Aqueous Digital

Is Manchester Leading The Next Digital Industrial Revolution?

A Light That Never Goes Out

Back in the early 19th century, the phenomenal growth of Manchester’s cotton trade, put the then quiet market town on the global map, as it spun and weaved its way to become the world’s first industrial city.

A perfect recipe of innovation, timing, location, and entrepreneurship, secured its place in history.

Manchester emerged from its smoky, steam and coal fired beginnings as a complex, progressive city, manufacturing, and trading goods of all descriptions.

Fierce competition with it’s rival nearby city of Liverpool spawned the construction of a masterpiece of Victorian engineering, The Manchester Ship Canal.

This positioned Manchester and its neighbouring City of Salford, as one of the busiest inland ports in the world.


A Brave New World

Fast-forward over a hundred years or so and the towering mills and bustling warehouses have long since been flattened or transformed into executive apartments, modern commercial offices, shops and entertainment venues.

The cotton may have gone, but Manchester continues to thrive and lead the way as it always has, through science, education, culture, music, technology, and innovation.

Textiles, steam railways and canals have now been replaced by an internet super-highway, fibre optics, eCommerce and digital design, as the industrial revolution pushes forward into the 21st century.

Resilience, drive and adaptation to change has always been the Mancuniun way!

The ‘Cottonopolis’ docks are now the location of MediaCityUK, the new home of the BBC, ITV, The University of Salford and a Mecca for creative agencies, digital marketing, technology, media and broadcasting companies.

Manchester is now officially the UK’s top Digital Tech City, with aspirations to self-propel its way into the top five digital cities across Europe.

The digital landscape and eco-system in Greater Manchester turns over  a staggering £5 billion GBP per annum and is fast-growing. On top of that, the city is home to more than 10,000 digital and tech businesses. These range from start-ups and SMEs to large global players such as Cisco, Google, Microsoft and IBM.

These tech giants sit alongside Manchester’s homegrown talented businesses, where they work in partnership, collaborate and drive innovation across the region.

Since launching the world’s first computer programme and first commercial computer back in the early 1950s, Manchester has continued to be a pioneer in digital technology and commerce.

Cybersecurity, AI, service design, eCommerce, digital marketing and data management are now all areas of growth and specialisation in the city. This is heavily supported by the regions five leading universities who contribute both ground-breaking research and help equip future generations with the skills needed to place Manchester at the forefront of the new digital industrial revolution.

There are now over 86,000 people in Manchester employed in the creative, digital and technology industry. Businesses based in Manchester can access a valuable pool of highly-skilled and talented prospective employees, which is one of the largest in Europe.

There are over 7 million people within a one-hour commute of the city. Manchester is the perfect UK location for digital orientated companies aspiring to drive the future of the sector.

Support of Digital Industries in Manchester

Public sector bodies in the north west of England are proactively pushing digital talent, with city leaders addressing the skills shortage by working in partnership with business.

Further and higher education providers across the city are also educating and retraining a new breed of digital savvy employees empowered and qualified to pursue careers in digital.

The Manchester College, the largest further education provider in the city, is opening a new campus on the site of the old Boddingtons brewery in the heart of the city. This will be a creative and digital centre of excellence, teaching curriculum shaped by local industry needs. This is due to open in late 2022.

There is also an emphasis on encouraging apprenticeships in digital vocations. One such example of this is The Juice Academy. They have been offering digital apprenticeships since 2013. The non-profit Academy was the first to run an industry-led social media apprenticeship in the UK and has now trained over 400 apprentices and worked with more than 350 employers.

In 2020, The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) launched their ‘Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint’, which sets out a three-year approach to meeting the ambitions of the city-region. The GMCA represents all ten metropolitan borough councils in Greater Manchester and is headed up by the elected Mayor, Andy Burnham.

The Blueprint identifies five digital priorities. These priorities have been designed and developed with the input of major stakeholders and are supported by other pan-Greater Manchester public funded projects.

The plan connects a wide-range of digital change projects going on across the region, that underpin the objectives of both the Greater Manchester Strategy and the Local Industrial Strategy. The GMCA stress that a key differentiator is that they have placed residents at the centre of the plans and are working towards Manchester City Region being recognised as a world leader in digital.

Funds such as the North West Fund, the Greater Manchester Investment Fund and the Northern Power House Fund (NPIF) have also significantly boosted the region’s economy. The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) is also incentivising business in the region to grow at a rapid pace.

It is however, not just small start-ups that are attracted to the flame of Manchester’s fourth industrial revolution. Many major digital players are also being pulled away from London. This in many cases is down to lower rents and a large pool of graduate talent from the surrounding Universities.

For example, GCHQ has chosen to locate its cutting-edge intelligence facility in Manchester and Northwich’s The Hut Group opened a one million sq ft business campus at Airport City, the largest development of its kind in the UK.

Boohoo and MoonPig along with numerous other online retailers and digital heavyweights have also chosen Manchester as their favoured UK base.

