IT professionals have historically monitored network traffic patterns to better understand network usage, to expose security events, and to generally promote overall network health. Traffic analysis can likewise be applied to the Web to understand a wide range of behavior patterns ranging from social media networks to suggestion systems in e-commerce to even the current hot topic: the presidential race.
What we found in our analysis of both rudimentary (such as tracking campaign site visits and domain registration tallies) and more complex traffic-tracking mechanisms (such as search tallies and online trading trends) applied across all other Internet segments, is that online traffic patterns are leaning -- not unlike traditional polling data -- in the direction of Barack Obama. (See a slideshow explaining eight ways technology has shaped the elections.)
To assess the validity of how traffic-analysis techniques could provide any insight into the election, we first examined the most basic measurements available: campaign site visits and domain registration and moved to more content-focused metrics such as blog mentions and social network links.
All the data discussed in this article is provided by live URLs so readers can view the content themselves to tie into the most up-to-date information. Our intent is not to judge either the McCain or Obama campaigns or the candidates themselves, but rather to examine how the election is shaping up online and delve into whether the data provides any insight into the eventual outcome.
The usage of the two campaign Web sites (www.johnmccain.com and www.barackobama.com) can be tracked like any other large Web site via services like Hitwise, Alexa, Compete and Google Trends, to name a few. Overall, traffic to the campaign Web sites shows very clear trends regardless of data source.
Hitwise shows a consistent 2-to-1 advantage in unique site visitors for Obama's official campaign site in a head-to-head comparison, from August through early October -- with the exception of a significant narrowing of that gap around the week of the Republican National Convention.
Comparing the two campaign sites against other popular sites on the Internet tells a similar story. Compete.com ranked both campaign sites in the top 500 Web sites in the United States for September -- with the Obama site significantly more popular at No. 186 than the McCain site at No. 384, even though the latter has made up tremendous ground over the past year.