ClickRiver/Amazon Testing New Ad Targeting

Advertisers using A9/Amazon’s ClickRiver sponsored listings got an interesting letter today about increased relevance targeting which could result in lower impressions, but higher conversions for advertisers. Will be interesting to analyze the changes as they come in.

From ClickRiver:

Dear Clickriver Customer,

As part of our ongoing performance improvement efforts, we are refining all of our service category targeting to provide the most relevant traffic to your ads. We will provide the same visibility on the Amazon details page while directing placements to the most highly targeted products.

These changes will increase the efficiency of your ads, so while in some cases you may experience lower impression volume, you should also observe higher CTRs (Click Through Rates) and potentially better conversions for your campaigns. More refined targeting, combined with more relevant ads, contributes to a better shopping experience, and results in higher quality traffic for your ads.

How Will This Affect My Clickriver Campaign?

· Impression volume will fluctuate as we test the best inventory for your category ads.

· Clickriver categories that are of higher value to amazon.com customers will be prioritized over less popular categories.

· Quality of Amazon traffic should result in higher CTRs overall.

· There may be some reduction in clicks as impressions are shown only on placements with the most potential traffic.

· You may see higher conversions as the traffic quality improves.

We are always interested in improving the Clickriver program for our customers. If you have questions or suggestions for please contact us at feedback@clickriver.com. We thank you for your business and, as always, we appreciate your feedback.

Regards,

The Clickriver Ads Team

Click Fraud

Click Fraud: A Brief History

Shortly after organic SEO became a recognized marketing channel, the pay per click SEM pricing model was launched. Soon thereafter, problems with click validity arose.

In the fall of 2001, while handling the online marketing efforts for the Chase Law Group, I tracked, analyzed, documented, and eventually negotiated a credit for a click fraud case with what was then called GoTo.com (later re-named Overture, which was then purchased by Yahoo!). I spoke with various industry colleagues including Danny Sullivan and Dana Todd about this new “click fraud” issue – and it came to light that this case might make a particularly interesting presentation at the industry’s popular Search Engine Strategies conferences. Danny was interested in the idea and invited me to speak on a panel to share these experiences with click fraud in order to give advertisers information about how to begin to analyze their PPC search traffic for click fraud and invalid click activity.

In August of 2002 at the San Jose Search Engine Strategies conference, Danny requested that I present the click fraud case in the perfecting paid listings panel, and the presentation received great feedback from advertisers who were interested in protecting themselves from click fraud (or invalid click activity). Included in the first presentation was a thorough description of the important data points necessary for an analysis of ppc campaign traffic, including log file data such visitor referral data, ip addresses, browser versions, click streams, traffic patterns, etc.

Since the first presentation on click fraud (also referred to as click spam – all falling within the realm of invalid click activity), I spoke at various other search engine industry conferences about the issue, educating advertisers and challenging Yahoo!, Google, and other search engines to step up to the plate and address this “underground” issue that few care to speak of.  In my opinion, when advertisers are paying prime PPC rates for fraudulent traffic that is ultimately resulting in higher revenues for search engines and their commissioned affiliates, there is more that needs to be done to address the issue. One of the most disturbing aspects of click fraud activity is that it is not uniform across advertisers – fraudulent clicks occur with varying frequency across verticals, keywords, and bid prices – with increasing evidence that the higher the bid price, the more rampant the click fraud.

Litigation: The Lane’s Gifts & Collectibles click fraud case.

In 2004 I was engaged by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys for this case as an expert witness to assist them with their class action litigation involving the major providers of search engine PPC traffic.

Click Fraud Overview

Some important (and often overlooked) facts regarding the click fraud issue:

1.) Both the search engines and advertisers agree that click fraud/invalid click activity exists

2.) Both the search engines and advertisers agree that advertisers should not be billed for this activity

3.) The search engines have for years told advertisers that their accounts are protected, that the search engines have “systems in place” to protect advertisers from click fraud

The questions, then, become:

– What constitutes a fraudulent click?

– What (and whose) data is used in scoring a click as “fraudulent” or “invalid”?

– When will the search engines admit they cannot address this problem alone?

