Presidential elections - October 2015
In an increasingly populated race and a rigorous 24 hour news cycle candidates struggle to stand out, and online presence is a crucial battlefield.
The SimilarWeb data team is closely following shifting trends as reflected in online traffic and engagement on the candidates’ websites. This report reveals (insights into the top 10 candidates’ websites (ranked by the number of visits and how their online strategies have changed over time and circumstances.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Presidential elections - October 2015
July - September 2015 Insights Report
Where is traffic coming from? Search traffic
Social Media traffic Conclusion and recommendation
// Direct traffic
// Traffic from E-mail
// Traffic from Referrals
// Paid search
// Issues-based search traffic
U.S. Presidential Elections
July - September 2015
The campaign for the U.S. presidential elections is in full swing, with just over
a year left before election day. Many candidates entered the running over the
summer, and some have already dropped out.
In an increasingly populated race and a rigorous 24 hour news cycle,
candidates struggle to stand out, and online presence is a crucial battlefield.
The SimilarWeb data team is closely following shifting trends as reflected in
online traffic and engagement on the candidates’ websites. This report reveals
insights into the top 10 candidates’ websites (ranked by the number of visits),
and how their online strategies have changed over time and circumstances.
‘Bernie’ has more traffic than all the candidates combined
Bernie Sanders is well ahead of all candidates from every party in terms of the
sheer volume of traffic to his website, with over 5 million visits in September.
The four leading candidates (Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Ben
Carson) all experienced increased traffic during August, when the first GOP
debate officially kicked off election season. However, only Sanders and Carson
managed to maintain momentum and increase traffic in September as well.
Where is traffic
Sanders’ brand is on the rise
Direct traffic is the sign of a strong brand, and so it should not surprise us
that Hillary Clinton is a leader in direct traffic. Clinton not only has strong
name recognition (both her and the rest of her family), but she has also been
a candidate for the longest time (whether officially or unofficially). It also
helps that Clinton’s domain is straightforward, while donaldjtrump.com is not
necessarily the first URL that comes to mind for voters. GOP candidates with
simply named domains get a substantive share of their traffic from direct visits,
averaging 33% versus 23% for those that have domains that are not simply
The only candidate that has seen an increase in his share of direct traffic
is Bernie Sanders. His campaign website picked up steam throughout the
summer, and his brand is on the rise. Approximately 40% of GOP candidate
Mike Huckabee’s website visits are from direct traffic, holding steady since July.
Check your spam folder
Mail is a crucial part of any election campaign, both as a fundraising and an
engagement tool. Getting constituents’ emails is the top priority for every
campaign; the first thing users see on every candidate’s website is a place to
enter their email address.
Looking at Sanders’ relatively massive share of email traffic, we can assume
that he is doing the best in capturing supporters’ emails.
Only Marco Rubio and Clinton managed to increase the share of traffic to their
website from mailings.However, there is a diminishing trend, with an average
of 0.7% decrease from July to September - it is possible that this represents
fatigue among email subscribers to the campaign.
Referral traffic to all candidates’ websites comes from news sources and news
aggregators. In referral, as in email, there is a clear leader, and that is Jeb
Bush. All the other Republican candidates, except Carly Fiorina, experienced
increased referral traffic in August, probably due to the large debates and the
coverage that followed.
Searching for Fiorina
Carly Fiorina, the most recent candidate to join the campaign, gets almost
half of her traffic from search. We can also see how search traffic to Fiorina’s
website jumped significantly in August, presumably a result of her stellar
performance in the GOP debate and consequent rise into the GOP top 10.
Fiorina and Trump are the candidates who receive the largest share of their
website traffic from search. This could also be due to the fact that both
domains are not immediately obvious.
Shrinking ROI from paid search
The share of traffic coming from paid search has decreased for every
candidate, with the exception of Ben Carson. This could be a sign that
campaigns are spending less on paid search, probably reserving some of their
channels spend for other media, or for later stages of the campaign.
Noticeably, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have no traffic coming from
paid search, an indication that their campaigns have not prioritized this as
an important strategy or not matured to that stage. Fiorina is still lagging
in budget, which is probably why she has not entered the PPC battle, but in
Trump’s case, this may be more of a strategic decision than a financial one.
Do we really care about the issues?
Issue-related keywords drive little traffic to candidates’ websites as a whole.
However, issue-driven search traffic to the sites revealed a few interesting
insights; the main issues driving search traffic to the candidates’ websites are
immigration and healthcare.
Immigration drives the most search traffic share to:
// Donald Trump (with 2.67% of search traffic to donaldjtrump.com
coming from search phrases with the word ‘immigration’ in them)
// Rand Paul
// Bernie Sanders
Tax drives the most search traffic share to:
// Rand Paul (3.7% of the search traffic to randpaul.com coming from
search phrases with the word ‘tax’ in them)
// Mike Huckabee
// Donald Trump
Interestingly, hot-button issues such as gun regulation and healthcare, which
the candidates have been discussing publicly for a while, drive very little
search traffic to the candidates’ websites (and in some cases none at all). This
is true across the political spectrum.
Social Media traffic
Age doesn't matter when it comes to social media
Ben Carson led the share of traffic from social media over the last quarter,
even though he is neither the youngest candidate, nor the most media savvy.
During this period, Carson received 34.8% of his traffic from social media. By
the fall, Carson was leading in social traffic share, beating out younger GOP
members as well as both of his main democratic opponents.
Jeb2016.com experienced the most impressive increase in share of traffic
from social media, going from 12.2% in July to 26.1% in September, which in
traffic volume translated to an increase from 25,620 visits to 65,250. This was
probably a result of the campaign ramping up their social media strategy after
a slow start (Bush had the lowest share in July compared to competitors).
Standouts in other media include Marco Rubio who is a leader in YouTube
traffic (although it amounts to only about 4.5% on average during the
quarter). Bernie Sanders is getting impressive traffic shares from Reddit, with
an average of over 37% between July and September. This is not surprising
for a candidate who pushes discussion on the issues at every turn.
At this juncture, it appears that candidates are not spending a great deal of
resources to boost traffic, relying mostly on direct traffic, traffic from social
media and news-related referrals. With a year left before the elections, they
are spending cautiously, and still waiting for the candidate field to shrink.
However, as the competition becomes fiercer, a more orchestrated digital
strategy will be crucial to candidates’ survival.
Facebook still a giant for campaigns
By September, Facebook drove more than 50% of social media traffic to every
site. Earlier, Bush’s and Trump’s campaign websites relied more heavily on
Twitter, although the trend shows increasing Facebook dominance.
Campaigns and related super PACs need to strategically grow their social
media presence, as well as begin spending on paid search and digital
advertising. Investing in growing traffic to their site will ultimately mean
growing their e-mail base, which represents the most loyal constituents.
Relatively speaking, spend on digital media is nowhere near as high as
traditional media, but its impact can be vast. Smaller campaigns can
receive a bigger bang for their buck with smart investments that drive
traffic to their sites.
SimilarWeb provides extremely valuable data for campaign decision makers
as they evaluate the success of their own strategies and consider pivots
based on how their competitors are performing. In an increasingly complex
political landscape, this type of data will also help guide the work of super
PACs, journalists, and others who seek to better understand the intricate
relationship between digital media and politics.
For more insights, please contact us at
The data in this report was compiled from US Web traffic for the months
of July-September 2015 using SimilarWeb PRO’s proprietary marketing
intelligence platform, including market research and analysis.