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.