Automation In PPC Management: Pros and Cons

When your PPC account reaches a certain scale, you may be tempted to start using automation software to help manage your account. There are a number of web software services that can help you automate your bids, test out text ads, or optimize your landing pages and display ads. At first glance, this seems like a pretty good deal. You don’t have to spend as much time in your account, and you get to use an automated system to do all the match and difficult thinking for you. Automated PPC management systems can be a boon for the overworked SEM manager, but they can also lead to big trouble if used incorrectly.

First, the pros. Once you start having thousands of keywords, bid management can be a real hassle. Perhaps the best aspect of PPC management software is the bid management functionality. It can be hard (if not impossible) to gauge the effect your bid changes have on your keywords, and to do the math on each individual keyword bid to ensure positive ROI and statistical significance in testing. At this level of scale, it’s best to get a computer to do the dirty work regarding your keyword management.

The same applies for ad testing. Unless you have a real passion for statistical analysis, you probably view ad text testing as a real chore. But, if you get a software package on the case, all you have to do is write the ad text and the computer manages the testing for you, spitting out some handy reports for you to go over.

These all sound like compelling reasons to break out your wallet and buy some software. But, many PPC managers view these software packages as a magic bullet that will solve all of their problems. This is simply not the case. No matter how sophisticated a software program is, all it can really analyze is quantitative data. It can’t research your customers and analyze their motives – you still have to do this. And, since the machine can only look at the numbers, it can sometimes make some grievous mistakes that could cost you revenue.

If left unchecked, automation can run wild. I’ve seen at least one example of an automated system going wild on bid reductions, eventually placing bids so low we stopped showing on the first page, reducing conversions down to zero. An automated system only performs as well as you tell it to. If you put in the wrong formulas, or leave the system unchecked, you could be in for a nasty surprise further along down the road.

Automated systems also lack the ability to make qualitative judgments, making them useless for creating ads or landing pages. Sure, they’re handy when you need to do some hardcore statistical analysis, but they can’t come up with new ideas on their own. You will always need a human being to come up with great ideas.

I’m not totally against PPC automation, but I do remain skeptical. I’ve yet to see a software system that can outperform a skilled human professional. Despite all the numbers and statistics, PPC is marketing, not math. If you are considering purchasing a software package for PPC management, ask yourself this question: will this system perform as well as a comparably-paid PPC manager? If you’re spending two, three, or four thousand dollars on a software system, your account might perform just as well by hiring a competent full-time employee or freelancer to manage your account. They will be able to make the qualitative decisions that a machine simply can’t do.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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3 Responses to Automation In PPC Management: Pros and Cons

  1. Enjoyed seeing this from your perspective, Shawn. I agree that when using software for automating PPC you have to have a human overseeing the setup and the outcomes. I think it’s only fair to point out that there are just as many examples of humans ignoring their PPC accounts and letting them stagnate and run wild.

    There are some things that absolutely need to be robot work. You pointed out ad testing which is a great example. If the software will point out when you have a loser ad this can save you time and money. Others may include any number of best practices: bloated adgroups, search query analysis, geographic analysis, placement analysis, campaign settings, poor performing keywords, etc. There is plenty of room right now in the PPC software industry for help with account structure analysis and recommendations.

    Of course, what I’m describing is not what I would call full-automation, but automated-assistance. The software should be giving advice about opportunities and risks that exist within your account, facilitating action on that advice, and also providing accountability for those recommended actions. If the proper best-practice robot work could be running in the background it would free up the human analyst to do qualitative tasks like writing new ads, creating new landing pages or conversion path experiences, etc.

    Thanks again for the post Shawn, I think it is very important conversation that PPC practitioners should be having and software vendors should be listening to.

  2. Hi Shawn,

    I agree that software can only help manage quantitative data, and even the best software can’t replace human input. But even for the quantitative data, there should always be some human input to check that the software is doing what it’s supposed to. And that the rules being set are realistic and efficient.

    It’s also worth considering that automation only really becomes viable for accounts over a certain level of spend. If an account’s spend is minimal, PPC automation will surely be expensive overkill.

    Cheers,
    Alan

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