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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 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?