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Navigating Change in PPC: 6 Keys to Help PPC Marketers Adapt to Change

Aug 11, 2022
PPC Automation
Guest post

Sarah Stemen

Senior Paid Search Manager

-

Marcus Thomas


Over the past 5 to 6 years we have all experienced the impact of change within the PPC community. While many of the changes have made tasks faster, advances in automation and machine learning have forced paid search professionals to navigate platform changes without control.

With even more feature confusion marketers can feel overwhelmed by their inability to keep up with Google’s propensity for change.

PPC Marketers are losing control. There is still a hyper-awareness of performance metrics while knowing the industry won’t go back in time. So, what does it all mean?

The two main categories of automation

Task automation

Task automation is pretty simple. Two small examples of automated tasks that have changed over the past few years in PPC include

  • the ability to find redundant keywords in an account, and
  • the ability to quickly report data

Both of these tasks used to involve downloading raw data into a spreadsheet and creating pivot tables. Today, both these tasks can be done in minutes using the ‘Recommendations’ Tab or the ‘Report Center’ in the Google Ads interface.

Automation is a positive evolution in the paid search industry for seasoned professionals, but it can be difficult for beginners.

The main drawback of task automation is that people who are new to the field often do not understand why the task is important; they just know to press the button. Finding duplicate keywords for example is a way to avoid competition with ads in the same account.

When there are multiple versions of keywords, ad relevance gets diluted which can impact quality score, reduce click-thru rates and increase CPCs.

When it comes to reporting tasks, prior to automation, segmented reports were cumbersome to create. Reporting can show trended data in the interface but once broken down into segments, the decision-making becomes stronger.

Segmenting data can help determine which campaign type or setting is delivering the most value for the account. Understanding how to segment data and why to segment is a skill that requires experience.

Taking the time to understand why data should be analyzed in different ways will foster better client communication.

Bidding automation

Automated bidding is a different category of automation. Historically, as Google Ads evolved we had only lost control of variants. Automated bidding has been a significant shift. This change means that campaigns need to be consolidated so Google has enough data to learn.

The automation of bidding also favors larger campaign budgets as small daily budgets limit impression share and the ability to get all the data possible.

Lastly, this type of bidding works best when match types are broad because the system can maximize the reach of the keyword and consider the context of the search. This is another area of automation where understanding the history and basics of PPC can shed insight as to why the campaign is behaving in a specific way.

1. Understanding how automation operates is key.

Understanding the types of automation is a key component of effective PPC account management. Showing the trend over time as well as the strategy that has been deployed adds context to client reporting.

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You can’t have it all. It’s a sad, but true fact. You can’t scale an account while becoming more efficient. And the tactics and strategies for each goal are fundamentally different.

It’s like trying to make a peanut butter sandwich while getting your nails done: it just doesn’t work. Alignment and understanding here are critical because clients often ask why CPAs are increasing while pursuing a growth strategy.

As marketers navigating automation it is best to plot learning periods, campaign launch days, budget changes, bidding strategies, and campaign reorganization alongside performance data. This is a great way to explain to clients why the data shifted while explaining the impact of different campaigns and strategies.

2. Audience targeting has evolved over the years.

Another shift in PPC has been the evolution of audience targeting. PPC was designed around keywords. Still, in 2022 we create keyword lists and attempt to match keywords to intent.

However, Google has inch-by-inch added supplemental features to allow for more audience targeting. Advertisers can now target ads based on specific groups or demographics of people that share similar characteristics or interests and layer this data into campaigns with keywords.

The audiences provide more context to our paid search campaigns.

Why do audiences matter?

As much as we think we know, keywords aren’t perfect. The intent is difficult to pinpoint and paid search in the search network is based on matching intent.

“Keywords are not focused on the human, instead, they are focused on the word itself and what we think we know. In contrast, audience targeting is all about people. Instead of looking at keywords, audiences factor humans that have certain characteristics, demographics, and behaviors."

As marketers, we are trying to influence behavior so the human component of audiences is relevant. Merging the keyword with audiences absolutely improves paid search campaigns.

3. The keyword has evolved too.

The paid search community has a hard time admitting that the keyword is not perfect. Bottom-of-the-funnel activities are easy to understand and show high returns.

