James Murray


5 Key Takeaways from Prolific North Live 2016

Insights from the North

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at the inaugural Prolific North Live event, a gathering of digital minds in Manchester to promote the growing range of talent in the north of England.

As with any good conference there were lots of insights, trends and learnings to digest and so I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the key takeaways from the conference and the impact for paid search practitioners. 

 Mobile growth doesn’t mean ignore desktop

This was a recurring trend from a number of the speakers throughout the day but I think it was most elegantly explained by O2’s head of SEO, Colin Woon (@colindwoon). Mobile is becoming the default device for search with Google announcing last year that mobile volume had overtaken desktop. However just because mobile is in its ascendancy doesn’t mean that desktop is no longer of any value.

Colin shared a very telling slide in his presentation that depicted 54% of all searches coming to the O2 website were from mobile, however, 62% of orders were from desktop. That means that desktop is punching above its weight for conversions. Mobile may well be the key to engaging consumers in the research phase but orders are still largely dominant on desktop, at least for O2.

O2 organic search desktop vs mobile

No doubt some businesses will have seen a tipping point in conversions from mobile but the overall message was that desktop still outperforms mobile for conversions. This is not a new trend, but I think it’s worth highlighting here because it’s all too easy to focus on mobile and forget about the work horse of Search which is the humble desktop. And although Colin’s data was only referring to organic search, the same principle applies to paid search. At Bing we’ve seen a huge YoY growth of click volume of 37% from smartphones between August 2014 and August 2015. But this tremendous growth in mobile volume doesn’t mean that desktop is no longer important.

  • Action for PPC marketers – check your campaign performance by device and use bid modifiers to boost your bid for well performing keywords on desktop.


Create loveable products

One of my favourite sessions of the day came from Adam Warbuton (@ProductAdam) who delivered an excellent and inspiring presentation about creating products clients will love. Adam’s work at Travelex has been guided by the principle of MLP (Minimum Lovable Product) a subtle but important variation on the now overused MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Part of the problem with MVP is the principle has been muddied and often misconstrued to mean “the cheapest product we can create and get away with”. Whilst this isn’t a fair reflection of MVP, what Travelex have done is to raise their game from what is minimum standard that is viable, to what is the minimum standard that will delight customers.


What this means is a change in perception, where the “good enough” becomes “not good enough” and the “nice to haves” become “must haves”. This was evident in the love and care that had been lavished on the Travelex app. Attention to small details delighted customers, such as putting “bon voyage” on the confirmation page if the customer had said they were travelling to France, but “adios” if they were travelling to Spain. In Adam’s own words, the “nice to haves” are important and they all add up to make the experience for the customer that much more enjoyable.

I think this principle could easily be applied to paid search, for whilst we are not directly creating products we are creating ads and new campaigns all the time. We are all busy and under time pressure but to lift our game to create ads that will inspire, engage or amuse our clients, rather than just the minimum viable ad is something we should aspire to.

  • Action for PPC marketers – create MLP ads and campaigns that aren’t just viable for your clients but delight them.


Customer experience is the marketing differentiator

Another core theme of the day that was echoed by many of the speakers was about creating great customer experiences rather than just interactions. Adobe’s EMEA Marketing Director, John Watton (@jwatton) said that brands that want to “survive and thrive” would have to focus on creating great experiences.

From a search perspective the experience the customer receives when they make their query is crucial to whether they are going to click through or not. At Bing one of the things we are really keen to do is to mix up the experience beyond the simple box and ten blue links. One of the things I am most keenly anticipating this year is the release of image extensions, something that Google trialled but ultimately discontinued but something we think has real merit and will deliver a different experience for consumers when they search.

Bing image extension ad

We have been running some early beta tests on image extensions and the results are extremely compelling, achieving much higher CTR than ads with just sitelinks. What this shows is that experience matters, and we should all strive to make the experience magical, even in something relatively mundane like search advertising.

  • Action for PPC Marketers – embrace new ad extensions to broaden the consumer experience they have when they search for your products and services.