Click fraud: A Definition

In my opinion, fraudulent clicks or “click spam” can be defined as any kind of click received from a cost per click (cpc) search engine – or from any other online traffic source that is using the cpc pricing model – that occurs with zero possibility for a conversion to occur, or for a web site visit from a legitimate user to occur. Fraudulent clicks happen on a regular basis and to a much greater extent than the cpc engines would have you believe, and while the cpc engines are “working on it” – the burden rests squarely on the advertisers’ shoulders to identify this kind of costly traffic.

One form of fraudulent clicks, and perhaps the most difficult to identify, comes in the form of manually generated clicks, induced either by direct cpc competitors, or by human-driven operations set up for the sole purpose of generating affiliate revenue off of the cpc pricing model. Another method of fraudulent clicking is initiated through automated click generation methods, using bots – software applications specifically designed to click on paid listings. this kind of activity is also initiated by both competitors and by search engine partners and/or affiliates, the latter often instituting extensive technology arrangements to enable their fraudulent click traffic to slip past the internal filtering methods used by the cpc engines. For cpc affiliates, there is a vested interest in generating as much traffic as possible to increase their portion of the shared revenue generated by paid listings. This is an often overlooked source of fraudulent click activity.

The search engines are working to combat such activities, as many of my conversations with them have proven. However, I believe that for publishers to do everything they possibly could do to combat “questionable traffic” is to some extent not in their best interest – as even one half of one percent of click revenue adds up to a very large number to these companies. In my opinion, one half of one percent of traffic is still advertising dollars spent unnecessarily.

It is no secret that click spam is something that few in the search engine marketing (or SEO) industry have cared to discuss, for various reasons – lack of knowledge or direct experience with this type of cpc traffic, an unwillingess to address flaws in the pricing/advertising model, or a general lack of awareness of the issue. In recent years, however, we have seen more attention placed on the analysis of ppc traffic validity – a sign that the industry is maturing and that advertisers are taking the initiative to get more granular with their marketing campaigns.

Do you think you are a victim of click fraud?

While some advertisers can receive quality traffic from paid search, the cost is high when “fake” clicks are generated to your site’s urls. If you think your ppc campaign funds might be depleting unnecessarily due to a competitor’s fraudulent click activity, to affiliate-generated fraudulent activity, or if you are simply suspicious of overly expensive traffic spikes that occur with zero page views or without any increases in sales – then perhaps you should start getting more granular in your analysis of your ppc marketing campaigns.

The first step in identifying fraudulent clicks is to implement a tracking system that allows you to track all of your ppc advertising sources independently, down to the keyword. in the most simple example, you can asssign unique session id’s to each of your urls within your ppc campaigns and then use a basic log analyzer program to begin to investigate the ndata on the clicks received on each url, including date, time, referrer, page views, etc. On a more comprehensive level you need to track conversions, either in-house using your own conversion tracking system, or by using a third-party conversion tracking tool.

Once you have a tracking system in place you are ready to take the next step to determine whether or not your campaign is receiving any questionable traffic. the following are some general guidelines to help you through the process:

1.) Be thorough

– make sure you have a legitimate case
– show data that legitimately points to questionable traffic
– double-check your data – crying wolf will get you nowhere!

2.) Document your traffic analysis

– your observations and analysis are the most important
– include handwritten notes, email exchanges, scribbles, and highlighted reports

3.) Record all click data

– from server logs to third party traffic reports

4.) Take screen shots

– document all relevant competitor positioning and web-based third party reports, when applicable

recommended click fraud action items

1.) Contact other competitors if you suspect competitor clicking

– your ppc campaign might not be the only one experiencing these clicks by a competitor
– two victims’ data can make a stronger case.

