Searching for Brexit

Searching for Brexit – an update

Back in April I wrote a blog post which sought to explore what we could understand about the public’s feelings around Brexit from how they were searching. Since then, there have been many, many developments on the Brexit front (goodbye Mrs May!), as well as two updates from me and the team at AnswerThePublic – all of which I’m going to neatly bundle up into the form of this here blog post!

1. An update to – you can now compare searches on one topic over two different time periods

In early June the AnswerThePublic team launched what I believe was an incredibly powerful update to the tool, exclusively for users with a Pro account. Effectively, it’s now possible to compare an AnswerThePublic report for any given topic at two different moments in time.

Why’s this such a big deal? Well if you weren’t aware, AnswerThePublic pulls its data from live Google suggestions, tied to whatever seed term you input. If you’re an avid Googler (aren’t we all?!) then you’ll know that what Google suggests to you changes on a very frequent basis. The suggestions will always reflect what’s going on now, whether it’s seasonally relevant terms or queries around celebrities who are basking in their 15 minutes, or searches relating to breaking news stories. Because AnswerThePublic reports are filled with live Google suggestions, you’ll likely see different terms creeping every time you run a report, particularly as time goes on and the ‘agenda’ around your topic evolves.

As you can imagine, for topics like Brexit the agenda is evolving on a minute-by-minute basis and the British public’s searches reflect that. The new ‘compare’ feature in AnswerThePublic makes tracking the shifts in sentiment super easy.

2. So Brexit – WTF is happening?!

Whilst I’m not in a position to shed any light on what’s going on in Westminster, I am going to update you on how search behavior around the B-word has changed, since April (when I wrote my last Brexit blog post) and in the last month.

Brexit searches in April

To re-cap, there were a number of themes that were font-of-mind for the public (evidenced in their search behavior) back in Spring. They were:

  • General info – there were lots of quite generic, broad searches around Brexit like ‘Brexit news’, ‘Brexit delay’ and ‘Brexit news today’.

  • Brexit anxiety – as well as literal, ‘Brexit anxiety’ searches, there were lots of questions around what Brexit would affect; ‘will Brexit affect me?’, ‘will Brexit affect flights?’, ‘will Brexit affect house prices?’ and ‘will Brexit affect pensions?’. Even more alarmingly, there were searches for ‘will Brexit cause a war?’, ‘will Brexit cause riots?’ and the statement, ‘Brexit is making me depressed’.

  • Business impact – there was concern for a number of businesses, products, industries, bodies and countries with searches including, ‘how Brexit affects Tesco’, ‘how Brexit affects banks’, ‘how Brexit affects NHS’, ‘what Brexit means for farmers’ and ‘Brexit for small businesses’.

  • Brexit positivity – there were people searching for positive news around Brexit, either seeking to be informed or to find others who share their opinion I would imagine; ‘why Brexit is good for business’, ‘why Brexit will be good for Britain’, ‘why Brexit is good for the economy’, ‘Brexit is good for UK’ and ‘why Brexit is important’.

  • Stop Brexit – as well as pro-Brexit searchers, there was evidence of negative feeling around Brexit, stretching into the territory of stopping Brexit; ‘why Brexit is not good’, ‘why Brexit is bad for the UK’, ‘can Brexit be stopped?’, ‘can Brexit be cancelled?’, ‘Brexit is a shambles’ and ‘Brexit is a disaster’.

  • Brexit memes and jokes – unsurprisingly, such was the cultural relevance of Brexit back in April, it had already spawned a number of memes and widely-shared jokes which people were searching for. These included, ‘Brexit like a cup of tea’ (inspired by a James Acaster joke), ‘Brexit like a cat’ (following news that France’s minister for European affairs named her cat ‘Brexit’ because of its indecisive nature), ‘Brexit like a kebab shop’ (from a very funny analogy posted by Facebook user, Iain Black) and ‘Brexit like Fyre Festival’ (tied to Simon Nixon of the Times’ suggestion that, ‘Like the Fyre festival, Brexit was sold on lies and will be a disaster’).

Brexit searches in August

Jumping back just a few weeks to August, there were some new themes, topics, questions and concerns cropping up in my Brexit report in AnswerThePublic:

  • The Brexit Party – whilst the party officially launched in January, there wasn’t huge interest in April. But by August, there were a number of new ‘are’ searches which suggest people were seeking to understand more about the party and its policies and members. Equally, new ‘can’ searches suggest people were trying to assess the party’s potential to succeed:
Searching for Brexit
  • Let’s not forgot David Cameron – new ‘where’ searches reflect curiosity about the geographical success of the Brexit party, as well as ‘status update’-type searches, but it’s particularly interesting to see increased interest in the man who kicked the whole thing off; ‘brexit where is david cameron’.

  • New memes and jokes – there was plenty of humour-seeking in April’s results but as of August, there was a host of new comparison memes and jokes logged in the public psyche:

  • Brexit like burger king’ – comedian Alistair Williams’ pun is proving popular. You can see his sketch here.

  • Brexit like a cheese submarine’ – this one comes from a Twitter thread where The Times columnist tries to explain Brexit with a somewhat unusual analogy, writing, ‘imagine that 52 percent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese’. See it in full here.

  • Brexit like titanic’ – these searches are likely looking for Josh Pappenheim’s satire film which portrays David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jeremy Corbyn as various characters from the 1997 film. Pappenheim claims he was inspired to make the video after Johnson, then foreign secretary, said: “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a Titanic success of it. Watch it here.

