Candidates McCain and Obama are aggressively using paid search word buys to court prospective supporters.Basically, this involves buying small text or banner ads that display when someone uses the relevant search engine — Google, Yahoo, whatever — to seek online info using a particular word or phrase … like “economic crisis” or “Iraq war.” A further refinement is to geo-target the buys, so that, for example, only online searchers from California might see an Obama ad tied to “offshore drilling.”The concept is pretty straightforward, but execution can be complex.On the front end, of course, are tactical considerations as to which words/phrases to purchase, where to target geographically or demographically, timing (it pays to be nimble when key issues turn hot), and landing page construction (message delivered, response sought, etc).On the back end, realtime reporting means that the campaigns’ buyers should be monitoring which placements are yielding both quantity and quality of traffic, and adjusting buys on a continuous basis. Some placements will yield higher converting leads (donations, registrations, info requests, visit lengths). Some landing pages (which ideally, of course, should be customized to the search term) will more successfully yield conversions. All of this needs to be measured and evaluated … quickly.How many nonprofit online fundraisers are up to this level of sophistication?This Ad Age article describes the process in some detail as employed by the McCain campaign, which gets the nod for being more ambitious and sophisticated.The same techniques are available — and apply — to online prospecting (and persuasion messaging) by nonprofits. Note that these “paid search” tactics represent proactive, affirmative outreach (going where the fish are), as compared to “search engine optimization” which is all about crafting your website so as to attract search traffic passively (hoping the fish will swim to you).We’d love to hear stories of charity or cause fundraising campaigns that have used paid search — successfully or otherwise. We can all learn.Tom

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