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Google and online campaigning

by Eric Lee

In a previous column, I made the case that the Internet has made campaigning much easier, cheaper, faster and more effective than ever before.

All of us who are connected to the net are by now aware of the many different ways in which unions and other progressives campaign -- by email, through websites, and so on.

But one of the less-well-known tools we have at our disposal -- and one which has proven very effective in LabourStart's own campaigning efforts -- is the search engine website known as 'Google'.

There was a time just a couple of years ago when hardly anyone had heard of Google. To show just how unknown Google was, when I discovered it and wrote a column about it for a trade union paper, the folks at Google were so happy about getting the plug that they sent me a t-shirt in the post.

That wouldn't happen today. Today Google is everywhere -- it is by far the most popular (and most effective) tool for finding things on the web.

Indeed, studies have shown that for many people unfamiliar with the net, they think that Google is the only way to actually reach a website. People type in either the name of the organization they are looking for (such as 'IWW' or 'LabourStart') and then click on the 'I'm feeling lucky' button to get to the site. They are apparently unaware of the address bar on the top of web browsers where most of us would type in the web address. Many others type in the actual web address (such as into Google's search engine in order to get to the site.

Google is everywhere -- and that means that if you want to reach people who are interested in a certain country or company, you can easily and cheaply reach them by using Google's AdWords program.

Here's an example. Last week I was in Canada and was asked by trade unionists from British Columbia to help launch an international campaign of protest against the right-wing, anti-union government there. (BC's government is so blatant in its violation of trade union rights that even the International Labour Organization has sat up and noticed.)

To publicize the campaign, we decided to place an ad on Google. The question was, which search term would be most effective. We tried 'British Columbia' and we tried 'Vancouver', but people searching for these terms weren't especially interested in the labour rights record of the provincial government.

Then someone remembered that the BC government was bidding to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. So we paid Google to show our ad to anyone searching for the term 'winter olympics'. The results were immediate. Thousands of people searching for this term saw an ad that read "BC violates labour rights - ILO finds Olympic bidder guilty. Demand fair play for BC workers." Clicking on the link brings readers directly to the campaign page on LabourStart where they can read more -- and send off their protests.

Imagine the embarrassment this is causing to the BC government. Everyone in the world who is looking for information about the Winter Olympics is learning just what kind of government is in power in that part of Canada. Which is, of course, the whole point.

Google ads can be set up in a few minutes, and the cost can be as low as five US cents for every time someone clicks on the ad. It's important to note that you pay only when someone clicks -- you don't pay for showing the ad. Google can show the ad a million times and if no one clicks, you pay nothing.

Obviously, it doesn't work that way. You need a certain minimum click-through rate or else Google will drop your ad.

And you can't say whatever you want. Google dropped ads put up by the 'No Sweat' campaigners in the UK against Puma because they broke Google's rules about 'defamatory' speech. (But they continued to run similar ads from LabourStart which for some obscure reason didn't appear to break any rules.)

I said that the ads were cheap. Here's how cheap: when LabourStart placed an ad based on the keyword 'SARS', it was shown 273,000 times. 1,785 people clicked on it, and visited our special web page about trade union reactions to the SARS epidemic around the world.

We paid Google $89.50. Is there any other form of advertising that allows you to reach a quarter of a million people for under $100 -- people who are searching for information that you might be providing? Probably not.

I just searched on the word 'wobbly' in Google and learned about an online labour radio service in Australia and a steakhouse in Vermont (both of which whet my appetite, though in different ways). But if the IWW websites were anywhere to be found, I didn't see them.

We're currently running a Colombia campaign on LabourStart protesting the killings of 130 trade unionists in that country in the last year. Go to Google and search for the term 'Colombia' and you'll see our ad. Even if you don't click through, you'll learn that Colombia leads the world in murders of trade unionists.

Google AdWords is an incredibly powerful tool for online campaigning. Unions should make more use of it.

This article was published in Industrial Worker.

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