Inside Labour and the Conservatives' search engine bidding war

There is nothing we like more in PPC than seeing a good old bidding war between two or more rival advertisers. However, we were flabbergasted to witness what might just be the first ever political PPC bidding war in the UK.

As our country prepares itself for yet another election, one key topic of interest to the public has come to the forefront across the whole of the UK. Proposed changes to the social care system have dominated political discussion over the last week or so.

We’re not here to tell you our thoughts and opinions, merely to assess firstly the digital strategy of both the Conservative and Labour campaigns and secondly, the impact this will have on the layout of the ‘dementia tax’ search engine results pages.

Following the proposed changes to the social care system, the Conservative party came under significant criticism. As expected with any UK general election, this was widely discussed in broadsheets, tabloids and on social media. The topic has been so heavily discussed over the last few weeks that Google’s trends data shows a significant uplift in searches for ‘dementia tax’:

As a result, if you were to search ‘dementia tax’ on Google, which many voters will do when looking for information about the election, you would likely see the following results page staring back at you:

The extensive criticism is there for all to see, with each organic listing describing the prime minister's U-turn as weak and embarrassing. These are not coveted adjectives to describe you in the build-up to a general election and our prime minister has sought to do something about this. You can’t just remove an organic listing, but there is a way to reduce the damage and that is through PPC – we’ve seen similar tactics in the past from BP over the oil spill back in 2010.

Introducing a PPC ad to the results pages has allowed the Conservatives to provide its side of the story and increase the volume of traffic driven to its site. Furthermore, this has pushed organic listings below the fold, at least some of them anyway. This is actually a shrewd move from the Conservative campaign given the significant increase in searches surrounding the term ‘dementia tax’.

Despite London Economic’s claim (shown in the results below), the party hasn't “hijacked” Google to do so. In fact, so long as it pays its AdWords invoices, there really isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it from a legal standpoint.

However, Labour has adopted the 'if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em' tactic. This is where things become more interesting from the point of view of a PPC manager.

Labour entering the results pages, as seen above, has done two things. Firstly, it allows the party to share its side of the story and drive further traffic to its site in a bid to help topple the Conservative government from power on the 8 June. However, Labour’s presence in these SERPs has only driven the organic listings further down the page.

The news carousel is still on show but if anything the Labour campaign has helped to complete the Conservatives' objective of pushing the negative organic listings below the fold. This issue therefore becomes a straight-up bidding war, with the party in position one likely to drive more traffic to its site than the party in position two. However, it should be said that given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this, there is no guarantee which would drive the most traffic to its site as users will likely click the ad of the party they want to hear from.

Everybody that has seen this story and read this article will likely have their own opinion on the social care system and each party's position on the issue. Whether you agree or disagree with the use of advertising in a political election, it is refreshing to see PPC being used in a different way, with the political leaders of the country's two biggest parties thinking outside the box.

Stuart MacLean is PPC manager at Equator

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