2.) Contact your paid search account representative

– explain your situation, provide your account rep with well outlined data, and give them the opportunity to investigate. their investigations can, and do, take time…

3.) Benchmark your data

4.) Consider investing in SEO to supplement your paid search efforts

Related Articles:

click fraud gets smarter -businessweek
february 27, 2006

click fraud: how real is the threat? -emarketer
march 6, 2006

google shares may fall another 50 percent -abc news
february 12, 2006

click fraud chaos -new york post
january 29, 2006

the truth about google and click fraud -thestreet.com
january 27, 2006

kanoodle and click fraud -searchenginejournal.com
september 22, 2005

so many clicks, so few sales -inc. magazine
august 2005

internet advertising fraud places google, yahoo on defensive -los angeles business journal
august 29, 2005

click fraud threatens rising online ad revenue -informationweek
may 2, 2005

click fraud gets day in court, maybe -directmag.com
april 21, 2005

clicking to steal -the washington post
april 17, 2005

will click fraud suits hobble search? – eweek
april 8, 2005

click fraud: problem and paranoia -wired
march 10, 2005

with each technology advance, a scourge – ny times
october 18, 2004

new attacks & defenses in click fraud war – datamation
september 21, 2004

lost per click: search advertising & click fraud – searchenginewatch.com
july 29, 2004

exposing click fraud – cnet/news.com
july 18, 2004

– Jessie Stricchiola, founder
Alchemist Media, inc. / a San Francisco SEO company

 

Information About the Class Settlement in the MIVA (FindWhat) & Lycos Click Fraud Case

Many of you have received the email below if you advertised with MIVA and/or Lycos in the past. In order to receive advertiser credits for any click fraud you my have paid for during your campaign, you must visit www.PayPerClickSettlement.com and submit your claim by April 11, 2008 to be eligible. Please note that if you do not actively opt out of the class (whether or not you submit a claim to receive advertiser credits), you will not be eligible to pursue future litigation against MIVA or Lycos for click fraud-related activity.

-Jessie

Re: advertiser account(s): ******

Notice of Pendency and Settlement of Class Action, Settlement Hearing and Claims Procedure
This court-ordered notice may affect your legal rights. Please read it carefully.
If you purchased online advertising from MIVA, Inc., formerly known as FindWhat.com, Inc., or any of its subsidiaries, including B&B Advertising, Inc. (also known as “SearchFeed.com”), between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2007, or if you purchased online advertising from Lycos, Inc. between September 23, 2002 and March 30, 2006, you are a class member in a class-action lawsuit, Lane’s Gifts and Collectibles et al. v. MIVA, Inc. et al., Case No. CV-2005-52-1, in the Circuit Court of Miller County, Arkansas. This notice is to inform you of the Court’s certification of a class; the nature of the claims alleged; your right to participate in, or exclude yourself from, the class; a proposed settlement; and how you can claim an award of advertising credits under the settlement. For ease of reference, MIVA and its subsidiaries are referred to collectively hereinafter as “MIVA;” however, the provisions of this notice apply to all of these companies.
· The settlement will provide advertising credits to class members who certify that they were the victims of “click fraud” or other invalid or improper clicks on online advertisements purchased from MIVA on or after January 1, 2000 and on or before September 30, 2007, or from Lycos on or after September 23, 2002 and on or before March 30, 2006.
· The settlement will resolve claims that MIVA and Lycos allegedly breached contracts with advertisers and violated other laws by failing to adequately detect and stop “click fraud” or other invalid or improper clicks on online advertisements.
· If you are a member of the class, your legal rights are affected by whether you act or do not act.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS AND OPTIONS
Do Nothing
You will automatically be eligible to submit a claim form for MIVA advertising credits and will give up your ability to sue MIVA and/or Lycos over the subject matter of this case.
Exclude Yourself
You will not be able to submit a claim form for MIVA advertising credits. This is the only option that allows you to bring or participate in another lawsuit against MIVA and/or Lycos about the subject matter of this case.
Object
Write to the Court and parties about why you don’t like the settlement.

