Can digital marketing tell us who will win the general election? We delve into each party’s campaign and what people’s searching habits reveal about their possible voting habits.
The announcement of a snap general election in April left a lot of people asking questions. As a Digital Marketing Ninja, I believe that a deep dive into the world of digital marketing could provide the answers to plenty of those questions. In fact, thanks to the habits and interests of modern society, digital marketing will, I believe, have a huge impact on the election results. If we use some tried-and-tested digital marketing tactics, carry out a thorough website review and look at what people are searching for on Google, we can learn a lot.
Our digital consumption has a massive effect on the campaigns of each of the political parties in the general election. We can read the news about the election online. We can visit websites of all the parties. We can even follow individual party leaders and representatives on social media.
If we take a look at what people are searching for, who they are following on social media and which campaign best utilises digital marketing overall, it could even give us a pretty good indication of how the election results might turn out. I think we’ve all learnt that polls can’t always give a true reflection of an election outcome, so what about if we look online? What can we discover there?
Website Review: Which Party Has “The Best” Website?
There are two ways to analyse a website and judge its quality. First up, there’s user experience, which is simply using the website as somebody who clicks on it. Is everything clear and easy to navigate? How quick is the loading speed? What’s the image quality like? Then, there’s how an SEO Consultant might look at a page. What are the metrics like? How is the page ranking? Is there a clear call to action on the page? How easily can people find the website through search engines?
User Experience: I logged on to several party websites shortly after the general election was called. The one that initially struck me as in desperate need of attention was the Scottish National Party. When I first arrived on the website, there we no mention of the general election. The first topics on the page, above the fold, were sections about the Scottish referendum and council elections. There was no information about the general election before you scrolled down the page.
Thankfully, now that the general election is even closer, the Scottish National Party have updated their homepage to reflect their election campaign and their slogan ‘Stronger in Scotland’ takes centre stage on their homepage.
The homepage of the Green Party clearly sets out what it wants visitors to do. It has explicitly put the date of the general election in a very obvious place above the fold. There are clear choices for those on the website: they can donate, take action, join, or find out what the Green Party stands for. All of these bold, clear calls to action are above the fold, making them easy to find.
Given the importance of the election, all party websites should have clear information and links to relevant information about the election. It’s highly likely this is what people are looking for on these websites. Making it as easy to find as possible is crucial.
We asked some users to test both the Conservative and Labour websites to see how easy they were to use and navigate.
The Labour Party has a temporary homepage in the run-up to the election. It’s clear to read and having the number of days before the vote is a great tactic for showing a sense of urgency. We see this same tactic used in digital marketing a lot, particularly on eCommerce websites. Online websites that sell products will often feature phrases like “only one left in stock” or “order before 7pm for same day delivery” to convince the user to make an action immediately. The Labour Party are using urgency in a way that encourages the user to take action right now because, in X amount of days, it’ll be over.
Our users liked the Labour Party website and said that it was easy to navigate and the use of the colour red was eye catching. However, both users commented about the images used on the website. After the temporary homepage, you’re taken to a page with some images behind a video. They did not find this very aesthetically pleasing. One user tester was reading the manifesto (which he found easily and thought it was very clear) but didn’t like the photo assigned to the manifesto point. Navigation may be easy, but images could be improved for maximum impact and experience.
The Conservative Party website also have a temporary homepage. The image and the aim are clear, but it’s not necessarily obvious how to get to the main website. Our user testers thought that the website was clear and laid out well, with a strong balance of images and text. One user noted that they thought the manifesto should be clearer and more obvious to find, especially given its recent release. Overall, the users found no issues navigating the Conservative website and had a positive experience.
The Analytics: As a digital marketing agency, we use a lot of tools to see how trustworthy a website is and how many links a website has pointing to it. Using the MOZ Open Site Explorer, we can look at how much domain authority the websites have — and unsurprisingly, all of the main parties websites hold a strong authority. This means they are trustworthy and links to them are reputable and fair.
However, the one website which initially waves a red flag is the Plaid Cymru website. This website has a domain authority (DA) of 1 out a possible 100. To give you some perspective, every other British political party (including all of the Northern Irish parties) has a Moz DA of between 40 and 72.
With that in mind, it doesn’t take a digital marketing expert to tell you that 1 out of 100 is low. In addition to the low score, the domain name (http://www2.partyof.wales/) is not what most internet users are used to. Although a legitimate domain name and often used to link websites, the use of the number two after the “www” could look suspicious to those searching for the party.
The domain name is bad for SEO purposes, too. The top-level domain (TLD) is .wales, not .co.uk, org.uk, .com, or .gov.uk. The domain name is important and while choosing .wales is very nationalistic, opting for .org, as the SNP have done, could have been a wiser choice.
We are also able to look at the number of people visiting each website using SimilarWeb. There are a variety of tools which can indicate the number of monthly visitors and some are of varying quality. SimilarWeb is reliable but can sometimes overestimate or underestimate. For this reason, we always need to take the results as an average and consider that the results won’t be 100% accurate.
The Labour Party has the most monthly visitors by far, averaging at approximately 200,000 visitors a month. However, the website has a bounce rate of over 60%. The Conservatives received an average of just 150,000, but have a bounce rate of only 30%. This means if somebody goes to the Conservative Party website, they are more likely to stick around on it than leave.
We noted earlier that the Labour Party have a temporary homepage asking for people’s personal details to lend a hand. This could be one of the reasons people leave the page. Some people aren’t always keen to give away their details online, so if this is the first thing they see, it might turn them off.
