In a year without many major elections, the news media needs to find other interesting political stories to report on. A favorite has no doubt been the speculation and rumors regarding which politicians will take the leap and run for president in 2016. There are no shortage of examples of these politicians making comments about running, dodging the question all together or making appearances in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, who hold early caucuses and primaries.
As elections provide endless stories and fodder for news agencies and websites, a candidate’s online reputation can easily be removed from their control if they are not properly prepared. Most politicians with the clout to realistically consider running for president have likely already faced their share of negative press. If they have appropriate web properties lined up and optimized, a Google search for their name will return the most preferred and pertinent information. If they aren’t prepared, potential voters may see negative content, rather than the message the candidate is attempting to convey.
A glaring example of how the political climate can impact Google search results was seen this summer with Republican Governor Chris Christie and Republican Senator Rand Paul.
The war of words between Governor Christie and Senator Paul developed and dominated news headlines in late July. Christie and Paul are both widely considered top contenders for the 2016 presidential race, and their public feud did nothing but swell speculation that the two will be facing off in the Republican primary. Their feud also gave us tremendous insight into how their search results will hold up against fierce media attention. U.S.-based Google searches for “Chris Christie” and “Rand Paul” yielded the following results:
Results on 8/2
Results on 8/2
Christie and Paul had remarkably similar search results in the wake of their public feud and illustrate the importance of online reputation management. The results highlighted in blue are all related to the pair’s recent feud. That topic alone populated 60% of each of their search results.
However, the news cycle is just that — a cycle. The results highlighted in blue eventually dissipated and have fallen in the Google rankings as they have been replaced by more up-to-date news – whether that news be positive or negative for each candidate.
What these search results show us is the vulnerability each potential candidate has for news stories to dominate what voters will see when researching the candidate. Explanation for the vulnerability can in part be explained by the fact that Christie was in control of only 20% of his results, while Paul was in control of only 30%. These are web properties the candidate has direct influence over (campaign websites, personal websites, social media).
Both men had authoritative government pages and a Twitter account in the Top 10. A reputation management campaign would optimize these results, as the smallest of variations in the technical elements of the websites and accounts can heavily impact the type of content a candidate might want people to see.
The small percentage of content under their control is in contrast to some other potential presidential candidates, who possess a stronger resistance to negative content appearing in their results.
For purposes of comparison, lets examine two other politicians who may one day be presidential candidates.
Martin O’Malley, the Governor of Maryland, has signaled that he is likely to launch a presidential campaign and hopes to have a “body of work that lays the framework” for a 2016 candidacy. In the meantime, let’s examine the framework of his U.S.-based Google search results.
Results on 8/2
The Governor has multiple assets including three .gov state websites. He has two social media accounts and things look solid for him 1-8 as 60% of the results are sites under O’Malley’s control or the control of his supporters.
Further examination shows some issues that Governor O’Malley has faced over the years. The “related” searches to Governor O’Malley’s name reveal some unflattering results, which include “Martin O’Malley The Wire”, and “Martin O’Malley Affair” appearing at the bottom of the page. The Wire is a television show with a character named Tommy Carcetti, the fictional mayor of Baltimore. Carcetti closely resembles Governor O’Malley, and it is speculated that O’Malley was the inspiration for the creation of the character.
The resemblance and similarities prompted Google users to search his name in association to the show, which has resulted in this Google problem. Additionally, the fictional character had an affair in the show, which fueled rumors that Governor O’Malley had been unfaithful in his own marriage.
These related searches may be negative and difficult for an online reputation management campaign to repair, but a change in conversation that results in different searches could prompt those suggested and related searches to change to more timely and popular search queries. A presidential campaign will likely accomplish that and could improve his problem in that area of Google. But as it stands, the amount of owned content at his disposal exceeds that of Christie and Paul, providing him with stronger immunity against negative content.
The former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, remains popular; a June Economist/YouGov poll showed her tied atop a poll among Republicans with Senator Paul. While Secretary Rice is not currently in the political spotlight, she is authoring a book set to be released in 2015, fueling speculation about her future. She works as a contributor to CBS News, serves as a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and as a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Similar to O’Malley, Rice has a variety of owned content in her upper search results.
A U.S.-based Google search for “Condoleezza Rice” yielded the following results:
Results on 8/2
Secretary Rice’s current absence from politics no doubt helps her search results. As you can see, she is lined up heavily with positive material. But special recognition should be paid to the type of positive results that exist in the top 10, as they aren’t solely positive news stories or several social media accounts. They are authoritative pages on powerful domains such as Hoover.org and Stanford.edu, which will be more difficult for negative press to infiltrate.
The Secretary is able to show off her positive associations at the top of her search results and mix in her social media content. The top half of her search results largely represents the type of groundwork that would be employed in an online reputation management campaign.
It should come as no surprise that two potential 2016 candidates facing the least amount of national attention — O’Malley and Rice – currently have the strongest online reputations. But the fact that they aren’t in the public eye as much as the others isn’t the only reason they have the better reputations. They also each have a stable of positive assets or affiliations under their control or influence that provide defenses against the never-ending news onslaught a politician faces.
The other candidates may be missing opportunities to better promote properties that should be in their top results. For example, during the Paul/Christie feud news cycle, Governor Christie’s reelection website ranked on the second page of results, which can be considered both a glaring blunder and a glaring opportunity. It currently appears on the first paged ranked #8. But another wave of news coverage has the potential to drop that very important web property.
Candidates should also be aware of both the power and danger of Wikipedia. A Wikipedia page for a candidate will almost always rank in or around the upper results. With an open edit format, the page can contain negative material published by someone at any point. While Wikipedia has a myriad of guidelines to prevent a page from being attacked, the process to remove attack messaging can still be tedious and drawn out over a long period of time. Furthermore, if negative material is notable and properly sourced, it very well could be fair game on the candidate’s page. Chris Christie has a fair amount of negative material on his Wikipedia page, one of his most visible results.
Where are they now?
So you might be asking yourself, over a month after their feud, where do Christie and Paul stand with their Google search results? As one would expect, given the amount of press they receive, the articles covering their feud have left the upper results.
Results as of 9/12
Results as of 9/12
As you can see, the blue highlighted articles about their feud are gone, but for Senator Paul, they have been replaced by a new topic of news (Syria) and a very similar influence on his search results is evident. Given this pattern, Paul will constantly be at the mercy of news agencies in regards to his online reputation. Christie’s results would likely be similar if facing the recent focus Paul has received.
Given the level of scrutiny they face, politicians’ online reputations are among the toughest to manage. A businessperson or a brand may face challenges in their search results as well, and an understanding of the Google landscape in formulating a reputation management campaign is crucial in combating those challenges. It’s even possible that a person or brand has no reputation problem but simply wants to highlight the best content possible.
While politicians may be looking for votes, others can have an online reputation management campaign employed to produce the most desired search results that will improve one’s business and peace of mind.