· These rights and options—and the deadlines to exercise them—are explained in this notice.
· The Court in charge of this case still has to decide whether to approve the settlement. Awards of advertising credits will be made only if the Court approves the settlement. If someone appeals from the Court’s approval of the settlement, awards of credits will not occur until the appeal is resolved.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
Plaintiffs Lane’s Gifts and Collectibles, Max Caulfield d/b/a Caulfield Investigations, Federal Tax Resolution, LLC, Toni Riss d/b/a Death Becomes You (a/k/a Blue Lips), and Payday Advance Plus, Inc. allege that MIVA and Lycos breached their contracts with class members, unjustly enriched themselves, and engaged in a civil conspiracy by failing to adequately detect and stop “click fraud” or other invalid or improper clicks on online advertisements. MIVA and Lycos deny Plaintiffs’ allegations and contend that all payments they have received from class members for online advertising were legally and properly charged, and that they have neither breached their contracts with class members nor violated any other law through the actions alleged in the case. The Court has not made a determination regarding which of the parties’ contentions are correct.
WHY IS THERE A SETTLEMENT?
The Court did not decide in favor of Plaintiffs or MIVA and Lycos. Instead, both sides agreed to a settlement. That way, both sides avoid the cost and uncertainty of further litigation.
AM I AFFECTED BY THE SETTLEMENT?
If you fit within the definition of the class that the Court has certified, then you are a member of the class and you will be affected by the settlement. The class that the court has certified is defined as:
All persons, together with any officer, employee or agent of the same that have purchased advertising on the Internet from: (a) MIVA, FindWhat.com, and/or any subsidiary of MIVA, on or after January 1, 2000 and on or before September 30, 2007; and/or (b) Lycos on or after September 23, 2002 and on or before March 30, 2006, regardless of where any of the foregoing ads were displayed.
WHAT WILL I GET FROM THE SETTLEMENT?
Under the settlement, MIVA will establish a settlement fund of $3,936,812.00 on behalf of MIVA and Lycos, of which a portion will be used to pay class counsel’s fees and costs, and the remainder will be available to class members in the form of advertising credits that may be applied to up to 50% of the cost of future online advertising purchased from MIVA. To receive credits, you must submit a valid and timely claim form. Credits will be awarded on a pro rata basis, taking into account the amount that you paid to MIVA and/or Lycos for ads that you believe in good faith to have been result of click fraud and the total amount of credits available. For example, if the amounts that you paid to MIVA for the affected ads were 1% of the combined online advertising revenues of MIVA between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2007 and Lycos between September 23, 2002 and March 30, 2006, you would be eligible to receive 1% of the total available credits. You must certify in your claim form the percentage of your ads you believe were the result of “click fraud.” Credits must be used within one year of issuance and may be used only for advertising on the MIVA Media US Network.
HOW DO I SUBMIT A CLAIM FORM?
You can submit a claim form online by visiting the following website betweenthe date of this Notice and April 11, 2008 and entering the requested information.
www.PayPerClickSettlement.com
If you do not submit your Claim Form by April 11, 2008, your claim will be deemed late and will be rejected.
WHAT ARE THE ATTORNEYS GOING TO BE PAID?
The Court will decide the amount of fees to be paid to class counsel and the extent to which the expenses that they incurred in working on the case should be reimbursed. Class counsel intend to seek a maximum of $1,287,270.00 in attorneys’ fees and expenses in this case. Under the settlement, MIVA and Lycos have agreed that they will not oppose an award of up to this amount to class counsel.
Class counsel also shall petition the Court to determine the amount of an Incentive Award to the class representatives in an amount not to exceed $25,000 (or $5,000 for each named class representative). Under the settlement, MIVA and Lycos have agreed that they will not oppose an award of up to $25,000 to the named class representatives.
WHEN WILL THE COURT DECIDE WHETHER TO APPROVE THE SETTLEMENT?
The Court has scheduled a hearing on April 30, 2008 at 9:00 CST to consider whether the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate and to determine the amount of the fees and expenses to be awarded to class counsel. The hearing will be held in the Miller County Courthouse at 400 Laurel Street, Texarkana, AR 71854. It is possible that the hearing may be postponed.
HOW DO I REMAIN A CLASS MEMBER?
You do not need to do anything to remain a class member. You will be bound by all orders and judgments of the Court, whether favorable or not. You will be represented by class counsel. You do not have to pay class counsel.
If you remain in the class, you will be eligible to submit a claim form for MIVA advertising credits online between the date of this notice and April 11, 2008. In return you will be giving up any claim for damages against MIVA and Lycos relating to the subject matter of this case.
WHAT AM I GIVING UP TO RECEIVE ADVERTISING CREDITS OR STAY IN THE CLASS?
Unless you exclude yourself (opt out), you are staying in the class, and that means you can’t sue, continue to sue, or be part of any other lawsuit against MIVA or Lycos relating to the subject matter of this case. It also means that all of the Court’s orders will apply to you and legally bind you. The legal issues in this case involve allegations that MIVA and Lycos breached their contracts with advertisers and violated other laws by failing to adequately detect and stop “click fraud” or other invalid or improper clicks on online advertisements.
Any member of the class who does not opt out fully and finally releases and waives all claims, demands, rights, liabilities, and causes of action of any nature that were asserted or might have been asserted, known or unknown, concealed or hidden, anticipated or unanticipated, under any law whatsoever, that arise out of, relate to, or are in connection with the legal claims against MIVA and Lycos in this case, or any facts, transactions, events, policies, occurrences, acts, disclosures, statements, omissions or failures to act, known or unknown, which are or could be the basis of claims that the monies MIVA received for online advertising on or after January 1, 2007 and on or before September 30, 2007 should not have been charged, received or held by MIVA and claims that the monies that Lycos received for online advertising on or after September 23, 2002 and on or before March 30, 2006 should not have been charged, received or held by Lycos.
HOW DO I EXCLUDE MYSELF (OPT OUT) FROM THE CLASS?
You may exclude yourself (opt out) from the class if you mail a signed letter asking to be excluded from the Class to Global Director of Advertiser Support, MIVA, Inc., 5220 Summerlin Commons Blvd., Suite 500, Fort Myers, FL 33907. The letter asking to be excluded must be postmarked no later than thirty (30) days after the date this Notice was sent. If you are excluding yourself, the letter must contain your name and address and say that you want to be excluded from the settlement. If you are excluding your company, your letter must contain your company’s name and address, your position in the company, and a statement that you are authorized to act on behalf of the company. If you exclude yourself (opt out), you will not participate in the settlement or receive any of the benefits of the settlement. If you wish to remain a class member, DO NOT send a letter asking to be excluded.
HOW DO I OBJECT TO THE SETTLEMENT?
If you don’t like the settlement and wish to object, you must say so in writing. Mail a letter saying what you do not like about the settlement to all of these addresses:
Matt Keil
Keil & Goodson
406 Walnut St.
Texarkana, Arkansas 71854

