A developer’s advice for the Stronger In and Get Britain Out websites

20 June 2016 | Gary Houlihan | About a 12 minute read
Tags: bremain, brexit, Britain, eu referendum, Europe, exit, remain, the clash, Trending

Unless you’ve had your head firmly rooted in the sand for the past 6 months or so, you may have not realised that there is a referendum on Thursday. If you didn’t hear and have had your head somewhere above sea level, I am actually jealous. Go to Sky News, go to BBC news, go to any UK based news site. Please, if you find one where this referendum isn’t one of the top stories, please, reader, let me know. I need to live in a world without the inescapable portmanteaux of Brexit and Bremain.

Anyway, if you haven’t had enough pieces on it already, here’s another one. I recently did some analysis on the websites of the tech stacks being used by candidates for the next U.S presidency. (if you didn’t see it, you can check it out here) – with this piece, I am going to try something similar, but this time, with 100% less Donald Trump.

With voting day just around the corner, it’s time to look at the official EU Referendum campaigning websites  – which are and

A pretty controversial topic, but I’d like to state that this is only advice for the Developers/Designers for the sites about how they can make their websites a bit better and what they are doing right. I’m going to remain (not a voting suggestion) as balanced as I can in my assessment, I’m not picking sides on this one publicly.

Lets start with….

…what they have in common, which is a lot. They’re both built using the same tech stack, they’re both using (pretty much) the same amount of trackers(according to the Ghostery plugin). This is because they are both built by a company called NationBuilder, who have a track record of delivering sites, especially for charities and political campaigns like the Labour Party and Amnesty International. A quick look at and and NationBuilder appears again in the footer. It seems like NationBuilder are pretty common with political parties, as you can see from the list of clients on their website.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 15.11.30


So who are NationBuilder? Well you can find out more about them here They’re pretty much a mix of a CMS (Content Management System) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform. Doing some more digging they count one of the early Facebook founders Dustin Moskovitz and Napster founder Sean Parker(who was also involved in early Facebook) as their Series A investors.


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NationBuilder – Remain or Leave, they can’t lose!

Getting started with NationBuilder is pretty easy, and if you have a web developer to hand, it’s quite easy to start customising the theme in HTML/CSS. It’s pretty much built for organisations/campaigns who want to generate a following online, I’m not sure if it gives you access to the UK Voter database, but for the U.S I’m pretty sure it does. So far NationBuilder are the real winners of this campaign. They literally cannot lose.


On we go to the homepages for both sites, let’s take a look…


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Starting with Remain – it’s a pretty clean site in general, the menu bar on the side works well (using the menu style that splits UX designers universally – the burger menu). It’s pretty easy to navigate. There are strong colours that make it stand out. On the donate part, it’s easy to make a donation, although I’m not really a big fan of the flow, it goes onto the info page as soon as I click a value to donate. This shouldn’t work this way really, maybe having a continue button after I select a value, as I can change my mind if I want to donate more.


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One annoying thing on the Leave site is that the menu doesn’t come with you when you scroll, meaning I have to go back to the top every time I want to go to a new page. Also one of the Designers for Vote Leave really likes carousels as there are two on the homepage alone. My advice would be to change up the menu a bit, maybe get it to come down the page as I scroll (they switch to the burger menu style in mobile – maybe just keep this for the desktop site too?). Also ditch the carousels, they’re not really needed. Take the advice from .

They do have an app though, which is something the Remain campaign don’t. I did download it to have a look, but it wanted me to sign up with Facebook or a phone number and I didn’t really want it posting on my behalf, or sending me texts etc. But from taking a look at the screenshots on the App Store it seems a good idea and looks well designed. They have seem to gamified it with volunteers getting points for…. something. I can’t really tell. Possibly for getting their friends on social to sign up/making calls to people to convince them to Vote Leave. They may have seen how Bernie Sanders was using Reddit and tried to do something similar (you can read about Bernie’s supporters did that here).

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Having an app and gamifying it is a smart idea

Advice for both sites:

Last piece of advice for both sites, get the social icons in your footer, or somewhere on the homepage. They’re not the easiest to find, with them hidden in the menu on Remain and on a separate social page on Leave. People live their lives on Facebook/Twitter these days – your social sites need to be easy to find.

As for validation errors at the time of writing, Vote Leave has 7 validation errors, Vote Remain edges it by 1 with only 6. Both pretty good though. Advice for both – remove the stray tags and you’ll almost be at 0. (Validation errors found using


Broken links

Broken Links suck for a number of reasons – they cause you to lose clients/customers, their trust in you will diminish, they hurt your conversion rates and they’ll have a negative impact on your SEO ranking. For a campaign like this, people want to know as much information as possible and read as much as they can before polling day, so in this case a lot of broken links on your site will cause people to get fed up, and with at least 11% of the people currently undecided on which way they’re going to vote, the sites absolutely need to get this right. Sites checked using


Only 3 for This is OK for now, but they should really get these fixed ASAP with their web traffic expected to surge this week.

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20 broken links is a lot for Somewhere on the VoteLeave site they are linking to the broken URLs in the below table. This is something they should urgently fix.

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Advice for both sites:

Ummm….fix them ? And fix them soon.

404 Pages

So what happens if we do click on one of the invalid URLs ? You’ll be taken to the 404 pages for each site. Let’s take a look……


Vote Leave’s 404 is good. It’s clear that it’s a 404 page, there is good use of imagery and it tells you you’re lost and while you’re there, why not signing up to join the campaign. Smart use of a 404 page. 404 page found at


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The Remain one is a bit boring. It really should be more prominent to get you to sign up. The search is a good idea, but I feel they could capture more volunteers if they had a similar feature on their 404.


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Taking a look at the Google Trends page for this, it’s obviously such a big news story that it’s been given its own page there, which you can take a look at here.


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Vote Leave:

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Vote Remain:

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Look at that! Neck and neck with Remain just shading it over the finish line.

For the Leave campaign – you could have won here with a few simple fixes. On your site you’re missing 10 alt tags on images, and using inline CSS styles 20 times is not great as it can affect load speed apparently, and in turn, your SEO rank. The number of broken links as well is a factor, with 20.

SEO results provided by

Also, investing in some paid ads might be an idea, as Remain seem to have cornered the market here as this is the top and only Ad result I get when I google…

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Both campaigns are pretty active on Social as you’d imagine – both post lots of videos, which as you would guess, inspire endless debate in the comments section. Mostly just Retweets of articles on why their vote is the better one.

There is smart use by the Leave campaign on Facebook which particularly stood out for me. They created an event for Thursday to remind people to vote. The Remain campaign don’t have this and they probably should – maybe they just haven’t created it yet. Although it’s pretty hard to avoid the media coverage on when voting day is, it is smart to create a Facebook event to engage with users, which will no doubt push them a notification a few times on Thursday to remind them to vote.

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In Conclusion….

That’s it. I’m not calling a winner, this is just some advice for both sides. You’ve read my take on it. Now time to get out and vote on Thursday. Over to you.


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