DMI Blog

Corinne Ramey

What Google AdWords Taught Me About the Middle Class

We've all done it. You know, that Google search that you don't really want to admit you just typed into the little green box. Maybe you Googled a potential employer, an ex-boyfriend, or surreptitiously Googled a blind date. Once, a date even requested that I refrain from Googling him until we knew each other better.

Picture 4.pngBut we don't only Google people we know. In the age of Web 2.0, Google searches have become part of the fabric of our lives. A look at Google Zeitgeist, which shows the top Google searches of the past year, shows what we've been searching for. We Google our health problems, our favorite sports teams, and our favorite toys and gadgets (Webkinz and the iPhone, respectively). We Google politicians (wow, check out how many people are searching for Ron Paul!) and movie stars (yes, the most Googled lawsuit of 2007 had to do with Borat.)

During the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about people's searches and clicks in the several hundred million queries that Google receives each day. I've been working with AdWords, the technical name for the "Sponsored Links" list that comes up on the right side of the screen whenever you do a Google search. Depending on how popular a search term is, you'll see anywhere from zero to a dozen three-line ads directing you to various websites. A search for "chocolate," for example, brings up AdWords "Sponsored Links" for everything from Verizon's "Chocolate" phone to a variety of gourmet chocolate shops.

In 2006, DMI debuted a groundbreaking Google AdWords campaign to accompany the launch of our middle class scorecard. Whenever anyone Googled the name of a New York State legislator, a Google ad would pop up with the legislator's grade and link to his or her page on the scorecard. The campaign got rave reviews from publications like Business Week, various blogs, and even comments from the legislators themselves. "By pioneering such a feature, DMI not only took what could have been an obscure report mainstream, but also provides access to more New Yorkers and sheds light on important decisions made in Albany," wrote the Gotham Gazette.

Picture 5.pngI've been managing DMI's Google AdWords campaign, writing ads and figuring out the best keywords to bring search traffic to sites like DMI's and When I started using Google AdWords, I expected to learn about statistics like Click Through Rate (CTR) and Cost Per Click (CPC). However, what I didn't expect was the way that DMI's Google AdWords statistics would paint a picture of the concerns, worries, and state of America's current and aspiring middle class.

The statistics show a middle class that is worried about the state of the economy today. Not only do recent polls show that the economy is a top concern of Americans, but DMI's Google AdWords statistics show a squeezed middle class searching for information on everything from subprime mortgages to tax reform. Over the course of DMI's campaign, over 500,000 people have seen the DMI ad after Googling "subprime" or "sub-prime." This isn't surprising given the pervasiveness of the subprime crisis; according to the Center for Responsible Lending, one in five subprime mortgages ends in foreclosure and subprime loans have increased 292% since 2003.

Some of the DMI's top search terms are tax related phrases -- like "alternative minimum tax" -- that lead to's analysis of the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007. In the past several months, about 84,000 people have seen DMI's ads on the Temporary Tax Relief Act, and of those 84,000, about 13,000 clicked on the link. And the middle class (and Google searchers) are rightfully concerned. As says,

"The Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 ensures that middle-class Americans are not overwhelmed by a tax that they were never intended to pay. An increase of approximately $3,000 in tax payments for more than 20 million American homes would be disastrous for families already reeling from home foreclosures, high gas prices, and nearly stagnant wages."

Picture 6.pngFor today's middle class, however, economic worries encompass more than just housing and taxes. Other popular search terms included ads that linked to policy analysis on Head Start, minimum wage policy (about 270,000 searchers have seen DMI's ad so far), and immigration reform. The Google statistics show a middle class searching (both literally and figuratively -- excuse the pun) for comprehensive policy to make higher education more affordable, make health care more accessible, and protect workers' rights. Not only are thousands of Americans Google-searching for information on SCHIP and the Employee Free Choice Act -- yes, thousands are actually typing in the search term "employee free choice act" -- but Americans are real-life-searching for these policies, too.

But the statistics also show that Americans are looking towards the future. They're Googling the names of presidential candidates, along with terms like "issues" or "voting record," and clicking on the DMI ads for the candidates. The ads link to pages that show the voting records for the candidates -- check out Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton here -- along with what percent of the time they voted for pro-middle class domestic legislation.

As these middle class issues continue to be debated both in Congress and on the campaign trail, I'll not only be watching the news but continuing to look at DMI's Google statistics to see what policies people are really searching for. Because we can always hope that, as more people Google-search and real-life-search for good legislation, and become more informed on the issues, public policy will improve in the future.

Oh, and about that date? Don't tell anyone, but I had already Googled him.

Corinne Ramey: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:56 AM, Jan 16, 2008 in Drum Major Institute | Economy | Education | Election 2008 | Middle-class squeeze |
Permalink | Email to Friend