Strategy is still an issue

One of the shocking revelations of Dave Chaffey’s (@DaveChaffey) presentation was there still seems to be a worrying lack of strategy and vision when it comes to digital marketing. When asked the question: “do you have a clearly defined digital marketing strategy?” 50% of marketers admitted that they were engaging in digital marketing but did not have a strategy.

This problem is echoed in Search, with many brands implementing paid search campaigns tactically without necessarily thinking about the broader strategic vision of what Search can achieve. One of the issues we have with Bing Ads clients is the strategy isn’t always reflective with changes in the market. I wrote recently about the disparity between revenue share and search market share in the UK between Google and Bing. Not only do you need to have a clear strategy for Search, increasingly clients need to keep that strategy fluid in order to respond to the dynamics of the market we operate in.

  • Action for PPC marketers – have a clear Search strategy but allow for changes in the market that means your strategy can effectively adapt and still be relevant. Keeping your Search spend in line with relative market share is a good place to start.


Simple things are often the best

I was endeared to a fantastic presentation by Yossi Erdman (@yossierd), Head of Brand and Social Media at AO.com. Yossi’s presentation was full of humour and interesting learnings from the past couple years growing the AO brand. What really came through from Yossi’s presentation was that as marketers we should never stop trying new things, and often simple things can work really well.

Trying to make washing machines sexy on a limited budget is always going to be challenging. What the AO team did was use simple competitions through Facebook, giving away dishwashers if people could spot how many plastic ducks they had put in the picture.

Although it sounds trivial, the insight that came out of the exercise was that completing simple tasks with the prospect of a reward makes people happy. Thousands of people were prepared to do simple tasks like counting balloons or guess how many items of clothing could fit into a washing machine if the effort expended was minimal and there was the possibility of getting a free appliance.

AO valentines day baloon competition facebook  

These are not revolutionary ideas but in an industry frankly as mundane as white goods, a simple idea well executed can go a long way.

Applying this mantra to Search, there is increasing pressure within the industry to make campaigns more complex, more granular and more sophisticated just to keep pace with the industry. I am a massive proponent of innovation in search, but innovation doesn’t have to be complex, and sometimes just executing simple ideas really well can be outstandingly effective.

  • Action for PPC marketers – strip back a campaign to its most basic elements. What one change could you implement simply to make it more effective?




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More Bing for your Buck – the Benefit of Bing vs Google

Saving the World from a Search Monopoly

As a search evangelist for Bing I spend a lot of my time talking about the benefits of Bing Ads and how our search platform performs for marketers. I think for the most part the search industry recognises a need for Bing as an alternative to Google. We’re saving the world from a search monopoly, one query at a time.

However, many people still don’t realise just how good Bing is in terms of the value it provides. To bring you up to date I wanted to highlight some of the key advances we’ve made recently that accentuate the value of Bing in 2016.

Market share on the rise

2015 was another year of growth for Bing market share in the UK and so a part of the value of Bing is the increased presence we have in the market. Last year saw us introduce Cortana, Windows 10 and Microsoft Edge to the world and that has had a big effect; winning hearts and minds of consumers and getting more people to search on Bing. In fact, Microsoft data shows that people who are using Windows 10 are on average searching on Bing 30% more than in previous Windows OS versions. With 200 million Windows 10 devices worldwide already, this is having a significant impact on our search query market share.

Windows 10 volume growth

According to comScore, Bing’s UK market share has increased from 8.1% in December 2014 to almost 10% of the search market in December 2015. When combined with the ad inventory we are powering through Yahoo! our combined market share currently stands at 16.3% - more than 750 million monthly searches.

As of January 2016 Bing has also started powering AOL search, adding further to our market share. The question is: as an advertiser are you matching your search spend to our query share?

For a long time, Bing has been considered somewhat an afterthought in the minds of search advertisers. I still speak to customers who have their spend for Bing capped at around 5% of the total search budget because “that’s the way it’s always been”. However, with our UK market share edging towards 1 in every 5 searches, 5% is seriously undervaluing the size of the Bing audience. Is it time to review your spend allocation?

Why would you want to do that you say? Not only because it’s proportionate and appropriate to the demand of the UK audience. But our clients are constantly telling us that Bing delivers better value than Google.

Better performance at a cheaper cost

Bing has historically always struggled against Google for volume but the performance of our network is significantly stronger in terms of cheaper clicks and higher conversion rates.

