Clinton, Obama lead Web vote

Video, speeches, endorsements part of candidates' Net backbone

With the Web having emerged as a vital front in the 2008 presidential election, the candidates' official Web sites are in position to be an important forum in the race for the White House.

According to Nielsen// NetRatings, the top Democratic candidates outpaced their Republican counterparts in August in terms of visits to their official Web sites. The sites for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were first and second, respectively, by a considerable margin, attracting more than 300,000 additional visitors for the month than John Edwards and Republican candidate Fred Thompson, their closest rivals.

In July, however, Obama had the most-visited site; Clinton led in June.

Max Kalehoff, vp marketing at the newly formed Nielsen Online, stressed the importance of these official Web sites in the run-up to the election. He said the presidential hopefuls, like any other brand, need a strong online backbone and that their official Web sites should play this role.

"What you often see is that the brand Web site is such an important force because it's looked at as an anchor," Kalehoff said. "It's an in-depth link and a referral for further background as people interact on the Web. It's sort of a currency."

He drew a parallel to Apple's launch of the iPhone, which was surrounded by massive blogosphere hype. A big reason for this, he said, was because the official iPhone site was "absolutely optimized" to this end and served as a hub for information about the product, something the candidates should strive toward.

Kalehoff also said that the candidates have been increasingly "experimental" with their Web presence and that online video has emerged as an important medium and has become the "norm" in this campaign.

Clinton showcases a campaign commercial on her homepage that when clicked on leads to a section called HillaryTV, which features other commercials and short videos, one featuring director Rob Reiner. Obama has a similar section on his page featuring the candidate giving speeches alongside short clips featuring supporters of his campaign.

Nielsen//NetRatings, BuzzMetrics and Nielsen Online are owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.