The EU referendum on 23rd 2016 will give voters in the UK the opportunity to decide whether the country should leave or remain a member of the European Union. With the vote just days away and the Internet playing such a big role in helping voters make their decisions, I investigate which side is winning the digital marketing battle.
Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
The majority of individuals looking to make an informed decision are likely to head straight to Google to get the facts from both sides. Looking at Google Trends data over the past week, search interest for leaving the EU has been much higher than searches related to staying in the EU:
You can view the latest Google Trends data here.
If you specifically search for the term “eu referendum”, the results are fairly mixed, with a slight lean towards the remain campaign:
Ads, news, and Twitter dominate the top half of the results page (highlighted above). The government’s EU referendum website is the top organic result.
The bottom half of the results page shows a similar story, however this is where you can see the Leave campaign’s Paid Ad – the only presence they have on this page:
Winner: Britain Stronger In
Organic Search Results
If we look at the terms people are searching for across the UK, they are keen to get an understanding of what it will mean if the UK leaves or stays.
So if I enter the top 4 search queries, in to a search engine, what am I presented with?
- Why should we leave the EU?
A quick Google search returns predominantly news results. There is no sign of the Vote Leave website, other than a paid Ad (see below).
- Why should we stay in the EU?
Similarly, the organic results for why should we stay are predominantly news focused and there is no sign of the Britain Stronger In website amongst the top 10.
- What will happen if we leave the EU?
Again, the news outlets are providing the public with speculative information and no sign of the either the Vote Leave or Britain Stronger In websites on this page.
- What will happen if we stay in the EU?
Unsurprisingly this search returns similar news focused results.
Both sides are clearly doing a poor job of answering the questions the public want answered and allowing voters to access information from news outlets.
Paid Search Results
The inability to compete against competitive news sites for the search terms outlined above could be why these pages fail to rank. This is where paid search can offer both sides an opportunity to increase visibility in SERPs. Searching the same questions as outlined above, which side is taking advantage of paid search?
Only the Vote Leave campaign is paying to show Ads when voters search “why should we leave the EU”. As the leave campaign do not rank for this search term, this is a great alternative way of driving traffic to their website for the most asked leave question surrounding the referendum.
The Britain Stronger In campaign is not using paid advertising to drive traffic to their website for the most asked remain question in the referendum:
Both sides are missing a huge opportunity to get their viewpoint across with voters asking what will happen if we either leave or remain. Only the Labour party (who side with the remain campaign) are targeting Ads at this search term:
Out of interest, I have looked to see if either side are targeting the term Brexit (the term popularly coined by the media). The Vote Leave campaign does, even using sitelink extensions to drive searches to the most relevant pages on their website. The Britain Stronger In campaign is missing a huge opportunity by not targeting this term.
Winner: Vote Leave
Remarketing is a great way to target those who have already visited your website with marketing messages on other websites they visit. Shortly after visiting the remain campaign website (and I mean within minutes) I am being targeted with the following Ads:
At the time of writing, I am yet to identify any remarketing Ads from Vote Leave.
Winner: Britain Stronger In
Now that both sides have driven people to their website, how well do their websites inform the public and get the key arguments of the campaign across?
What Are They Both Doing Well?
- Prevalent use of the British red, white & blue colour theme, highlighting a strong sense of national pride.
- Emphasis on getting people to sign up to join their respective campaigns (and easy sign up forms).
- Clear representation of the facts (Vote Leave use a scrolling banner, Britain Stronger In use a video).
- Strong use of videos to increase engagement and time spent on site.
- Latest news showcases the latest updates in their campaigns.
Where Is There Room For Improvement?
- Poor navigation on the Britain Stronger In website. This is currently hidden behind a burger menu rather than being clearly displayed at the top of their website.
- Lack of social integration on the Britain Stronger In website, makes it difficult to share content across social media. The only place this is available is on the Facts page.
- Poor on-page optimisation on key landing pages on both sites. Let’s look at the reasons for leaving/remaining pages n both websites. The Vote Leave page targets the keyword “why vote leave” and has no text content on the page. The Britain Stronger In page is actually a facts page and doesn’t seem to be targeting any keyword.
- If we go back and look at the Google Trends data surrounding the EU Referendum, neither side has pages on their site answering all the questions the UK public are asking. this is a huge missed opportunity.
Winner: Vote Leave
Since Barack Obama’s highly successful Facebook election in 2008, social media remains a key part of the success of political campaigns. So why should the referendum be any different?
Every time I log in to Facebook or Twitter, I am struck by a tidal wave of opinions, images, videos and, dare I say, memes on the topic. Viral posts are shaping the campaign on both sides. In the age of technology, social provides a powerful platform to engage with the voting public, start a conversation and even conduct your own opinion polls.
Facebook offers campaigners on both sides a platform to focus on content. As touched on previously, this is the home of videos, infographics and memes.
Vote Leave have 519,523 likes on their Facebook page (at the time of writing). They mainly focus on video for their Facebook strategy, which takes advantage of Facebook’s autoplay feature (the video starts to play as you scroll past it on your newsfeed). The videos are a mix of interviews of Leave campaigners and videos highlighting pitfalls of the Remain campaign.
This is supported by imagery of illustrated statistics, famous people and quotes of them backing the leave campaign and linking back to a relevant page on their website.
Engagement levels on their posts are strong and Reactions to their posts are generally positive too.
The Britain Stronger In Facebook page has 510, 296 likes. They are taking a similar approach with the content they share, using celebrity endorsements and even video opinions from the public. In addition to the content they create, they are also taking advantage of user generated content to create visuals for their page, like the post highlighted below.
The Britain Stronger In campaign does get good levels of likes, shares and comments on their posts, but these aren’t as numerous as those on the Vote Leave content. Additionally, a lot of the comments are from supporters of the Leave campaign.
In contrast, Twitter offers an instant forum with a chance to join in live debate and discussion in the topics shaping the referendum.
The Vote Leave account has 6,523 followers and the Stronger In account has 5,952 followers (correct at the time of writing).
Both sides are regularly sharing content that highlights facts that supports their views on how the public should vote and reacting to topical referendum news.
On Tuesday morning, David Beckham declared his support for the Britain Stronger In campaign, which shaped a number of their tweets whilst this topic was trending.
Similarly, the Vote Leave side have capitalised on responses from Prime Minister David Cameron following the Referendum debate and Question Time.
Taking advantage of trending topics and sharing stats is great, but what both sides are failing to do is intersperse this with content that drive traffic back to their websites (where their case for leaving and remaining is strongest). Similarly, they don’t seem to be using Twitter to talk to voters and engage in discussion, instead regularly sending out messages throughout the day just to get their voice heard.
It is a close call when it comes to who is winning and who is losing the digital marketing battle. Where each side succeeds in some areas, they are falling behind in others.
By all means money could also be a key influencer in the digital marketing success of the campaigns on both sides of the coin. We have no way of knowing how and where marketing budgets are allocated.
Either way, the outcome of their digital marketing efforts remains to be seen in the early hours of Friday morning…