Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama, McCain and Third-Party Campaign Sites

The 2008 Presidential election was historic in many ways. The most obvious being the election of the first African-American to be leader of the free world (Barack Obama in case you hadn't heard). This election will also be remembered by history because of the revolutionary way Barack Obama used the internet as a tool for organization and communication.

In my Digital Influence class we recently looked at some of the effective strategies that the Obama campaign employed on their web site. My research shows that the Obama campaign's work on third party sites was monumental as well. Let's look at YouTube as an example:

Barack Obama's YouTube channel, had a huge presence receiving a lot of attention and notable milestones:

32nd most viewed YouTube channel of all time.
34th most subscribed YouTube channel of all time.

By comparison John McCain's YouTube channel, didn't even crack the top 100 in either of these categories.

There is also a clear difference in the degree to which each campaign used YouTube.

The McCain campaign posted 330 videos. Of those only three were viewed more than 1,000,000 times. His most popular video "Celeb" pulled in 2,200,000+ views.

On the other hand, Obama published 1,823 videos (clearly very active) and as of this writing has 12 videos with 1,000,000 views or more. His most watched video "Obama Speech: 'A More Perfect Union'" was viewed nearly five and a half million times (5,440,000).

The Obama campaign was clearly in tune with how to use the internet, whereas the McCain campaign was not. The numbers show that McCain didn't get as much attention on YouTube as Obama did. This may be due to the fact that McCain didn't have the same amount of public excitement around his campaign. However, this doesn't seem to be the case. Another glaring example of third party site use was the difference in each campaign's use of Twitter on election day.

On election day I visited Twitter's Election 2008 page. The Twitter Election 2008 page shows the feeds from each campaign at the top of the page and allows users to post their own personal campaign related "tweet". Here is a screen shot of the top of the page from election day:

In his tweet Obama asked supporters to vote for him and provided information on how to find one's polling place. McCain on the other hand provided a link to an article on his web site that attacked a pundit. A check of McCain's direct Twitter feed shows the tweet in question was posted on October 24th, a week and a half before election day.

McCain's Twitter feed didn't lose the election for him but his cash strapped, unenthusiastic campaign missed opportunities to reach potential voters and motivate existing supporters with free third party sites. According to David Burch of TubeMogul Obama earned 14,548,809.05 hours of free video time on YouTube (length of each video x views). In the same article Joe Trippi estimated that if the Obama campaign had tried to purchase that much TV advertising it would have cost about $46,893,000.

The internet is changing the way elections are being run. Had McCain made better use of the free online resources available to him he may have had a fighting chance.

Chasing the Long Tail: Does Anyone Use Meta Keywords Anymore?

In our discussion of search engines and maximizing SEO the question of whether to use the meta tag "keywords" came up. There seems to be consensus among SEO pros that Google doesn't use them anymore. Google all but confirms this explicitly in this short article about "Keyword Stuffing". But this got me wondering if there are other search engines that do use the tag and if there is some value in chasing that long tail.

Yahoo! recommends entering them to "improve the ranking of... results." (Despite this SEO pros still think meta keywords may be a waste of time.) I didn't find much open information on other search engines so I had to come up with some other way of determining their relevance.

I started by looking at the top ten search engines. According to they are:

1. Google
2. Yahoo! Search
3. MSN Live Search
4. AOL Search - Powered by Google
5. Ask - Powered by Teoma lists the remaining five in alphabetical order:

AltaVista - Powered by Yahoo!
Fast ( - Powered by Yahoo!
Netscape Search - Powered by Google - Portions powered by: Gigablast,,, X1 Technologies, Inc. and Enhanced by

The top four search engines (five sites, of which two run on Google) make up for 97.29% of the total volume of searches in the United States (for the 4 weeks ending October 25, 2008).

Coming in at #2 Yahoo! makes up 17.4% of all traffic. If they use meta keywords that could be reason enough to put them in.

Search engines do not publicize whether or not they use meta keywords. So in an attempt to determine if an engine thinks meta keywords are useful I've checked the source code for each of the search sites to see if they use meta keywords. My reasoning is that if a search engine uses meta keywords in their code it may be an indication that they think the "keywords" meta tag is important.

Here are the results of my research:

Search Engine
Uses Meta Tag
"Keywords"? Y/N
Yahoo! Search
MSN Live Search
AOL Search - Powered by Google
Ask - Powered by Teoma
AltaVista - Powered by Yahoo!
Fast ( - Powered by Yahoo!
Netscape Search - Powered by Google

Some of these results are pretty interesting.

