McCain Buys Hillary. Mitt Buys A Bunch. Others By Stand.

The is the second in our ongoing series about the evolving 2008 Presidential Campaign as it’s being waged online. This time we’ll be talking about paid search.

The paid search dimension of the campaign hasn’t changed much since the end of September. At that time Oneupweb’s research found that the amount and kind of ads being purchased online varied significantly by both the parties and the candidates.

Specifically, in a one-afternoon sampling, we found that some candidates had an active paid search campaign in place, while others either hadn’t begun their online paid campaigns, or had no plans to do so. The most active PPC campaigns on September 27th were:

Republicans

  • John McCain – The number four ranked Republican on September 27th was the party’s number one advertiser, running 17 ads, four of which targeted Republican competitor names.
  • Mitt Romney – He had a total of 16 ads running, 9 of which were for Republican opponents’ names.
  • Fred Thompson – He ran two ads, both targeted at his own name.
  • Rudy Giuliani – He had just one ad, which was targeted to his name.

Democrats

  • Barack Obama – His was the only campaign running paid advertising. He was on all four search engines we tracked, running a total of 14 ads. None of the ads focused on an opponent’s name.

What’s New?

On December 6th we looked at the paid activity again among the seven leading contenders.

Among the Republicans we found no ads for Rudy Giuliani, compared to one ad purchased for his name on September 27th. Fred Thompson continued his two ad schedule on Google and Cranky. Romney had 15 (compared to 16) paid ads, and had notably stopped running ads on two competitors’ names that he bought in September – John McCain and Fred Thompson. John McCain ran three fewer ads, dropping a few general keyword terms and “Mitt Romney” while adding three ads on the keyword “Hillary Clinton”.

Just as in September, Barack Obama was the only Democrat doing paid advertising, although he has apparently reduced his buy considerably (from 14 down to 9). The only candidate name that he has purchased is his own.

What’s Going On?

In part one of our 2008 Presidential Campaign series, I noted that although most campaigns were employing some fairly sophisticated social media tactics, none of the candidate websites reflected even basic natural optimization. The standard search strategy for companies whose websites are poorly optimized is to buy their way onto the page through paid search. With a few notable exceptions, this is not happening either. So what is going on?

My guess is that front-runners Clinton and Giuliani are reserving their resources while waiting to see which opponents are able to mount an effective online offensive. Romney, who needed to increase both name awareness and national visibility, had the money to buy himself onto search pages and did. Fred Thompson’s camp may have felt their candidate already had the national exposure due to his acting career and didn’t need the ads at this time. While John McCain’s campaign, which had been slipping until recently, is taking the most aggressive strategy by targeting the other party’s front-runner, Hillary Clinton. The idea, apparently, is to position McCain as the only Republican candidate who can beat Senator Clinton.

What Next?

Were I to be advising one of the candidates about paid ads – online and offline – I’d tell them to pull back until around the first of the year. Right now they should be sharpening their message and testing creative. The electorate is distracted by the holidays and ad space is crowded and expensive.

With the primaries starting early in January, however, expect the amount and competitive ferocity of paid advertising by all the candidates to increase across the board. Look for local search and ad placement to play an important role, as well. And watch the social outlets for dirty tricks on all sides.

We’ll check in next month to see how the early primaries are impacting the online activity of campaign ’08.

Update: This series continues with: Democratic Debate – Capitalizing on Heated Exchanges.