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NY21 search shenanigans: candidates use Google’s ad settings to get that coveted top spot

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SEARCH SHENANIGANS: Old school tactics dressed up in a new school strategy that turns out to be not so new after all.

A search for Republican candidate Elise M. Stefanik on Google Friday yielded an advertisement for her Republican primary opponent Matthew A. Doheny.

The two are running for the 21st Congressional District seat currently occupied by William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who is not seeking reelection.

It’s a reflection of a similar strategy employed by Mr. Doheny’s former opponent Mr. Owens, whose campaign encouraged voters to type Mr. Doheny’s name into the search engine late during the last election cycle.

The first result that appeared was a paid advertisement sending users to a site that attacked Mr. Doheny’s business background.

Earlier this year, voters searching for Mr. Doheny’s name came up with a paid advertisement for Ms. Stefanik. So the strategy cuts both ways.

According to Google’s ad settings, the link to Mr. Doheny’s website matched the search term “elise stefanik.”

Here’s a blog post that my predecessor, Brian Amaral, wrote about the 2012 online ad war: http://wdt.me/whhLye

We are seeking some sort of explanation from Google about how this all works, but the basic gist of it is that websites can pay to place advertisements on Google under whatever search terms they choose.

A search for Democratic candidate Aaron G. Woolf yields a website for Democratic candidate Aaron G. Woolf, for now.

— DPF

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