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SEO 101 For Campaigns: An Interview with Neil Patel

BY Fred Stutzman | Thursday, April 19 2007

At techPresident, we've previously explored how candidate sites are faring in search engine rankings. The placement of search engine results proves to be very important, as research shows that individuals are more likely to pay attention to (and ultimately click through) the top results in a search engine. As it happens, the placement of search results (known as SEO, or Search Engine Optimization) is also a big industry. TechPresident sat down with Neil Patel, the founder of ACS, a firm specializing in SEO and social media marketing. We asked Neil some basic questions about SEO, and why it matters to presidential candidates.

Fred Stutzman (techPresident): Please describe SEO, and why it matters to presidential candidates.

Neil Patel (ACS): SEO is the acronym for "Search Engine Optimization", it basically refers to the art / science of getting websites high rankings on the search engines.

SEO matters to presidential candidates because this election will bring a massive online component to it and you can be sure that voters will be using the search engines to find out about the presidential candidates and legislation that matters to them. It's important that these candidates are showing up where and when they should be.

FS: Please offer a few simple steps that will help candidates improve their SEO strategies.

NP: There are many on-page SEO factors:

1. Make sure that the title tags (<title>) on every page are unique. This is to ensure that the search engines view each page of the website as unique. The title tag of a page is what shows up on search engines as the title for a result.

2. Make sure each page has a relevant and descriptive meta description tag. Ideally this description should be short, unique for each page and also have a few keywords in it, such as the candidates name. The meta description tag is what shows up on the search engines as the description for a result if it is included on a webpage.

3. Make sure that the URLs for pages on the website do not contain any extraneous characters. Dynamic URLs with extraneous characters are harder for the search engines to crawl.
is better than

With the amount of links that should naturally come into these websites, the above 3 simple SEO practices have the potential of yielding decent results within the search engines.

FS: Do you have any suggestions for how some existing candidates might improve their SEO?

NP: One think that is a common thing about several of the candidate sites is the fact that they have a splash page that comes up before the website itself. This can hurt the rankings of a website because it is an extra layer that the search engine robots have to go through before getting to the content of the website.

Most of the candidate's websites have good URL structure, except for Duncan Hunter's and Rudy Giuliani's campaign websites. They both use extraneous characters in the URLs on several of the sections of their website. Ex. and

FS: In terms of SEO, we've all heard of Google Bombs. Google says it has changed its algorithm to prevent Google Bombs. Do you believe this, and if so, do you see any new techniques emerging on the radar?

NP: The search engines have been making it harder and harder for these types of techniques to succeed. That being said, I think the candidates should be more worried about "bad buzz" or "bad press" that gets out which subsequently get picked up and ranked on the search engines. If some bad press gets out and makes it to the blogosphere, there are high chances that it will get ranked for the candidates name. I think this is something that will be the hardest thing to prevent now that there are so many people blogging and discussing these things online. It is becoming increasingly important for candidates to start monitoring buzz and making sure that someone from their party is there to join in on the conversation whether it is good, bad or ugly.

FS:In the grand scheme of things, how important is SEO to a presidential candidate, especially due to the fact anyone who legitamately has a chance of winning the election already has good placement and recognition?

NP: Candidates that are front running are surely going to have a strong position and sometimes very few tactics can change people's opinions. However, there is always a certain part of the voting population that will be on the fringe and search engine rankings for certain keywords can change an opinion at the right time. It's important to have the best foot forward at all times especially if things get close.

Neil Patel is an Internet marketing consultant and the founder of ACS, formed in 2002. He frequently writes about Internet marketing on the company blog,