Wednesday, 5 May 2010

e-Lection 2010

After the US presidential election of 2008, I blogged about the importance of new media in political campaigning and how the number of inbound links to a website could give a good indication as to the swing of the voters. It's no secret that Barack Obama dominated John McCain in terms of online marketing effectiveness and this was demonstrated by the fact his website amassed over double the amount of inbound links of his Republican competitor.

This is the first real UK election of the new media age so it is interesting to conduct the same analysis into the online marketing activity of each party. Whilst other pundits have focused on social media, I thought I would look specifically at the holistic search strategy of each party.

The website for the incumbent party is a simple site that integrates a number of social media elements such as Flickr photos of Gordon Brown and links to Youtube videos of the manifesto and public addresses.

As soon as the website opens, a pop-up is triggered, inviting the user to tell their friends and followers from Facebook and Twitter that they are voting Labour. Despite this being perhaps a bit of a presumptious move and degrading to the user experience, it is not search engine friendly. We know from Adwords editorial guidelines that Google is not keen on pop-ups and can assume the same applies to SEO.

From an SEO perspective, the title and meta tags are all different and reasonably well structured, although there is some inconsistency as you progress further into the site. The site has an unclassified Google PageRank*, meaning that it has been created or redesigned recently, before Google updated their toolbar with the latest update.

It is also interesting to note that Labour have not devoted much attention to paid search, When searching for "Labour Party" in Google, the top result features the title "Labour have Failed". Labour are not bidding on their own brand name or at a minimum protecting it from being used in rivals titles and descriptions which means that rivals can easily enter and manipulate this space.

It is also interesting to note that Labour have not covered themselves in glory on the paid search front. Searching "Labour Party" in Google results in the following SERP. It appears that Labour are not even bidding on their own brand name, allowing rivals to easily enter and manipulate this space.

The conservative party is the only one of the big three to use a dot com domain, which is generally more recognisable to the average user. The site itself is very similar to the Labour site but there is a lot more content and a lot less social media elements which in my opinion, are overused on the Labour site.

Searching for "Conservatives" in Google shows the correct website in the number one position in the natural results with no paid search results above it. However a search for "Conservative Party" features a strongly worded anti-blood sport result in the top sponsored result. Like their Labour rivals, the Tories have neglected paid search when building their online strategy.

The website is fortunate enough to feature sitelinks and a site search box on the Google results page, which enables users to use the Google search algorithm to locate relevant parts of their site. 

Titles and descriptions are well organised and consistent and there is a lot of content throughout the site. However, of the three main sites, the Tories have attracted the fewest number of inbound links, indicating a lack of SEO strategy or ineffective online PR that builds interest in the site. As a result, the displayed PageRank for the conservative website is 6.

The Libdems have used a different format for their site design. It is a bit more colourful and cluttered than those of it's competitors. The Libdems do occasionally show a splash page to their users that arrive from different sources. Whilst showing specific landing pages per source is a good thing, it is not best practice to show these instead of the home page.

These splash pages all have different URL's, little content and no meta or title information which could affect how the overall website is displayed within the search engines. The site itself also has little consistency when it comes to titles and descriptions.

It is interesting to note that the Libdems site has 328,366 inbound links, which is more than Labour and the Tories put together. As a result the Libdems also have the highest visible PageRank of the main three parties with 7.

From a paid search perspective, the Libdems face less aggression than the other parties. They maintain the number one position for the majority of their branded terms and also feature sitelinks below their main listing. Like their competitors, the Libdems do not appear to be conducting any paid search activity which is potentially a missed opportunity.


It is reasonable to conclude that despite the best intentions to embrace online marketing and some real innovation in the social media space, none of the main political parties have delivered an effective search marketing strategy. This is a big missing. Google have released their own interface that allows users to track the performance of different aspects of the election. It is clear that search volume is heavily influenced by the televised debates and campaign highlights or lowlights in the case of Bigot-gate. It is clear to see that a lot of people are searching on both party leaders and names and the main issues involved Indeed, even if I ask Google who I should vote for, no party competes for my vote.

*PageRank described is the value displayed in the Google toolbar, not actual PageRank.

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