Posted October 13, 2008 11:14 am by

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By Brent D. Payne

A fellow friend and SEO, Vinny Goldsmith, mentioned I should do a blog post about the trends and reasons behind those trends regarding the ‘Palin Effect’.

As many of you are aware, Sarah Palin has been quite the buzz on the internet over the past few weeks. In fact, Sarah Palin related queries (all queries broad matching to ‘Palin’) resulted in 7.18% of Tribune Interactive’s total unique visits from search engines during the month of September. That’s nothing to sneeze at, that’s for sure.

The chart below shows that, for Tribune, she garnered nearly two-thirds of the market share when compared to the other three candidates on the 2008 ticket (broad match on other candidates’ surnames as well).

Furthermore, a Sarah Palin related query (not releasing which) was the top non-branded query for Tribune Interactive during the month of September. This single query alone drove over 1% of Tribune’s overall SEO Visits. Nice work Sarah . . . nice work!

Query Type

Query Sub-Type

% of Total SEO Visits


Brand Name



Brand Name



Brand Name



Brand Name



Brand Name



Sarah Palin



Court Case



Brand Name



Special Interest



Brand Name


But it’s important to also understand whether the trends that Tribune is seeing with Sarah Palin and the campaign, match what Google is seeing overall with the campaign as well. Perhaps Tribune is simply doing horrible for Barack Obama and doing extremely well for Sarah Palin. How do we determine if this is a Tribune issue or truly what is happening on the internet? Well . . . we turn to Google Trends.

The above is a chart of search queries for the terms: Obama, McCain, Biden, and Palin for the month of September 2008 in the United States only. It appears that Palin is getting a lot of queries! In fact, let’s find out how large of the search query market she has . . .

Damn! She has almost 50% of the search queries when compared to the other candidates. That’s a significant portion of the share. She is definitely an opportunity to capture in search if you are a media/news organization such as Tribune.

At this point, then, let’s take a step back and evaluate how Tribune is doing against the above market share numbers from Google Trends. This will give me a good indicator as to where Tribune is winning and where they are falling behind on the opportunities that exist in the 2008 campaign.

Sorry for the confusion on the colors . . . but we can work around that.

According to the comparison between these two charts we can determine the following:

Barack Obama: Tribune is underperforming

Sarah Palin: Tribune is performing well above average

John McCain: Tribune is underperforming significantly

Joseph Biden: Tribune is underperforming very significantly (but may not be worth chasing).

It appears Tribune has a lot of work to do before the campaign to get the other candidates names ranking better in the search engines. (Psst: Feel free to help via some inlinks.) Tribune is nailing it with Sarah Palin but once the other candidate names get on track to where they should be, that will eat away at Palin’s current market share. So Tribune will need to continue to focus on Palin while getting even more aggressive on Obama.

But now let’s do something even more interesting . . . let’s see if the Sarah Palin queries are positive or negative. Let’s see what the public is searching for that’s related to Sarah Palin versus the other candidates. How can we do that? Well, let’s check out Google’s new research tool . . . Google Insights for Search.

If you choose a date range of September 2008, select the geographic region of United States, and enter the term of each of the candidates last names (run separate queries), you get the following related search terms returned to you.

Related Searches: Palin

Related Searches: Obama

Related Searches: McCain

Related Searches: Biden

palin sarah

barack obama


joe biden

tina fey palin

obama mccain

mccain obama

obama biden

tina fey


john mccain





biden palin

sara palin

obama debate

mccain palin


palin snl

john mccain

cindy mccain


palin interview


mccain debate

sarah palin

mccain palin

obama polls


biden debate


obama mccain debate

sarah palin

palin biden debate

fey palin

sarah palin

mccain obama debate

mccain palin

couric palin

polls obama mccain

barack obama

john mccain

bristol palin

obama speech

obama vs mccain

barack obama


obama poll

obama mccain polls

obama and biden

saturday night live

obama news

obama and mccain

joseph biden

sarah palin speech

obama campaign

mccain speech

joe biden biography

sarah palin snl

obama and mccain

mccain polls

jill biden

sarah palin interview

michelle obama

mccain campaign

biden wife

palin speech

mccain vs obama

mccain 2008

biden vp

palin pictures

biden obama

the view

biden speech

palin photos

barak obama

senator mccain

biden senator

Note: Interesting that ‘Lipstick on a Pig’ didn’t make this list under any of the candidates.

Personally, I feel the above search queries (in approximate order by the way, according to G’Insights) aren’t queries that are going to help McCain-Palin win the ticket come November. Why? Because it appears to be significantly entertainment based and at times even reflects queries that are unfavorable to the McCain-Palin campaign (i.e. couric, interview, etc.). The queries for Obama are considerably more serious and contain no negative connotation to the queries.

So why isn’t Tribune doing as well for Barack Obama? After all, Tribune’s second largest newspaper ( is located in Chicago. Plus, Obama is an Illinois Senator and Tribune has significant historical content on Barack Obama. In contrast they have very little historical content on Sarah Palin and, as we are all aware, she lives in Alaska (Tribune has no news organizations in Alaska). Why isn’t Tribune, and more specifically, Chicago Tribune able to capture a larger share of the Obama queries? Check out the following screen shot . . .

