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How Automation Hurts Rank, And How to Fix It

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How Automation Hurts Rank, And How to Fix It


Imagine you are offered an opportunity to have control of all the creative, copy, and budget in your Google Ads account (or your paid media platform of choice) put in the hands of an anonymous six-year-old user. Each day, you are allowed to tell them whether they should or should not spend money, how valuable a conversion is, and nothing else. This is billed as a massive gain inefficiency, as they can handle all the tedious tasks while you focus on the bigger picture. Whether or not you get to keep your job depends on this user’s continued success. Do you feel just a hint of hesitation or fear moving forward with this plan? When put in those terms, probably so. Yet somehow, we all seem to have no problem implementing automated bid strategies across our accounts. 

There’s no arguing that automated bidding can be an effective tool, but it’s a technology that gets plenty of undeserved credit too. Machines do their best work when they are performing rote, repetitive tasks. Humans do their best work when they’re thinking strategically, and a successful account requires input from both parties. However, there are few, if any, paid media platforms that provide an adequate framework for communication between both parties. In the PPC world, miscommunications can be costly. In this article, we’ll go through the role of automation in paid media, how that influences rank, why rank is relevant, and how to use the tools you have at your disposal to make automation work for you.

Automation’s Role in Paid Media

Saying that automation is ubiquitous in PPC would be an understatement. It’s no secret that as advertisers call for more depth and granularity, advertising platforms answer their demands by developing increasingly complex features that require more automation to use. This is not only pragmatic but wholeheartedly welcome. Letting machines focus on execution means we can spend more time on the activities uniquely suited to humans, like analyzing and strategizing. However, as our focus broadens, we start to lose oversight into the most fundamental aspects of our campaigns, such as our rank.

Why Rank is Relevant

Rank determines where ads are relative to other ads, but it also serves a much more vital function. It determines whether ads show up at all. Even though it serves the most critical function in an account, we still don’t talk about it all that often for a number of reasons: 

  • The term rank is sometimes thought of as synonymous with the average position. When Google sunsetted the average position metric in 2019, conversations surrounding rank became scarce. 
  • Increasing complexity in our advertising platforms is causing our attention to become fragmented. We don’t have the bandwidth to manage something that at least appears to be managing itself.
  • When efficiency is our main metric of success, how our ads are serving is only as important as our ability to pace our account budget. If spending is fine, no questions are asked.
  • We trust automation too much. If a campaign sees low volume, we assume it’s for reasons out of our control. We’re either reluctant to question if automation is relevant, or we’re so entrenched in it that we don’t even think about it in the first place.

How Automation Hurts Rank

There are valid reasons rank may not always be top-of-mind, and it might not need to be if it weren’t for the fact that the automated bidding strategies we use everyday bid far too conservatively, inherently limiting our volume. Then consider the compounding effect of a schedule of continuous optimizations that further limit and refine an account where volume is already limited. Campaigns using automated bidding will end up serving a mere sliver of the potential audience. Without specific attention put towards improving rank and scale, every optimization made on a campaign brings it an inch closer to irrelevance.

Making Automation Work for You

It is clearer than ever that those of us who manage paid accounts need to rethink automation. The question isn’t whether or not to use it. The benefits are clear. What we need to consider is how we can make better use of automation without artificially limiting our audience. There are a number of options to test, ranging from simple to complex:

  • Testing unconventional automated bid strategies.
  • Testing unconventional combinations of values and goals.
  • Test for growth opportunity by (briefly) turning your account into a tessellation of micro-campaigns, then recombine them with updated settings.

Using any of the strategies above has the potential to positively impact rank and help you retain efficiency at scale, but the safest method for doing so is the one that allows for the most manual control. In this case, that involves taking management into your own hands by breaking your campaigns down into smaller components to give yourself the clearest line of sight into growth opportunities. It’s a technique we’ve employed across a variety of clients at Voro, which has helped them achieve impressive results.

Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in learning more about how to take back control from the machines, employing an effective mechanism for retaining efficiency at scale, how to manage stakeholders’ expectations even when performance doesn’t go according to plan, or how burritos and popcorn relate to paid media management, I’ll be going in-depth on these topics and more at PPC Hero Conference.

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PPC

The Art and Science of PPC Account Structures

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The Art and Science of PPC Account Structures


With the rise of machine learning and the relentless march toward large-scale automation, digital marketers are now finding themselves in the middle of a perfect storm where they have less control over their campaigns, higher costs, and lousy results. 

To state the obvious, Google’s goals are not your goals.  

Source: Google

Over the last few years, Google introduced and pushed PPC automation while also removing many of the controls marketers typically used to prevent wasted spend. 

Here’s just a small list of what they’ve done:

  1. They killed off match types – As a result, keywords are no longer granular enough and Google’s understanding of “close” variants and “similar” intent fluctuates between terrible and horrific.
  2. They Added Audiences – Google has made significant efforts over the past few years to replace keywords as the primary PPC control lever; audiences (+ the derivatives thereof) have been the most successful of these so far.
  3. They introduced and pushed “smart” features – Google’s “optimization score” and “smart shopping campaigns” were the first major efforts; now, we have Performance MAX, the end of ETAs, and much more on the horizon. 
  4. They introduced auto-applied campaign changes – because who doesn’t want a Roomba running their account?
  5. They removed the majority of search term data – of course, the claim was that this was for “privacy”…but does anyone believe that? 

As a result, CPCs and CACs are spiking across the board and we’re left with the perfect recipe to waste a LOT of money.

The pace of change has left many PPCers wondering how to adapt to this brave new world, with a few approaches becoming more and more pervasive: 

  1. Lean Into The Automation – give the machines what they want – control and volume! Consolidate everything into a couple of campaigns, turn on Broad Match, and away we go. 
  2. Old School – focus on keeping granular control with a rigid, EM-based structure and negatives everywhere. 
  3. Shanty Town – some weird fusion of the two – where there are some EM campaigns, some full broad, maybe some audiences or DSAs sprinkled in…, and a heaping helping of confusion. 
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Unfortunately, the automation approach will have you wasting money, the old school approach will have you going crazy trying to maintain control in the face of RSAs, bidding strategy, and match type changes, and the Shanty Town delivers the worst of both worlds. 

The only thing that HAS stayed the same is the desire to find the right account structure that balances scale with control, spending with results, and predictability with discovery. Too much to ask for? No! 

Source: Google

Six Things to Keep in Mind When Setting Up PPC Campaigns

Automation is here to stay. The increasing role of automation will have an impact on PPC account structures, and this isn’t good or bad – it just is. Our job as marketers is to set the machines up for success and defend against their flaws.

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The structure is about people. Campaign structure is the “how” you connect your organization’s marketing to the people you want to target. Keep your audience in mind when you structure your PPC campaign and put yourself in the mind of the audience.

Better Data = Higher Probability of Good Outcomes. Don’t focus only on conversion data.  Make sure that each platform you use (not just Google, Microsoft, and Facebook) has the business and financial data it needs to maximize your chances of a good outcome. In short, efficiently leverage your data and help the machines be smarter!

Exclusions are more important than inclusions. Be liberal in your campaign exclusions to ensure machines focus on what you want (and don’t make bad inferences that blow your budget).

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Be Machine Learning-friendly. Resist the urge to hyper-segment everything. Build a structure that is ML-friendly while still being sufficiently refined. You might end up with fewer ad groups, but that’s ok! 

Be brilliant at the basics. Do the little things extremely well – align your ads to the intent of the user, deliver a relevant message and have a delightful on-page experience. 

Want to learn more? I’ll be speaking at HeroConf London on July 18 at 10:15 am on the Main Stage. During my session, “The Art and Science of PPC Structures,” I’ll dive deep into the essential account and targeting structures and how they can be used to prevent automation from running wild.





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