Google Analytics and AdWords optimisation with GNU R

9th – 11th March we were at Booster Conference in Bergen to present AdWords optimisation using controlled experiments with GNU R.

In the session we:

  • showed how standard analytics reports can bring misleading results
  • showed that controlled experiments can help to identify the true ROI
  • reviewed a study (PDF) by a team of economists from eBay Research
  • provided examples with real life data
  • and showed how to implement these methods using GNU R and the Google Analytics API – Big Data without Big Code

In the presentation we focused on brand keyword bidding. In this case, paid clicks potentially substitute organic traffic.  The advertisement effect we observe is the total AdWords traffic  which includes not only the truly gained traffic but also the clicks of individuals that would have visited the website even in absence of SEM. The latter is what economists call the missing counterfactual. Missing as we do not observe it. Without this data it is impossible to calculate the true ROI.

The way to find the missing counterfactual is through controlled random experiments. The complete AdWords optimisation toolbox necessary to run controlled experiments can be found in this slideshare presentation.

We are excited to share our methods. Feel free to share your opinion.

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Airline mobile app quality is growing

This post initially appeared as a guest post on tnooz, entitled Customer ratings show airline apps getting better

While criticism of airline mobile app quality is not out of ordinary, our analysis reveals that passengers’ satisfaction with airline app quality is growing. The average customer rating across Apple App Store and Google Play for 12 major European airlines included in this study grew from 3.2 to 3.6 (on 1 to 5 scale) between January 2014 and October 2015.


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Untitled design (2)

Digital Performance and Ancillary Revenues

Airline ancillary revenues are at an all-time high, up by 21% last year to almost $40bn according to the latest CarTrawler Yearbook of Ancillary Revenue press release. With some analysts hoping for US$130bn in additional ancillary by 2020 clearly hopes for sustained airline profitability rest with ancillary sales as fare competition will remain fierce. However, when only 25% of bookings through metamediaries result in ancillary purchase other channels need to be used to reach the expectations. In this post, we look at how airlines digital performance can help ancillary sales.


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Responsive airline sites rapidly gaining traction in 2015

Airlines are rapidly adopting responsive booking sites, with 25% of carriers having a responsive airline site in place as of August 2015. This growth is mostly driven by smaller carriers. 13% of airlines still do not have any mobile web presence.

While passengers are always on the move, airlines have been slow to fully embrace mobile. Just 18 months ago, none of the leading airlines used responsive web design. According to the same study, nearly a quarter (22%) of airlines did not have a mobile web site all. Yet, as mobile traffic continues to grow, and Google uses mobile support as a ranking signal, airline mobile web projects are finally getting off the ground.

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Digital Natives: LCCs still rule in online engagement

This analysis initially appeared as a guest post on travolution, entitled Low-cost carriers still rule in online engagement

One innovation that low-cost carriers brought to the airline industry is a staunch focus on direct online sales, at a time when the established full-service carriers still relied largely on the GDS. But strategy differences are narrowing, with Lufthansa looking to slap a surcharge on indirect bookings, and Ryanair opening up their seat inventory for sales partners.

What does this strategy shift mean for airline online engagement? Do LCCs have a towering lead in online visits, or did the legacy carriers catch up with their direct brand traffic?


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data2day: Big Data Conference in Karlsruhe (2015)

Meet us at the data2day conference!

The data2day conference, organised by Heise and dpunkt publishing companies, will take place in Karlsruhe, Germany from 29 September to 1 October. Hinnerk will be presenting a session there on how to use GNU R and the Google Analytics API to optimise AdWords bids – and show to conduct big data analysis without requiring big IT projects and do a case study on brand keyword bidding.

In the session, I will be looking at

  • when standard analytics reports can be misleading and how controlled experiments help
  • review a study (PDF) by a team of economists from eBay Research
  • and show how to implement these methods using GNU R and the Google Analytics API

Case Study: Brand Keyword Bidding

These methods are especially important for sites that combine organic search and paid search acquisition channels. In this case, it is important to know how many sales are truly gained by a paid campaign – and where paid clicks potentially substitute organic traffic. A great example for this is bidding on your own brand keyword – typically, the brand will be the first paid result and the first organic result.

But often, others are also bidding on the brand keyword; in the case of travel, this may be OTAs and their affiliates. Finding out precisely how brand keyword bidding, by oneself and others, influences sales – and not just clicks – is possible with a controlled experiment approach. More on that at the conference!

If you are German-speaking and interested in big data technology, this promises to be an exciting event. Early bird discounts are available until Friday this week.

Image Credit: The cover image is based on, published under a Creative Commons share-alike licence.

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Rynair mobile web usability

Ryanair website usability: testing the new mobile site

This post initially appeared as a guest post on tnooz, entitled Reflections on Ryanair’s mobile website

Ryanair quietly launched their first mobile booking website last month. This follows CEO Michael O’Leary’s announcement in his most recent 2014 annual report that the carrier will no longer “allow” competitors to “develop better websites and mobile platforms than those at Ryanair”. The ambitious plan is backed by a “serious” investment in Ryanair Labs – a “tech startup within the airline”, according to the Irish Independent. Clearly, the Irish LCC wants to put an end to the days when Ryanair scored last in website usability reviews.

Are these investments in Ryanair website usability paying off on mobile? We ran a brief live user test to find out what potential customers think about the site.

We recruited a random internet user through the UserTesting cloud, who accessed the Ryanair mobile booking site through an Android smartphone over the 3G network. We asked him to surf around the site for a few minutes and report on his impressions – all the time, the smartphone display was recorded on video. Feel free to watch the 9 minute video, before jumping into the analysis:

His conclusion: “I like the clean design”, but he ran into serious difficulty booking a flight – clearly, “the site needs a lot of work”. He raises many issues affecting the industry broadly, such as poor site performance and inability to discover the best route. In addition, the tester’s patience is tested by many usability glitches.

Let’s dive in to the mobile usability review:


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Digital Airlines: Online traffic predicts 75% of passenger volume

From fashion to aviation, brands are longing to increase their direct to consumer (D2C) sales. Back in 2012, airlines paid more in fees to the global distribution systems (GDS) than the total profit in their industry – and the IATA predicted that the future of airline distribution is increasing direct sales, through the carrier’s own booking site. With Lufthansa introducing a surcharge for GDS bookings, airlines are undoubtedly serious about driving consumers to buy directly from them.

But how far has the industry come along? Do eyeballs on the carrier’s web site translate to people in the plane? And what are the secrets of the most successful digital airlines?

To find this out, we have created a dataset of 40 leading airlines – including the top 10 in the world and most European LCCs – and collected their online traffic data from SimilarWeb. We then run this data through a linear regression model to get some insight on the industry trends.

We could hardly imagine what we would learn from this model:

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flexponsive launches blog!

Launching the flexponsive blog

Today we are delighted to be launching the flexponsive blog. In this blog, we will be looking it at the strategies that airlines are taking in their quest to succeed online – and dig into the data to find out what works, how airlines can best acquire traffic online and where online advertising can be improved.

Travel technology is in an exciting time – mobile traffic will soon overtake desktop traffic for key booking queries, expectations what big data will bring to the travel industry are, quite literally, sky high and improved personalization may change the face of travel.

Airlines face unique challenges in keeping up with these innovations, let alone leading them: their direct sales channel needs to integrate with a legacy booking system, vendor relationships can be complex, and the large amount of revenue flowing through existing sites can make changes appear risky while trying to reign in costs. These challenges also leave their mark on the user experience – airlines can sometimes make it surprisingly difficult for their prospective consumers to buy from them.

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