This post is another in our Evidon Global Tracker Report series. Featuring proprietary insight into and analysis of third-party tracking across the web, articles in the series represent the kind of data you’ll find in the Evidon Global Tracker Report. The next comprehensive report will be published in January, 2013.
Last November, one year away from US presidential elections, we took a look at the number of tracking technologies adopted by President Obama and the slate of hopefuls for the Republican nomination. At the time, the Obama campaign had adopted 41 unique tracking technologies, and the Romney campaign (pre-nomination) was utilizing 34.
Nine months later, with the election less than 8 weeks away, the campaigns are in full swing. This includes, as all US citizens are aware, a barrage of advertising... but the marketing deluge isn’t limited to television and billboards. From May to September, Ghostery panel members encountered 87 unique tracking technologies on BarackObama.com, an increase of over 112% from the same period nine months prior. MittRomney.com increased tracking technologies by over 41%, with 48 unique tools encountered. That’s an average increase of 76.5% across both sites.
Many of the tools are what you might expect - analytics, social, and advertising tools that any web publisher with an eye toward self-measurement and basic marketing might adopt. Between the two sites, however, there were 97 unique tracking technologies - far more than the average site employs. We get a better understanding of what the campaigns are seeking from these 3rd-party tools when we break them down according to element type.
Both sites are focused primarily on ad technologies, as ad network scripts make up over half of the tracking technology on each site. This may seem unintuitive - if neither site shows advertisements, why all the ad networks? Ad network scripts and behavioral trackers serve similar purposes - they help qualify or mark a web user for future ad delivery (so that when the same user is visiting, say, a news site; ad network scripts are aware of their previous visit to the presidential campaign site). The networks are also present in the form of conversion pixels - invisible scripts used to measure the effectiveness of advertising elsewhere on the web. Neither site is using inventory to serve ads, but all of these network pixels indicate numerous relationships with ad networks to deliver campaign ads on other sites. As you might suspect with such aggressive ad campaigns that span such a relatively short amount of time, both camps endeavor to leave no stone unturned in their search for ad inventory.
Page widgets represent about 16% of all the tools utilized on average. Unlike network conversion pixels and other data collection tools, widgets like social buttons, comment forms, and audio/video players take actual page real-estate and must be considered in the aesthetic design of the site. Popular tools are only available in limited numbers - even with the arrival and expansion of new social networks, there are still only a few sharing scripts considered ‘must-haves’. These factors place a natural ceiling on the number of widget-type tools that are added to a site. This ceiling does not deter both campaigns from focusing on and featuring prominently the ability to share your support for the campaign via social networks. Much has been written about how the Obama campaign excelled with using technology - particularly social networks - to win the White House in 2008, and both campaigns appear to be embracing that philosophy in 2012.
More interesting is the frequency of behavioral tracking beacons and web analytics tools. Inclusion of some analytics tools is common for any site - designers and marketers measure things like page performance and user interaction to improve server configuration and site layout. Behavioral trackers are similar to ad conversion pixels, but instead of measuring your previous interaction with an ad, these scripts place cookies that help qualify you for ad delivery later. With a combined unique count of 21 behavioral data collectors and 7 analytics scripts, the presidential campaigns are digging much deeper - or at least casting a wider net - than a typical site. Inclusions of tools like these indicate that campaigns may be using demographic and geographic analysis to measure their popular support and/or tailor their message. Data analysis for a presidential campaign is a non-trivial task, and it would appear that both campaigns have plenty of data to keep themselves busy. But does one side have a data collection advantage over the other? The Obama campaign has obviously utilized more tools, but a look at unique adoption suggests the advantage may be more than simply volume. Of the 97 tools found, 37 were shared between the sites. MittRomney.com features 11 tracking technologies found exclusively on his site, while BarackObama.com is home to 49 trackers that you won’t find across the aisle.
Both campaigns have invested heavily in data collection to target their online advertising, working with dozens of third party data collection technology providers. Instead of managing their campaign websites as though they were traditional content sites, both campaigns are managing them as though they were sophisticated online commerce sites. This anonymous tracking of users across the web empowers the campaigns to target them with advertising messages to win their vote the way an e-commerce provider targets consumers to win a transaction. But, as is the case with any website owner, the campaigns need to realize that being on top of which technology partners are appearing on their site, and ensuring clarity into what these partners can and can’t do with the data, is essential. Additionally, looking at the tremendous growth in use of tracking technology in recent weeks reveals a significant windfall for online data collectors and ad targeting companies from both the Romney and Obama campaigns. For more analysis, see the New York Times story "Tracking Voters' Clicks Online to Try to Sway Them", which cites this study.
Global Tracker Report data is compiled with Ghostrank, Evidon’s Ghostery® panel of over 7 million monthly users worldwide who opt in to report the tracking code they encounter as they browse the web. If you have ideas about data you’d like to see featured in this series, or ways we can present this data, email Andy at Evidon.com. If you’d like more information about how to receive the Global Tracker Report, email info at Evidon.com.