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Did a "Google Surge" Help Creigh Deeds Conquer Northern Virginia?

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 10 2009

Could one secret to Creigh Deeds' stunning triumph over his better-known and better-funded opponents Terry McAuliffe and Jim Moran in yesterday's Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia have been a tactical Google ad buy aimed at voters in that state's Washington DC suburbs? As the dust settles from Deeds' stunning demolition of his opponents in yesterday's contest, Google is suggesting that a savvy online ad strategy helped to push the rural Virginian ahead of his northern Virginian opponents.

Deeds, a state senator, hails from rural Bath County, Virginia, saddled up against the West Virginia border. Moran and McAuliffe, meanwhile, make their homes in the Washington DC suburbs. But that didn't stop Deeds from stomping his adversaries on their home turf. In Arlington County, for example, Deeds beat Moran and McAuliffe 47% to their 37% and 16%. In Loudoun County, Deeds pulled in the same slice of the electorate and left Moran and McAuliffe with the rest. In Fairfax County, Deeds got a full half of the vote, leaving McAuliffe 21% and Moran 16% -- despite the fact that Deeds was described by the Washington Post in their May 22nd endorsement of him as "an unassuming state senator from a district closer to West Virginia than to Fairfax City." Deeds wiped the floor with Moran in the district Moran's own brother -- the powerful congressman and House Appropriations Committee member Jim Moran -- has represented for nearly twenty years.

That glowing Washington Post endorsement was, in fact, what the Deeds campaign highlighted in its targeted Google ad -- and in particular its linking of Deeds to popular Virginia governors past and present Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Deeds placed visual ads in high-profile online publications like the Wall Street Journal, Martha Stewart Living, and the Post itself. Those ads, though, weren't served up to just any-old-body; they were geo-targeted to only Northern Virginia and Washington DC -- the latter to capture commuters who work in the District but vote in the commonwealth. Google calls the technique a "network blast." It's more commonly known as a "Google Surge," as Kate Kaye detailed in the context of the Scott Murphy congressional race in New York.

When asked, one online ad specialist and contact suggests to me that is a key to understanding Deeds' use of the Google Surge is exactly that Post endorsement -- and the Deeds campaign's tremendous and unexpected momentum it represented. As the campaign closed, Deeds was enjoying an spike of interest the other candidates could only drool over. Google's Insight for Search tool, for example, reveals that searches for Deeds' name originating from the Virginia on Monday were fully twice as numerous as those for Moran or McAuliffe's names. Deeds sudden popularity, says the ad expert, opened up prime beachfront real estate like the Journal and Post for Deeds in the Google ad network. That's because a mostly pay-per-click model made political ads begin to make more financial sense for the company as Deeds became the subject of a surging public interest. It was a win for Google, and a win for Deeds -- in more ways than one.

 

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