Typically, CPCs on Bing are 30-40% cheaper than on Google and some clients achieve even better results. A recent case study from iProspect in September 2015 found that CPCs were 56% cheaper on Bing than Google with a 360% higher ROI. Periscopix found their CPCs were 45% cheaper in Bing with a 65% higher ROI than Google.

Bing ROI case study

This is a message echoed by search agency further, who achieved on average a 48% cheaper CPC across their entire client base compared to Google with a 78% higher ROI. Meanwhile, award-winning search agency Brainlabs achieved 26% higher conversion rates on Bing for their clients in the Insurance industry whilst getting those clicks 16% cheaper than they could on Google. Last but not least Further looked at analytics from across their entire client base and found Bing achieved a 78% better ROI than Google at a 48% lower CPC.

Although the individual numbers differ, the story is the same: Bing delivers better value for money than Google, with higher conversion rates and stronger ROI at a lower cost.

Added Value in Additional Functionality

A part of what makes Bing Ads perform so well is our commitment to making the platform as scalable and efficient as possible whilst at the same time offering advertisers something different they can’t always get on Google.

If 2015 was a year of getting Bing to parity with Google, then 2016 will be the year that Bing innovates and differentiates in search. Much of the functionality that we developed in 2015: enhanced sitelinks, app extensions, shopping ads, remarketing and annotations were parity features to bring us in line with Google – something you, our customers expressly demanded. Even though you asked us to make Bing “just like Google” we’ve kept some things unique to us which advertisers appreciate.

A classic example of this is the bid modifier within enhanced campaigns. When we moved to enhanced campaigns in Q1 2015 we decided to give advertisers the option to specifically target tablet users by adding a bid modifier of -20% to +300% - an option which Google does not do. This means that if you can see your audience is performing particularly well on tablet, you can bid boost your campaigns to have your ad show more regularly in front of tablet users, thus enhancing the performance of your campaign.

Bing Simplified Device Targeting


In 2016 we have a host of exciting new features coming to Bing Ads which we believe will further differentiate us from Google to provide advertisers with new extensions and ad formats to play with including Image Extensions and Bing Native Ads which are available now for pilot beta testing.

Why should you be investing more in Bing?

So what does this mean for search marketers? It means that there are exciting times around the corner, and if you haven’t logged into your Bing Ads account for a bit then it’s time to get stuck in!

Our market share is growing, and is probably higher than you think, which means you’re probably not giving Bing it’s fair due for the audience and volume of clicks that we have available. Not only is there significant volume growth, the performance of the platform is much better than Google, with cheaper clicks and higher conversion rates. Finally, the additional functionality we have coming in Bing Ads for 2016 is going to differentiate our platform even further from Google and give you more ways than ever to connect with your customers.

But don’t just take my word for it, here is Alex Hyndman, Paid Search Planner at iProspect London’s summary of what Bing has to offer:

These are the results of a search engine that is screaming efficiency and one that everyone (including you) should be taking advantage of. Bing is in a prime position to grow. It represents a cost-efficient, conversion-ripe engine, which can immediately boost your client’s performance. So what’s stopping you?

Couldn’t have put it better myself.



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Top Bing Ads Finance tips to get ahead in 2016

December is usually quite a fallow month for the finance industry. This is of course the busiest time of the year for retailers, and a time of excess for consumers during the hugely indulgent festive season. With presents to buy, family gatherings to plan and vast quantities of food to devour, its little wonder that the consumer mindset drifts from the mundane practicalities of credit cards, insurance and pensions but instead, to more exciting things to search for.

However, come January finance is very much back on the agenda. With 9% more finance queries being made in the UK in January compared to the monthly average. You can see from the chart below there are particular peaks in interest for the insurance, loans and tax verticals, with investments seeing a huge seasonal growth in March and April.


Not only does January signal the beginning of a new seasonal peak for finance, research from Lightspeed GMI & Mintel shows that consumers are increasingly optimistic about their finances for the future. According to the research, there is a 2% increase in the proportion of people who are confident with their finances, whilst fewer people are worried about what the future holds.


finance optimism

With consumer confidence on the rise, increased optimism for the future and the seasonal peaks just around the corner, now is the best time to be planning ahead for the influx of search volumes come the start of 2016.

