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SMX Overtime: When to use PPC automation (and when not to)

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Account structures, cross channel attribution, smart bidding and automation reporting were among the many questions during SMX East’s roundtable, “How automation really works and when to use it.” I wanted to take the time to answer a few additional questions from attendees after the event.

I understand it depends on the business, but how do you go about structuring your accounts? How do you set up campaigns?

I wrote a post about three years ago about decision trees for SEM segmentation that, for the most part, still outlines how we structure our accounts.

For each major element (audience or keyword for search, different audience types for YouTube) ask yourself two simple questions. Will performance be materially different? Does messaging need to be materially different? If the answer to either is yes you can assume that segmenting targeting elements is a good idea.

What’s changed over the years is the priority. When the post above was written, there was no punishment for over-segmentation and no upside for campaign consolidation. In modern search, I recommend keeping as much data together as possible. Yes, you can still optimize a group of campaigns together using a portfolio, but it’s best to keep similar performing ad groups/keywords together unless there’s a notable case to be made for segmenting.

Addressing a few common questions. Yes, we do still segment campaigns by match types but have tested moving them together – the results were neutral. No, I don’t recommend SKAG’s – there’s no point anymore. Yes, segmentation by device is okay, but I wouldn’t call it a “default.” Generally speaking the controls in place to bid or message by device is sufficient to control budget.

How can you use smart bidding when your CPA/ROAS goals change frequently (biweekly/monthly)?

First of all, I wouldn’t recommend see-sawing goals unless there’s an explicit reason. If there’s dramatic inventory swings or a lead at the end of the month worth more than one at the beginning, I’ll allow it. Otherwise, stay stable.

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With that out of the way, it depends on how dramatic the goal shifts are and/or if they return to where they were. If the swings aren’t particularly dramatic (e.g. a CPA moves from $100 to $90) you should be totally fine nudging your bid targets without resetting the learning period. Usually, a shift of 5 to 10% won’t disrupt the system too much.

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If you’re attacking big sale days, for example, seasonality adjustments will effectively “coach” the bidder and tell it to expect higher or lower swings.

How much time do you save with automation on a weekly basis? Are Supermetrics the go-to with automating reporting?

Tough to say as to how much time it saves since we inherently wind up “reinvesting” that time in our clients! You can look at it on a task-by-task basis to give you an idea of time savings:

  • My teams probably spent five to eight hours per month doing search queries. Since we’ve started (mostly) automating via n-gram scripts, that’s down to one or two hours.
  • Manual bidding? That’s AT LEAST an hour or two a week, now bid optimization or analysis is down to an hour a month.
  • The idea of pulling manual reports sends shivers down my spine. Even when we had a platform or “human automation,” the reports would still take about two hours per week per client. Now we’ve managed to automate QA (yep – it’s possible) which takes that time down to a half an hour or so.

With regard to reporting, it largely depends on your needs. We license Tableau for clients that warrant it which is a huge help to automate things like pacing etc. But, as the asker indicates, much, if not all, of that can be done via Supermetrics. We often use Supermetrics to parse additional data into Data Studio for cohesive reports. Just make sure to have an alerts system for when a query fails or times out.

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How do you use cross channel attribution data for your bidding and optimization?

There are a few options here. Bear in mind that attribution data usually has a somewhat significant delay, or at the very least isn’t real-time.

  • Use your cross channel data to build in a “discount” factor for bidding. Say Google reports 100 conversions a month, but your attribution tool indicates only 60 of them were incremental. Aim your goals to somewhere in the middle, perhaps lower your CPA target (or increase ROAS target) by ~20%.
  • Feed data back into UI’s as a separate column – I wouldn’t recommend using offline data for real-time bidding (too many things can go wrong), but having the data readily available can make decisions easier
  • Use Google Analytics conversions in lieu of the Google Ads pixel – there are tradeoffs here that I won’t go into, but it is a simple way to ensure that the broader marketing picture is considered in Ads

Can you go around the data limitation for smart bidding by adding micro-conversions along the purchasing funnel with fixed values?

Absolutely! Going higher in the funnel has worked well for a number of our clients. Similar to the attribution challenge noted above, use these micro-conversions as directional data. Check your assumptions often to ensure that you’re not putting too much weight in a certain area. Additionally, make sure whatever actions you choose are unique. Don’t add weight to both time on site and page views (they’re one and the same) and don’t double up on different information capture points.

Will we ever be automated out of our jobs?

No. Though I suppose it depends on your job.

