Without a doubt, this year's elections will be influenced by digital media more than any past races. Sure, we were entering a digital era back in 2008, but by now the Internet follows us wherever we go and whatever we do. We rely on computers and Internet connections so much more than we did the last time we voted for a president.

Online advertising and search engine marketing have also grown. According to SEMPO's annual SEM reports, search engine marketing was approximately a $13.5 million industry in 2008. Despite the economic conditions of the U.S., it is an industry that has continually grown.

As people are learning about political candidates and deciding who to vote for, they will go online to look for more information. They will probably start off with a search on Google or another search engine. This has changed the nature of political advertising, and candidates can take advantage of political online advertising and paid search in several ways. Even in May, online ad spend for the election was seven times higher than it was in 2008. This post will explore different tools and strategies that candidates are using to campaign in this year's election.

Targeting

One advantage of politicians advertising online as opposed to in traditional media is the ability to target advertisements to specific audiences. Politicians can target a specific demographic and then tailor the advertisement accordingly. For example, instead of including the URL for a candidate's website in all advertisements, different ads can highlight different components of the campaign and his/her stance on certain issues. This can be especially effective in appealing to swing voters. These voters may not know who they are voting for, but know what issues they care about and will search to find out each candidate's stance on those issues.

A new Google AdWords feature also allows politicians to target ad campaigns by congressional district, which will surely change the online marketing strategies of local politicians. Normally, ads can be geotargeted by ZIP code, but congressional districts change with census results every 10 years and don't necessarily line up with ZIP codes. This eliminates the risk of paying for advertisements shown to searchers in other districts that wouldn't even be able to vote for the candidate. In addition to this tool, Google has launched an entire "Four Screens to Victory" guide to help candidates connect with voters via TV, personal computers, mobile devices, and tablets.

Keyword Bidding

The keywords candidates use can also strengthen their political campaign. By effectively bidding on a variety of different keywords highlighting different parts of their campaign, political candidates can both reach larger audiences and lead searchers to specific areas of their websites. For example, a Search Engine Watch article from August looked at the keyword bidding habits of the Obama and Romney campaigns.

The author of the article found that both candidates bid on names other than their own. One example is the Romney campaign bidding on Mike Huckabee's name. By bidding on the names of other politicians that endorse him, he may be trying to rally the supporters of his allies.

Now, let's look at Obama. While it looks like most of Romney's search ads lead to his campaign's home page, Obama leads searchers to several areas of his website, one of which talks about Romney's economics. It looks like both candidates bid on keywords related to the other's name.

Once the conventions are over and election day gets closer, we'll likely see candidates start to change their strategies and keywords. What do you think they will be?