Extensions, Timings and Ad Copy

So what can you be doing now to plan ahead and prepare for the New Year in your Bing Ads account? I’ve focussed on three simple optimisations you can adjust in all of your campaigns to make them more effective in 2016: Extensions, timings and ad copy.


One of the best ways to make your ads bigger, clearer and more useful for your customers is through the power of extensions. With the growing number of ad extensions released on Bing ads, including the latest App Extensions, we have even more planned for 2016!


However, what is interesting to see from the above chart is that if you use multiple extensions at once, you can get an increased average CTR for your ads than if you were to only use one. For example, just using location extensions on their own yields an average CTR of 2%, whilst adding sitelinks into that ad can boost the average CTR to 9% - a 4X increase. If you use location extensions, call extensions and sitelinks together that goes up to 12% CTR!

Now clearly not every business will be able to use every extension. An online-only finance site like Moneysupermarket.com for example will have no use for location extensions as it has no stores to direct people to. However, by maximising the number of extensions you can use across all your campaigns, the more your CTR is going to increase. This is especially true on mobile devices where the limited screen size will push competitors further down the SERP and increase your chances of receiving a click.


Getting your ad in front of the right people at the right time is crucial, and using Bing Ads you can now optimise your campaigns at hyper granular 15 minute intervals.


Even without going that deep on timings, at the very least you want to optimise your campaigns by days of the week. I’ve chosen Automotive Insurance as an example here, using data from our Bing Ads Insights team which shows that the biggest volume of searches in this vertical typically comes on a Monday.  

Auto Insurance

Search volume then declines throughout the week with significantly lower numbers of queries over the weekend. Understanding the weekly demand of your industry and therefore when is the best time to remove caps on your daily budgets, or bid boost on key terms is essential.

Ad copy

Sticking with the Auto Insurance vertical we’ve seen new emerging trends of keywords that perform well in terms of attracting high CTRs but are not often used and are therefore good opportunities to differentiate your ad copy from the competition. Whether it’s to endorse your brand with keywords like “voted best” or to highlight a USP like “instant cover” or “cashback” there are always new ways to write your ads more effectively. The word cloud below highlights some of the best performing but underused keywords in the auto insurance vertical. Try testing out different ad copy tactics to see which one performs best for your campaign.


ad copy

The Bing Benefit

All of these recommendations could just as easily be applied to your Google AdWords account as well as to Bing Ads, but it is always worth remembering the additional benefit of advertising on Bing. Our audience is more suited to the finance industry with a slightly older demographic who are also more affluent than the average Google searcher.

The latest Marin data shows that Bing Ads continues to be exceptional value for money, offering CPCs that are 11% cheaper than Google, and whilst our CTR is not as high, the gap between Google and Bing is closing. 


Happy new year!

I’ve shown you just a snapshot of some of the insights that our wonderful Insights team has gleaned from the Bing Ads data. If you optimise your campaigns now by adopting as many ad extensions as possible across all campaigns, prioritising key days of the week and adjusting your ad copy to make the most of new keyword opportunities then you are all set for an incredible start to 2016.

If you want more data from the insights team, please contact your account manager and they will be only too happy to share that with you.

Enjoy the festivities ahead and we look forward to a sparkling 2016.


For more financial insights for the New Year have a look here.

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Are We Ready for Voice Search?

The year that voice search finally breaks through?

We’re several weeks into 2015 and some New Year’s resolutions have already failed spectacularly, the optimism of just a few weeks ago replaced with the grim reality of getting back to our normal routines. However, despite our collective lack of willpower to see through our promises of self-improvement, there is still plenty of enthusiasm for what the year ahead can bring and what this means for tech predictions. Of all the big trends that are coming to fruition in 2015, the one that excites me most is the growth of voice search.

I firmly believe that we are going to see a big change in the way that we search, and that voice is at the heart of that change. We’ve been typing queries into search engines for almost two decades, but when you think about, typing keywords into a box is a pretty unnatural way of discovering information. We’ve only learned to search using keywords because of how search engines were originally designed, but our natural curiosity springs from language.

