Arianne Donoghue is Associate Director at Edit, editor and blogger at State of Digital and a volunteer at Code First: Girls, plus she has just won UK Search Personality of the Year last month. We interview her on Authoritas to find out about her career in search, how it has changed and what she predicts will happen with paid search in 2020.

How did you first get into search?

Like many of us, I fell into it totally by accident. I was working at Thomas Cook in the Procurement team and spent a huge chunk of my time chasing unpaid invoices and doing admin in Excel. In the course of doing this, I got to know some regular unpaid invoice/no purchase order offenders, one of whom ended up setting up the internal digital marketing team. When they were looking to in-house the Paid Search activity, he thought of my skills with numbers and spreadsheets and suggested I apply for one of the roles! It was a great first lesson in the power of networking when it comes to building your career, and it’s ensured that I’ve always tried to be open to whatever opportunities might come my way! From there, I got my first ever agency job in London and many years later, here we are!

Arianne Donoghue
Arianne Donoghue

Can you share 3 things that are different now to when you first started in paid search? 

Oooh there’s a bunch. I like to start my paid search training sessions with a chart that shows how many new things get added to the paid search landscape each year, to illustrate how much more complex the ecosystem has become – relative to when I started it. It makes for scary reading! Some of the things That spring to mind are:

1. Changes in the number of search engines. When I started, I had to manage accounts on three engines – Google, Yahoo and MIVA (also known as Espotting – shout out to anyone else who’s old enough to have run campaigns here!). Then Microsoft came onto the scene with adCenter. There were some merges, and industry changes and things went down to three for a while, and for the time being we’ve settled on two. It means I have little patience with those who complain about having to run ads on Google and Bing – in my day there’s a chance to had to do things 4 times over! These youngsters don’t know how easy they’ve got it today 

2. Google used to give agency kickbacks! If your account met certain quality and spend requirements, they would give you money back – and it could be a decent chunk. This then got abolished when Google wanted to try and forge closer relationships with advertisers, but eventually everyone in the industry followed suit.
3. Brand terms. It used to be that if you were a brand with a registered trademark, then your brand terms were sacred ground on Google. No longer. While it’s opened up a whole world of opportunity with competitor bidding, if I’m honest I miss how things used to be in that one area. I had one client whose spend quadrupled overnight with nothing to show for it except fewer leads. We all accept it as the status quo now, but it wasn’t always this way!

Can you predict two changes that may happen in the next 10 years with regards to PPC?

I hate having to make predictions – I am no good at them! But if pushed, I reckon these two:
1. Keywords still start to disappear. We’re already seeing Microsoft run keywordless campaigns that rely on user intent for targeting, and Google are moving this way also with some of their smart campaigns. While we’re certainly going to need keywords in the short term, as the targeting and tracking options we have simply aren’t good enough on their own, it wouldn’t surprise me if they start to become less important before disappearing entirely
2. I’ll be really surprised if in 10 years campaign management exists as we know it today. We’ve seen such a push towards automation by Google and others and I expect the pace of change here to accelerate. This means that in order to survive, those of us in Paid need to figure out how we can keep adding value to our clients and growing our own skills so that we can keep our jobs!

What is your favourite search tool and why?

It’s a cliche but I’m going to have to say the humble spreadsheet. While I’m experimenting with other tools for data vis etc, the spreadsheet is such a mainstay of PPC campaign management. We don’t have as much in the way of tools as our organic colleagues do, but if I had to pick, SEMrush and the Microsoft Advertising Intelligence Excel extension would get a look in. Oh and obviously the Google and Microsoft Ads Editor tools – but most of these are augmenting a lot of what we can do in Excel.

Arianne speaking at PintSized
Arianne speaking at PintSized

What excites you most in our industry?  

It’s got to be the community. I’ve made so many amazing, lifelong friends through being in this industry and some of them have supported me through some really tough times, and good ones too. It’s a community that while it does undoubtedly have its issues, is full of warm and welcoming people who have helped shape me into the person and the marketer I am today. My job is now to pay that back by doing what I can to help the next generation. Regardless of the changes we have to deal with, we always come up with solutions – and often with a dose of good humour to boot. I’ve had many, MANY fits of laughter that have led to tears – and I hope for many more!

You started volunteering at Code First: Girls can you expand on what that involves and what you have learnt?

So Code First: Girls is all about teaching digital skills to women and young girls, to give them access to opportunities and to help them build confidence. Through getting involved with other inclusion-based initiatives in Leeds I wound up volunteering as a tutor for the course we ran in July. Over a period of 8 sessions (which can be over 8 weeks or compressed into 4), our students go from having zero coding knowledge, to learning HTML, CSS, responsive design, JavaScript and even how to use Github and version control. They then showcase their skills by working in groups to create a website that they present back to the group. For many students, it’s a great gateway into a career in tech and it gives them the confidence to seek further training or apply for junior roles.
I’ve learned a lot from doing it because if you’re going to be able to teach material, you have to know what you’re on about – so it’s done wonders for my own basic skills, and I can’t wait to learn more when I get the time.
On a side note CF:G are always looking for volunteers – so if you can give up a couple of hours a week to literally help change lives, contact them and volunteer. You don’t have to identify as female either – all you need is the right attitude!

Arianne speaking
Arianne speaking at HERO Conference

Congratulations, you just won UK Search Personality of the Year Award, what a fantastic achievement, what do you have planned for 2020?  

Goodness it’s been the strangest few weeks since winning. I wrote a bit about my thoughts on LinkedIn, because it turns out it’s really hard to explain what something like this means to someone like me. I’ve always struggled with self-confidence issues and have a very low opinion of myself and the value I put into the world (I don’t say that for pity at all – it’s at the point where it’s basically a facet of my personality now), so it’s very strange to find out in such a public way, how other people view you – particularly when it’s so at odds with our own views. But it’s also been a lovely validation. I’ve had a lot of challenges in my career – I’ve struggled in a lot of agency environments as I can’t and won’t “play the game” that appears to be asked of you if you want to succeed. I won’t lie to clients. I value my honesty and integrity, and as a result at many, MANY points, I’ve found myself wondering if who I am as a human is fundamentally incompatible with the jobs I’ve been doing. With some of the jobs, maybe – but with the industry no. Where I’ve previously felt disillusioned and burnt out, I now feel hope and positivity. Knowing that the traits I value are not only seen, but recognised and appreciated is a huge boost – and I hope it shows others that in order to succeed, they don’t have to follow a traditional path. Concentrate on trying to add more to the world than you take from it, and in the end you’ll do ok. You may even wind up winning a Search Award!

UK Search Awards Winner 2019
UK Search Awards Winner 2019 – Arianne Donoghue


My plans for 2020? Ooh no idea. I need to keep practising being kinder to myself – not only in terms of my internal self-talk, but also how I manage my time and commit to things. After a really hard first half of 2019, I may have overdone it in the second half and I need to do a better job of finding balance. I want to get back to learning to code, having time to read, but also to just sit and gaze out the window so that I can make room for new ideas to come and find me. I’m in no way even close to being the finished article, and so I’ve got a lot to do to help myself, so I can better add value to any projects that might come my way.

Thank you Arianne for taking the time to be interviewed on our blog. Many congratulations again and we look forward to seeing you at a search event soon.

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