SEARCHING FOR BREXIT: WHAT SEARCH TELLS US ABOUT THE UK’S ATTITUDE TO OUR PENDING EUROPEAN DIVORCE

This post has now been updated at https://searchlistening.com/2019/09/05/searching-for-brexit-an-update/

Undoubtedly, the UK is going through one of its most politically turbulent times, certainly in my lifetime. Given that many of us turn to Google (and its anonymous, non-judgemental, resourceful search box) as a source of knowledge, explanations and reassurance during troubling times, it feels quite pertinent to explore Google data to understand a bit more about how we’re all feeling about the B-word right now.

Before I delve into the research, I’m keen to flag the unrivalled insightfulness that Google represents in circumstances like those that we, as a nation, find ourselves in right now. While social listening can be a great source of insight, most of us adopt a persona on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; we show off the best elements of ourselves and our lives and scarcely talk about the negatives or the things that are troubling us. Equally, surveys, interviews and focus groups can all uncover a wealth of data, but that data can be skewed by research bias; participants giving unnatural answers or trying to answer research questions in the ‘right’ way. With the best intentions, of course!

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, calls Google data “the most important dataset ever collected on the human psyche”, and I’m inclined to agree with him. It’s obtained in-the-moment, with no artificial research context to give a bias and because our searches aren’t seen by anyone else, we don’t need to project a better version of ourselves. In fact, we turn to Google to scratch a real itch, be it seeking answers to a question or finding a community of people who agree with us. In work-mode, I use it regularly to get a deeper understanding of the motivations and attitudes of the population and it feeds content and campaigns within Propellernet day-in, day-out.

So, on to Brexit…

We want all the information. And Benedict Cumberbatch. And we’re anxious.

At the time of writing (05th April 2019), Google’s top suggestions when you type ‘Brexit’ into its search bar were as follows:

  • Brexit news
  • Brexit delay
  • Brexit second referendum
  • Brexit latest news
  • Brexit the uncivil war
  • Brexit anxiety
  • Brexit party
  • Brexit date
  • Brexit news today
  • Brexit odds

A number of those searches are very broad and very much information-seeking, but already you can see some interesting behaviour materialising. ‘Brexit anxiety’ being a top search term indicates how much stress and mental anguish the chaos is bringing to the population, while ‘Brexit the uncivil war’ highlights the popularity of Channel 4’s recent film (which featured Benedict Cumberbatch).

Will Brexit cause a war?

We’ve already established the prevalence of ‘Brexit anxiety’ as a search term, but using AnswerThePublic.com, we can look at some of the longer-tail terms around Brexitand identify real concerns. Besides asking whether Brexit will happen/be stopped/be delayed, people are searching in ways that indicate fear around specific consequences of Brexit:

  • Will Brexit affect me?
  • Will Brexit affect flights?
  • Will Brexit affect house prices?
  • Will Brexit cause a war?
  • Will Brexit affect pensions?
  • Will Brexit affect the Euro?
  • Will Brexit cause riots?
  • Will Brexit affect travel?
  • Will Brexit affect my private pension?
  • Brexit cancer drugs
  • Brexit canned food
  • Brexit cancer treatment
  • Brexit organised crime
  • Brexit likely shortages
  • Brexit is making me depressed

While questions around travel, house prices and pensions might be expected, those around wars and riots really highlight the extent to which the uncertainty is driving real fear into the population.

What about our Toblerones?

As well as asking how Brexit will affect them as individuals, people are looking outwards and searching for information on how Brexit will affect businesses, industries, institutions and pockets of people:

  • How Brexit affects Tesco
  • How Brexit affects banks
  • How Brexit affects NHS
  • How Brexit will affect law firms
  • What Brexit means for farmers
  • What Brexit means for USA
  • What Brexit means for international students
  • Brexit for small businesses
  • Brexit for students
  • Brexit for Polish
  • Brexit Toyota
  • Brexit Toblerone
  • Brexit and travel insurance
  • Brexit and mental health
  • Brexit and interest rates

The above searches reflect a mix of terms that will have been driven by news stories (Toyota’s threats to halt car production in the UKfarmers having to deal with milk lakes in Northern Ireland and Toblerones shrinking in size as chocolate becomes more expensive to produce) and pure curiosity about certain entities. Of course, curiosity around the NHS likely stems from the prominence of NHS funding in the Leave campaign messaging.

