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The Great Goldman Google Ad Conspiracy Doesn't Make Any Actual Sense

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 21 2010


There's rumblings and grumblings on the right that the Obama White House and Democratic National Committee have shown signs of colluding with the Securities and Exchange Commission; see, for example, an Erick Erickson post on RedState that asks, "Is the White House, SEC, and DNC Colluding to Destroy Goldman Sachs to Pass Financial Reform?" One of those signs of supposed collusion is that Organizing for America ran Google Ads pegged to searches for Goldman Sachs very shortly after the SEC announced Friday its lawsuit against the firm. But this is one part of the conspiracy theory that just doesn't really stand up to critical thinking.

Over on, Organizing for America's new media director Natalie Foster writes about inquiries from the conservative press that hinge on the idea that Google ads should take about a day to run. That's not true. Practice and experts tells us that Google ads can indeed go live in as little as 1o minutes, as Foster showed by quickly running an ad for Washington Times + purveyor + “baseless Republican conspiracy theories." Google ads start up almost instantly unless they are controversial enough to get flagged for human review, say those in the know, but that clearly isn't the case here.

Instead, what this is is a demonstration of a tactic that I reported on last month where the Obama White House, to great applause, snatched up a Google ad for "What is in the health care bill?" after Google's trend data revealed that people across the country were searching for the answer to that very question immediately after the bill's signing. Foster writes, "News is instant, and folks consume it quickly. It’s the job of a digital strategist to jump on the wave. That’s what our vendor did in this case."

Red represents Google searches for "financial reform" over the last 30 days. Blue shows searches for "Goldman Sachs."

OFA has been pushing on the financial reform front for weeks now, but the challenge, from their perspective, is that normal Americas don't actually go around searching for things like "financial reform" all that often. At least, that's what Google Insight reveals. In the last three months, for example, there has been a single search for "financial reform" for every eight searches for "Goldman Sachs." In the last seven days, it's jumped to 18 Google Searches for Goldman Sachs for every one of that for financial reform.

Good online search strategy means going to where the people are. The DNC is attempting to capture part of the public conversation to advance their own agenda. We might hope that people might fire up Google to track down the latest details on "S. 3217," but that's not where we are at the moment. Maybe it offends some sort of puritanical sensibility to be offended by the White House pouncing on the hot news story of the moment to drive politics, but then you have a problem with politics. Do we doubt that Alexander Hamilton would have uploaded copies of the Federalist Papers and picked up Google search ads on "Shays' Rebellion" had he had the chance?

Anyone can see what's popular on Google Trends. That's not collusion. That's just paying attention.

Update: Mike Madden covers much of the same ground in a piece posted yesterday afternoon on Salon.