The benefits of natural language queries

Usually when we want to find information we articulate it as a question. We do this every day, probably without even realising it. I was watching Snow White & the Huntsman over the holidays and I was surprised to see what looked like Nick Frost playing one of the dwarves. My first inclination was to lean over to my wife and ask: “Is that Nick Frost?” and because we couldn’t decide for sure, inevitably we turned to Search to solve the mystery.

A quick search on Bing for “nick frost imdb filmography” gave me the answer I was looking for – he was indeed in Snow White & the Huntsman as the dwarf Nion. But look at how my query was shaped by my previous search experience. Instead of asking the question “Was Nick Frost in Snow White and the Huntsman?” I cut out everything extraneous to the essential keywords where I knew I would get the answer I needed. Because I was using a search engine, the query that I typed was nothing like the original question that I formulated when I asked my wife. We think more quickly and naturally in language, and our search engines should be able to adapt to us, not us to them.

Wonderfully, now we actually have the technology to ask natural language questions and for the search algorithms to interpret what we mean. As a test I asked Cortana on my phone: “Is that Nick Frost in Snow White and the Huntsman?” and she provided me with the answer, without me having to click on any result.

In this case, not only was it easier to ask the search engine through voice than typing, the response was quicker too, as I didn’t have to click on any results to get the answer I needed. The problem is, we have become conditioned to feed search engines using a typing mechanism, which raises an interesting question – are we ready for voice search?

The rise of the digital assistant

Data from recent studies from Thrive Analytics and Northstar Research certainly seems to suggest that we are ready to embrace voice search, thanks to the rise of digital assistants. Whilst the first iterations of voice-enabled assistants were somewhat limited, we’ve come a long way in five years. The development of technology and improved functionality enabled in Siri, Cortana and Google Now has seen a dramatic increase in people using digital assistants on their smartphones.  

A June 2014 study by Thrive Analytics found that over half of US adult smartphone users (56%) had used a digital assistant with seven out of ten 18-29 year old smartphone users (71%) making use  of Siri, Cortana or Google Now.


Thrive Analytics “Is the Personal Assistant the Successor to Search?” 9 Oct 2014

These interactions are not just one-offs; the research found that usage of digital assistants had doubled between June 2013 and 2014 and that 24% of users were using voice search on a daily basis.

What’s interesting is that although 35% of digital assistant users did so primarily in the comfort of their own home, almost a third (31%) talked to their phone on the go, overcoming perhaps the biggest obstacle with voice search which is the embarrassment of talking to your phone in public.

Thrive Analytics “Is the Personal Assistant the Successor to Search?” 9 Oct 2014

A further study conducted by Northstar Research on behalf of Google showed even greater adoption, with 55% of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 using Google voice search more than once per day.

The numbers point to an increasing willingness to use voice search. And why not? Voice is very easy to use and more intuitive than keyword search with the added bonus of being hands free which opens up lots of scenarios for searching on the move. 

What does this mean for marketers?

So if search is changing and 2015 is the breakthrough year for voice search what does this mean for marketers and how are these changes going to affect search advertising? I think the first thing to make clear is that these are still relatively early days for voice search. Even though usage is growing, it’s not going to overtake typed queries anytime soon. From a paid search perspective, we are not expecting drastic changes in 2015.

However, for organic search it is definitely worth thinking about how voice search will impact the type of queries that are being made and therefore what needs to be optimised. One thing is for sure: people speak and type very differently when trying to access information. As we saw before with my Nick Frost example, we have conditioned ourselves to search in certain way which revolves around concise use of keywords. Voice search is much more natural so we could well see the return of long query searches such as “nice reasonably priced Italian restaurants in London” rather than “London Italian restaurants”.

Voice also means that semantic search is going to become a lot more powerful. Try typing “I’m hungry” into a search engine right now and the results you will get will be dreadful because they’re driven by keyword rather than semantic search. Voice gives us the opportunity to get to the heart of semantic search and suddenly natural language queries like “I’m hungry” could be best converting query for any restaurant or takeaway service, because the intent behind that search couldn’t be clearer – I need food, show me somewhere to satisfy my hunger.

