2017 General Election: a search story
The votes are in, Theresa May is recovering from an election hangover, Jeremy Corbyn is celebrating a loss. The SNP were cut off at the torso, Lib Dems are illegally high, there could be a DUP-Tory marriage, and UKIP...who are UKIP? In this post, digital marketing agency Further dissects the online tactics of the main contenders.
Theresa May called a general election because she thought she could capture more seats. This was based on the polls at the time (early April 2017). However, between that time and the election in June, she lost ground – despite taking many SNP seats.
How did this happen? What were people searching for during the election campaign? What digital marketing tactics did the main parties use?
- People searched “Register to vote” 1.2 million times – mainly on 22 May (the last eligible day to register)
- The 2017 election saw 418,000 more votes cast than in 2015 – but four times more searches for ‘general election’
- Labour dominated Google searches over the campaign period: traffic to labour.org.uk increased at a greater rate than conservatives.com
- People were fact checking what they had heard about the leaders: why he is or is not popular; ‘why Theresa May hard Brexit’?
- A key party-related concern was the Conservatives’ NHS policies
- Search reflects how little anyone knew about the DUP as search soared the day after the election
- The Conservative Party received most of their traffic from organic search
- Labour received their traffic from a broader range of sources: mostly organic search, but more social media and referral traffic than the Conservatives’ campaign
- In the six months before to the election announcement, the Conservatives had higher search visibility most of the time. After the manifesto announcement, Conservatives lost search visibility and Labour’s search visibility increased dramatically
Polls can offer a glimpse into the political mindset of the nation before an election by surveying a sample of the population. The below graph was developed using data from the BBC’s poll tracker.
The Conservative Party’s support started just after the EU referendum in June 2016, and that lead grew after the General Election was announced in April 2017. But once the Tories announced their manifesto – including the ‘dementia tax’ pledges – support for the party took a dive.
The Labour Party’s journey was the opposite. Since the nation voted for Brexit and the party passed a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s support dropped in the opinion polls, widening the Tory lead.
However, the announcement of the General Election dramatically changed this decline. From April 2017, Labour started to gain on the Tories. Support for the party peaked around the time of the seven-party BBC election debate (31 May 2017).
UKIP, The Liberal Democrats and The Green Party all saw a decline in the months before the election was held. The SNP stayed consistent, a fact that’s surprising given their massive seat losses.
So, do search and other online trends with these opinion polls affect the outcome of the General Election?
Election search interest
With 46 million citizens casting their vote, the turnout this year was greater than in 2015. It’s therefore not a surprise to discover that interest in election search terms was high…
“Register to vote” alone got 1.2 million searches, with the majority of these taking place on 22 May, the last eligible day to register.
Interestingly, there was also a peak for the search term on election day, at which point it was too late to register.
Terms containing the word “election” got more than 1.7 million searches in May. And by looking at search interest for the term “general election” since 2004, you can see that this year’s election was the most searched for by a significant margin:
Despite this vast difference, this doesn’t reflect the number of people that were registered to vote because:
The 2015 election saw only 418,000 fewer votes than in 2017 – but this year’s election had 80% more searches. This reflects how the audience has changed and the impact digital marketing and PR has on decision-making. When you want a questioned answered, it’s natural to turn to online search for an answer. This data points to one or both of the following:
- The same people who voted in 2015 engaged with the topic more – and more online
- The 418,000 new voters created some or all of the spike – many of whom were younger and, therefore, use the web more
- People who aren’t eligible to vote are also searching (for the first time)
We suspect that the unique nature of the election and what was riding on it, created a hype that drew in larger numbers of first-time voters than on previous occasions and made existing voters more engaged in the process.
Most frequent questions
For the 2017 election, the questions most searched for in Google were:
- Who to vote for?*
- When is election day?*
- Who will win?
- What election is coming up?
- Who to vote for quiz?*
- How election works?
- Are election polls accurate?
- Where do election polls come from
- Why election 2017?
- When are election results announced?
*These search terms were prefaced with ‘election’.
People wanted to understand
- why they were voting
- how to vote and
- who to vote for.