David J. Stewart
Alston & Bird LLP
One Atlantic Center
1201 West Peachtree Street, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30309

The deadline for objection is thirty (30) days after the date this Notice was sent. If you want to object, you must mail your letter early enough so that it is received by the deadline.
If you make an objection by the deadline, and you also want to speak at the hearing, you must ask the Court for permission to do so. You may choose to be represented by counsel, but you will have to pay that counsel.

Republican Party For Sale At Yahoo

Wonder why Yahoo is having so much trouble monetizing their inventory?

I was reading a political blog when I noticed this Yahoo’s publisher network advertising the republican party of america at low prices on Yahoo store!

We all assume politician’s are corrupt and that votes are for sale, but this perhaps Yahoo has gone to far by suggesting RETAIL corruption!

Even more upsetting than the hilarious content was the ridiculous capitalization. The only words NOT capitalized in the sentence were the ones that should have been.

Republic Party for Sale at Yahoo

Search Spend Laps Display Advertising

Two studies tracking this race conclude that search marketing is lapping the alternatives.

Despite all the hype about display advertising and the block buster ad network deals of 2007, search continues to be the high performance engine that is driving online marketing spend. According to GroupM, search will make up 65-70% of the measured online advertising in 2008, up from 50% in 2005. For the mathematically challenged, that means search has gone from about even to 2 times the display spend. It also means most of the revenue growth has been from search. Nothing But Net, a new study by JPMorgan, meanwhile, puts the global search spend in 2008 at $30.5 billion.*

GroupM goes on to note that online advertising in Sweden is expected to exceed spending on any other channel, with the UK and Denmark likely to follow suit by 2009. Given that search is only getting about 10% of the dollars going to television in the U.S., we have a long way to go to catch up with our friends in Europe (and perhaps European companies need to wake up to the superior ROI of investing in SEO instead of relying on paid search)

Another interesting note from the study is that the 2008 U.S. election cycle is expected to contribute $2 Billion in local and national television advertising. No data is available at the moment, but it seems unlikely that search is getting 10% of that pie and it is clear at the moment that few of the campaigns are spending anything for SEO.