Is Brexit good for the UK, or is it a farce?

Looking at the full breadth of questions around Brexit, there are plenty that indicate support for the process, and plenty that suggest an anti-Brexit stance.

Pro-Brexit search terms include:

  • Why Brexit is good for business
  • Why Brexit is important
  • Why Brexit will be good for Britain
  • Why Brexit is good for the economy
  • Why Brexit will be good
  • Why Brexit is good
  • Brexit is good for UK

In terms of individual volume, there are more anti-Brexit search terms being used – though that’s not to say that the total volume of searches for these terms outweighs that of all the pro-Brexit terms. They include:

  • Why Brexit is not good
  • Why Brexit is a bad thing
  • Why Brexit is bad for the UK
  • Can Brexit be stopped
  • Can Brexit be cancelled
  • Can Brexit be reversed
  • Can Brexit be stopped now
  • Can Brexit be revoked
  • Can Brexit be overturned
  • Can Brexit be reversed now
  • Brexit is a shambles
  • Brexit is a farce
  • Brexit is a mess
  • Brexit is a disaster

The final four on the above list highlight a behaviour that fascinates me; people literally typing a statement into Google, probably in the hope that they’ll find content and/or a community that holds the same viewpoint as them. We so frequently turn to Google for an answer to a question – and this, likely, frustration-driven statement search is so different.

Tea bags, felines and The Eagles

Despite these testing times, there’s some humour to be found online. Many individuals have tried to come up with analogies to explain or highlight certain elements of Brexit and people are seeking them out via Google. The most prominent are:

  • Brexit like a cup of tea – driven by comedian, James Acaster who attempted to explain Brexit on the BBC show, Mock the Week
  • Brexit like a cat – following the news that France’s minister for European affairs named her cat “Brexit” because of its indecisive nature
  • Brexit like a kebab shop – this one comes from Facebook user, Ian Black, who nailed it (in my opinion!) with an analogy many us can relate to, no doubt:
  • Brexit like a night out – also inspired by Ian (above)
  • Brexit like a cake – Copywriter and former newspaper columnist, Gary Bainbridge has achieved internet fame for his food-themed analogy which you can find via The Poke
  • Brexit like Fyre Festival – this one comes from numerous sources but is well summed-up by Simon Nixon of the Times who suggests that, ‘Like the Fyre festival, Brexit was sold on lies and will be a disaster’
  • Brexit like millennium bug – one for the Brexiteers, this analogy comes from Conservative House of Lords member, Peter Lilley who said that ‘No deal would be more Millennium Bug than Armageddon’
  • Brexit like leaving a nightclub – Ian, again!
  • Brexit like hotel California – another politician-driven comparison, this one comes from Greece’s former finance minister and Eurozone critic, Yanis Varoufakis who said of the EU: ““You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can’t really leave”.

I really like how these analogies – and their prominence in Brexit long-tail searches – highlight the importance of creative storytelling around complicated matters. The metaphors have landed in our brains to the extent that there’s a high volume of us seeking them out, likely to relay to a friend or family member.

To conclude

There’s lots more Brexit sentiment to be uncovered from search behaviour, but I’ve pulled out some of the stuff I found to be the most interesting or significant.

Beyond Brexit, there’s plenty of sentiment to be uncovered from search behaviour for all kinds of industries. Consider your audience; their hopes, their fears, their pain points, their secret searches. Use AnswerThePublic.com or plain-old Google suggestions to surface the long-tail searches that these triggers are driving. And then create content to help.

All data taken from UK-located, English-language searches, via AnswerThePublic.com

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