It also shows people’s concerns about the polls prior to election day.
Party search interest
According to Google Trends, Labour accounted for 43% of the searches in the lead up to the election. Conservatives only saw 23% of the searches:
Looking at this trend over time reveals how Labour has dominated Google searches over the campaign period.
The most searched questions related to The Labour Party in May 2017 were:
1. Why Labour is bad?
2. Where are Labour in the polls?
3. What [does] Labour stand for?
4. Are Labour going to win?
5. Are Labour left wing?
6. Who runs [the] Labour party?
7. What [does] Labour promise?
8. What Labour will do
9. Are Labour finished?
10. Who votes Labour?
It’s clear what was on people’s minds when searching the Labour Party. During a political campaign, parties criticise other parties. Search data suggests people are seeking information to support or deny. People wanted to see if Labour could really win, what makes them left wing and what their policies might be.
The search terms also show that not everyone knew that Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party.
Below are some of the top questions for Jeremy Corbyn:
1. Where is Jeremy Corbyn today?
2. Who is Jeremy Corbyn?
4. Why Jeremy Corbyn will never be pm
5. Where did Jeremy Corbyn grow up?
6. Which MPs support Jeremy Corbyn?
7. MPs who backed Jeremy Corbyn
8. Who has nominated Jeremy Corbyn?
9. Who supported Jeremy Corbyn?
10. Why Jeremy Corbyn is so popular
11. Why Jeremy Corbyn is not popular
People want to know who Jeremy Corbyn is, where he is and where he grew up. Others want to know more about his leadership and the leadership contest. People are fact checking what they have heard, why he is or is not popular.
The questions being asked about the Conservatives most often:
1. Why vote Tories/Tory?
2. Are Tories Conservative?
3. Who votes Tory?
4. Why Tories are bad
5. Are Tories The Conservative Party?
6. How many Tory MPs?
7. Why Conservatives are right
8. Who are Tories in UK?
9. Are Tories privatising NHS?
It seems that there is confusion about the Conservatives nickname ‘Tory’. People want to know why they should vote for the Conservatives: are they bad? And how many MPs do they have? Concerns about privatising the NHS are also on people's minds.
What questions are people wanting to know about Theresa May? Below are the top searched queries:
1. Who is Theresa May?
2. What age is Theresa May/How old Theresa May?
3. How much is Theresa May worth?
4. How to contact Theresa May?
5. What does Theresa May do?
6. What did Theresa May say?
7. Why Theresa May wants election?
8. What Theresa May said
9. How Theresa May voted
10. Why Theresa May hard Brexit?
11. How Theresa May became pm?
12. Why Theresa May will win
13. When Theresa May trigger article 50?
14. Are Theresa May and Brian May related?
DUP (Democratic Unionist Party)
The DUP were an unknown party to most of the UK… until the day after the General Election. After the Conservatives failed to secure a majority, they quickly looked to make a deal with DUP to jointly form a government – and search interest soared:
Negotiations between the Tories and DUP are ongoing, so it remains to be seen how political search trends will be affected in the long term. However, here are the most searched questions about DUP:
1. Who are DUP?
2. What is the DUP Party?
3. What does DUP stand for?
4. DUP on Brexit
5. DUP Party policies
Digital marketing tactics
Web Traffic to labour.org.uk increased at a greater rate than conservatives.com in the lead-up to the General Election:
The significant traffic increase for both parties suggests that digital marketing tactics were used by both parties (and their supporters). By breaking down the proportion of total traffic into marketing channels, it’s clear where marketing efforts were focused:
The Conservative Party received most of their traffic from organic search, with little use of email, social media or referral.
Labour used a range of channels for a broader marketing approach. The increased use of social media and referral campaigns paid off, as it also boosted their organic search traffic.
Handling the marketing message in organic search is more difficult than other digital channels. It could be that the Labour Party’s social influence was the driving force behind the increase in supporters.
Let’s dig deeper into organic and social performance.
The chart below shows organic search visibility for labour.org.uk and conservatives.com. The tool for this metric analyses millions of keywords to see where websites rank and calculates a score based on the results.
