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Barack Obama & John Mccain: A 2008 Presidential Election Search and Social Marketing Analysis

The 2008 presidential campaign has had the largest online ad spend of all other U.S. presidential elections combined. With that said, we still have a long way to go to catch up with traditional media when it comes to total dollars spent.

As of September 2008, TNS Media Intelligence estimated that the candidates have spent an estimated $7 million in online advertising and estimated $300 million on TV since February of 2007. To put it in perspective, the 2008 Presidential election online ad spend was just over 2 percent of the traditional media spend for the same period of time, compared to an estimated 7 percent of total ad spending in the US. So on pure percentages, these presidential campaigns spent less per dollar than the average US spend.

More interesting than the unprecedented amount of dollars which are being spent, both on and offline, is how they are spending it and the wildly different strategies they are employing. With election day closing in and Obama dominating TV and Radio with his massive amounts of money, it seems the McCain campaign has doubled up on their online efforts , McCain’s display ad impressions jumped by over 250 percent, and his text-based search ads increased by over 40 percent in August and September.

In the last weeks before Nov 4th (election day), Obama is generating twice as many Search queries as McCain in the swing states, according to a recently released Yahoo report

Although Obama has the bulk of the search queries, its not all good for him. Many of the searches indicate that people still have a lot of questions about Barack Obama. For instance, according to the the recent Yahoo report and the Hitwise reports, for the four weeks ending on October 25, 2008 “barack obama birth certificate” was the fourth-most common search term driving traffic to “Barack Obama Antichrist” comes in at 26. Other top keywords driving traffic were “Obama Biography”, “Obama Grandmother”, “Obamas GunControl Platform”, “facts about Barack Obama”, “Where was Obama born”, “Barack Obama religion” and “Obama Barack Muslim”

Complete List of Obama Search Keywords


Complete List of Mccain Search Keywords


Percentage of Paid Search Traffic for Barack Obama


Percentage of Paid Search Traffic for John McCain


Graph by Spyfu Kombat

In contrast Obama’s keywords consisted mostly of variations of candidates’ names; they bid on very little issue related keywords. And even on the keywords Obama was bidding on, McCain was out performing him. In fact the McCain campaign was faster than the Obama when he announced Biden for VP. They had landing pages and campaigns ready to go instantly. When the Sarah Palin “Branchflower Report” was released, the McCain campaign immediately bought up all the related keywords like “Branchflower Report”, “troopergate”, “Palin report” and others. They were testing various creative and created custom landing pages w/ tons of information to refute the report, successfully diverting some of the traffic to the original stories which would have been more damaging. Not only that, but they turned it into a fund raising opportunity with a donation form right above the fold.

In fact, on Oct 31 while finishing this post, when I searched for Barack Obama on Google, position 1 and 2 were a John McCain site and GOP Party site with custom landing pages. Where was Obama’s PPC ad? In Position 5!


In non paid search organic traffic or SEO, Obama has a huge lead with an estimated 4.5 million unique visitors, more than double the estimated 2.5 million visitors to McCain’s site from search engines according to Nielsen Online and  Obama also has the Social Media space on lock. He dominates McCain in views, followers and interaction.

Obama Google Rankings for Top 250 Keywords

McCain Google Rankings for Top 250 Keywords

One thing that’s very obvious when looking at these numbers. The McCain campaign dominated Paid Search, and the Obama campaign out spent and strategized them everywhere else. According to WSJ/Neilson, in July the McCain campaign had 15 Million Search text ad impressions, as opposed to 1.2 Million for the Obama campaign. In contrast Obama campaign had 416.7 million image ad impressions, compared with McCain’s 16.5 million.

That means that McCain was out buying Obama in Paid Search by 22 to 1 search ads according to Nielson. (PDF Download). Obama’s image ad impressions fell sharply by nearly 50 percent, and his sponsored text-based ads were down nearly 20 percent as well.

John McCain’s campaign stepped up its online advertising in August, particularly in image-based impressions, which increased 254% month-over-month. Sponsored search links were also up for the McCain camp – by 43%.

With the campaigns finally coming to a close and with the clear differences in marketing strategies and availability of funds between the McCain and Obama campaigns, I wanted to dig a little deeper and take a look at how both the candidates had used Search Marketing and Social Media and if they had been effective.

As mentioned earlier, in paid search McCain has consistently outbid and out spend Obama. In addition, McCain’s strategy has had a much larger scope than Obama’s with McCain having close to 9 keywords for every 1 of Obama’s. The McCain campaign has executed a multiple pronged approach with their search campaign. First they were bidding on issue or peripheral type terms, like “gas prices”, “abortion”, “Iraq war”, “U.S. economy” and “housing crisis,” which take visitors to Web sites outlining Sen. McCain’s plan on those issues.


According to Nielsen Buzz Metrics and Technorati on straight blog mentions, Obama also has McCain beat but not by much. And in Mobile/SMS, Obama campaign has a full mobile website containing news, videos and ring tone and wallpaper downloads, where the McCain has neither and a non existent program compared to Obama’s.