Personal assistants have the greatest potential to leverage the strengths of both voice and semantic search, as they can understand the context of the query and match that with the information they know about the user, such as their likes, location, habits etc. This combination of voice and semantic search is hugely exciting, and ultimately what could drive search to the next level of utility – understanding semantics and context to provide more personalised, relevant results.

Are we ready for voice search? You’d better believe it.


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5 Digital Themes All Search Marketers Should Be Thinking About

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting at the IAB Search Conference which, as always, was a fascinating deep-dive into the hot topics that the search industry is grappling with at the moment. This year there were presentations from Google (understanding consumer behaviour), Marin Software (PPC market trends), iProspect (making PPC hyper local), 7thingsmedia (repositioning affiliates in search), IgnitionOne (attribution) and DoubleClick (audience planning) along with two panel debates on the value of paid search and paying for branded search terms.

There were some great insights shared at the conference but what struck me is the recurrence of several themes which ran through the threads of the presentations. Search is definitely becoming more user-centric and as an industry we are becoming more invested in understanding audiences across multiple channels and devices. Many of these themes will be familiar to you and so rather than write a post on big data or the internet of things, both of which are covered off in much more detail elsewhere, I thought I would share a few of the nuggets that I learned from the IAB Search Conference and how they tie into these wider themes.

Campaigns need to be integrated to get best results

Integrated campaigns seems to be one of the key themes of 2014 with the message coming through loud and clear that working in silos simply won’t cut it anymore in the modern marketing world.

One of the highlights from Jon Myers’ presentation from Marin Software was the case study that showed a 2x higher click rate for campaigns where search and social were integrated. This research shows the benefit of search and social teams collaborating to target customers more effectively. The evidence of the Marin study suggests that there is a significant gain to be made by bringing these two digital channels together, the synergy of which is much greater than the sum of the parts.

clip_image002Source: Marin Software’s Combining the Power of Search and Social for Exponential ROI report

Marin recently conducted a study across 200 search and social advertisers and found that customers who were exposed to both search and social ads and were nearly twice as likely to convert than customers exposed to just the search ad. Audiences touched by both ads had an 89% higher conversion rate and 367% higher revenue per click than people who just saw the search ad which means if someone sees both search and social ads not only are they more likely to buy, they are also going to spend more when they do buy.

Of course, bringing together different parts of the business, even parts which should align quite naturally, can be quite a challenge but the data is compelling for why we should be moving towards more integrated marketing teams.

Understanding intent has never been more important

Search data gives us a unique insight into the mood of the nation. It reveals so much about who we are, what we are interested in and where the gaps in our knowledge exist. If you want to know what the UK is really interested in, look at what they’re searching for and particularly what questions they’re asking. It’s a true barometer of intent.

As an example I’ve created a word cloud below of the most searched for “why” questions in the UK in May. You can quickly start to see that there are some fascinating insights here into what the nation is thinking about. Everything from their health “why am I always tired” to their relationships “why did I get married?” But behind each of these searches is an intent, either for knowledge or for advice that could prompt an action.


The real value of intentions though is being able to understand them in the context of a particular situation. This was highlighted brilliantly in Sandra McDill’s talk about hyper local PPC. You see, it doesn’t matter how clever search gets at being able to target people in a very specific location, the intent behind that search is still crucial to the context of the kind of ad they need to be served.

Sandra summed it up with a beautiful analogy of buying flowers at a hospital. We have the technology now to locate a customer in a hospital, probably down to a specific hospital wing in some cases. However, despite our ability to be able to serve a highly localised ad when someone is in hospital searching for flowers, we still need to know the intent behind that search. The same customer in the hospital could be searching for flowers to celebrate a birth, commiserate a death or to say “Thank you” to a nurse. As each situation needs a very different approach, hyper local alone is not enough to guarantee success with advertising. The human touch is still very important to digital marketing.

Seamlessly connected experiences across devices

We’ve been talking about a generation of second screeners for a while now and research from Microsoft shows that the average UK household now has six internet-connected devices and that 75% of UK families are second screening. What we haven’t talked about so much is how these devices are all starting to connect and talk to each other to provide seamless user experiences regardless of the device being used.


