On Friday, June 24th, in a shock move, the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union. If the reverberations across European stock markets were not enough, here at SimilarWeb we quickly started to see massive fluctuations in UK traffic to certain key websites. The UK’s online population flooded to the immigration pages of foreign government websites, news and media sites, and currency exchange sites as voters looked to transfer their pounds, make sense of the decision, or hunt for more attractive opportunities abroad.
In this Brexit special, we reveal the traffic winners from the so-called British “Black Friday” including a massive rush to Irish and Canadian Government immigration sites, Ryanair, and foreign exchange sites. We also looked at the political digital campaigns themselves, where the digital strategies of the two sides becomes clear.
Canada Leads the Hunt for Exit from Brexit
UK visits to the Government of Canada’s immigration and citizenship site (cic.gc.ca) jumped by 123% from 27,500 visits on Thursday to 61,400 visits on Friday. It was the same story for the Irish immigration site (inis.gov.ie) where UK-based visits went up 491% on Friday. Even down under in Australia, their immigration site (border.gov.au) rose 141% in one day, jumping from 4,400 to 10,600 UK visits.
I love how “move to Canada” is now a global Plan B. https://t.co/B7aw8I0mIl
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) June 24, 2016
Brexit is Good News for News
On Friday, June 24th, the day of the Brexit result, several news sites recorded their best day of website visits of the entire year. It was record-breaking day for the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, and Express. Visits increased both on Thursday as voters swotted up on last minute information before heading to the polls, and as they digested details on their desktops and mobile devices the next day.
The Telegraph website saw a 135% increase in combined mobile and desktop traffic from Wednesday to Thursday (6 million to 14.3 million visits). It then saw a further jump of 3% on Friday, enjoying a peak of 14.7 million daily visits on the results day.
The Guardian’s Brexit campaign was perhaps even more extraordinary, briefly, overtaking the Daily Mail for visits during Brexit. The Guardian’s visits rose 40% on Thursday from 11.4 million visits to 15.9million visits. It then saw a further 10% rise on Friday, ending up with 17.6million visits on the day. By Saturday, The Guardian did not manage to hold on to all these new visits, and the Daily Mail retook its higher position.
It was not only UK news sites that saw a rise – with Germany’s Der Spiegel increasing by 6% on Friday and rival Zeit seeing a 15% increase in visits on Friday. It should be noted that this traffic is even more impressive given that Friday is normally third worst day for traffic to online news sites.
Ryanair’s Brexit Sale
Most airlines were understandably anxious about a drop in traveler confidence, but Ryanair wanted to remove reasons to abandon holiday plans by launching a 24-hour seat sale in the wake of the referendum. The UK’s most visited airline site saw a 61% increase in daily traffic on Friday to 2.58 million visits.
Currency Sites see Brexit Spike
One of the first major consequences of Brexit was the fall in the value of sterling, after a sharp rise earlier in the week. As a result, tourists and UK residents began flocking to various websites to discover the updated exchange rate and transfer money. The Euro was in particular demand, with the pound down more than 5% against the currency. Investing site woodfordfunds.com saw a 480% increase in global traffic on Friday, thomascookmoney.com saw a 171% increase, hl.co.uk, a 117% increase, and forex.com a 47% rise.
The signs of a successful Remain digital campaign were initially good with pro-EU side recruiting top digital strategists behind the Conservative’s 2015 election victory. It was certainly among the most digitally aware battles of recent times with a simple online registration helping to secure an impressive 72% voter turnout. Online visits to the government site, where voters could register, www.gov.uk, were up by 36% compared to the same period in 2015. The site also saw strong visits from the U.S, India, and Spain as expats went online to register.
Looking at traffic to the two main pro and anti-Brexit campaign sites over the past two months, the number of visits reflected both the closeness and the outcome of the referendum. The eventual winner, voteleavetakecontrol.org saw 877,000 visits in May, the month before the vote, while strongerin.co.uk only managed 504,000 visits in May.
Furthermore, our data reveals that it was due to engagement on social media that helped the Leave side ultimately win. Over the period from May 31st to June 27th, 20.21% of the Leave campaign’s desktop traffic came via social media compared to 14.25% for Stronger In. Of this social traffic, Facebook emerged as the most important traffic source with 48.65% of social visits coming via the site. Reddit traffic was not far behind, accounting for 35.55% while Twitter accounted for 15.68%.
Brexit Through the Gift Shop
Finally, the Leave campaign’s website wasn’t used solely to gain information on the vote, it also had users shopping for Brexit souvenirs. Though the store page is no longer available, SimilarWeb’s popular pages data shows that from March to May 2016, 4.3% of desktop traffic to Vote Leave was to their online store selling everything from Vote Leave umbrellas, to hats and t-shirts.