The SEM world has not gotten to the point that the airline world has, where humans can apparently expect machines to do pretty much all the work for them. Still, there’s no doubt technology’s importance is growing.
At my agency, we license technology for a whole host of services. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the first questions I’m asked by a potential client is “What software do you use?” This question represents a bundle of anxiety in the mind of the potential client. The question could mean:
• Do you use market-leading technology, so if you screw up my account, I won’t get fired?
• Do you have magical technology that will help me outperform my competitors – who have better economics and better conversion funnels?
• Do you use any technology at all, because I don’t understand SEM and surely no one can understand it without some whiz-bang complicated technology?
• I can’t tell the difference between agencies, so perhaps your technology choice is one way for me to differentiate you from all the others?
• Please tell me that you use the technology we currently use, so I don’t have to ask my IT team to install new pixels!
This can be a reasonable question to ask – it just has to be put in the proper context. Yes, SEM is complex (and getting more complex), so technology is important. And yes, implementing new technology can be a pain, especially if you either don’t have a great rapport with your IT team or lack an IT team altogether! But technology is rarely a magic bullet that will transform a lemon campaign into a swan (sorry for that mixed metaphor).
It turns out that – as with airplane technology – marketing technology is only as good as the people who operate it. Indeed, part of the job of the modern SEM is to select, implement, and use the right technology. There is so much SEM-specific technology out there that there are now numerous infographics trying to help you keep up with it all (see here and here).. So you do need a smart SEM who can wade through all the flawless canned demos and PowerPoints and actually figure out what is helpful and what is not.
More importantly, however, you need those smart SEMs to use their brains to make smart decisions for your business. From understanding the impact of changes to ad network interfaces (like Enhanced Campaigns) to deciding which match type to use, to budget allocation across different search engines and different media channels, success or failure in SEM and online marketing in general still depends on humans, not technology. If I was choosing between different SEM agencies, I’d much rather have 30 minutes to sit down with my potential account management team at the different agencies than sit through a 30-minute demo of their technology.
Maybe someday we will live in a world where your choice of technology really is the driving force behind a winning and losing marketing campaign, but that day has definitely not yet arrived. I’m reminded of the signs on two computer labs at my college: one of them said “artificial intelligence lab” and the one on the lab next to it said “natural intelligence lab.” I’ll side with the humans every time!