After Kamala Harris launched her Presidential campaign a few weeks ago, like thousands of others I took to Google to learn more about her. I Googled “Kamala Harris”, hoping to check out her official 2020 campaign site.

I couldn’t find it. There were no sponsored Google ads pointing me to it and her campaign site didn’t appear in the first page of Google’s search results. I found her Twitter and Facebook accounts, her official Senate site, her Wikipedia entry, and articles about her from Politico, Vogue, and the Guardian. But no campaign site in the search rankings.

I eventually got there by clicking on a link in her Twitter bio, but a less persistent searcher would probably have given up or clicked on one of the other options.

I was surprised. While I know having a high Google search ranking in the organic results is difficult and can take time, I figured all the candidates would be running aggressive SEM campaigns. Campaigns are working hard to generate earned media and attention on social; it tracks that they would pay close attention to search in an effort to capitalize in the form of traffic, email sign ups, and donations.

How are Democratic candidate websites performing on Google?

My curiosity was piqued, so I searched for prominent Democratic Presidential candidates by their full name in Google to see how their campaign websites were performing in search. The answer is that it is a mixed bag.

  • Not a single candidate’s campaign site ranked as the first search result. The highest ranking campaign site was second.
  • I only saw SEM ads for 5/10 candidates when running searches for the candidate name.*
  • 6/10 candidates sites were on the first page of searches for their names in Google.*

Here is a chart summarizing results for the candidates I looked at.

Candidate SEM Ads? Organic Rank
Cory Booker Yes 4, behind official Senate site, Twitter account, and Wikipedia entry.
Pete Buttigieg No Campaign site not on first page
Julian Castro Yes 4, after Wikipedia entry, Twitter account, and , Ballotpedia page.
John Delaney No 3, after Wikipedia entry and Twitter account.
Tulsi Gabbard No Campaign site not on first page
Kirsten Gillibrand Yes Campaign site not on first page
Kamala Harris No Campaign site not on first page
Amy Klobuchar Yes 3, after Wikipedia entry and Twitter account.
Bernie Sanders No 2, after his Twitter account.
Elizabeth Warren Yes 4, after official Senate site, WIkipedia entry, and Twitter account.

*Note that I did this research in Chrome using an Incognito window on February 19, 2019 from Washington, DC. It is very possible that you will see different organic results when performing these searches based on your Google search history and location. It is also possible that some of the candidates are running targeted SEM campaigns that I didn’t see.

Why SEO for campaigns is so hard

I’m not particularly surprised that some of the candidates are struggling with their search rankings. Candidates launching Presidential websites face some unique challenges.

  • Their Presidential sites are brand new, and in some cases have brand new URLs. As an example, Tulsi Gabbard launched her Presidential campaign site at the URL Google gives priority to sites that have been around for awhile and that have backlinks from other authoritative websites. It is going to take a brand new site and URL time to build authority.
  • Searches for candidate names are super competitive. Campaign websites are competing for rankings against SEO juggernauts such as Wikipedia as well the candidates other web properties (Twitter accounts, Senate sites, previous campaign sites, etc.). If you can get your campaign site in the top 5 results, you are doing pretty well.
  • Google is prioritizing real time content. Since candidate names are newsworthy topics, news content is receiving priority in Google results. For most candidate searches, Google is putting Top Stories above the organic results (see screenshot below) and including recent news articles on page one of results. More competition.

Kamal Harris Search Results


What can the candidates do to improve their search performance?

  • Run aggressive SEM campaigns. During a period when many candidates have low name recognition and voters are starting to do research, campaigns should be running aggressive SEM campaigns for the candidate’s name. This is particularly true for candidate’s struggling with organic SEO.
  • Use an established URL. The candidates that are performing well in search are mostly reusing established URLs. Using a long established URL allows you to leverage historical backlinks and domain authority.  As an example, Cory Booker’s campaign is using the URL for his campaign site. Looking at Wayback Machine, Booker has been using this URL for his campaign sites dating back to 2001 when he ran for city council in Newark. Compare that to Tulsi Gabbard who is using, a basically brand new URL that actually looks like it was owned previously by some sort of troll (sample headline: “Voters are morons”).
  • Choose a URL with the full candidate name. One of the key factors in determining search rankings is the use of keywords in the URL. Given that I would recommend a URL that includes the candidate’s full name like over something like
  • Redirect old campaign sites. If you search for “Tulsi Gabbard” the third result takes you to her Congressional campaign site, Her Presidential site is nowhere to be found. I would redirect these legacy sites to your new campaign site in an effort to avoid voter confusion and piggyback off existing Google juice.
  • Optimize your site. Some of these candidate sites were built months in advance and are well thought out. But having worked on campaigns before, I can tell you that others were built over a chaotic few weeks (or even days) with SEO as an afterthought. Candidates should audit their sites to make sure that they don’t have any obvious problems (slow load times, mobile optimization, strategic use of keywords, etc.).
About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.