As more of our digital lives migrate to the cloud, we are starting to see this trend take off where you can access any of your documents or data from any of your devices. We’re also seeing technology enable journeys to start on one device and be picked up on another. So for example if you start a browser session on your mobile and have multiple tabs open, you can switch to another device like a laptop and continue the journey seamlessly with all the same tabs open.

For the always on generation it makes sense to be able to switch seamlessly between devices to continue our journeys as effortlessly as possible. I think this has particular implications for the retail industry, as many purchase journeys can start on a phone but could then be continued on another device. The ability to start browsing on your phone whilst window shopping on the high street and then pick up seamlessly where you left off later at home to purchase could have big implications for digital marketers in the near future.

Online and offline can complement each other

Every year we hear about how online is killing the high street and for every high street brand that folds, inevitably its demise is partly blamed on the rise of competition from online. However, it’s long been a contention of mine and others that digital can help save the high street and that properly employed, online can help boost offline conversions rather than stealing market share away.

This falls into the wider theme of integration – with online and offline working in harmony to the mutual benefit of the customer. Fiona Gandy of 7thingsmedia highlighted a great case study from The Body Shop and Vouchercloud which ably demonstrates how online can add to offline sales. In this case, the affiliate’s effective use of ad copy in a promotion helped drive a 208% increase in in-store revenue resulting in 17,000 new offline orders. The campaign also had increased interaction through social with an 8% redemption rate through Twitter and 16% click through on Facebook advertising.

During Google’s presentation, Harry Davies mentioned American Apparel for using physical stores to push online sales. Given the sensitive nature of their items, American Apparel could see that customers weren’t necessarily comfortable buying underwear in store. To offer an alternative solution, the company localised PPC ads to be displayed in the immediate vicinity of their stores. The result was that customers who were embarrassed to go in store were able to buy products online and PPC sales went through the roof.

I think we are going to see more of this crossover between the online and offline worlds, with a greater emphasis on making shoppers feel comfortable doing their shopping when and where they want regardless of time, place or device.

Bidding on your own brand terms is a necessary search tactic

Much has been made of the eBay paper which questioned the effectiveness of bidding on brand terms and this made for some healthy debate in the panel group discussions. Of the assembled expertise in the conference there was almost unanimous agreement that not only was paid search delivering value but it was also essential to bid on your own brand terms.

The argument against bidding on your own brand terms is that without a PPC ad most people would just click on the natural search link. However, page one search space is a coveted spot and bidding on brand terms ensures companies get two bites of the same cherry for a given keyword. Particularly in an age where, despite being clearly labelled, 40% of people don’t realise that the top search results are ads the danger of not bidding on your own brand terms are that the organic listings are squeezed below the fold and your website receives lower levels of traffic.

Having a paid and natural search link also reduces the amount of space competitors can get on the SERPs, pushing other brands further down the page and reducing their chance of getting clicked on. Ultimately, maximising exposure in both paid and natural links for any keyword is a valuable commodity in this market. If that means having to bid on your own brand terms, so be it.

So there it is folks. Another great IAB conference with some really interesting insights, data and debates. I feel like I’ve learned something, and that’s always a sign of a good conference. Looking forward to next year.

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Optimising UK Paid Travel Campaigns to Search Seasonality

Changing seasons, changing mind-set

After months of dreary British weather there is definitely evidence that summer is coming. Evenings are getting lighter, the sun is shining more often and heavy coats are gradually being stowed away for another year. With the change of the seasons also comes a change in the consumer mind-set as people start looking ahead to their summer holidays. The peak summer travel season is about to kick off, and with that in mind, we wanted to share some thoughts and insights into how to optimise your search campaigns to make the most of the latest online trends.

The next quarter could either make or break a year for travel companies and so it is essential to make sure that each search campaign is targeted towards the needs of consumers you are trying to reach. Whether that’s in luxury cruises or bargain bucket holidays – your marketing needs to reflect what your customers desire.

Where, When and How are consumers searching for travel?

In the UK, there is a major peak of travel search activity that occurs during July and August each year. However, you can see from the chart below that there is a significant jump in click volume in May which is the perfect time to start optimising campaigns and capitalising on increased online interest from your customers.


