Canada’s Political Parties: Do They “Get” Paid Search?

by Martin Perron

Via Flickr © dionnemusic

Via Flickr © dionnemusic

With Canadians heading to the polls on October 14th, inspired by the energetic and dramatic US election race, I was wondering if our political parties in Canada have been influenced a bit by savvy Internet campaigns from our neighbors south of the border.

The Internet’s influence on politics is growing

According to a few recent studies such as “2008 Search Engines and Politics: A Study of Attitudes and Influence” and “How America Searches: Election ’08 Update”, online voters rely heavily on news sites, candidates’ websites and search engines for election information. And by looking at the discussions about Obama and McCain’s paid search campaigns – 2008 seems to be the year where politics “got” search marketing – at least in the United States that is.

Who’s doing what?

The Canadian political parties seem to be making some attempts at connecting with voters through social media in these elections but I was curious to see how they fared with paid search? I decided to do a bit of digging to get a glimpse each party’s PPC strategy. To test, I made a top-level list of keywords for each party and searched these from different provinces on Google (the searches were done on the evening of Wednesday Sep 24, results may vary going forward). Below are my observations:

Conservative

Conservative Party of Canada

The incumbent conservative political party led by Stephen Harper: www.conservative.ca

The keywords: conservatives, conservative, conservative party, conservative party of canada, stephen harper, elections canada, stephane dion, elizabeth may, jack layton, gilles duceppe, election (s).

Verdict: They don’t get it. Nothing – not one ad from the conservative party on any of the keyword variations. Maybe they didn’t get Google, so I did a sample search on Yahoo and MSN – nothing again. Ah well, next…
Liberal

Liberal Party of Canada

The liberal opposition party led by Stephane Dion: www.liberal.ca

The keywords: liberals, liberal, liberal party, liberal party of canada, stephane dion, elections canada, elizabeth may, jack layton, stephen harper, gilles duceppe, election (s)

Verdict: I found no sponsored links in Google and at first glance, it didn’t look like they “got” it either, except maybe for Scott Andrews, Federal Liberal Candidate in Avalon, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I checked out Yahoo and MSN out of curiosity – to my surprise, the Liberals are using both! So, why not Google?

Here’s a sample of Mr. Dion’s ads:

Liberal Party of Canada Meet Your Liberal Candidates & Get Info on Elections Canada 2008 Here. www.liberal.ca

Stephen Harper Meet Your Liberal Candidates & Get Info on Elections Canada 2008 Here. www.liberal.ca

Liberal Party of Canada Make Polluters Pay. Canada’s Liberals have the plan to lead the world. www.liberal.ca

Canada’s Liberal Party Latest Information on Liberal Candidates & Elections Canada 2008. www.liberal.ca

They seem to be using dynamic keyword insertion in the title tag…the second one might be an invitation for Mr. Harper to meet his Liberal candidate but I don’t think so!

So they somewhat “get” it.

ndp

The New Democratic Party of Canada

Canada’s progressive social democratic party led by Jack Layton: www.ndp.ca

The keywords: ndp, new democratic party, jack layton, elections canada, elizabeth may, stephane dion, stephen harper, election (s), canadian election

Verdict: They seem to “get” it, way more than their opponents. They appear to be targeting NDP related keywords as well as Jack Layton. They are also targeting Stephane Dion and uniquely Stephen Harper with a political social site: www.orangeroom.ca. I also noticed some ads on the content network in my gmail. As for creatives, they are focusing their catch-phrases, the message of change, family and a call to action to donate now. Also noticed that even when targeting Stephane Dion, they redirect focus on Stephen Harper. They’re also using Yahoo and MSN – see Liberal screenshots above.

Here are some of the ads:

Reduce bank fees It’s time for a PM who’ll put your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

Layton takes on Big Banks Finally, a prime minister who’ll put your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

Jack Layton for PM Change that takes us forward, not backward. Donate now. NDP.ca

Reduce cell phone fees It’s time for a PM who’ll put your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

Do you trust Harper? It’s time for a PM who’ll put your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

Harper’s wrong on smog It’s time for a PM who’ll put you and your family first. NDP.ca

Join Jack Layton’s team Finally, a PM who’ll put you and your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

Harper’s wrong on tuition It’s time for a PM who’ll put you and your family first. NDP.ca

Harper wrong for students It’s time for a PM who’ll put you and your family first. NDP.ca

Layton takes on Big Oil Finally, a prime minister who’ll put your family first. Donate now. NDP.ca

So far, the NDP seem to have a more comprehensive paid search strategy across Google, Yahoo and MSN. Let’s look at the other parties… green party

The Green Party

Environmentalist party led by Elizabeth May: www.greenparty.ca

The keywords: the green party, green party of canada, elizabeth may, elections canada, gilles duceppe, stephane dion, stephen harper, jack layton, election (s)

Verdict: Nope, they don’t get it…or more likely, they may not have as much funding as the above 3 parties. However, interesting that one of the active paid search campaigns on terms like: “vote”, “elizabeth may”, and “the green party” is none other than David Suzuki with his site VoteEnvironment2008.ca. The site is intended to help make the environment a priority in the current federal election so that the next government, regardless of which party wins, will work toward solutions. Here’s a screenshot of ads looking to set the record straight.

Liberal

Le Bloc Quebecois

Political party devoted to “defend the interests” of the province of Quebec. As such, it campaigns only within the province during elections. The keywords were searched both in french and in english: www.presentpourlequebec.org

The keywords: le bloc, bloc quebecois, gilles duceppe, elections canada, stephane dion, elizabeth may, jack layton, stephen harper, election (s)

Verdict: Nope! At least not on the Google’s search network. I may have spotted them on the content network in French but I’m not sure and couldn’t replicate it.

Update: Noticed some ads today for the Bloc – both on gmail and on google search in french…here’s a sample ad:
Élection Fédérale 2008 Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe Élection 2008 www.blocquebecois.org

Liberal

Bonus

Spotted the Progressive Canadian Party on the content network on gmail.com – they’re a small progressive-conservative party led by Sinclair Stevens. Here’s a sample ad:

Harper’s Hidden Agenda Harper’s hidden agenda revealed. The truth about what’s in store. ProgressiveCanadian.ca

The Winners: The NDP

So far, the party using paid search better than their competitors is the New Democratic Party – with honorable mention to the Liberals for giving it a try. As for the reason why the other parties aren’t actively using paid search in these elections to connect with voters, the ideas covered by Laura Callow in her post “SEM in Canada” might give a hint as to why.

Come on, get with it!

Paid search should be considered by the Canadian political parties during their campaigns. South of the border, the political parties seem to “get” it. So much so that SMX East has dedicated a Paid Search Track on Search & the US Presidential Campaign. The session is scheduled to look at ads, tactics and overall strategies by both the Obama and McCain teams. SES Toronto may have more luck hosting a session: “Where’s Search in the Canadian Election Race?” – maybe they should invite Jack Layton as a speaker, eh?

If you spot any of the parties turning up the heat with their paid search campaigns, feel free to add in the comments below.

This post was authorized by the registered agent of Bloom Search Marketing.