Keep It Smart, Stupid

It always amazes me how polarized we are as an industry. We tend to skew to the extremes of opinion -- which we see play out in our search strategies and tactics, whether it is at conferences or in pitches.

Approaches range from having 100,000+ keywords with everything on exact match, all the way to those running only a small handful of converting words on advance/broad match. Neither extreme is the right thing to do.

The current economic climate, whether we admit it or not, has changed how we think, act, evaluate, and prioritize our lives. As fellow Search Insider Kaila Colbin wrote, "to understand search, you have to understand human behavior" -- quite true, but all too often we apply polarized strategies/approaches that don't fit with our behavior as searchers and consumers. We tend as search marketers to take an approach that has typically worked for us in the past and apply it to everything we do. All the recent research indicates that search is still king and outperforms all other media, albeit benefiting from the other media, but still outperforms -- allowing us to get away with it.



In pitches and RFPs, the questions are always about what your approach is. But the approach should be what is smart and what works for said advertiser, which inherently has a degree of uniqueness to it -- yet we still push for standardization even though over simplification hinders performance.

For all our bid management and technologies, search is very manual. Most agencies make their money on the time it takes to deliver, so the simpler the work is, the more money they make. This does not always jive with driving performance -- which is why this article is not titled "Keep It Simple, Stupid," but rather keep it smart. It's not just agencies that are guilty of this, advertisers do it themselves, too.

Check out this recent example of simplicity gone wrong:


I personally think it's great that Amazon is offering free shipping on my purchase of an airplane over $25.
I use this as a joke, but it illustrates my point and serves as a great example of over-simplification in an effort o be targeted and relevant -- never mind that when you click, based on that customized copy, you end up on the home page and have to start over. This is not smart. That said, I would wager that the campaign still has a positive ROI in aggregate and that is why approaches like this are tolerated.

Beyond the obvious need to do what we do better, we also need to get it right because the industry is going through serious changes with Bing, SearchMe, and other engines. We also have broader changes to algos with personalized and semantic search. I agree with Gord Hotchkiss, another Search Insder, on the future changes to our industry coming from people like Wolfram. Then you factor in mobile and you have a whole lot of variables to contend with. The cool part is that with all these elements working together, we are looking at the potential of mobile phones that can calculate your current position, query for a movie and its ratings, and then tell you the closest theater. Awesome stuff, but overly simple and standardized approaches won't help advertisers here. In fact, you can come away looking dumber for getting it wrong.

So we should all take this opportunity to get smarter before our space gets even more complicated. The usual isn't sexy and isn't discussed enough. Setting your campaigns up for success is vital and building a custom approach per client, product, or promotion is imperative. Now is the time to rethink how your campaign is set up and what metrics you measure success on. A quick audit can never hurt because even basics like keyword restructures and scrubs will improve the overall performance of your campaign. Keep it smart, stupid.

4 comments about "Keep It Smart, Stupid".
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  1. David Gould from, June 22, 2009 at 12:22 p.m.


    Your post is correct. I remain amazed by how much best practices are preached but not applied. KISS remains the rule here.

    Thanks for your insights.


  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, June 22, 2009 at 4:03 p.m.

    That error is a corker. By the way, as of today (Monday, 6/22/09, 4:00 PM EST), the Amazon ad for the A 320 is still running! One would have thought that the zero conversion rates coming in would have set off an alarm, but I guess this isn't the case.

    As far as RFPs are concerned, in my experience they rarely voice questions appropriate for the evaluation of SEM agencies. I think RFPs are a classic "shortcut to thinking" but I'll spare you any ranting on this subject here!

  3. Rob Griffin from Almighty, June 22, 2009 at 4:17 p.m.

    One of my previous favorite errors was a car manufacturer with very strong branded copy running against a pick up truck keyword that landed you on a page of sedans.

    Ah good times.

  4. Sydneynetwork Sydneynetwork from Mitchell Communications, June 25, 2009 at 12:03 a.m.

    I agree totally on the article. Simply because search is the most cost-effective acquisition channel and in most of the cases return strong ROI as a portfolio allow marketers to get away with decreasing reliance on human intellect in setting up and managing campaigns.

    An obvious example is over-reliance on keyword tools such as misspelling and keyword permutator to generate a huge keyword list JUST FOR THE SAKE of coming up with many keywords. A better approach would be to employ more common sense & intellect in selecting the keywords that are really relevant. But all this time SEM agencies have been able to get away with this simply because pf the cost-effective nature of SEM and therefore the account as a whole still returns positive ROI.

    Here's a short article I wrote some time ago in some important criteria to use when selecting and evaluating your search agencies:

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