Keyword Deception Is Common In Political Web Sites

(September 3, 1999) Keyword piracy in the web sites of Presidential candidates and other major political web sites is common. The practice, which sometimes leads to trademark lawsuits in the commercial world, is employed by the campaign web sites of Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and Dan Quayle.

Many web pages contain <meta> tags in the <head> section of the html source code. While there are a variety of uses of <meta> tags, Tech Law Journal found significant use made of meta tags with the keywords name.

For example, a hypothetical candidates' home page may contain the following in its html source code:

<meta name="keywords" content="Smith, Smith 2000, John Smith, candidate, President, Democrat, 2000, liberal">

This information is not visible on a page viewed with a browser in its normal mode. Most people who surf the web never see this information. However, many search engines use programs that "visit" web sites and read this information to index web pages for their databases. Then, if a person using one of these search engines enters the phrase "Smith 2000", he might obtain a list which includes the Smith 2000 campaign web site.

Of course, many web site operators want to maximize the traffic to their web sites. One way to increase traffic is through the use of meta keywords. However, both descriptive and deceptive keywords can increase traffic. Hence, some webs site operators include keywords which have nothing to do with their sites.

The practice is also facilitated by some search engines which allow companies to purchase words that will cause their web sites to be prominently listed in searches containing those words.

Porn sites often include the names of actresses, TV personalities, and other female celebrities. Businesses use the names of their competitors, or their products. In the commercial world, this is leading to an increasing number of lawsuits, usually based on trademark infringement or dilution, or a similar cause of action.

For example, Estee Lauder recently sued Excite for selling its name as a keyword for a competing fragrance maker. Also, reported earlier this week that Yahoo! sold the word Vanguard. Vanguard Group is a leading mutual fund; the purchaser was its competitor, Fidelity.

The practice of keyword piracy or keyword deception has spread to political web sites.

For starters, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) uses the keyword republican and the Republican National Committee (RNC) uses the word democrat. In fact, the RNC lists democrat three times -- a practice which can raise the placement level in searches.

Currently, several presidential candidates are engaging in keyword piracy. These are Hatch, McCain, and Quayle.

Orrin Hatch's exploratory web site keywords include the following: bush, mccain, dole, gore, quayle, bradley, clinton. It also includes reagan, kennedy, and lieberman. However, it does not use the names of Bauer, Buchanan or Keyes.

John McCain's campaign web site uses the names of several competitors. The following is a quote from his keywords tag:

Bush for President,George Bush for President,Bush 2000,Dole for President,Elizabeth Dole for President,Quayle2000

Dan Quayle

However, the most egregious keyword bandit is the web site of Dan Quayle. His web site uses the names of other candidates with such specificity and repetition that the clear purpose is to divert searches for other candidates' web sites to his web site. The following is a quote from his meta tag keywords:

Bush, Bush 2000, George Bush, President Bush, George W. Bush, George Bush 2000, George W Bush 2000, George W. Bush 2000, Elizabeth Dole, Dole, Dole 2000, Elizabeth Dole 2000, Forbes, Steve Forbes, Forbes 2000, Steve Forbes 2000, Vice President, Vice-President, Kasich, John Kasich, Kasich 2000, John Kasich 2000, McCain, Mc Cain, McCain 2000, Mc Cain 2000, John McCain, John Mc Cain, John McCain 2000, John Mc Cain 2000, Al Gore, Gore, Gore 2000, Al Gore 2000, Bradley, Bill Bradley, Bradley 2000, Bill Bradley 2000, Bauer, Gary Bauer, Bauer 2000, Gary Bauer 2000

Several presidential candidates do not engage in keyword piracy. These include Bush, Forbes, and Keyes (who do not use keywords at all), and Gore, Bradley, Bauer, Buchanan, and Smith (who do). Bauer and Buchanan, in particular, have extensive lists of keywords designed to draw traffic to their sites. But they have relied mainly on the political issues that are important to them, and refrained from keyword deception.

 Dan Quayle's web developers also have a sense of humor. Another keyword is potatoe.

See also, Table Summarizing Characteristics of Major Political Web Sites.