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Those of us who started in the early days lived through a radical budgeting shift. In traditional media such as TV and radio demand capture is harder to measure. Keyword paid search was not only easy to measure but could be directly tied back to sales and actions.

As time went on, advertisers struggled to grow demand. Their problem was that they had invested heavily in demand capture activities and underinvested in demand generation tactics. Large advertisers who had abandoned traditional media began to see the light and reinvested in traditional advertising.

It is no surprise that most advertisers did not put their money back into TV, radio, and newspapers. Instead, advertisers moved to Facebook, programmatic display, and CTV.

These newer platforms excel at demand generation more than the keyword. During this time keywords became saturated. Keyword bidding could feel like hitting a brick wall when it came to increasing lead volume.

Platforms such as Google have this data and realized at some point to grow their revenue they would need advertisers to grow beyond keyword bidding as well. The platforms offered top-of-funnel solutions.

But let’s face it - the community at large was reluctant.

This was the start of automation and platform changes. Today the age of automation is upon us.

At first, advertisers were not even sure how to react. Those who had the highest confidence in their abilities started telling stories of a past life where they had been on the other side of the fence, wearing the shoes of the man who crafted the campaigns himself.

They spoke of spending six hours a day meticulously concatenating millions of keywords, optimizing ad copy, and tinkering with settings, in an attempt to find that golden 1% boost in conversion rate.

Modern advertisers leaned into automation and saw success. They began to lean into a fuller funnel approach.

“Today the best advertisers lean into automation while taking the time to understand platform changes. The understanding comes from reading support documentation, understanding the history of how the tasks worked when being done manually, and having a healthy dose of skepticism when applying changes.”

4. Google support’s quality has degraded.

Another evolution in PPC has been platform support. In recent years, Google customer support has been less responsive than it was in the past.

“Click-to-chat has become the new norm. Calls involve long wait times. Google reps are focused on sales and tool adaption and less focused on teaching and supporting client goals."

They come across as having their priorities backward, while conversations can be circular arguments with the rep referencing incorrect support documentation or proposing campaign changes that don’t align with the goal.

There have been times it seemed like customer support was handled by a computer instead of a human.

5. The PPC community has become more collaborative.

The PPC industry has become much more open as a result of this lack of support, which has led to an increase in collaboration among members of the community. In the past, as professionals, we were territorial over tactics and resisted openly sharing successes and failures.

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Today, we work together to figure out what works and what does not perform as expected.

6. There’s more access to learning resources now.

Another change in the PPC industry is access to information. When I got started in paid search marketing, I had to read blogs to learn. I remember setting up Google Alerts in my inbox so I could read any article about paid search, PPC, or SEO.

Today there are free webinars, books, podcasts, virtual conferences, TikToks, and YouTube channels. There are ways to consume content on your own terms. I’ve been able to attain some of my professional success because of the flexibility afforded by my ability to listen to podcasts or YouTube videos.

“The sharing of information has helped our community thrive in that: it has spread ideas and enabled collaboration. Most of us have stopped trying to outwit the machine and accepted that we can not beat or control it.”

Understanding how machine automation operates is more impactful than deep dives into spreadsheets which was a requirement during the ‘3 million keyword’ days of paid search.

We need to work alongside the machines.

To sum up the changes in PPC - we’re in a battle against the bots. And while it’s up to the industry to fight them together, the onus is on each of us individually to adapt and make the most out of this automated landscape.

It’s important to remember why you got into PPC in the first place - for the opportunities for creativity, for developing your own style, for pushing yourself. If you only view automation as an evil force trying to steal your job, then automation will win.

And maybe that’s how some out there want it - but I don’t think many would be satisfied with a passive existence. Whether or not automation wins, we all need to start looking at new ways to become the best marketers and PPC strategists.

I encourage you to work with your clients to find ways to keep ad campaigns interesting and fresh regardless of what changes come our way.

This is a guest post by Sarah Stemen, Senior Paid Search manager for Marcus Thomas.

About the author: Sarah Stemen is a Senior Paid Search manager for Marcus Thomas based in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a regular participant in PPCChat and a board member of the Paid Search Association. Sarah has been working in paid search since 2007 and has spent time on both the client side and the agency side. When not doing paid search, Sarah is busy with 3 kids.

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