Paid Search Software Gone Wrong: When Automation Bites Back

paid search software gone wrongTechnology is a wonderful thing.

It improves many aspects of life, and makes running an ecommerce business a heckuva lot easier.

But just as you wouldn’t want technology running your future, à la Matrix or Terminator, you don’t want to trust the welfare of your SEM campaigns to paid search software, either.

Don’t get me wrong, computers are fantastic with some core paid search tasks, like batch work, data mining, efficiency, and repetition.

But without the balance of skilled human management and analysis, you’re going to miss out on long-term success.

If you want to make the most of your budget and set your account on track for success, it’s time to swallow the red pill and learn what it takes to balance human and machine assets in your search engine marketing.

Machines Work for You (Not the Other Way Around)

The best way to think of your paid search automation is to imagine it as one of your employees. That may sound odd, but the principle is this: with employees, you have performance goals, accountability, and the ability to fire them, if necessary.

As a manager, this gives you the level of control necessary to achieve your (or your boss’s) results. But too many people are content to hand the reigns to paid search software, then sit back and scratch their heads when they don’t get the results they want.

So it’s time to stop treating your paid search software like the favored son, and start evaluating it like the rest of your employees.

Performance Goals

If you haven’t already, you need to firmly set a primary goal for your account. Are you trying to hit a certain ROI goal? Do you want more traffic to your site? Are you trying to hit a revenue target? Meet a certain percent profitability within a fixed budget?

Your account goal will dictate where you focus your efforts, and how. It is also a big factor in deciding when and where to use automation to help manage your account. For example, AdWord’s Conversion Optimizer tool might help you keep your ROI or CPA goal in check if you lack the resources or expertise to manage campaigns adequately, but won’t help if you’re trying to raise traffic and revenue, or implement a proactive bidding strategy (like around the holidays).

Accountability

Either you or a designated manager should be actively and regularly in your account, running reports and checking performance. This is especially true if you use a lot of third party tools, bidding automation, and AdWords tools like Enhanced CPC.

AdWords and Google Analytics have a wealth of reports you can run to analyze every important metric in your account. But be sure to avoid automated reporting that stays unread in an inbox folder. Stay engaged with your reporting—even if this means manually running reports when you know you have the time to actually sit down and analyze the data.

“Set it and forget it” is never a good paid search strategy, so keep your campaigns accountable to you, the manager.

Fire Non-Performers

Give yourself permission to fire non-performing automations. Sometimes what may seem like a slick tool in the short run is damaging your long term profitability. This is especially true when it comes to features, extensions, and ad testing—all parts of a big picture growth strategy that your computer can’t understand. Be ready and able to cut an automation that’s not working to improve your bottom line.

Paid Search Software’s Dirty Little Secret

I’ve seen marketing materials for third-party paid search software that make it sound like, if you buy their software, you can virtually take your hands off your paid search account. And I can understand the appeal—who wouldn’t love to let their AdWords campaigns run on autopilot, bringing in revenue with little more than the CPC and a monthly fee?

The dirty little secret is – a computer will never be able to really manage your account.

“Well, you’re an agency!” you might say. “Of course you don’t like automation!” It might surprise you, then, to learn we actually have entire teams dedicated to building new proprietary paid search software and tools for our analysts to use. We’re constantly designing new software programs to enhance visibility and ease of management for our analysts.

The problem is not automation… the problem is that, too often, account managers rely too heavily on automation, at the expense of the human element. This is a costly mistake in money wasted and opportunities lost.

Quite simply, automation works best when used as a tool in the hands of a skilled account analyst, not as a substitution for an analyst.

Putting the Controls in the Right Hands

The first step in optimizing your account for the analyst/automation balance is to know where, why, and if you’ve lost control – and how to get it back. There isn’t a one-size-fits all solution to this problem—the best solution for you depends on many things, including the size of your AdWords account, (the size of your AdWords wallet), and your available manpower for paid search.

But there are some criteria you can consider to get a pretty clear idea as to whether or not this is a big problem in your account.

How Do I Know If I Have Too Little Control?

  1. My paid search campaigns are regularly reviewed and managed by a trained analyst. (Y/N)
  2. I/our analyst consistently writes new ads to test against old ads for continual growth. (Y/N)
  3. You have a good idea of the health of your account right now. (Y/N)
  4. Your analyst is consistently able to complete macro tasks like creating new campaigns, keywords, and ads, instead of getting lost in micro adjustments. (Y/N)
  5. You have skilled analysts who know what they’re doing setting up your automations. (Y/N)
  6. I often run reports to check account spend and performance of campaigns, ads, and features. (Y/N)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you answered mostly “yes,” then chances are your account is pretty well balanced. If not, keep reading.

Plan for Success

Before you either dismiss the idea of too much automation, or start shutting off programs willy-nilly, you need a strategy for how to proceed in optimizing your account for the ideal balance of analysis and automation.

These four steps will help you get started down the right road, but only you and your team can ultimately decide what is best for your company.

Step One: Determine Your Key Performance Metrics

As mentioned earlier, you and your team need to decide what success looks like for you. If you can measure, you can improve. The more specific and measurable you can make your paid search goals, the better.

Step Two: Determine Your Key Challenges in Paid Search

Too many products? Too little manpower? Too much competition in your space? High CPAs? Whatever your challenges are, it’s good to have them in front of you as you decide what and when to automate.

Step Three: Determine Priority Tasks

Pulling from the previous two steps, you should be able to formulate a pretty good idea of what you need to do in order for you to reach your goals and overcome your challenges. Break these down into prioritized tasks (eg, “test new ad every month,” “use dayparting to lower CPAs,” “exclude Utah from Blue Widget campaign,” etc).

Step 4: Educate Yourself on the Four Core Tasks of Paid Search

Once you have all this work done, it’s time to delve into the specifics of the AdWords engine and decide what level of automation makes the most sense for you. The four key areas where this needs to take place are Bidding, Ad Testing, Keyword Management, and Reporting & Analysis.

To help you streamline this process, we’ve created a free guide that walks you through these four “cogs” and gives you the basic information you need to make an informed decision about the automation you employ (or don’t employ) in these areas.

It’s urgent you download it today, and take the next action step—before computers take over the world! (Okay, okay – so that was hyperbole.) But a happy balance between your paid search software and your paid search manager is vital to a successful paid search strategy.

So read the report. Set aside a couple hours next week. Give yourself some space to really delve into your AdWords account, look for ways to tweak it for optimal balance, and, ultimately, set yourself up for success.

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