The first search advertisement I placed was on GoTo.com in the late ’90s. Back then, it was pretty simple. The highest bidder for a keyword landed at the top of the search results. For that keyword, you paid your bid price for each click. Done.
This was before second-price auctions, quality scores, call extensions, broad match, rewards programs and geo-modifiers. Before bid management software and content networks. And way before integrated conversion tracking.
Search marketing has evolved considerably and mostly for the better. But if there is one complaint most advertisers seem to share, it is that this form of marketing has become too complex. If you’re a top advertiser, you have access to dozens of beta programs and new ad formats. You probably also receive dozens of e-mails from prospective vendors.
In today’s landscape of search marketing, you’re faced with more knobs and dials than the Starship Enterprise and more choices than your March Madness bracket. So how do you navigate this?
Here are a few approaches I recommend to simplify the process and maximize your returns.
1. Focus on proprietary measurement advantages
You’re probably not going to develop an algorithm that outwits both the Google auction and the bid management solutions available to marketers. However, if you are able to measure the results of a search marketing campaign in a way that your competitors cannot, you will be in the best position in the market to place a value on a click from your most important keywords.
If your campaign drives online purchases, then measure which specific keywords and products drive repeat purchases or a higher lifetime value. If your search campaign drives both online purchases and in-store sales, take the basic step of measuring in-store sales that result from online searches. Similarly, if your campaign drives phone calls, develop an easy way to understand which phone calls lead to sales.
2. Beware of going “hands-free”
I’m much more likely to win a game of online chess when I let the computer make moves for me, but I’m unlikely to improve my long-term performance or understanding of the game. Much of the learning in chess comes from playing. The same holds true for search marketing.
I’ve seen a tremendous benefit from marketers creating and managing search advertisements manually for Google and Bing for many of the same reasons. For example, understanding how factors like location, match type, bid multipliers and device type affect your key performance indicators is information you seldom absorb through pure automation. Managing at least some search campaigns yourself will provide you an understanding of the dynamics of an auction and a competitive landscape that an automated system is unlikely to provide.
Choosing the right amount of automation is important, and I’m not suggesting flipping the switch to 100% manual for a $10 million budget. But I do recommend that part of your campaign be handled manually by the team operating your search marketing program.
3. Embrace complexity
Each new feature, modifier or rule introduced by Bing or Google will result in a short-term change in auction dynamics that creates an advantage for those who are among the first to understand it. Being on top of such changes can provide great returns, particularly when matched with a measurement advantage and manual operation of search campaigns. Many times, a feature is available in the user interface before it is available in the API (or adopted by automated bidding programs).
The right combination of embracing complexity, developing unique measurement tools, and not automating everything could go a long way in helping marketers navigate an increasingly complex search marketplace. And who knows – perhaps one day we’ll look back at 2014 as a time when search marketing finally started getting easier.