Why haven't you automated your PPC search campaign?

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Using automation to improve efficiencies in pay per click search campaigns is a no-brainer among seasoned PPC marketers, and yet it's also clear that many folks running search campaigns continue to run them manually.

There are many reasons why marketers have been slow to adapt to automation. Some have been unsatisfied with the way that off-the-shelf tools perform, others have been daunted by the difficulty of using some of these tools, and many are probably unaware of how much automation, when properly used, could help them deliver better ROI and increase market share.

I am a firm believer in using automation, because it is a "force multiplier" that can free search teams to focus their brains on strategic issues instead of getting bogged down in multiple, tactical details. But devising an appropriate automation solution isn't easy: in fact, it can be among the most difficult decisions that search marketers can make. Here's why:

  1. Any tool worth its salt has a steep learning curve. Managing bids intelligently in the hybrid auction environments run by the major engines, is far more difficult than it used to be, and automation tools have evolved significantly to meet this challenge. You can't just place one of these sophisticated tools in front of an inexperienced account manager and expect him or her to be able to use it well. The more "under the hood" knowledge you have about the tool you're using, the better off you'll be. At Did-it.com, we spend many months bringing our account teams up to speed on our tool before letting them operate it in the real world.
  2. Automation, poorly used, will yield poor results. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates memorably said that "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency." Both of these rules apply to using PPC search campaign automation systems. One of the worst things about using off-the-shelf campaign automation systems is that they can lull one into a sense of complacency, because "the computer is in control." Such complacency ensures mediocre campaign performance, especially in highly competitive verticals where competitors are fighting tooth and nail over SERP visibility. As I like to say: "You can't win a dogfight if your airplane is on autopilot." Automation is just a tool, not a substitute for human judgment, in air combat or in the search marketplace.
  3. In-house PPC campaign management may look like a cost-effective solution, until you add up all the costs. Recent studies have shown that larger marketers are more likely to be managing paid search using agencies, whereas smaller marketers are more likely to be doing this in-house. (SEMPO 2007 State of Search Engine Marketing survey). These larger marketers typically run more campaigns, with more keywords, spend more money and face more competitive environments. Many have discovered that specialist agencies do a much better job of managing competitive search campaigns than their staffs can, and have acted accordingly. They've also factored in the total costs of training, maintaining, and retaining in-house search teams, and concluded that an agency solution makes more financial sense, both from a cost and a profits perspective.

Automation isn't a panacea or a cure-all. But if you're serious about search, you can't afford not to consider using it to improve the efficiency of your PPC campaigns. Unless you've fully evaluated the range of tools and solutions providers in the marketplace, you haven't done your due diligence, and your firm will be vulnerable to those that have.

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