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Look at it this way, humans are tremendous thinkers and strategists, but horrible automatons and calculators. The parts of our jobs that will be automated away is highly manual. It’s my (and many others’) outspoken opinion that there’s no reason to bid manually under the guise of control. We’re romanticizing the past, looking back at times when we were hand-picking what we thought were the most important signals (keywords, bids, and copy) while tuning out human signals like demographics, behavior and technological capacity.

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The future is showing a job shift rather than a job replacement. Our job won’t be to pull every knob and push every button – it will be making sure the machines are working right. A key trait in paid search success comes from looking under the hood, understanding how the automation works and how to use it to its full potential.

Keywords are going to go away someday. I don’t know when that day is, but it will happen. Those who take the time to understand system quirks and features will win. Those who try to shoehorn their ways into the old way of thinking into the future will be automated out of a job.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Aaron has been in the industry for the better part of a decade, leading paid media campaigns with clients ranging from Fortune 50 companies to startups and local businesses. He’s the Group Director of SEM at Tinuiti, a full-service digital agency with offices across the US. Aaron’s role is to support a growing SEM team across the US, looking years ahead so his team can look days ahead. In addition to his day to day, Aaron’s a frequent industry speaker and instructor at Drexel and University of Vermont, working to grow the next generation of great marketers. He moonlights as a brewer, hockey player, slow cyclist and claims to be the industry’s top chef.

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MARKETING

Unveiling our first MarTech Intelligence Report on email marketing platforms

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Matching email content to customer needs

Woman smiling while reading emails in a digital-first experience

Email has always held a special place in my heart, perhaps because it seems so taken for granted in the digital marketing world. It’s been around too long to benefit from “shiny new object” syndrome, yet its true believers are fully appreciative of its power. What else delivers an ROI of $36 for every $1 spent, after all?

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to download this free buyers’ guide that looks at today’s email marketing technology and walks you through what you should consider before adopting a new platform or making the switch from your current provider.

Email marketing platforms and financial activity

The big marketing cloud providers, Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce as well as Acoustic and Zeta made investments in email by acquiring standalone players – some more recently than others.

Though the email category is well established, there are still plenty of investors who believe marketers are looking for innovations. In the last few years, many players in the space have attracted venture funding, while mergers and acquisition activity shows how email increasingly works together with other marketing technologies.

Venture funding

In May of 2021, Klayvio closed $320 million in Series D financing at a $9.5 billion valuation, just six months after its Series C of $200 million, according to Techcrunch, which says the next-gen email provider has taken in $675 million in all.

ActiveCampaign has received $360 million in VC funding through three rounds, Techcrunch says, with the most recent round of $240 million (at an over $3 billion valuation) coming in April 2021.

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Iterable’s latest funding round occurred in June of 2021, which was reported to be $200 million. In total, Techcrunch reports the company has attracted $342.2 million in financing.

Meanwhile, Sendinblue’s latest funding round, a reported $160 million, occurred in September 2020.

Prior to that, the latest period of significant activity in the email space was 2018, when Braze brought in $80 million in October and Cordial took in $15 million in June.


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Mergers and acquisitions

Consolidation activity has been even higher in the past few years. The biggest blockbuster deal was Intuit’s acquisition of Mailchimp for $12 billion, announced in September of 2021, though Mailchimp is more focused on small and medium-sized businesses than enterprise customers.

In the same space, and also that month, Constant Contact finalized a deal to acquire email automation provider SharpSpring, following that up in January of 2022 with an agreement to acquire Australian SMS and email platform Vision6, a deal expected to close later in 2022.

Other recent big news involves the CM Group’s merger with Cheetah Digital, announced in October of 2021 and finalized in February of 2022. CM Group is also the parent of Campaign Monitor and Emma, among other related marketing technology brands like Sailthru. CM Group is majority-owned by Insight Partners.

For its part, Zeta Global acquired surveying tool Appness in October 2021. In 2019, the company purchased AI and content classification company Temnos in January, data management platform (DMP) and demand-side platform (DSP) Sizmek in April. It snapped up location data company PlaceIQ in July.

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Validity acquired email analytics and deliverability provider 250ok in February 2020, cementing its deliverability and data quality capabilities. The company has previously acquired Return Path (2019), BriteVerify (2018), CRMfusion (2019) and AppBuddy (2019).

In our new MarTech Intelligence Report, you’ll learn more about these companies and their technologies, so you can determine which solution best meets your business’ needs. Download it today!


2022 MarTech replacement survey2022 MarTech replacement survey


About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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