Why did Vote Leave hide their web content?

delete buttonEyebrows were raised when it came to light that the Leave camp had hidden almost all its site content. This included campaign pledges, interviews and statistics. The move became apparent soon after Leave emerged victorious from the EU referendum on Thursday 23 June.

Previously, the homepage banner had been emblazoned with the now-infamous statement that the NHS should be funded with the £350 million per week that is paid over to the EU for our membership. The site’s centrepiece originally had the title “Facts about the European Union”. It discussed trade deals and immigration controls among other referendum discussion points. The site was also home to a series of speeches, interviews and editorials by pro-Leave politicians and journalists.

Vote Leave removed all links to this content. They were replaced with a brief ‘thank you’ message. Some suggest that this information was removed on purpose in an effort to dissuade people from holding politicians to account. Promises on immigration, additional funding, trade agreements and political synchronisation with the EU could all have been called into question.

As we’ve discussed before at Write My Site, there’s little-to-no case for deleting, rather than streamlining or updating, web content. Google indexes pages on their creation, and then rank according to composition and visitor numbers.  Deleting this content is almost certain to bring an immediate drop in search rankings. It will also diminish your authority and put off frequent visitors.

But, the political sphere has good form for bad practice when it comes to deleting content, and all parts of the spectrum are equally guilty.

Back in 2013, David Cameron seemed to set out on an almost Orwellian mission to purge his pre-2010 election campaign material. Party spokesperson Chris Grayling  stated that there is “a limit to how much you can put and keep on your website year after year”, proving a shocking lack of webmaster knowledge in the process.

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of trying to “re-write history” when Labour did something similar in 2016.

Politicians aren’t the only ones who engage in large-scale web content purges: just recently, the BBC claimed it was focusing its resources by deleting recipes from the BBC Good Food site.

It’s not the first time that Westminster has defied SEO best-practice for political gain. But, in the real-world, there’s almost no reason to go ahead with such swingeing site changes. Thankfully, the internet is inherently democratic. The pledges can still be accessed via  sub-pages (e.g. http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/our_case), targeted Google searches and archive sites like Wayback Machine.

Of course, if you do HAVE to delete content for whatever reason, then there’s a defined method to follow. Make sure you to audit your site first. Keep hold of the content that’s helped your site achieve its current ranking. If you really have no use for a particular piece of content, consider revamping it, or archiving it, rather than deleting it. Contrary to Grayling’s belief, there is plenty of space on the Internet!

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