Barack Obama Search Results on Google

Look at all of those Obama sites! Holy cow! That is a lot of sites being ran by Barack Obama and his campaign. It’s kind of tough to rank too well. 😉 Furthermore, the competition for Barack Obama is considerably higher. If you compare the domain strength of the sites ranking well for Barack Obama versus ranking well for Sarah Palin, you will see a stark contrast.

So, in closing, is there really a ‘Palin Effect’ occurring out there? Oh, ‘You betcha!’ there is. Everyone is interested in her as a celebrity of sorts though (based on the queries) more so than interested in hearing about her political stance, poll numbers, etc. They want to see the latest Tina Fey video that takes jabs at Sarah Palin. They want to see pictures/photos of Palin. Plus, they want to see ‘that interview’ that everyone keeps talking about. Sarah Palin has become an overnight celebrity. But, perhaps unfortunately for her, she is not being queried like a serious political candidate. Looks like the Secret Service may not need to setup a camp within a stone’s throw of Russia afterall. 😉

About Brent D. Payne

Brent D. Payne is the person leading the charge for SEO within Tribune Interactive where he recently doubled the number of unique visitors from search engines (year over year) for the Tribune Interactive properties such as Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times. He works closely with both editorial leads and technical leads within Tribune as well as working with external companies such as search engines, outside consultants, or other enterprise sites. When Brent isn’t doing SEO, he is . . . well, doing SEO. Yeah, it pretty much consumes his life . . . at least when he doesn’t have his 5-year old son.

  • I guess SNL’s ratings are up 50% and I think the Web is to thank for that.

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  • John Skookum

    I think it was Oscar Wilde who said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Whatever message John McCain wants to send, he had better let Sarah do the sending.

  • Daniel P.

    Palin has inspired overwhelming public desire to learn more about her rise to within inches of the US Presidency. For someone so thoroughly unknown, it’s no wonder information queries preponderate on her name.

    However, to assume that this is in some way an indication of Palin’s appeal indicates a fundamental misunderstanding the information medium. Queries do not reflect any bias; nor can any inference be made concerning spikes in public interest other than that the public has been activated to seek essential information concerning her candidacy and her claims. As other statistical information already compiled shows, there is obviously no correspondence between information queries and popularity.

  • Wow, extremely thorough Brent, nice work. I did a smaller (much) post about election trends a few weeks ago-

    Marty M’s last blog post..I can has!

  • Shurley

    Terrible work.

    You didn’t even mention that, by the way, Palin is under investigation in her home state for abuse of power… couple this with her *literally* being unknown, is it any wonder a higher number (and percentage) of persons are searching for her?

    Compare this with when Obama first hit the scene, and then you might have something worth reporting.

  • To be clear . . . I’m their In-House SEO, not a reporter. My points made are in regards to the search trends we are seeing and the buzz on Google about Sarah Palin related queries and how those correlate to other candidates.

    It’s about search volume. I also make a conclusion that she is more of a celebrity in regards to search patterns than a political candidate. That’s an opinion of mine based on what I compiled for search queries from the above state tools.

    Thanks for the feedback though Shurley. 😉

  • I love when someone takes the time to put together all this trend data into one place. Great job Brent.

    Michael D’s last blog post..Vaccine Freedom Rally & Lawsuits: Saving the Children

  • So, I deleted a couple of comments here. It’s easy to get cute and, sometimes heated, when discussing politics.

    Please keep your comments relevant to the content of this post.


  • @Shurley @BrentDPayne As we know, celebrity doesn’t always equal anything positive. It also doesn’t mean anything negative. It’s subjective and the individual applies their own meaning. Brent did a great job of presenting facts, not opinions.

  • Joe

    Great data and I think your article rightly does not infer that the search interest in Palin shall translate into votes. She is a heavy search topic in the way that Jessica Simpson and Brittney Spears once were … temporary objects of public curiosity.

    Joe’s last blog post..What Happens When A Devisee Predeceases The Testator?

  • …and the moral of this story is – SEX SELLS – even (or especially), in politics. Nice post, solid trends, good unbiased commentary.

  • Brent,

    That was a refreshing take on the current election coverage. I learned something from it!


    Mark Mulvihill

  • I have been doing a lot of web searches about Palin. It is not that I like her. In fact I really don’t like her. I am just absolutely amazed at the fact that someone as ill qualified and who has the values that represent about 2% of America has ended up where she is.
    Sarah Palin is a joke!
    But what I am really trying to understand is why McCain, Palin, and what seems to be most of the Republicans are so angry?
    The Republicans have been driving the bus for eight years and now that they have steered it off a cliff they are blaming everyone else.
    Someone please explain.

  • Wow! What an analysis. One would of course imagine that searches do not translate into votes!

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  • OK, clearly some of you are unable to comment without being abusive, so I’m closing comments.