Scalability: Buzzword or action item?

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Vic Drabicky
Vic Drabicky

Every time I hear the word “scalability,” I can't help but think of the IBM Innovation Man commercial that says, “I for ideation, I for incubation, I for invigoration…I for implementation?” 

I think this is because “scalability” gets thrown around so carelessly, especially in search. It is beginning to have the same feeling as all the “I” words — that it is more buzzword than action item, making it a cousin of favorite CMO phrases such as “Web 3.0,” “emerging media” and “strategizing from a 10,000-foot view.”

We need to take a stand. It's time scalability became definable, actionable, measurable and the basis for us all to get promotions, rather than fodder for IBM commercials.

The first step in this process is to define scalability. Scalability in its most basic form implies taking a current result and growing it exponentially and efficiently. Depending on individual goals, specifics of scalability can have different meanings. However, without proper clarification, scalability is just an idea. While it seems simplistic, fuzzy definitions or goals will leave you unable to implement the tactics needed to be successful. Make your goals clear, concise and most importantly, measurable. For example, “We want to grow search revenue by a factor of 10 while maintaining profitability,” or “We want to grow each online marketing channel by 10% while raising ROI 20%.” 

Next, make scalability actionable. Search engines want to help you with scalability — in search engine languagee, “scalability” translates into “more budget”. To help, engines have provided two excellent tools: match types and the Google Search Query Report (SQR). By changing your match type from exact to phrase, broad, etc., you can immediately add volume to your campaigns. But beware of increased costs. Run all campaigns on exact match, then add in phrase and broad match in small groups for a more conservative, but effective approach. Next, employ Google SQR, and you can control your expansion even more. Expand from exact match to phrase or broad match, then use the Google SQR to show every searcher query you matched to.

Finally, measure scalability. As with everything else online, measurement is key. Implementing goals is pointless without measurement. The reason being is that as you scale your campaigns — say, grow your spend by a factor of five while maintaining your ROI — the metrics you're tracking will change.  Sure, you will still have your go-to key performance indicators, but as your campaigns grow, the effects will be more widespread. For example, if you increase your spend by five times, you will see the effects in your revenue, as well as secondary metrics like e-mail sign ups, new customer acquisition percentages or even brand lifts.

The great thing about scalability is that while it has all the buzzword tendencies, it actually is very actionable. Deploying a solid strategy for scaling your campaigns will yield highly visible results. By managing the process correctly, you should soon get that promotion to CMO — giving you the right to talk about the 10,000-foot view of your emerging media strategy as you pursue your goal of being a bleeding edge, Web 3.0 company.

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