Obama-Blog-Mentions-Techno-30 McCain-Blog-Mentions-Techno-30 Search and Social Campaigns by the Numbers

Search Marketing

PR 8

Pages Indexed in Google for 3210

Pages Indexed in Google for 3,930,000

Links to on Google : 10,400

Sub Domains: 59

Percentage of #1 Rankings: 35 #1 out of 214 Pages Ranked

Keywords Driving Traffic: 5794 Keywords

Percentage of Keywords Paid Traffic: 20%

34 Keywords in 1st Position in Google

Highest CPC: $.78

Estimated Daily PPC Budget: $145.68 – $1.02k

Keywords Driving Paid Search Traffic : 50 – 173 Keywords

PPC Landing Pages: 17 Variations

Social Media

Facebook Supporters: 2,169,943

Facebook Pages: 12

Myspace Friends: 726,042

Twitter followers: 100,922
252 updates since April 2007, mostly focusing on live events and interaction

Videos on official Obama YouTube channel: 1589 Videos
YouTube Channel Views: 17,248,219
YouTube Subscribers: 102,522

Linkedin: 500+ Connections

Meetup: Members 14,504 Meetups 2,624

Ustream views: 809,261

Stumbleupon: 35 Stumbles and 201 Reviews of home page

Digg: Both and are listed in the top 1000 sites submitted to Digg.

Obama was the 17th most popular word in submission titles with 1157 Total Posts 27 Total Diggs 38683 Total Comments 6777 Total Posts 49 Total Diggs 716 Total Comments 2455

Flickr: 116,291 Images with “Barack Obama “ in text and 45,945 images tagged with “Barack Obama”


Analytics Software: Google Analytics, Crazy Egg, Double click


SMS: 2.9 Million Numbers

________________________________________________________________ Search and Social Campaigns by the Numbers

Search Marketing

PR 8

Pages Indexed in Google for 29,200

Pages Indexed in Google for 31,700

Links to on Google: 8,820

Keywords Driving Total Search Traffic: 2767 Keywords

Percentage of Keywords Paid Traffic: 15%

49 Keywords in 1st Position in Google

Sub domains: 59

Highest CPC $1.46

50 – 924 Keywords

Est Daily Ad Budget: $552.48 to $5.24k

PPC Landing Pages: 50 Variations

Social Media

Facebook Supporters: 581,438

Myspace: 177,839 Friends

Youtube channel videos:
Youtube Subscribers: 25,698
Youtube Channel Views: 1,813,460

Twitter followers: 3,363
Updates 25 since Sept 2008 (Mostly attacks, negative or in defense)

Linkedin: 500+ Connections

Ustream Views: 196,966

Meetup: Members 1772 Meetups 246

Stumbleupon: 35 Stumbles of Home Page with reviews 81

Digg : JohnmcCain site was not in the top 300 sites submitted this year, but “McCain” was the 18th most popular word in title submissions with 1025.

Flickr: 3,254 images tagged with “John McCain” and 18,951 images with “John McCain” in text.


Analytics: Web side story

All of the data for this post was compiled from various sources and tools. Below is a list of tools and sources for the data in my post. Many of the data might have changed from initial research. I know it is not exact, but it is indicative of the general trends. If you have any additional data to share , I would love to hear from you.Compete



Google Trends

Nielson/Buzz Metrics



Below are additional sites I used for quotes, data and graphs. Thank you to all the authors.

pic thx to Anthony Cain

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21 Responses to Barack Obama & John Mccain: A 2008 Presidential Election Search and Social Marketing Analysis

  1. Brent D. Payne November 4, 2008 at 1:11 am #

    Wow! The most comprehensive write-up I’ve seen yet on the Obama-McCain presidential race. I think people will be digging through this information until mid-afternoon tomorrow (Nov 4th). I can’t imagine the amount of time you put into creating this article, it is very much appreciated.

    BTW, Tribune has seen a lot of the information you mention above in its own analytics reporting. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to release the information to the public. I will simply verify that the information you report here is reasonably similiar to what Tribune is seeing across its dozens of news sites including: L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel, KTLA, WGN, and WPIX.

    Keep blogging . . .

  2. Liz Hamill November 4, 2008 at 4:22 am #

    Very unique analysis! All the different search keywords to be very interesting to see how undecided used search engines to gather information. And your tallies on the different media sites too.

  3. Justin Seibert November 4, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    Awesome research – thank you for putting it all together. Definitely the most comprehensive I’ve seen. Inspired a post on my blog today about what they’re doing in paid search ON election day. Thank you!

  4. Steaprok November 4, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    @Brent D. Payne Thx for the comments Brent!

    Also glad to see that the data I gathered, is similar to that of News sites like L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel, KTLA, WGN, and WPIX.

    and yes, it did take a while to gather all the data and put the post together, but hopefully it is useful. 😉

  5. Oldskoolmak November 5, 2008 at 7:39 am #

    I’m very impressed with this write up! Rich information worth sharing on Key Word spending!

  6. Doug McIsaac November 7, 2008 at 7:30 am #

    Thank you for this very well researched article. Very enlightening.

  7. hakan safel November 29, 2008 at 10:26 pm #

    steprok, thank you very much for your analysis. we used your mcchain-obama search-social campaign comparation list as a reference data for our article about obama’s victory. i redesigned your list in photoshop and i wanted to share with you.

    our article posted in:
    and your list is here:

    thanks again. and your work is a good job. i admired.

  8. Steaprok January 1, 2009 at 9:14 pm #


    Thx for the comment and the photoshop version of the presidential campaign serarch and social media analysis.


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