Global internet retail giant Amazon has also significantly increased its presence in the city over the last few years, making it a major employer, especially in the south.

One major reason why many tech professionals have flocked to Manchester in recent years, is the gambling industry. Many major gambling firms have offices in the city centre and employ thousands of staff on high wages. The casino and gambling industry in Manchester continues to thrive, making the city a hub for gambling. It first started to grow in during the mid-2000s when the Gambling Act was changed.

Students, businesses and investors are driven to the all-round package offered by Manchester and it indeed has a bright digital future ahead of it.

Digital Marketing and Creative Agencies

We are a leading nation when it comes to utilising digital marketing.  In the UK alone, there are estimated to be over 250,000 marketing agencies of varying sizes and service offerings.

Whilst this is a crowded marketplace, it is not yet saturated, as digital marketing spend continues to grow dramatically year-on-year.

The digital and creative sector is extremely broad and incorporates a range of services from telecommunications to advertising to computer programming and broadcasting.

However, it is worth noting that the distinction between digital and creative is rapidly evolving and becoming blurred.  Most creative activities now incorporate and rely on digital technologies.

London and the South-East equate for nearly half of all employees in the digital and creative sector. Research by NESTA has identified nine areas outside of London which are hubs for the industry. Manchester is one of the largest alongside: Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Guildford, Edinburgh, Oxford and Wycombe-Slough.

More than 100,000 people are leaving London every year in search of better living standards, with covid-19 lockdowns being a catalyst for this. It’s no surprise that Manchester with its vibrant culture and digital footprint is the choice of over a fifth of London professionals heading north in search of a new start.

Many London digital agencies are now opening their doors in Manchester. The growth in the digital and creative sectors in Greater Manchester are a close second, only to the financial sector and is anticipated that thousands of new jobs will be created over the next decade from new emerging technologies, media and digital marketing.

Here are some interesting facts about the UK digital marketing and creative industries that clearly illustrate why Manchester is investing in digital:*

  • Digital and creative industries generate £9.6m per hour and are worth £84.1bn per year to the UK economy
  • Every £1 which UK businesses spend on advertising generates £6 for the broader economy
  • Future growth of the industry is expected to be six times quicker than the European average
  • In 2020, mobile advertising accounted for over 50% of the digital market
  • 63% of SMEs say that digital activity provides a good return-on-investment for reaching new customers and generating sales. Speed and flexibility being cited as digital’s main strengths
  • 45% of all digital ad spend comes from SMEs. ( 2020)

According to recent research, the UK now has the largest digital advertising market in Europe. A report by an advertising think-tank states that many UK advertisers spend almost two-thirds of their marketing budgets online.

The sector has experienced a decade of continuous growth and the UK digital marketing industry is now at an all-time high point. This growth has been driven by the growth in online entertainment and information and a significant shift to digital retail.

The number of the SMEs actively selling and marketing their products and services online has increased from 30% in 2013 to more than two-fifths (42%) in 2020.

Using digital, advertisers can target specific consumers with content tailored to their individual preferences. This drives greater conversion to a sale, increases efficiency, and reduces any wastage.  This is one of the reasons why it is so appealing compared to other more traditional forms or advertising.

Targeting small customer groups is now far easier and accessible for smaller advertisers. Marketing campaigns are now far easier to set up and return-on investment measurement far simpler.  Campaigns can also be optimised to maximise click-through-rates and response.

During an economic downturn, these dynamics make digital marketing more resilient and appealing compared to other advertising.


Don’t Look Back in Anger

Manchester has always been a city that designs the blueprint for the modern world, from splitting the atom to the first railway and canal, through to street gas lighting, the first industrial estate, first powered submarine, first British plane, first reservoir, first commercial computer to the recent discovery of the super-material, graphene.

Given the boom in growth of digital and the heavy investment and focus on the sector, Manchester is now well on its way to becoming the UK’s future digital success story.


“This is Manchester, we do things differently here” – Tony Wilson

About Aqueous Digital



This blog was written by Aqueous Digital.  We are an award-winning, family-run digital marketing agency that serves business across Greater Manchester and beyond.

We specialise in organic and paid internet search, website content strategy and reputation management for high and ultra-high-net-worth individuals.

If you are a Greater Manchester business that would like support with your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or digital marketing, please feel free to give us a call on 0800 285 1424 or email us at to have a chat about how we can support the success of your business.

We can offer a free audit and health check of your website as part of your consultation.


Find out more about the SEO services we offer


Further reading

Top 20 Facts about Manchester You Never Knew

SEO for Manchester Companies

Aqueous Digital’s Ultimate Guide to the cost of SEO in the UK

Aqueous Digital’s Guide to the Top 501 SEO and Digital Marketing Terms

How long does SEO take to work?

Beginners Guide To SEO

What is Technical SEO?

What is Local SEO?


What are the most important SEO ranking factors?





[*Digital marketing statistics courtesy of the Data & Marketing Association]


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