Online Exclusive: Humans Are Slow

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Given that there are literally thousands of factors to deal with in the average paid search campaign (factors based around things like keyword choice; searcher demographics; seasonality; geotargeting; dayparting; cost-per-click for each keyword, against spend for the entire campaign; constantly fluctuating keyword prices in the midst of an ultracompetitive bid marketplace; messaging choice; landing page choice; and engine spend) -- would you prefer that the day-to-day management of your search campaign be run by:


· A human, who can only manage one task at a time, doesn't show up on weekends, breaks for lunch, gets sick, takes vacations, gets tired at 3, goes home at night; and, after two, three or five years (but at a time when you're not expecting at all), leaves your company, only to take the entire search strategy with her. Or …


· A multi-tasking, high-speed, 24/7/365, algorithmically based, highly sophisticated search technology?


We think the intelligent answer to the question is Choice B. Many in-house search marketers (and even some outsourced ones) opt for Choice A. We're really not sure why.


How slow is slow? It's not that humans aren't capable of managing all of the tens- or hundreds of thousands of issues that search entails. They certainly are capable of handling it all. In fact, give any smart marketer a list of 1,000 keywords, the conversion rates and price-per-click for each keyword, and access to Excel, and they're likely to come up with a well-optimized bidding plan that brings in great traffic and gets you a decent ROI. Nothing to sneeze at; but keep in mind that it might take them a while to get it all done.


Exactly how long it will take them depends on a lot of things -- like the size of your campaign, the complexity of your area of the search marketplace, and the skills of the actual people managing your search. But the number of days or weeks that it takes your search management to move from Point A to Point B isn't really what matters. What matters is how long it takes to build up a high opportunity cost.


And opportunity cost can build up pretty quick. Because while your team is busy finishing up its manually created optimizations, the search marketplace is busy changing faster than you can keep up with it. Competitive bidding means keyword pricing changes all the time, and so your fancy optimizations can become outdated even before you've finished making them. Meanwhile, your competitors who are using good technology can outmaneuver you, stealing away your traffic while you're too busy with that Excel spreadsheet to notice. These are things that can happen in a matter of seconds, which means you simply don't have the luxury of the days, weeks, or more that it takes to do a good job of manually optimizing your SEM.


But even with all that, losing ground to change might not be slowness's most dangerous side effect. That distinction, instead, should go to the inability to improve your campaign. Improving your campaign (i.e., increasing your efficiency) means fixing the things that are hurting you, and going after the things that will help -- but you can't know what those things are unless you can analyze your conversion metrics well. And with thousands of factors seriously impacting your campaign every day, analyzing your conversion metrics is too big of a task to do on your own: you need a good technology do the initial legwork for you.


Once you have the initial legwork covered, you'll have the bird's-eye view you need to understand what your data are actually saying -- which you can convert into high-level analytics; which, in turn, you can convert into more efficient strategy. But since you simply don't have the manpower or the time to do that kind of legwork on your own, you've got two choices: either have a good technology that does the legwork for you -- or do without the crucial analytics you need. In other words, work with a good technology, or stick with your campaign inefficiencies forever.


Get thee to a technology. While humans are very slow, search technology is actually quite fast. The slowest of the bunch can update your bidding once every 24 hours; the fastest are real-time. Of course, every technology comes with a degree of sticker cost -- but loss of potential revenue and loss of market share aren't cheap, either.


If you're in one of those rare, lucky businesses that's got an ultra-tiny keyword list, next to no keyword price fluctuation, and zero competition for as far as the eye can see, then that initial technology investment may not be necessary. But if you're like most businesses, you're in the opposite situation: your keyword prices are changing all the time, your competitors are hounding you day and night, and you simply can't afford to lose. And if you can't afford to lose, then you can't afford to be slow, either.


So it's technology or bust.


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