Looking at last year’s data, you can see that there was particular growth in May for searches for holidays and travel agents, whereas growth of other travel categories starts to accelerate in June. May represents the initial research phase of the purchase cycle where consumers are deciding where they want to travel rather than necessarily searching for specific flights and accommodation. Later in June, when consumers are getting closer to a purchase, their search behaviour changes towards more specific areas of travel such as flights, cruises and lodging. May is a great time to start marketing to customers to ensure your brand is front of mind when they come to book a holiday.

As the UK increases to embrace technology, mobile clicks in the travel sector grow rapidly. Smartphones have enabled people to search, compare and book travel on the move whether that’s waiting for a coffee in Starbucks or sitting on a train to go to work – technology has enabled consumers to shop whenever and however they like.

According to a Weve study last November, 28% of people now book their flights on their mobile, whilst 33% book a hotel on their phone. Data from the Yahoo Bing Network shows that almost 3 in every 10 travel searches (28%) are now done on a mobile device. For the modern always-on consumer, mobile is quickly become the method of choice for travel research and bookings.

Particularly for search advertising, you can see from the chart below that the click through rate (CTR) for smartphones and tablets outperforms that of desktop computers.


Tablets are notably ahead across all categories in some cases receiving twice as many clicks as smartphone and desktop searches. The CTR for smartphones is on par with desktops across all travel sectors but when you take into account that the cost-per-click (CPC) for smartphones are 15% lower than for desktops, this creates a compelling reason to be focusing your efforts on mobile advertising.

What do customers want?

Understanding when consumers are online and what devices to target them on is one thing, but what do they actually want? The latest search trends give us some fascinating insight into what people are currently interested in which can act as a guide for your ad copy and content.

Looking at the search volume for the top 50 flight queries in the Yahoo Bing Network, we can get a strong indication of intent for where customers want to go on their holiday. For the purposes of this data, only queries which included a specified destination were counted whilst mainland UK destinations were excluded from the list.


New York emerged as the number one destination that people wanted to visit, up two places from last year’s search rankings. Australia remained popular at number two in the list whilst five of the top 10 spots were occupied by Spanish destinations including Tenerife, Malaga, Alicante, Barcelona and Lanzarote.

Barcelona was one of three new entries into the top 10 and one of a growing list of city break destinations that are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. As the economy continues to recover, Mintel has forecast that holidaymakers will spend more on their trips – upgrading current holidays, spending more per vacation and making more trips than in previous years. City breaks are on the rise as people have more funds available for short weekend breaks abroad which would account for increased search activity in flight searches for Amsterdam, Dublin and Barcelona.

What can you do as an advertiser?

So, what can you do as a search advertiser to take advantage of these trends? There are three simple actions you could take today to capitalise on the trends discussed in this post, namely:

1. Optimise campaigns for key destinations

2. Use ad extensions

3. Ensure your landing pages are optimised for mobile

Matching your campaigns to what consumers are searching for increases the relevance of your ads and makes it more likely that your ads are going to be clicked on. Optimising your campaigns to the key destinations we’ve highlighted above is a good starting point, but further analysis can be done using the Bing Ads Intelligence tool to see what the fast-moving destinations are or which destinations appeal to your core demographic.

Using ad extensions is also a great way of increasing clicks on your ads as well as shortening the conversion funnel for customers looking to get hold of information as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Sitelinks not only double the size of your adverts, creating less space on the page for your competitors, they also attract much a higher CTR than normal ads. Travel advertisers using Sitelinks received a 22% higher CTR than normal travel ads in September 2013.

Finally, your website content and landing pages need to be properly optimised for mobile users. It doesn’t matter how good your search marketing is, if the content you are driving traffic to is poor, your conversion rate is going to be terrible. With 3 in 10 travel searches coming from a mobile device, the volume of mobile traffic cannot be ignored. A recent study by xAd/Telmetrics revealed that an optimised mobile site was the one feature that travel customers prioritised over any other.

Your customers are starting to think about their summer holidays. Armed with the right search insights and tools, you should be able to optimise your travel campaigns to the needs and desires of those customers and make your marketing spend go further with more intelligent, targeted advertising.

Here’s to a great summer.

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