For the purposes of this post, I will reemphasize my professional credentials. I have been working for nearly three years now in the private sector in web marketing, specifically in the field of search engine optimization. In my day job* my official title is SEO Content Strategist, where I do a substantial amount of copywriting and strategic content development with the end goal of getting my clients appropriate organic rankings, traffic and conversions. In January of this year I earned my Google Analytics Individual Qualification; last month I earned my Google Adwords Individual Qualification.
With that as a backdrop, I have been reading of this story with increasing concern:
How many clicks does it take to soil a candidate’s online reputation? A prominent liberal activist would like to find out.
Chris Bowers, campaign director for the Daily Kos, is launching a behind-the-scenes campaign against 98 House Republican candidates that attempts to capitalize on voters’ Google search habits in the hopes of influencing midterm races.
Bowers wants the Daily Kos’ thousands of participants to dig up little-noted or controversial news stories about the candidates that could hurt their chances with undecided voters. Users would click on the links and blog about the stories with the goal of boosting their rankings on search engines, so that undecided voters will discover them more easily.
I took some time to go through Bowers’s introductory post** and later posts related to his campaign, and in my professional opinion, Bowers’s approach incorporates widely accepted SEO best practice, and based on what we know of Google’s algorithm is very likely to have an effect on long-tail searches for certain candidates. Put bluntly: if I were trying to orchestrate an on-page optimization and off-page strategic linking campaign among multiple web properties to manipulate search results for queries related to certain candidates, what Bowers is doing is pretty much the route I would take.
Regardless of what Bowers may say, it’s impossible to call this anything other than an orchestrated Google bomb. Dirty pool? Unethical? I’d certainly say so. But likely pretty effective in terms of impacting organic rankings.
Whether it will have any actual impact on the election is a different question, and at this point the momentum is already so heavily at the Republicans’ backs that I have a hard time seeing it do much to sway the midterms overall. But very tight elections are a different matter; concentrate efforts on a few close races and you might just tilt enough votes to swing the contests in your direction. As the Internet continues to become the battleground for electoral politics, the GOP grassroots needs to wake up and understand the impact this could have on future political campaigns.
*As spelled out on my bio page: any opinions shared within this site are mine and do not reflect the views of my employer.
**Take a good look and you’ll noticed I nofollowed the DK link. Whatever link juice I have, I ain’t sharing a drop with the likes of Kos.