Presidential candidates partner with Google to target voters online

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With 24 states voting in primaries on February 5, candidates took advantage of highly geo-targeted online search marketing campaigns, according to Peter Greenberger, team manager, elections and issue advocacy at Google.

Some were even geo-targeting by ZIP code, so depending on where voters lived, they saw different advertisements online, added Greenberger. He helped Google launch its political and public affairs division when he joined the company about eight months ago.

“I spent more than a decade working on campaigns,” Greenberger said. “[Google] reached out to me because there was an understanding that the political world speaks its own language and it's an advantage to understand it.”

The division primarily works with candidates, issue-advocacy groups and tax-exempt 527 groups. “It's sort of a broad spectrum of political players and organizations,” said Greenberger, who works out of Washington, DC, while three others on his team are based in New York. “We have a small team, which is growing.”

Another is joining the division next week, bringing their number up to five, he said.

Greenberger declined to name the presidential candidates his team has worked with, but indicated that they came from both sides of the aisle. “Each of the major presidential candidates have used search advertising in this campaign. Some are using it more, some are using it less,” he added.

What Google's political, public affairs division does is educate political players and issue-advocacy groups on how to reach their customers, primarily through the use of Google Adwords, Greenberger said. “We're teaching campaigns how to serve those ads that reach those voters when and where they're looking.”

People now spend as much time online as they do on TV, which is about 14 hours a week each, according to Greenberger. Online search has provided new opportunities and ways to reach voters, particularly at the very moment they are making their decision on who to vote for, he said.

Overall, Greenberger said he has seen an “explosion” in search and online political advertising since the Iowa Caucus. He estimated that somewhere “north of 2%” of all political advertising would be spent online this year, a significant increase from years past. “It's still small, but it's increasing. We're encouraged so far by the campaigns that are participating,” he said.

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