With the election in full flow two members of my team at Net Media Planet, John Hillman and Matthew Ncube, decided to monitor the main political parties’ PPC activity.

Here’s their take on where the three parties have all been going wrong.

When Obama swept to power in 2008 there was widespread agreement that we were not just witnessing a social revolution but a social revolution underpinned by a digital one. By becoming America’s first non-white President he achieved something many of us thought we’d never see in our lifetimes, and he did it in no small part by leveraging technology in a way that no other political figure had done before.

So it stands to reason that the 2010 elections here in the UK should follow his lead. After all this is shaping up to be the closest British election in living memory, and after last night’s first ever leadership debate we could even be witnessing an Obama like moment ourselves, as the previously unthinkable possibility that the Lib Dems could grab power becomes slightly more realistic.

The stakes then have never been higher and the means of communication through technology never better, so what’s going wrong?

Overall opinion, amongst online professionals, is that all parties are putting in a very disappointing digital performance, with Labour looking particularly useless. Websites haven’t been designed and built with a good user experience in mind, navigability is usually a nightmare, social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is good but by no means expertly done, and above all there seems to be absolutely no understanding of how paid search can be used to tie everything neatly together and drive home a core message.

PPC campaigns and leaders’ names

Type David Cameron into Google and you will see various sponsored links to the right of the results. This is where Labour and the Liberals should be pushing their leaders forward. If someone is looking for Cameron, chances are they’re thinking about who they’re going to vote for, so where’s the alternative message?

To give the Tories their due they have at least managed to rustle up a vague PPC campaign. Google ‘David Cameron’ and you’ll be offered the chance to link their YouTube channel webcameron, punch Brown’s name into the search engine and you’ll get a similar Tory message.

Labour and Brown, on the other hand, are nowhere to be seen:

Party leader's PPC strategy UK election 2010

In fact the only reference to PPC that I’ve heard from Labour was a very negative Tweet from John Prescott urging Labour supporters to click on the Tory links “because it will cost them money”.

If that’s as proactive as they can be on Google, and they’re the Government that delivered the highly egregious Digital Economy Bill, then God help us all.

Back to the Tories’ PPC campaign, from the party claiming to be on the verge of forming the most tech savvy government in history, despite bidding on the keywords ‘Gordon Brown’, they fail to make sure that the same keywords appear in their ad copy, and the call to action is very poor indeed.

In fact look at these screen shots and you’ll see that Ann Summers’ PPC activity shows a far greater understanding of the complexities and nuances of paid search than the Tories’.

Party leader's PPC strategy UK election 2010

What the Ann Summers example highlights is how Google and paid search can be used to increase brand awareness. Take Nick Clegg and the Liberals. If ever a party had the odds stacked against them, in the mainstream media and with history thoroughly not on their side, then they should be the ones using the power of Google to even things up a bit.

Obama is still the best

Let’s go back to Obama, a man who was in a similar position to the Liberals when he began campaigning for the Presidential nomination. He is now the leader of the free world and its most popular politician by a long stretch. Our politicians normally fall over themselves to be associated with him.

Nick Clegg would do well to target paid ads on Google using the search term Obama, with ad copy laying out his vision as a leader. As it is the only paid ad you get is one from Obama’s team inviting you to check out all the hard work he’s doing, and he’s already elected!

What’s so frustrating about the Liberals is that they actually have the best viral video campaign with the clearest message, and one that resonates with the current mood of the British public the most in their “Vote Labservative for 65 more years of the same” message.

They should be using PPC to bid on every search term from Volcanoes to Wayne Rooney to make sure as many people as possible get to see it before May 6th. As it is their PPC presence is approximately zero.

All the evidence seems to suggest that people are looking for more engagement online. A survey by the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts found that 40% of respondents are looking for more of a chance to engage online, this rises to 60% amongst 18 to 24 year olds.

With the most evenly contested election since the Edwardian era on our doorsteps, for all parties to act with such ambivalence over paid search is fundamentally tragic.