(Google) Insights on VP Candidate Sarah Palin

John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate was certainly a surprise. Before last week, very little was known about Palin outside of Alaska. And in today’s world, people immediately go to Google for information about the unknown. Were the Republicans prepared for what the world would find?

While Google has always been a guide to information, historically little has been revealed about Google searches — that is, until now. Google recently announced Google Insights, a tool that provides unprecedented data on Google’s user searches and trends. Here are three quick tips on how to leverage Google Insights, whether you’re running a presidential race or a brand marketing campaign.

1. Photo Searches for Palin ‘En Vogue’

The Republican party would have benefited from making sure that the correct information came up on Google for searches for Palin. Once they knew Palin was the choice — or before then, ideally, they should have done everything in their power to ensure when people raced to the Internet that the search engines returned favorable write-ups and images.

Vogue Sarah Palin

As a result of the above image, “Vogue Sarah Palin” became a hot search term.

While organic search listings are difficult to adjust in a short amount of time, every little bit helps. Hence, the more time you have to announce a new product or vice presidential candidate, the better off you’ll be.

Planting “Internet seeds” is valuable. Too often, companies and political parties make last-minute decisions, which is costly on the Internet.

For example, Coca-Cola failed to buy paid placements on the search engines when Coke Zero launched. People couldn’t find information about the new product online, even though the company was spending millions on television commercials.

In Palin’s case, what appeared atop the Google image results was a fairly revealing photo of her on the cover of Vogue, as well as some rather aggressive/bogus photos. To the Republicans’ credit, they bought sponsored listings the day after the announcement, which pushed people to McCain’s site. However, they should have done this the instant the announcement was made.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are nowhere to be found. They aren’t buying keywords and directing users to a different spin on Palin. Plus, Republicans are outbidding them right now for the term “Biden.”

In terms of Google Insights, the next step for the Republicans is to see what words people are searching for as they relate to Palin. Insights’ “breakout” tool indexes words that have abnormally jumped up. While the Republicans are buying terms like “VP Palin,” “Sarah Palin,” “Palin,” etc., they’ve missed terms like “Governor of Alaska” and “Vogue Sarah Palin.” The breakout tool would tell you these are highly relevant search terms.

Also, look at the images below on how radically different searches can shift. These are the breakout terms for August 30:

Sarah Palin Searches Aug. 30

And these are the breakout terms for the following day, August 31:

Sarah Palin Searches Aug. 31

Notice how “Vogue Sarah Palin” jumps up the next day. Also, the two top breakouts are Wikipedia related; hence they better make sure that write-up is flattering (another poignant example of why I vehemently preach that social media and search are inseparable).

It’s also intriguing that users aren’t savvy enough to go directly to Wikipedia and search there. Look for Wikipedia to take more of Google’s search share in the coming months, as this extra step is frivolous. It reminds me of when I worked at Yahoo and the top search term in the Yahoo search engine was “yahoo.com.” Sad, but true!

2. Google Insights Struggles with Timeliness

Unfortunately, the breakout tool is the only real-time feature with Google Insights. This isn’t surprising. One of Google’s main downfalls is its inability to adjust rapidly to the changing world (as discussed in my last article about new Olympic celebrities). However, Google has made improvements in this area, and Google Insights is a very useful tool.

For example, prior to visiting various states on the campaign trail, advisers to Barack Obama or McCain can use Google Insights to see which issues are important to those regions. They can type in an issue like “hybrid cars” and know that the top searches per capita come from Massachusetts and California respectively. No surprise there, but what may be surprising is that New Jersey ranks third.

3. Why Chevy Hybrid Cars are on the Rise

Searches for Chevy’s new line of hybrid vehicles are up 40 percent. This is welcome news and also important data for the brand marketers at General Motors. In the past, they would have had to wait months for this type of market feedback on how their advertising and product were performing. Now, feedback is almost real-time. They can also use the data from Google Insights to quickly tailor their existing marketing buy.

For example, GM is progressively purchasing on Hulu. Hulu specializes in streaming popular television shows and movies over the Web for free. Knowing that Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey index high in interest for Hybrids, GM can adjust their Hulu media buy to heavily IP target (99 percent accurate, according to IP industry leader Digital Envoy) these three states and run their ads on political comedy shows “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

This is much more effective than buying a 30-second commercial on network television in hopes you reach a potential buyer or voter (and that they don’t TiVo through it). So with new tools like Google Insights, it is anything but politics and business as usual.

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