Most SEO campaigns are about discoverability. You want to target the keywords people are searching for, rank highly for those words, then turn the resulting traffic into sales.
Political SEO is different, because there’s one keyword that’s going to matter more than all the others, one keyword that’s going to matter to your candidate specifically: the candidate’s name.
The Candidate’s Name
The second your candidate decides they want to run for office, you’ll want to buy [Your Candidate’s Name].com. You’ll also want to grab the candidate’s name, combined with various other popular Top-Level Domains. By Top-Level Domain, I mean the stuff that comes after the final period in the URL. So that means you’re going to want to grab [Your Candidate’s Name].org and [Your Candidate’s Name].net, if nothing else.
There are hundreds of Top-Level Domains out there, so you won’t be able to buy all of them. But the idea is to buy the ones that are most common, and therefore sound the most official. This way, no one can buy any of those urls to imitate the candidate in a convincing way.
You’ll also want to buy [Your Candidate’s Name]sucks.com, once again so that no one else can use it.
No need to worry about [Your Candidate’s Name].gov, because only government entities are able to have urls ending in .gov. [Your Candidate’s Name].politics and [Your Candidate’s Name].us are also worth looking into, but they’re secondary considerations.
Once you’ve bought all the urls you want, redirect the ones you’re not going to use to your main url, which should be [Your Candidate’s Name].com.
[Your Candidate’s Name].com doesn’t have to use any fancy tricks. As far as appearance goes, you want it to look clean and act as a professional face for the campaign.
So you might have the candidate talk a bit about his life in his own words, embed some campaign videos so that viewers can watch them, and have an area where people can go to look at your candidate’s policy proposals.
Linkbuilding For Political SEO
Once you’ve got your site set up, your primary goal is going to be getting that site ranked. We’ll get into why Political SEO can have surprisingly high stakes in a later section, but for now let’s suffice it to say, you want to do a good job.
First that’s going to involve getting links to the site. One of the nice things about Political SEO is that it makes for easy link building: often, all you have to do to get a link is to ask.
When a blog or paper talks about your candidate, ask if they can link to the candidate’s site. When you’re talking with members of your campaign, ask that they link to you on social media and on their blogs. Talk to everyone that wants the candidate to succeed: many of these people will be happy to link to the candidate’s site if they know it can help their candidate.
Blogging for Political SEO
Once you’ve set up the site and gotten some links, you’ll also want to set up a blog. Even aside from SEO matters, there are good reasons for politicians to get a blog: it allows them to react to news stories as soon as possible, to connect with the constituency, and so on.
On an SEO level, it allows them to rank for as many keywords as possible. Once you’re ranking well for your candidate’s name (it shouldn’t take too long if you started your site early, you made the domain name the same as your candidate’s name, and you got links from as many people interested in your candidate as possible), you’re then ready to branch out and target some more creative keywords.
One type of keyword is essentially an extension of your name. Instead of trying to rank just for “[Candidate’s Name],” you might also attempt to rank for, “[Candidate’s Name] health care,” or “[Candidate’s Name] global warming.” You think of what issues are most associated with the candidate, then optimize your blog posts so that searchers find your blog post. This can be helpful if you want to control the narrative surrounding a candidate’s stance on a particular issue.
Another commonsense keyword to rank for is the name of the office you’re running for. So you could write posts on “New York City Mayor,” or “Idaho Secretary of State.”
The final type of keyword is a little hard-hitting, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth pursuing. But given that we’re talking politics, I figured it was worth a shot.
Essentially, what you do is you write blog posts centering around your competing candidates. Then you try to rank highly for their names. The idea is to do the exact thing you’re trying to protect yourself against: control the narrative for your opponents, really focusing the top Google search results on their negative attributes.
The Importance of Political SEO
It’s important to do all of this as soon as possible, because the longer a website is around, the more highly Google ranks it. And if you’re helping a political candidate with their SEO, you could be facing some stiff competition.
It’ll depend of course on what sort of candidate you’re working for. A Soil and Water candidate shouldn’t have that much trouble ranking for their name, to give an example, while the mayor might have quite a few websites writing about him. If your area’s paper has been around for a long time, and it writes an article about your candidate, you’ll want to make sure your website ranks higher.
That’s because Political SEO is less about discoverability and more about damage control. If your site ranks number one for the candidate’s name, you can control the message that potential searchers see when they search for your candidate.
But if your site doesn’t have good SEO? Or, heaven forbid, you haven’t even created one?
A negative Op-Ed from a local paper could be the first thing a potential searcher sees.
If you’re wondering how much of an impact that negative result can have, here’s a specific number for you: 20%.
That’s how much the voting preferences of undecided voters can shift due to a search result, according to a paper from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
And make no mistake, your candidate could see some very negative search results. The most famous example of this occurred in the early 2000’s, when Dan Savage attacked Rick Santorum’s brand: he bought the urls santorum.com and spreadingsantorum.com, and redirected the former so that it brought users to the latter.
It defined Santorum’s name in graphic terms, as you can see here. All visitors to Santorum.com would see the graphic pseudo-definition of Santorum’s name, which then linked to a blog detailing people’s various problems with Santorum.
On December 18, 2016 I searched for Rick Santorum’s name. Here were the first four results:
The very first result talks about the spreadingsantorum.com site. After that you have the Wikipedia page for Rick Santorum, the spreadingsantorum.com site, and a Mother Jones article discussing spreadingsantorum.com.
So three out of the first four search results for Santorum paint him in a negative light.
That’s a lot of undecided voters deciding they’re uninterested in Rick Santorum.
Politics and SEO
As you can see, Political SEO is complicated and important. If you’re an SEO expert, it requires you to view the Internet through a more political lens. And if you’re working for a politician? Chances are you’re going to want to hire the work out, because your candidate can’t afford second-rate SEO in a world where the internet so deeply affects our lives.
What made you interested in Political SEO? I’d like to hear in the comments below.
Looking for someone to help you win the Political SEO game? Contact me here for a free 15 minute consultation.