  • Brexit like geri halliwell’ – from a very witty sign, seen at the People’s Vote March in October 2018. The sign actually read: ‘This is like when Geri Halliwell overestimated her viability as a solo artist and left the Spice Girls’ and was celebrated by many as one of the best placards at the march.

  • Like Brexit but more orange’ – this odd search is actually the headline of a New York Times opinion piece on Donald Trump’s July 2018 visit to the UK. Written by Brit, Lara Prendergast, the piece suggests, ‘many Britons see in Mr. Trump a reflection of the Brexit phenomenon, albeit a more orange and sordid one’.  

Other noteworthy (new) searches:

  • brexit jacob rees mogg’ – JRM showing up in new popular searches simply reflects the bigger role he’s playing in the process now, as Leader of the House of Commons. He’s given some pretty hefty soundbites and is also at the centre of some controversial moments, like reclining casually mid-debate in Parliament.

  • brexit job opportunities’ – this is an interesting spin, given that much of the news has focused on job opportunities declining after Brexit.

  • brexit halloween costume’ – potentially tied to the proposed 31st October exit date, there are a number of Brits turning to dark humour and seeking out Brexit costumes to celebrate Halloween.

  • brexit food stockpile’ – search results that appear when this search is performed range from lists as to what you might need to stockpile, to research on how much Brits have already spent stockpiling. The fact that this is a new search term suggests food shortages are now a more real, front-of-mind fear.

  • brexit bar sunny beach’ – such is Brexit’s significance, a 24/7 bar in Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach, formerly known as Harley’s, is now called ‘Brexit bar & restaurant’. Its Facebook page proudly states, ‘in or out we’ll be drinking loud’.

Brexit searches now (September)

For context, I’m writing this on 5th September. Boris Johnson is PM though this week he lost his majority in Parliament, removed the whip from 21 of his MPs and called for a general election. Things are chaotic, to say the least. So how has all of that affected Brexit search behaviour, compared to August?

  • will brexit affect my holiday’ – driven by the timing of me writing this, this search highlights more immediate concerns held by the public; we’ve seen searches elsewhere which indicate longer-term concerns around things like house prices and pensions (those concerns are still present in searches now, by the way) but this reflects the fears of current life.

  • can brexit be stopped by parliament’ – likely fueled by the many votes going through Parliament this week and attempts to change the law to ensure a no deal Brexit doesn’t happen, we can see increased interest this month in the potential of Parliament stopping Brexit, specifically.

  • which brexit deal are you’ and ‘which brexit are you buzzfeed’ – this reflects people seeking out guidance from publishers around the various deals and routes that Brexit could now follow, so that they can assess which options are most closely aligned to their own views and values.

  • brexit is based on lies reject it’ – this search is around a news story that was published last month, in August, where an elderly woman wrote those words on the wall on a children’s playground in Yorkshire.

  • brexit rally near me’ – August and September have seen a number of rallies and protests around various events from the Brexit process, and this being a ‘new’ search terms highlights how people turned to Google to find a way to take action.

  • brexit traitors’ – this search highlights the real sense of betrayal and dismay felt by those who are pro-leave. The language is likely driven by Brexit Party candidate, Darren Selkus who last month posted a video on Twitter ranting about pro-EU Conservative MPs. In it, he said that he wanted to take his children to the Tower of London to show them how the UK ‘used to deal with traitors committing treason’.

  • brexit what to stockpile’ – it’s interesting how search behavior around stockpiling has moved on since even last month; from the less action-orientated ‘brexit food stockpile’ to the very action-orientated, ‘brexit what to stockpile’ and ‘brexit stockpiling list’. On the stockpiling point, it’s interesting to look at when it’s been a real concern in Google Trends:
Brexit Google trends

With the biggest spike to-date coming at the end of January 2019 and another smaller spike occurring during the week of 17th March – both likely driven by the fact that, at that time, Britain was due to leave the EU on 29th March – it’s interesting to observe search interest starting to creep up again from the start of August, likely with the public anticipating the new leave date of October 31st.

Bonus inclusion – Boris

Given that its our current PM who’s spearheading so much of the chaos we’re seeing in parliament right now, I thought it was worth a quick peek at Google’s suggestions around the man (from Thursday 5th September):

Brexit Google Boris

Personal favourites on that list include, ‘is Boris Johnson mad?’ (I think so) and ‘is Boris Johnson finished?’ (I hope so).

3. An update from me – Search Listening

Having been an avid user of AnswerThePublic ever since its launch, I’ve got a ton of tips and advice in terms of how to get the most out of it. Yes, it’s great for traditional keyword research and content planning but, as I hope my Brexit analysis has demonstrated, it’s possible to surface truly candid customer insight using search data, with tools like AnswerThePublic enabling you to do so at scale.

Such is my belief in this concept, myself and two colleagues, Nikki Gatenby and Louise Greeves, have very recently launched Search Listening™.

Search Listening™ (the method) is the process of understanding what an audience truly thinks, using the ultimate source of insight – search data – to access the unbiased perspectives of millions of people. It enables you to an learn what customers really do, not what they say they do.

And Search Listening™ (the business) is how we intend to teach the rest of the world to start making use of this (currently) untapped customer insight goldmine. We’ve been working on a ton of content, both free and paid-for, to help marketers and researchers get to grips with Search Listening™, starting with how to use AnswerThePublic to its full potential. Check out our courses, my e-book and a load of worksheets and guides if you’re feeling inspired!