German vs UK Mobile Networks: How Does PPC Compare?

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

How do mobile network operators in the UK and Germany compare to one another with regards to PPC marketing, and how competitive is the market in each country?

Although there are a number of similarities between the UK and German mobile phone markets, with the three biggest networks owned by the same parent companies, when it comes to sponsored search and marketing, the two countries have very different strategies.

We dig into Adthena’s data to see how the biggest operators in the two countries are using PPC to boost their visibility and attract more customers with their irresistible offers.

The PPC Market

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German network operators paid SOV, Adthena data

Mobile network operators in Germany include Vodafone, O2, and T-Mobile, and all three compete in the PPC market. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) make up a large portion of the mobile subscriber base in both the UK and Germany, but these operators were not included in the study. maintained an average PPC share of voice (SOV) of 63% for the 30 days running from December 8, 2014, until January 7 of this year, while garnered 33.89% and managed just 3.10%.

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UK network operators paid SOV, Adthena data

Mobile network operators with a PPC presence in the United Kingdom include Vodafone, O2, and EE. Fourth-place Three also operates in the UK, but was not included in the study in order to keep the comparison between Germany and the UK to just the top three network operators.

For the same period (December 8 and January 7),’s PPC SOV was 54.75%,’s was 26.52%, and’s share was 18.72%.

Competition per Country

The German PPC market seems less competitive for mobile operators, judging by Vodafone’s dominance of the organic search sphere and overall strength. However, this may not necessarily be true, as O2’s recent acquisition of E-Plus last October earned it the status of the network with the largest mobile subscriber base in Germany, according to Telecoms.

In the UK, there is a more level online presence amongst the mobile operators studied. As the graph above shows, the operator with the third-highest SOV stood at 18.72%, a stark contrast from the meager 3.10% its German counterpart managed.

Keyword Targeting in the UK

The top three UK networks all targeted mobile devices, such as the iPhone 6 and the HTC M8, as well as long-outdated terms like the phrase, “when is the galaxy s5 coming out.” The Galaxy S5 was released in February 2014 and made widely available from April onwards, but it’s obviously still getting some traction. bid on the largest range of keywords, with more unique keywords of its own than keywords it had in common with the other two networks. Behind them, O2 and EE bid on a similar number of keywords with a larger overlap.

Each network, however, could have been missing out on a number of valuable keywords that the others were successfully utilising. An example of this can be found in the keywords bid on by O2 and EE, but not Vodafone.

There are 50 instances of this, and included among them are: “dongle deals,” “pay as you go mobiles,” “micro sim,” and “galaxy tab 4”, despite Vodafone offering the products and services. All three may have missed out on a range of undiscovered keywords that they were unable or unwilling to discover.

The keyword “iPhone” received a larger portion of bids than any other mobile phone keyword, with 427 variations across all three UK networks. In comparison, the keyword, “deals” only received 175 different variations amongst the three networks.

Hardware Bids

Models and brands of mobile phone were popular bids overall amongst UK networks. In Germany, operators also see value in promoting the various handsets they have on offer, which makes sense when you consider they are likely to get punters flocking to their network.

After all, if one network is promoting the most hyped phone of the year that you desperately want to get your hands on, but its main competitor isn’t, which would you choose?

The fact that “iPhone 6” received 128 variations in the UK and only 10 in Germany shows German mobile phone networks are more targeted in their PPC, preferring to narrow down the range of keywords they focussed on, while UK networks are more willing to spread their spend across a wider range of similar keywords.

The field was closer when it came to just “iPhone”, with 427 variations in the UK and 323 in Germany.

The fall in popularity of Blackberry devices is evident in both countries, and popularity seemed to be comparatively higher in the UK. Sony Xperia devices saw an absolute PPC advantage in the German market, showing a clear trend towards the Japanese firm.

Shares of Voice and Spend

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UK network operators paid SOV, Adthena data

Vodafone had the highest SOV in the UK for the 30-day period studied and was never toppled from its position. Its share of spend was in line with those of the other operators, standing at 31.77%, while O2’s stood at 32.41% and EE’s at 35.82%.

This could mean Vodafone bid on a large number of irrelevant keywords that received little traffic and therefore cost little money.

Organic SOV

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German network operators organic SOV, Adthena data
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UK network operators organic SOV, Adthena data

In the UK, Vodafone earned an organic share of voice of just under 60%, a much more advantageous standing than it garnered in the paid rankings. In Germany, Vodafone enjoyed even better organic SOV results, where it held nearly 92%.

Comparisons and Conclusions

There are some clear takeaways from the data, starting with the fact that O2 has established a much better online presence in the UK than in Germany.

Overall, the competition appears fiercer in the UK PPC market: while only three major network operators vie for control in Germany, there are four, far less distanced competitors operating in the UK.That said, Vodafone laps the pack in both markets.

Finally, perhaps the most surprising discovery was that no major spikes or shifts in the rankings popped up during the period studied, a notable difference from our analyses of many, many other industries.

With Adthena, it’s easier than you can imagine to gather a list of keywords that could prove valuable to your business, and just as easy to see those that could be wasting your money. Competitive advantage requires deep competitive analysis, and seeing the keywords your competitors bid on can open up new avenues in your PPC campaigns.

(Main image credit: Sascha Kohlmann/flickr)

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. After 22 years being involved in technology businesses and start-ups, he has driven Adthena forward since 2012 and it is now experiencing rapid growth. Ian likes to foster a culture of common sense and self-reliance at Adthena, and ensures everyone has the tools they need to succeed, His flair for innovation and business has been recognised with the Developing Entrepreneur Award at the WCIT Enterprise Awards – commonly regarded as the Oscars for technology entrepreneurs. A graduate of the University of Queensland, Ian is also a fluent Chinese speaker having lived and studied in Taiwan. He is married with two children and is an avid rock climber in his spare time.