Tracking the Zeitgeist with Google

In Targeting Online Ads, Campaigns Ask: Who’s Searching for What? (pdf)

Discovering how people search for candidate information — exactly what words they type into a search box — is a budding science that is paying big dividends in the presidential race between Sen. John McCain R-Ariz. and Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill..

As never before, the campaigns are buying ads to run along with the results of specific search queries on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Live. Because the ads catch people just as they are searching for information and because they can be tailored to the users’ immediate interest — the phrases they type in — both campaigns are spending millions on the method, which is relatively new in politics.

There is an art to choosing the keyword phrases for which to buy advertising — among them are “water conserving faucets,” “inheritance tax” and “fuel calculator.” And it requires avid monitoring to keep up with evolving popular interests and campaign messages.

Many of the hundreds of keywords chosen by the campaigns for advertising are obvious — simple variations of the candidates’ names.

Others reveal what kinds of issues the campaigns are trying to engage voters on: “gas prices,” “chavez” and “global warming” have been used, according to AdGooroo and SpyFu, firms that track search-term advertising.

But others stray far from policies: “Lipstick,” “hanoi hilton,” “obama muslim” and “hot wife” also have been purchased, according to the ad trackers.