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EU Referendum in Search

by Adam Read
10th Jun 2016 - 8 min read

With just a few weeks to go before the EU referendum , we thought it would be a good idea to interrogate the online data see what people are searching for and to see if search interest tallies with the latest opinion polls. So here goes;

Opinion Polls

There are a number of opinion polls available including YouGov, ORB Survey, What UK Thinks and the Financial Times (FT) Research. For this analysis we have used the FT Research as it is a combination of all the top polls and gives a broader view of the situation.

The most recent results in April 2016 from the FT Research showed that 45% want to stay, 42% want to leave, leaving 13% undecided. As you can see the polls are currently in favour of staying, and have been for a while. But it’s pretty close to the mark and the leave campaign has been closing the gap.

The below chart shows the aggregated results from the FT Research data.

1 (Source: FT Research 2016)

 

 

General Interest – What the Public Want to Know

Using a blend of online search, trend and keyword data including Google Trends and Google Adwords Planner we can start to understand how the interest of the general public has increased over time.

2 (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)

Looking at the last 12 months, a significant hike in interest has happened since February 2016. There was also a small spike around the time of elections in May 2015. The spike in February is unsurprisingly due to the fierce campaigning by the political parties which continues at a pace – and will no doubt continue right up until the big day.

So what are the most common questions we are all asking about the EU referendum?

1. What is ‘Brexit’?
2. When is the EU referendum?
3. Who can vote in the EU referendum?
4. How do I vote in the EU referendum?
5. How to get a postal vote for the EU referendum?
6. Why should we leave the EU?
7. How much does the UK pay the EU?
8. What will happen if we leave the EU?

The general public seem to be almost as interested in understanding more about the mechanics of voting than which way to actually vote.

There are also a lot of searches trying to understand the viewpoints of the major party leaders. Below are the questions about David Cameron.

1. Does David Cameron want to leave the EU?
2. Why did David Cameron allow the EU referendum?
3. Is David Cameron pro-Brexit?
4. How many EU leaflets have been sent back to Cameron?
5. When did David Cameron announce the EU referendum?

It seems people are pretty confused about the true standpoint of David Cameron.

We appear to have a much better understanding of Jeremy Corbyn’s EU views on the other hand – but are curious to know why he is pro-Brexit, asking such questions as;

1. Is Corbyn for Brexit?
2. What does Jeremy Corbyn say about Brexit?
3. Is Corbyn right on the EU referendum?
4. Where does Corbyn stand on Brexit?
5. Why is Corbyn pro-EU?

As well as the views of our leaders, we are also concerned about what will happen with our currency?
Most common questions:

1. What will happen to the pound if we leave the EU?
2. Why does Brexit effect the pound?
3. Will GBP rise after Brexit?

Leave or Stay in Search

Using Google Keyword Planner to gauge search interest for keywords related to ‘Stay in EU’ and ‘Leave EU’ we see a very interesting picture.

3 (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)

At first glance it would seem that the Leave EU campaign is winning the fight. However, a key thing to note is the search intent. The keywords that fall under the ‘Leave EU’ category do not show the intent of the user wanting to leave the EU, but rather wanting to find out more information. In fact, the intent in both categories is to find out more information. For example, you could argue that someone who searches for ‘reasons to stay in the EU’ has a similar intent as the person who searches for ‘reasons to leave the EU’ – they both want to find more information before making a decision.

As these are people searching for more information to make a decision you could claim that a majority of these people fall into the undecided bracket in the FT Research data. Whether it is subconscious or real intent that the majority type ‘Leave’ in their search queries rather than ‘Stay’ indicates that the ‘Leave’ campaign could come back in the opinion polls.

Key Campaigning Website Statistics

Several Stay and Leave groups have formed and both sides have begun campaigning hard. According to The Week, the main campaign on the ‘Stay’ side at the time of writing is strongerin.co.uk and for the ‘Leave’ side it’s voteleavetakecontrol.org. This may change as the build-up continues, especially with sites such as www.leave.eu now starting to spend heavily on TV – but for now we’ll go with the two top sites as stated.

Traffic to Sites

According to SimilarWeb, voteleavetakecontrol.org had 618k estimated visits between October 2015 to end-of March 2016. Strongerin.co.uk had 609k estimated visits in the same period – a difference of just 1.5%. However, April 2016 has seen strongerin.co.uk break away enjoying 390k more visits.

Below is a table detailing the visits to the two websites over the last 7 months.

4 (Source: SimilarWeb 2016)

Marketing Channels

Looking at each website’s traffic sources we get a basic insight into the marketing strategies and key marketing channels each is deploying.

6 (Source: SimilarWeb 2016)

Organic Search Traffic

The voteleavetakecontrol.org campaign seems to be taking control of organic search results – the main search results on the search engine results pages (SERPS). Proportionally it has almost twice as many visits as strongerin.co.uk. Using trusted industry visibility scores like SearchMetrics , which monitors a site’s ability to appear in the search engine results pages for relevant keywords, we can see how much more organic visibility voteleavetakecontrol.org has over strongerin.co.uk.

10 (Source: Search Metrics 2016)

 

But volume of organic visits to the site are only part of the story – and we get a different picture when start to look the engagement statistics of those visits.

The voteleavetakecontrol.org site enjoys a much lower average time on site per visitor and lower average page views per visit, which would suggest one of two things – either that people are finding the answer they want straight away on the first page visited and then leave;  or that a majority of traffic would be leaving the site almost immediately because they are not finding the site easy to navigate or are not fully engaged with its style, look tone and quality of content.  If this assumption is correct, it is indeed a major issue – and the campaign is shooting itself in the foot by spending money on driving traffic to a site that does not satisfy the searcher’s query.

Now, let’s look beyond organic search engine traffic, to the other channels being utilised to see if the picture becomes any clearer.

Social Traffic

This is clearly a focus channel for the strongerin.co.uk campaign as this contains the bulk of their overall traffic. For instance,  strongerin.co.uk has had 607k shares on social media of its 255 pieces of content – that’s a massive 66% more than voteleavetakecontrol.org has had, despite having produced more (286) content pieces. A definite win for the strongerin.co.uk campaign, as social shares would definitely indicate a positive affinity with the brand they are sharing.

Paid Traffic

What is interesting is the almost non-existent paid (PPC) traffic for either campaign at present.

In the same vein, both Email and Display advertising are contributing next to nothing to the overall traffic. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes as we get closer to 23rd June.

Conclusion

Just a few weeks left until referendum day and we can see that the UK public are now starting to really get involved and using online sources to try and get the information they need to decide.  “There is very little in the online data and behaviour to suggest a clear winner at this stage, ” states Further Data Analyst, Adam Read, “it really is close with positives and negative scores for both sides in different areas. This last furlong of the race will be crucial as we see increased spends across more channels – digital, offline and broadcast – in an attempt to lure all those undecideds!”

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