On the other hand, the Conservative Party homepage offers a variety of options, without asking for personal details right away. There is more to scroll and explore, which could be why it has a lower bounce rate.
The Use of Social Media
According to Media News Campaigns, Facebook and Twitter are the two most important social networks that political parties should be using during their campaigns. When used effectively, social media can be a great way to reach out to a party’s target audience.
One of the reasons that Donald Trump won the US election last year was that he used Twitter so boldly and frequently. With this in mind, any party would be crazy not to create and maintain an active, engaging Twitter account. You don’t need to emulate Trump’s off-the-cuff and oftentimes controversial remarks. Rather, the moral that politicians should take away is that social media can make them appear more transparent, more accessible and more genuine.
The rise of politicians on Twitter can cause people to think they are voting for a person, rather than a party. Individual party leaders have an effect on people’s feelings towards the party. This has been enhanced by televised leader debates, where we see the leaders discuss issues. While they are discussing policies, the charisma and personality of the party leader can shine through. However, it’s important to note that we never vote for a leader, we vote for a party. Theresa May and Gordon Brown were not elected by the general public, but by their party.
Over 88% of people between ages 18-29 use Facebook, as opposed to 62% of 65+. Any party looking to gain votes from the younger demographic needs to be active on this corner of social media. With Facebook still being the most popular social network, it’s no surprise that all of the parties are posting on there numerous times, every day.
However, having an active Twitter or Facebook account is more than simply posting updates. Social media is all about engagement. If people can talk directly to a politician, get retweeted by them or even mentioned, they are more likely to feel a connection.
An interesting development which we may not have seen a few years ago is the parties interacting with each other on social media. Jeremy Corbyn submitted a question to Theresa May during her live interview on Facebook and in the post below, we can see the Liberal Democrats’ response to a Conservatives post.
From looking at Twitter, engagement is significantly higher for an individual leader’s account than a party’s account. For example, a tweet by Theresa May can gain about double the amount of retweets or likes than one by the Conservative Party.
However, when comparing party leaders, Jeremy Corbyn has, by far, the highest amount of Twitter and Facebook followers combined, with 1.5 million. Nicola Sturgeon has the second highest with just over 940,000, with Theresa May coming in third with over 647,000. What could this indicate? Are the younger demographic more likely to support Jeremy Corbyn? Corbyn’s interaction and statements on social media often refer to things that are wrong with the current government and uses important topics, such as the NHS, to evoke a reaction. These type of posts generate more of a reaction and give people something to talk about.
As well as Twitter and Facebook, Instagram is becoming increasingly popular with political leaders across the world. The UK Government set up an official Prime Minister account for Number Ten on Instagram. Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron are the only party leaders to commit to an Instagram account. With over 12,000 followers on Instagram, Corbyn gets a lot of interaction and varies his posts from political events to photos of his cat. As well as launching an Instagram account, Corbyn is the only leader to jump on the Snapchat trend in an attempt to reach out to the younger demographic.
All of the major political parties have YouTube channels, too. The videos posted include information about the MPs standing in the election, videos from the campaign trail and discussions from the houses of parliament. Television advertising has never been allowed during general elections, but with the rise of online advertising and video platforms like YouTube, there is really no need for them now.
Using the tool SimilarWEB, we can see that the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrats all receive over 25% of their website traffic via social media. This could, once again, indicate that they are reaching out to a younger demographic and that social media is a strong way to convert or get the attention of their audience. The Conservatives, Green Party and UKIP, however, all generate 10% or less of their views from social media, indicating their target audience could be elsewhere or of an older generation.
Google Trends and Google Searches
Google Trends is an excellent way for us to take a deeper look at what people are searching for online regarding the election.
The surge in people searching for information about the Labour party could indicate good news for the left wing party. On the other hand, those people searching for the Labour party could be those who are undecided or unsure about voting for a Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn.
According to Google, of the top three parties, the Conservatives have the lowest search results. Does this mean people are looking at other options? Or does it mean that the Conservatives have a stronger base who have already made up their minds?
The number of searches isn’t equal to the number of votes. There is a strong possibility that the Conservatives, SNP and UKIP have fewer people voting for them because people already know exactly what they stand for and don’t have questions which they require answering.
In terms of transactional searches, when the snap election was first announced, the number of people searching for “vote X” increased dramatically. Once again, the Labour party trumps the results.
However, when you look at the individual party leaders, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are neck and neck.
If you look at these results as a standalone observer, you might think that it looks great for the Labour Party. However, when looking at the statistics, we need to understand a few things.
Firstly, the number of social media followers and searches doesn’t correlate to the number of votes. The Google statistics show the number of people searching, not who is searching. The voting age in the UK is still 18, so we don’t know that those searching are legally able to vote. Secondly, if Jeremy Corbyn is using social media to reach the younger demographic, this is an age of voters who have a tendency not to vote. In the 2015 general election, only 43% of 18-24 year-olds voted. We can’t guarantee that those searching are going to follow through with voting.
Why might fewer people be searching about the Conservatives? As the current ruling party, many people know what and who they are voting for. People might have little desire to look at what they already know. It’s the unknown parties and policies which cause people to search on Google.
If we briefly compare what people were searching for in the last general election, we can see that, once again, the Labour Party are searched for the most. However, this did not lead to them winning the election.
We can’t call upon digital marketing insights alone to forecast the election results. However, it can give us an incredible insight into the power digital marketing can have on a campaign. Now so more than ever, harnessing the full power of the online world — and tracking it via digital marketing — is a vital way for parties to reach their audience and achieve their goals.