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The Digital Election for U.S. President

Posted on 11.05.2012

Election time has finally come to the U.S. and for many it’s none too soon. After nearly one year of seemingly non-stop participatory democracy, by tonight we’ll know just who will be the leader of the free world for the next four years.

But whether you’re Democrat or Republication (or Green or Libertarian), the role the Web and the broader digital world plays in these candidates success can’t be overstated. But if U.S. Presidents were elected by proficiency in search engine optimization, social media and web design and development, who would win?

Barack Obama

Social media is clearly where Obama shines and the sitting president’s social media profiles are, as a result, outrageously high.

Facebook fans total 32 million and Twitter followers total nearly 22 million, leaving Obama with a whopper of a Klout score at 99. What’s interesting about Obama’s social prowess is that it extends to which includes the Google Plus One snippet and Twitter Cards in addition to some deep Facebook integration.

Obama may have social media all wrapped up, but when it comes to on-site SEO, several mistakes were made which may ultimately cost the 44th president his job. The president’s official reelection site does have an XML sitemap but no HTML sitemap and (gasp) no robots.txt file either. does have 3.3 million pages indexed by Google however, with nearly 14 million inbound links from nearly 9 million sites. All those links are clearly important but the Obama campaign’s mistakes are the result of more fundamentally poor SEO choices – namely using duplicate descriptions within internal pages. The Obama campaign does have a blog but it’s nearly impossible to locate much less understand when new posts were published. There are some bright spots however including the use of microdata.

Much like Romney (as you’ll see in the next section) this election was apparently all about analytics for the savvy candidate: in addition to Google Analytics, the Obama campaign also uses New Relic and Chartbeat. When it comes to mobile, Obama got it done with a mobile version of his site, and even using the meta viewport tag (which tells a device how to orient a site on the screen).

Mitt Romney

Search is one area where Romney could threaten Obama’s run for reelection.

But even though the benefits of on-site optimization are so well documented, Romney’s election site has made as many wins as fails. Most notably, the official campaign site does provide unique titles (and within the recommended 75 character limit) but in some – if not most - cases the page descriptions (the value of which is hotly debated) are completely absent. Romney didn’t fare well when it comes to alt tags either – of the 22 images found on the homepage, just one had a defined alt tag. Romney’s digital election team does do a few things very well including regular posting (although the blog is exceedingly difficult to find). The Romney campaign has published an XML sitemap (no HTML sitemaps though) and provides a robots.txt file (unlike Obama).

Technical elements aside of course, popularity when it comes to search is determined in great part by the number of links and Romney came up short in comparison to Obama – only 187,000 pages on were indexed with 3.4 million inbound links from just 62,000 referring domains. Social media isn’t a bright spot for Romney as it is for Obama (just 1.7 million Twitter Followers and 12 million Facebook fans) but the former governor of Massachusetts has done some impressive work on his site in relation to SEO best practices. Mobile is a brightspot for Romney however. A mobile version is available and like Obama does include the meta viewport tag.

Other noteworthy elements of Romney’s SEO strategy include a heavy focus on all things analytics (using such services as New Relic, Optimizely, Lotame and Search Discovery in unison. Romney’s site is hosted at Amazon (also using its CloudFront CDN) and uses the Drupal content management system.

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