Finding a presidential candidate’s official website can be tricky. Sometimes that is because someone has intentionally disrupted a campaign’s public message. Sometimes it is a campaign’s own fault.
Consider an example of Instance #1: In 2003 during an interview, Rick Santorum spoke about homosexuality and bestiality in the same breath. In response, Dan Savage of The Stranger created and promoted a site that redefined Santorum’s name into a substance I would rather not describe.
For a long time, Savage’s site, spreadingsantorum.com, came in as the first result on the results pages for various search engines. It’s taken awhile but Santorum’s main campaign site has now replaced Savage’s for the first spot on the results page.
Similar “campaign disruption” sites have been created to target other Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. However, these sites do not rank very highly on the results page, and in the case of Paul, the site is actually positive: it claims Ron Paul=Champion of the Constitution.
Paul has a different search engine problem, which is an example of Instance #2: his own campaign is ineffectively promoting Paul.
A web search for “Ron Paul” will produce a barrage of sites, and at first glance it is near impossible to discern which site is the official Paul campaign site. All of the results sound legitimate enough: ronpaul.com, ronpaul2012.com, ronpaul.org, ronpaulforpresident2012.com, and ronpaul2012.net, just to name a few.
The internet presence of candidates is crucial in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Having a centralized web identity is paramount for two reasons.
First, it’s about consistency of message. Voters go to websites to learn about a candidate’s personal story and to learn about their stance on issues. For a candidate like Paul, who has literally stayed on message since the 1960s, having any inconsistency across the sites is problematic.
For example, curious individuals who go to RonPaul2012.com and want to know more about health care are met with two clear, concise messages: “Do no harm,” and “Freedom not force.” The first talks briefly about Paul’s professional history as a doctor and his commitment to this principle of medicine. The latter zones in on Paul’s desire to repeal the Obama administration’s health care law and lays out an exacting plan of how he will work with Congress in a short list of bullet points.
However, someone who goes to RonPaul.com in search of health care information encounters a somewhat rambling message interspersed with videos, transcripts, and excerpts before concluding with a 16-point plan.
RonPaul2012.com is the campaign’s official site and RonPaul.com is a fan site, but the two contend for the first position on the search-engine results page, followed by a litany of other sites. (Try googling “Ron Paul,” which site do you get first?) For the casual searcher, it can be confusing which to pick. And for a candidate, looking to get an exact message to potential voters, it can be damaging if the searcher selects the fan site first.
The other crucial aspect of a centralized campaign site is distributing and disseminating consistent information about events.
When voters, supporters, or interested citizens want to know more about a candidate’s event schedule, they often go to their website. This approach makes perfect sense. But when there are multiple websites with different event information, things are no longer simple.
The official Paul site has timely event postings, documenting his rallies and appearances for the next few days. The site also integrates various Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Google Maps, and iCal options so users can get event information to social networks, map locations of events, or add it to their personal calendar.
As for the other sites, forget about fancy integration: they don’t even have events. The fan site doesn’t have any events listed until Election Day. For the casual searcher, it is confusing.
We have all heard that Paul has a devoted, young following who, because of their generational familiarity with technology, are able to surf the interwebs and find his official site with the desired event information. Such folks arrived en masse at Paul’s SeaTac rally this past Thursday. But for the casual supporter or person who wants to experience Paul-mania in person, Paul’s multiplying web presence can be tricky to navigate.
Paul may want — and need — to take a page from Santorum’s playbook on getting the real Ron Paul to come in first.