google Trends to see which terms are moving up and down. But for now, there’s an opportunity here for a savvy candidates and organizations.
One savvy organization that’s showing some imagination in this area is the Center for American Progress. Their advertisement is the top link in the search results for the phrase, “war in Iraq.”