During each situation, it became very clear that the assumption being made was that the only way to engage in paid search was with a computer system leading the way. Before I draw the ire of a very strong contingent, including several "Search Insider" columnists, let me say the following: Bid management is a key piece of overall paid search management. However, in my opinion, it is not the linchpin to paid search success. So, before the e-mails start, let me explain how this myth got started and how it can be avoided.
Shades of Grey
Bid management tools have certainly evolved over the past three years. From the early rules-based systems to the complex portfolio-based systems of today, the market has moved forward dramatically. Virtually the entire industry sources this either through a proprietary system, a third party-partner or engine technology.
What this has created, in my opinion, is an industry where, between black and white, everyone is a shade of grey. The good agencies do a better job of full campaign management, but they are all relatively close in what they say they can do. Everyone says they provide a version of portfolio management --the financial industry approach to managing numerous assets to reach a desired end goal. Unfortunately, for the search industry, these tools continue to become more and more of a commodity, similar to ad serving and pixel tracking.
The Data Analysis Quandary
Logic says that in a data-driven business like search, the use of technology to help process and analyze the results is a good thing. No dispute there. What is dubious is the notion that the best way to act upon the findings from the technology is to stick it back in the oven and let it cook some more.
Some times when the recipe isn't right you have to start over, not just toss more seasoning in to mask the taste. In numerous cases where our agency takes over a campaign from a dedicated tool solution, the words we hear to describe the program are "auto-pilot," or "too dependant" on what the technology says to do. In many of these cases, what we have seen is that the system is set up to manage to a desired CPA or ROI, and then it's assumed that all success will be achieved based simply on that factor.
Bid management tools are well positioned to become the new diagnostic and alignment tool of the auction medium. But, to truly be successful in the paid search space requires more than just a well-developed bid tool. If I tell a tool I want to achieve an ROI goal, and it delivers that but can only generate minimal volume, what good have I seen? Even if the tool projects that with slight spend CPC tweaks I can achieve better results, we have only gone part of the way.
A comprehensive paid strategy doesn't simply look at keywords alone. It should look at activity in other channels, and how that interplay will affect a program--something not done in today's technologies. A comprehensive paid strategy should identify potential opportunities based on competitors and their messaging, and a company's own messaging. Again, not a technology task. And most importantly, a company engaging in paid search needs to know that someone has developed a strategy and is implementing against it on all fronts from creative messaging and landing page relevancy to audience segmentation and behavioral targeting.
The Right Solution
There is no "one size fits all" in the search space. Every company needs a bit more of one thing and a bit less of another. For almost every company, technology should be a piece of the decision process around vendor and solution for search success.
But what paid search management is goes far beyond technology, and the companies leveraging that knowledge are the ones leading the way forward.