Digital Search Manager at Thorntons

Helped Thorntons deliver £4.5 million in annual search revenue with an additional £2 million in affiliate partnerships. Increased net contribution by £1.7 million and drove +9.5% year-on-year growth.

Thorntons have been delighting customers for over 100 years. With a £220 million turnover, their chocolates can be purchased online, in retail stores and via FMCG partners. Thorntons are part of Ferrero SpA (€9.54b annual revenue).

Leaving Romax Technology to join Thorntons in September 2014 presented the opportunity to take on new digital challenges and a larger digital budget for the well-known brand. After a few months working on their search performance, I was offered the additional responsibility of managing the affiliate partnerships channel too. This took my total annual budget to almost £1 million and deliverable revenue to more than £6 million in online sales.

thorntons logo


  • Developing the search and affiliate strategies to drive e-commerce performance
  • Delivering search (organic and paid) revenue of £4.5m plus annual growth targets
  • Delivering affiliate marketing revenue of £2m plus annual growth targets
  • Controlling total budget of circa. £500k with an overall target ROI of 1300%
  • Managing agency & freelance colleagues to deliver multi-channel digital campaigns

Key achievements

  • Implementing a new search strategy which increased spend efficiency by 65%
  • Increasing search top line by £300k (10%) and profitability by £1.5m (17%)
  • Increasing affiliates top line by £850k (80%) and profitability by £800k (85%)
  • Delivering a strategy which came in on budget with an ROI of more than 1300%
  • Improving search visibility by up to 15% driving over £200k in incremental revenue

Influencer marketing

A key element of the search strategy was influencer marketing. Part of this strategy involved inviting bloggers and journalists to engage with Thorntons during influencer events. The showcase video below demonstrates one of these events, hosted at Thornton Park’s NPD kitchens by one of Thorntons chocolate makers.

Organic search

Organic was a key channel for Thorntons but had tough competition from other online retailers and also supermarkets selling similar goods. By focusing on content marketing and influencer outreach, coupled with on-site improvements, Thorntons was able to rank strongly for key phrases such as ‘Chocolate hamper’. This resulted in year-on-year improvements for revenue, net contribution and transactions.

Organic performance comparison year-on-year

Paid search

Thorntons used to spend a considerable amount across their paid accounts, and whilst this drove a good return on investment I believed it was possible to reduce the overall bottom-line whilst maintaining top line revenue. By optimising the account and working on an overall search P&L it was possible to reduce the bottom line by almost 65% whilst increasing overall search net contribution by 17%.

Thorntons PPC cost

Affiliate partnerships

In addition to the responsibilities of search marketing, in December 2014 I was asked to take over the affiliate marketing channel which, at the time, contributed almost £2 million in annual revenue. Working closely with Affiliate Window I was able to increase net contribution by almost 85% in the first 12 months, as well as open new opportunities for the in-store retail team to drive additional footfall.

Thorntons affiliate marketing

Content marketing

Within the digital team there was an ambition to move away from deep discounting and towards a much more brand-led commerce experience. This was spearheaded with great quality, brand-building content. Examples included an interactive Easter factory, chocolate video pre-roll and various blogger events held at Thornton Park which gave influencers the opportunity to experience Thorntons first-hand.

Thorntons Thorntons chocolate factory

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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