*We rarely call out a company’s SEO issues by name, but JPMorgan needs a lot of help. We wanted to link directly to the report, since we believe in citing source material whenever possible. Despite the fact that this study has been widely quoted, it is impossible to find any links to the study on JPMorgan.com. In fact, searching for study by name, JPMorgan + Nothing But Net, “JPMorgan “Nothing But Net” failed to find a press release, abstract or the study in the top 10. We went on to search for “site:jpmorgan.com nothing but net” and still couldn’t find the source.

JPMorgan Executives, if you’re listening, call us. :-)

Google Reveals Adsense Click Fraud Rate is Above 20%

Forbes reported a couple of weeks ago about the latest skirmish over numbers between Google’s Shuman Ghosemajumder and Tom Cutler of Click Forensics. Reporter Andy Greenberg went right to the heart of the discussion by asking Google to address the July 2007 report by Click Forensics.

Within online content networks, Click Forensics estimated that more than 25% of all clicks were fraudulent, up from about 22% in the previous quarter.

Instead of answering a direct question and helping find common ground, Shuman responds with characteristic misdirection. First he attacks the methodology of other third party auditors with a critique that doesn’t apply to Click Forensics, then uses another third party study to claim that Google is actually charging for fewer clicks than they should.

That’s just one particular set of numbers. The auditing firm, Fair Isaac, for example, estimated in May that on Google’s content network, 10 to 15% of clicks are fraudulent. On ads placed next to search results, they said that there was a negligible rate of click fraud, less than 1%. That implies an overall click-fraud rate of around five to 7%. The number of clicks that we proactively throw out is less than 10%. So then the question is really: How much are advertisers getting for free thanks to our detection methods?

Shuman is a politician or a magician and perhaps a little of both. Instead of watching his lips, think about what he actually said and take time to do some math. The information Schuman provided proves that 22-28% of the clicks on the content network are invalid clicks.

Schuman tells us that the clicks on Google.com are only 1% invalid. Accepting that number (which seems entirely reasonable) and his implicit assertion that this represents 50% of all PPC clicks, along with the estimate that Google doesn’t bill for 10% of all PPC clicks, we can conclude that the invalid click rate for the clicks that are not on Google.com is around 19%. (1% Invalid for 50% of all clicks with 10% invalid for all clicks means 50% of the clicks have a 19% invalid rate).

Take that 50% of PPC clicks that we can infer from Shuman are not taking place on Google.com and break it down a bit more, and you wind up with some of these clicks on the Google Search Network (of which AOL and MySpace are the largest members). Google doesn’t share any data about the percentages of clicks from these partners, but if we assume that 25% of the remaining 50% of PPC clicks – or 12.5% of the overall PPC clicks -come through the Google Search Network, we wind up with 37.5% of PPC clicks coming through Google Content Network. If we assume that invalid clicks from the Search Network is half as much of a problem as on the content network, we can say that:

  • 100% of the PPC clicks have 10% invalid (Google Provided Data).
  • 50% of the PPC clicks have 1% invalid (Google Search, Schuman’s Data) .
  • 12.5% of the PPC clicks have 10% invalid (estimates for search partnership).
  • 37.5% of the PPC clicks have 22% invalid (our estimate based content/adsense advertising).

Still using Google’s 10% of all clicks are invalid, let’s go a little further and suppose that the overall share of clicks from Google.com aren’t 50%. Let’s say they are 60%, which is what we have observed with our campaigns. (again, Google won’t share these figures at the moment)

  • 60% of PPC clicks have 1% invalid (Google Search)
  • 10% of PPC clicks have (search network) have 10% invalid
  • 30% of PPC clicks have (adsense/content distribution) have 28% invalid clicks.

Clearly, this analysis is riddled with assumptions, but it is time for Google to stop responding to Click Forensics with intentionally confusing data. Come forward with a breakdown of invalid click by channel and let’s have an honest and open discussion about the remaining difference. Google might just find out that a little transparency goes a long way.