Unsurprisingly, the Election had a significant impact on organic visibility for both websites. In the six months prior to the General Election announcement, the Conservatives had a higher visibility for most of the time.
However, after the announcement, Labour’s search visibility increased dramatically. But it wasn’t until 18 May, the day The Conservative Party released their contentious manifesto, that search visibility peaked for Labour, and dropped significantly for the Tories.
There were no obvious Google algorithm updates during the campaign and it’s unlikely there were major changes to the parties’ websites. It’s therefore likely that the nation’s search interest affected organic visibility. IE: the Conservative manifesto and its ‘dementia tax’ policy were the reason people were searching for Labour, which meant Google’s algorithm returned labour.org.uk for more keywords than for conservatives.com.
SearchMetrics’ social visibility tool looks at how many social links appear on the web and estimates how many times those links are seen.
Labour has a greater presence on social media than the Conservatives. Unfortunately, this metric isn’t tracked over time so we cannot see if this is a recent phenomenon or if this has always been the case. What we do know is that Labour used social media more than the Conservatives in its campaigning – via official channels and at a grassroots level.
Recent statistics show that the ‘youth vote’ made a big difference – giving Labour that boost. This would tally with them having an increased social presence (young people being online more).
Most shared social posts:
- Conservative party billboard van overturns in the wind overturns on M6 – 45k Facebook engagements – NEGATIVE
- Election 2017: Conservatives back fracking ‘revolution’ in the party manifesto – 7.7k – POS
- Conservative Party ‘clearly worried’ about progressive alliance and tactical voting – 5.3k – NEG
- Conservatives’ rebrand as ‘party of the workers’ failing as they struggle to shake off ‘nasty’ tag, poll shows – 4.4k – NEG
- Conservative Party Vows To Make It Even Tougher For International Students To Come To Britain – 4.7k – NEG
- The Conservative Party manifesto has now officially told the UN to go f*** itself – 3.3k – NEG
- ITV News #GE2017 result prediction – Conservatives to be largest party with 322 seats – 3.3k – POS
- The Conservative Party – 2.7k – POS
- Exit poll: Conservatives largest party, but May could fall short of majority – 1.4k – NEG
- Labour Manifesto (.org) – 72k – POS
- Labour Manifesto – (.co.uk) 80k – POS
- SHAME FOR CORBYN as source confirms Labour leader ‘had curry’ with SKELETOR in 1991 – 61k – N/A
- Stephen Hawking announces he is voting Labour: ‘The Tories would be a disaster – 51k – POS
- Labour’s manifesto proposals could be just what the economy needs – 45k – POS
- Election poll shows Labour is ahead in the UK general election – 42k – POS
- Labour doubles poll lead over Conservatives among voters under 25, new poll shows – 40k – POS
Social media monitoring tool Buzzsumo shows that the most shared posts came from left-leaning media outlets such as the Independent and the Guardian. Are these portals more powerful than their right-wing peers (Sun, Times, Telegraph)? Or are people just engaging with left-leaning messages more? Either way, social media activity and engagement was vastly pro Labour.
The data also shows that Labour and the Tories relied on different digital marketing tactics. The Conservative Party didn’t really use online marketing to positively position their manifesto while Labour used social networks to their advantage.
A picture of what happened:
News outlets started to report on the ‘hard’ Conservative manifesto, Labour surged in the polls, people started to think they may be in with a chance.
The hype storm and the undecideds
This sent the grassroots into overdrive, posting news and whipping up support. This made search increase, as ‘floating voters’ wanted more information and tactical voters decided to switch from Lib Dems and The Green Party (who gained no more seats) and the SNP (who lost a third of their seats).
This awareness also drove people who don’t usually engage in the political system to ask ‘who should I vote for’ explicitly or implicitly.
Search and ranking
The disproportionate search for Labour-related terms were possibly fulfilled by Labour.org which increased in organic the domain’s visibility – returning Labour.org for more searches.
The internet plays a huge part in Election campaigning. People used both search and social media to answer their political questions, fact check and help them decide which party to vote for.
Do you remember what happened at the last election, the Brexit vote or the US election? Read our search stories:
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