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Ten years of New Labour and the web

And I'm back...

Ten years ago today I was in my first PR job at Willoughby PR working on a big campaign for a bingo brand. We'd just been given internet access to our desktops for the first time - I think I was using Netscape as my browser and Alta Vista was my search engine of choice

Ten years on the world has changed massively. The company I work for now was just about to be founded and what I do for a living hadn't even been conceived of... Google was two chaps in California who didn't really know they were Google yet.

The changes and challenges for media and communications have moved on for everyone, not least political parties.

To mark the occasion I've taken a brief look at the fortunes of the Conservative and Labour parties in the UK in attracting attention from social media and posted it at Brand Republic. For those of you allergic to free log-0ns (and I do sympathise) here's an excerpt:

Labour's home page has 3,583 links showing on the Technorati blog search engine while the Conservatives have 5,372. When it comes to the two parties' focal points for bloggers, the ConservativeHome site and LabourHome, there is an even more marked gap. ConservativeHome gets 7,731 while LabourHome gets just 760 links.

You can see a copy of one of the web maps I've used as illustrations and some more thoughts on the Spannerworks Search Sense blog.

And I'll leave you with a question I put to some of the guys here at Spannerworks: which will be the first political party to hire a search engine marketing agency and when?

If anyone's interested enough to leave a comment on this I'll throw in my twopenneth worth...


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Interesting, but you can't really compare ConservativeHome (2+ years ago) to Labourhome (set up less than a year ago). Additionally, ConservativeHome enjoys the support of various Tory insiders, whilst the Labour leadership focus on traditional media outlets simply because they get more play within that kind of framework.

I have a question though: do you think it'd be worth the effort to start working on organic search marketing, given the amount of negative search engine optimisation already in place by the likes of Tim Ireland (re: Labour, for example), etc? My thinking is that the 'traditional' search marketing done these days works quite well because you don't have an opposite force trying to weigh your rankings down.

Jag, are you saying CH has more support from insiders, or from the leadership?

Despite its small audience LabourHome seems to have had some support from the Party's leadership, e.g. Blears. It is afterall (and unlike CH) run by a wannabe-Labour MP and is generally quite on-message.

Sort of, Sam. I didn't mean it in the sense that CH is Tories.com, but rather that Labour ministers and insiders still prefer to utilise traditional/old media outlets, for various reasons, but notably because these guys are part of the government and the media plays to that effect.

And you're right about Hazel utilising Labourhome, but she's one of a handful. How many Labour MPs or ministers have ever posted anything on Labourhome? Compare that to the almost weekly interaction between CH readers and the Tory leadership.

Jag - thanks for your excellent comments. I think you can compare the two. You can look at links earned in the past six months for instance: LabourHome has 25% of the links that ConservativeHome gets from roughly a third of the blogs.

I think search engine marketing is something the parties must consider when they begin to understand search as medium. Good practice in search is coming to be about good communications and reputation rather than simply trickery.

Search engines are the front page of the web for so many people - they can't be ignored in the communications mix. More than that, understanding searchers and their behaviour can bring you closer to understanding the people that matter most to any organisation.

You're right in a way to say "there's no opposite force" - the market for attention on the web, expressed in search engine rankings, is skewed by important players not yet understanding how to compete or manage their communications effectively.

And as for "traditional" search marketing - at ten years old surely it's a discipline that is still being defined - we can't have traditions yet, can we?

A party in opposition is surely going to get more traction than the governing party? As in, people aren't going to be very activist when they've already won. The Tories also have the luxury of promising the earth... but I know this isn't a party political discussion.

Also, not sure 'links earned' over a period is a fair measurement. An established site will garner more links than a new site every time, unless it's fallen into disrepair. Like my blog.

Do you not think they all already have SEMs working for them? Normally, this sort of stuff is very undercover, though. I hear the last labour and conservative manifestoes were both written by contract pu (aghh!!)

Ian, you're right about political opposition suiting social media more at the moment... perhaps there need to be new approaches to communications and party organisation to challenge that.

I expect that there are party staffers who know something of search marketing - whether they are real experts in the field or the parties understand the nature of search as a medium - I'd be surprised if that were the case.

Do you not think that the Tories are all over things like SEO like a rash? I had thought that they hired an ex Google staffer to develop their digital strategy - which could not fail to include things like search.
I was having an interesting conversation with someone from the States who said that the political parties there viewed the Tories as being at the cutting edge of digital outreach.
I think that the way that Royal and Sarkozy used the web is actually more cutting edge, but what do I know.

It's interesting that people see the Tories that way and it is quite possible that they are ahead. I'd say everyone was at very early stages at the mo...

The Conservatives aren't quite cutting edge. In fact, the Tories are borrowing quite a bit from John Edwards' web-strategy, as in: flooding the Net with their content; reaching out via every social networking tool imaginable; and keeping everything pretty at the same time.

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