Today we have a guest article by Reuben May. Reuben is the man who took on the unenviable task of transforming Ryanair’s old, infuriating website and creating a digital marketing strategy that took one of the world’s largest airlines into the 21st century.

reubenmay2Reuben holds a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Digital Marketing Institute and a Masters in Digital Marketing from UCD. He is also AdWords and Analytics qualified and holds a certificate for Inbound marketing from Hubspot.

Reuben is also a regular guest lecturer on Digital Marketing and mentors high potential start-ups on behalf of Enterprise Ireland.

In this article Reuben tells us about his journey to this point, how he came to work at Ryanair and most importantly, how he went about turning things around working alongside Michael O’Leary.


The great Donald Trump once said “Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when you’ve done something worth tooting about”.

In 2002 in Ireland the Internet was in its infancy, I was 19 and just dropped out of College. After seeing friends and family around me build up millions of Euros worth of wealth from the construction and property boom, I decided I wanted a piece of the action.

The Irish Celtic tiger was in full swing and I went to work for my uncle’s roofing company which was the second largest in Ireland at the time, GFM systems, with 70 staff and a turnover of 20 million. I had grand ideas about working my way up the ladder to become the next CEO of the family business.

After 3 years up on the roofs and getting paid apprentice money, I realised if I wanted to live the life of my dreams I was going to have to make more money. I looked at what I could do to make truck loads of cash in the fastest possible way. I heard stories of property prices going up by 100k in 6 months, I found my truck.

I looked for the cheapest house I could find in Dublin on daft.ie and bought my first property for 165k. After 6 months I released equity and bought another property, I did this several times over until one day I lodged a cheque for myself for 119k. I had built up a portfolio worth 1.4 million and on paper I was a millionaire.

Another opportunistic venture I started was a valeting service in Citywest Hotel, with no experience in 6 months it was turning over 100k and I was getting to drive some of the most expensive cars on the planet.

In 2008 I heard for the first time the word “soft landing”, it turned out anything but.

Property prices were virtually cut in half, rents plummeted and construction dried up faster than the Atacama Desert.

It was now 2011 and after 3 years of damage control, I lifted my head up and was ready to start again. I was looking for the next big thing and boy did I find it.

I was watching RTE’s The Business one night and saw how Alan Colman had taken Voya cosmetics turnover from 1 to 3 million using Google AdWords .

I thought every business could use this. I dropped everything and submersed myself in a digital world. I signed up for a digital marketing course, completed my fundamental and advanced AdWords exams online and started firstpage.ie.

After 9 months of spending up to 16 hours a day learning all I could about SEO and PPC – I was asked would I be interested in applying for a job with a healthcare company in Dublin called Centric Health. I only had 9 months experience on paper at this stage and the CEO asked why he should give me the job. I told him 80% of his AdWords spend was wasted targeting the wrong audience and that I could fix it. I offered my services for free for 2 months and re-engineered his AdWords campaign. AdWords spend came down from 6k per month to 2k with more conversions.

I was now on the payroll and this was the first office job I ever had. I was now 27.

After nearly 2 years with the company and seeing digital salaries going only one way, up, I asked the CEO for more money or I would leave – he offered me an equity stake in the company. I turned it down with a counter proposal to outsource all digital marketing activity to me, he agreed. I left on nearly the same salary for half the hours, this freed up my time to pursue other clients.

My third pitch was to none other than the CEO of one of the world’s largest airlines, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.

Michael being Michael wanted me to offer my services for free. Sensing an opportunity to work and learn directly from Michael I put myself forward for a full time role.

In September 2013, 1 billion had been wiped off Ryanair’s share value when I met its CEO Michael O’Leary to tell him about the digital revolution which Ryanair seemed to have missed. In October 2013 I was hired as head of digital marketing for Ryanair reporting directly to the CEO and tasked with transforming Ryanair’s digital platform and taking it into the 21st century.

We immediately focused our attention on the poor user experience of the existing site.

Ryanair.com October 2013 (old site):

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New site November 2013:

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We got rid of the dreaded recaptcha code (old site Oct 2013)

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We also got rid of ads distracting and tempting customer’s away (old site Oct 2013)

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The amount of clicks to purchase was also reduced (old site Oct 2013)

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All Ryanair sites across Europe were optimised for top search terms in 13 different languages for example, cheap flights in Ireland – voli low cost in Italy. After optimisation, all websites ranked in the top three listings for major search terms. The search term voli low cost alone now brings in an extra 86,000 visits per month. Total visits per month to all of these sites was in excess of 40 million.

New email templates were also created and the active subscriber list grew from 1 to 13+ million in 6 months. Conversion rate from emails went from below 0.4% to over 4.6%

Ryanair also embarked on their first digital marketing campaigns. Google AdWords was used in over 15 countries and  in 13 different languages with aggressive CPA (cost per acquisition) targets. Display advertising was also used with a CPA sometimes as low as 0.6 cent.

Remarketing tactics and YouTube pre roll ads were used and attracted visitors back to the site who had left. Twitter ads were also used but the CPE (cost per engagement) was deemed too high when compared to conversion.

Twitter Profile was set up for Customer Service:

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Ask MOL was introduced. From this and our weekly digital strategy meetings a number of customer service improvements were introduced. Quiet flights, 2nd free carry on bag, new App, mobile ready website and family/business products were all introduced.

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It was agreed branding would be streamlined across Europe to give one clear and consistent message. Everything from check in desks, interior of aircrafts to staff uniforms would be looked at.

I spent about a year with Ryanair until I decided it was time for me to move on, although this was like dog years such was the speed and velocity of which we got things done. I am proud to be the catalyst for Europe’s biggest airline embracing the digital age and positively effecting millions of peoples lives every year.

The results speak for themselves with Ryanair’s share price and customer numbers reaching an all time high.

image8I now run my own digital marketing consultancy, if you need help to transform your business get in touch.

Contact Reuben at [email protected], telephone 01-598 8466 or vist www.tothepowerofthree.com