Yahoo! which recommends the use of the tag doesn't use it. On the other hand AltaVista which is powered/owned by Yahoo! does use the meta tag. I'm not sure why Yahoo! doesn't use the tag but AltaVista on the other hand has a history with "keywords".

According to SourceEngineWatch the "first major crawler-based search engines to use the meta keywords tag were Infoseek and AltaVista." Perhaps AltaVista is proud of once helping make the tag prominent? I can't say for sure. But whatever the reason the code is still in there.

(InfoSeek isn't in this top ten list of seach engines but they are relevant to this discussion. InfoSeek was bought by Disney in 1998. It was then converted into the search engine which still uses the keywords tag. and, both subdomains, are consistent with their parent domain and use the keywords meta tag as well. I think it is reasonable to assume checks the keywords tag.)

The next oddity in this list is Netscape Search. Netscape Search runs on Google (who we know doesn't use the tag in their algorithm) so their use of the tag seems pointless. But it gets even more confusing. In 1998 AOL acquired Netscape. AOL also runs on Google and, as we can see in the table above, AOL does not use the keywords tag. Is Netscape simply holding on to an old tradition or does AOL not have a company-wide policy on meta tags? Unclear. But since they run on Google it doesn't matter.

From this chart I might guess that uses meta keywords but considering how inconsistent the other search engines are (Yahoo recommends them but doesn't use them, Netscape uses them but they don't make a difference on their engine) I wouldn't bet on it.

Bottom line:
Yahoo says they help. Yahoo has a not insignificant amount of market share. I say go ahead and put them in. It might help your SEO at some non-Google search engines.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Could Don Draper Make it in a Digital World?

The playing field for PR and advertising is constantly changing. AMC's award winning TV show "Mad Men" offers a (fictional?) glimpse into the advertising world of the early 1960's. The dramatic series takes a certain pleasure in revisiting that oh-so politically incorrect age where drinking on the job seems mandatory, pregnant women smoke like their life depends on it and sexual harassment is just another charming part of office culture.

Mad Men is certainly not a documentary but there is more than a little truth to its portrayal of office life.

The main character, Don Draper, represents the best of 60's advertising. In the following clip he gives his take on why ads work:

Could Don Draper hack it in the digital age? Not with that attitude. Draper's POV is the antithesis of the Web 2.0 environment. Not only are people not looking to be told what to do but they are actively taking control of who they listen to.

For example, Joshua Porter dissects the various ways that allows their customers to take control of who they listen to in his book Designing for the Social Web.

According to the book Groundswell nearly half of all online U.S. adults are "spectators" (pg. 44 fig. 3-3), meaning they read, watch and listen to content, reviews and ratings added by other users. "Spectators" sounds passive but these users are actively choosing what they read/watch/listen to. On the net, unlike television, the user needs to seek out the content they consume.

The mediums for getting out your company's message will continue to change but one thing that will probably always stay the same is that customers/people just want to be happy.

On second thought, Draper could probably catch up.

Joe "the Internet Meme" Wurzelbacher

Presidential candidates consistently try to connect with voters by telling stories about "ordinary Americans." In our current election the McCain campaign has found a way to connect with voters by doing the opposite. They've asked "ordinary Americans" to tell stories about themselves so they will connect with the presidential candidate.

This all began in the third presidential debate, which took place two weeks ago on Wednesday, October 15th 2008 where Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was turned into a household name. Presidential candidate John McCain attacked Barack Obama's tax plan by highlighting a conversation Obama had with "Joe the Plumber." Joe became something of a touchstone during the debate and by the time it was over "Joe" had been mentioned about a dozen times.

Joe the Plumber's story resonated with some voters. Seeing this interest the McCain campaign made it an integral part of their strategy. They began using Joe the Plumber in the stump speeches of Senator McCain and Governor Palin. The idea was expanded into a theme and they began telling the stories of every "[FIRST NAME] the [OCCUPATION]" you could think of.

In a flash of genius the campaign turned Joe's story into an internet meme by asking supporters to make a video in which they explain how they too are "Joe the Plumber." The McCain campaign encouraged participation by announcing that they would produce a television commercial featuring the "I am Joe" videos. Participants were asked to send the link to their video at the John McCain web site.

Here is the resulting commercial:

YouTube: I Am Joe

Additionally the campaign featured some of their favorite videos on the John McCain web site. My personal favorite is "Joe the Magician".

Joe The Magician

In his book Designing for the Social Web Joshua Porter discusses using "authentic conversation" as a way to engage with customers. He writes "Conversation - at least the act of initiating it - only amplifies the existing sentiment." In an election where John McCain was (and is) down in the polls, and where he needed to amplify an existing sentiment (regarding Obama's tax plan) he hit upon an effective digital strategy to get his word out.