Searching for transparency – Search Trends and The General Election

Omar Mossadek, head of search at search marketing agency Barracuda-Digital, looks at what role the internet plays in informing voters and the online consequences following recent television debates and media coverage of the main parties and their leaders.

Omar Mossadek
Omar Mossadek

This has been one of the most unusual UK election campaigns for years with the first multiple televised debates, the possibility of a hung parliament and the first signs of social media’s potential influence on British politics – such as 14,000 tweets in one day after Gordon Brown’s recent Gillian Duffy “bigoted woman” blunder.

Google suggests that for the Liberal Democrats’ ’policies’ has been the most likely search when ’liberal democrats’ is typed into its search box. Whereas, ’party policies’ comes in 5th when typing ’Labour’ and the Conservatives deliver ’policies’ second only to ’.com’, suggesting that the Conservative and Liberal Democrats searchers are more driven towards the parties policies than the Labour party researchers.

Surprising when you’d imagine that policy would be a priority to most party-related searchers in the run up to today’s election regardless of which party they are searching for?

Of course we can’t ignore search activity around the manifestos. Despite the Liberal Democrats’ competitive leap into the online search-share (as seen in the next graph), their search-share for ’manifesto’ related queries lagged far behind.

The UK has been used to a two-party race for a long time and this year it looks like the British online community are mirroring the general media consensus that voters are fed-up with the old game of ping-pong between the Conservative and Labour parties.

The surge in Liberal Democrat competitiveness online, along with the neck-a-neck split between the Labour and Conservative parties to-date are telling. There were no big surprises in 2005 and yet the day after this year’s first televised debate we can see a boost in share of search requests suggesting that the Liberal Democrats stole the show, although since then we’ve seen a slowing in online interest in the party.

In contrast, the Conservatives have dropped down to Labour’s search share size, despite having almost twice as many Twitter followers; 29k vs 15.5k and the Liberal Democrats with only 18k. Of the various opinion polls available at the BBC’s Election 2010 page, we see that the Ipsos-Mori poll offers the closest match to the overall search trends we’ve seen online with Google’s Insights for Search.

YouTube searchers certainly signal a troubled online campaign for the Conservative party, with sneering search suggestions appearing on entering ’conservatives’ into its search box such as ’are ignorant’, are retarded’, ’owned’.
That is until we find that the third highest search suggestion for the Liberal Democrats is being ’owned’ or hi-jacked by the Conservative party with a paid/promoted video poised at the top of the results page titled ’Labour have failed’. This promoted video also overshadows the same search result page but for the Labour party with the search phrase ’Labour party political broadcast’. I’m sure more sneering comments and unusual search behaviour will be revealed by Google’s keyword tool after this week’s election, but Google’s suggestions and retrospective insights also make for fascinating perusing.

While nothing like the cheeky ’Obama Girl’ YouTube clips or the social media phenomena of the US election could have been expected for the UK Election. Despite being in the middle of a social media revolution in Britain, none of the UK parties have maximised the opportunities available online. One nil to the USA on that score.

As an indication of how the three main parties deliver transparency and keep voters informed we need look no further than the volume of content they’re making available online. Labour has only 5,030 web pages, the Conservatives in second place host 12,800 pages and in first place the Liberal Democrats have a massive 22,000 pages indexed by Google, four times that of Labour. This is also reflected somewhat in the data harvested by Alexa, displaying Liberal Democrats as having the lowest bounce rate and the greatest number of page-views per person.

So is the public’s recent search activity a precursor to a revolutionary change in the way our government will be run? For now, a hung parliament still looks like a smart bet and this data does nothing to change that fact. Only time will tell if today’s election events will ultimately lead to a greater level of transparency by the political parties and a more informed voting public, online as well as off. I certainly hope so.

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