From SEO Consulting company Alchemist Media, Inc.

Political Search Marketing: Electronic Grass Roots

In Candidates Need SEO, Scott Willoughby examined the need for political parties and candidates to begin serious search marketing. Scott’s analysis is excellent as far as it went, but he missed the big picture. SEO and PPC for candidate sites is a tiny piece of the potential of search expertise to impact elections.

Joe Trippi, the former campaign manager for Howard Dean and current campaign manager for John Edwards, pioneered the use of the internet in presidential campaign. He was very successful raising money through small donations and using the internet to coordinate local supporters and events. Groups such as Move On have taken that example and refined the model to develop virtual communities and infrastructure that brings together supporters into physical meetings.

Candidates from both parties have borrowed heavily from these ideas. Their sites offer calls to action: donate money, volunteer, create a personalized version of the site (McCainSpace, my.barackobama.com), plan or attend an event, register for emails, download flyers and other ways to harness the energy of their base. The Edwards campaign even has a section on “Action For Bloggers”, although it is unclear what they have in mind.

Candidates and parties need to broaden their view of the internet and see beyond the fund raising channel and a way to interact with supporters, so they can unleash the power of Electronic Grass Roots. Political pundits and organizers frequently refer to the grass roots and the ground game as important factors in winning elections. They stress the ability to get people on the streets, knocking on doors and engaging their friends and family to support the candidate. The internet provides new vehicles for individuals to impact the outcome of an election.

Individual Persuasion:

Individual users, bloggers and webmasters can influence others through posts, comments and discussions. Virtual conversations take place over time and without the pressure of a face-to-face interaction. They can be viewed by thousands of people and provoke additional discussion threads. Virtual campaigning by individuals can be at least as powerful as persuading people by knocking on doors.

Social Media Action:

Political operatives have not begun to understand the collective power of a group of hundreds of thousands of people as social media activists. Reddit, Digg and other crowd sourcing platforms are among the most heavily trafficked sites in America. It only takes 50 or 100 votes on these sites to make an article “popular” and perhaps a couple of thousand votes to keep it on the homepage for a day or more. Even the “marginal” presidential candidates can muster enough support to generate exposure for their point of view or to promote articles and sites that support them into the public discussion.

Search Results As Truth:

For most people, (even the few Americans who are not search professionals :-) ) the internet has become the way to get more information about almost any topic. The top 10 or maybe 20 results are the entire consideration set for people who want to learn about an issue or the candidates.

The true power in Electronic Grass Roots is the ability to affect search results. The power of a few hundred sites to influence search results has been demonstrated over and over again. We’re not talking about Google Bombing, we are talking about SEO and reputation management strategies combined with an organizied effort that influences link acquisition and/or distribution.

An army of hundreds of thousands supporters — orchestrated by a party, a presidential candidate or an interest group with a sophisticated knowledge of search optimization — has the ability to promote virtually any websites, articles and position it near the top of the search results for a given query.

The ham handed political SEO might focus on Rudolph Giuliani in drag, kissing Donald Trump or the fact that Giuliani , a Roman Catholic, demonstrated the strength of his convictions by getting divorced twice, including an annulment after 18 years of being married to his cousin. Ranking a YouTube video or a Wikipedia entry would not require a Herculean effort. Likewise, John McCain cannot escape his defense of Bush’s War in Iraq or the fact that McCain has new bedfellows the Right Wing, such as Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

The subtle operative will recognize that this strategy is also effective when employed with a subtle hand. It is much more powerful to assassinate someone character by talking about a $400 haircut than attack John Edwards on the environment .

Pushing a highly negative article from a right wing pundit to the top will be much less effective at reinforcing peoples’ reservations about Hillary Clinton than promoting the New York Times article about Bill Clinton being Strategist in Chief. Equally important, it wouldn’t take a lot of external validation to rank an article from the Times that already contains plenty of content and keywords.

As for Barack Obama, his early opposition to the war in Iraq will have the manipulators of the Right pushing stories linking him with the NAACP in supporting immigrants’ rights.

Who needs talking points when you can get Google, Yahoo and MSN to tell your story. That’s the power of Electronic Grass Roots.