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Trend To Watch In 2012 – The Rise Of Mobile

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, November 30 2010

TechPresident is pleased to publish this guest post from Katie Harbath, chief digital strategist at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Courtesy Katie Harbath / NRSC

Ask any candidate or campaign manager that ran in 2010 what their mobile strategy was and they’ll most likely go into an explanation of their text messaging program or, more likely, why they didn’t even invest in mobile because “text messaging doesn’t raise money.” This narrow view of mobile among the political community is misguided and if they took a moment to look at the mobile analytics to their web site and in their search ads they’ll realize a percentage of their visitors is already interacting with them via mobile devices.

First, people need to stop thinking about mobile just in terms of text messaging and expand that view to include all mobile browsing and various apps. While text messaging is important it is only one aspect of the mobile pie. The sale of smartphones is exploding and according to an estimate by Morgan Stanley smartphone shipments will eclipse PC shipments in 2012. If these trends hold it means that 2012 very well could be the year of mobile for political campaigns.

Courtesy Katie Harbath / NRSC

For us at the National Republican Senatorial Committee our first ventures into mobile were the launch of an iPhone app in May 2010, the first of any of the party committees to do so, and the building of a very simple mobile version of With very little statistics out there on what the political online mobile community looks like I wanted to start gathering some data so we were making intelligent decisions on using mobile and not just flying blind. While our iPhone app didn’t get used as much for uploading and sharing user content as I hoped it would, it was accessed over 26,000 times in five months by people watching our videos or looking for information on the candidates. I think a candidate using an iPhone app would see even more use by its visitors, especially presidential candidates.

In addition to the pickup of our iPhone app the recognition that mobile was rapidly gaining a share of our traffic was realized when I used Google Analytics’ advanced segments to see what people were doing on our site with their mobile phones. What I found was that mobile went from accounting for 3.5 percent of our traffic in 2009 to 6.7 percent in August of 2010. Eighty-four percent of that was from our Google ads campaign, 10 percent from Google organic search and 4 percent from Facebook. The iPhone was by far the most popular device being used, accounting for 46 percent of the traffic with Android at 21 percent. Use of the iPad, iPod and Blackberry followed. Moreover, I noticed that while most of the traffic was just going to our homepage, more than a few of them were also landing on our fundraising page.

Courtesy Katie Harbath / NRSC

With this initial information in hand we worked with the Google Political Advocacy team to set up some specific mobile ad tests to see what kind of numbers we would get. The only goal was getting traffic to our site and downloads of our iPhone app. We spent around $3000 and tested both mobile display and text ads. While my expectations were very low to begin with I was very pleased with the initial results. In the month that we ran the test our mobile ads had over 1.5 million impressions with an average click through rate of .23%.

For the last three months we continued our mobile ad campaigns testing various ads including ones for fundraising and for online surveys to gather email addresses. We also put into place better mechanisms to track donations specifically coming from mobile devices.

In the end we spent 13 percent of our online ad budget on mobile ads. This includes the campaigns we did before we separated the mobile ones out. What we found is that mobile traffic went from accounting for 6.7% of our web traffic to 10% the last month of the campaign. Some of that traffic came from our email list with around 6% of traffic from our list being from mobile. However, most of our mobile traffic was thanks to the ads we did the last week of the campaign helping people to find their polling place.

Courtesy Katie Harbath / NRSC

I had a theory that on Election Day that more people would be using their phones to find where to vote than their computers and I was right. We ran ads for people to find their polling place in all the states with key Senate races. For the entire week mobile accounted for only 25.5% of all the clicks, but on Election Day that switched to where our mobile ads got a 6% higher click through rate than their desktop counterparts and were 39% cheaper. A whopping 65% of impressions and 67% of the clicks on the polling place ads were from mobile on Election Day, and the best performing keyword for mobile, voting locations, had a staggering 20% click through rate.

So, what does this all mean? I by no means think that mobile is going to be the end all be all for any campaign in 2012. Like everything with a good digital campaign, mobile is just one of the important spokes of the wheel that needs to work well with a social media, email, video, online advertising and web site strategy. For instance, at the NRSC we produced about 50 web videos during the course of the campaign and according to YouTube insights, mobile views accounted for 4.6 percent – with nearly all of those coming in just the last six months.

And, while we didn’t raise any staggering amounts of money from mobile I think that will continue to change. While the FEC has recently denied campaigns the opportunity to fundraise via text messages like you can for charities, mobile donations could become much easier if campaigns can figure out how to allow people to donate by making the process easier through one click pay methods and a short form for the additional FEC information required. If is already seeing $1 billion of purchases coming via mobile in the last year, there’s no question that political donations can’t be that far behind.

The smart campaigns in 2012 will focus on making sure their web sites are not only optimized for various mobile devices, but will start testing different mobile pages to figure what works best for their visitors. The smart campaigns will also not focus on mobile just being a fundraising tool but an activism and communication tool. Performable is a great A/B testing website that became invaluable the last few months of the election for testing our donation pages. In addition, I think you’ll start seeing more campaigns utilizing apps that work on iPhones, iPads and Android phones. While at the NRSC we did use our text messaging list to contact voters, we found towards the end it was almost easier to just do pushes to our iPhone app subscribers. It not only allowed us to do silent pushes, so we wouldn’t annoy or wake up everyone with Election Night updates, but we could also provide links that sent people to take action within our app. In addition, the iPad and other tablet devices will offer candidates a myriad of new interactive advertising opportunities to combine video and web interaction. Also you may start seeing more campaigns putting QR codes on their direct mail, or having Apple genius-like people roaming throughout national campaign rallies to gather email addresses or take donations with smartphones.

Regardless of the level that a campaign goes with its mobile initiatives it will be an important part of any 2012 campaign. Mobile can even be important for local races as efforts like Facebook places, Foursquare and Gowalla take off because it will offer new methods for candidates to introduce themselves to voters in very specific areas and eventually turn them into supporters and donors. But first we need to get past the thought that mobile is just text messaging, because it’s so much more.