Why reports alone don’t cut it anymore in the fast-paced world of automated PPC
Machine learning, artificial intelligence, Moore’s Law and ongoing automation by the big search engines are accelerating the evolution of PPC. So much so, the role of the PPC pro has to evolve just as rapidly.
Optmyzr co-founder Fred Vallaeys recently encapsulated the new roles humans will play in an AI world to help PPC pros ride the wave of innovation to become PPC rockstars (as opposed to being PPC roadkill).
In that blog post, Fred likens the role of the PPC pro to being an airplane pilot — the crucial professional who spends a lot of his or her time monitoring vital data and events to ensure things go according to plan. That pilot is in charge of a fast, complicated, and potentially dangerous machine and has to act decisively if trouble starts brewing.
PPC pros today are much like that pilot, responsible for another type of fast and complicated system: machine learning-driven PPC. To do that job well the PPC pro requires three critical systems: Reports, Alerts, and Audits. Let’s look at how each of these solves some of the specific challenges associated with managing ads on Google or Bing.
Virtually all account managers have reports of some sort set up. Most of these reports focus on what has already happened, such as how many conversions happened last month, how conversions are trending and how data compares to the same period last year.
These reports can inform the PPC Pilot whether their strategies are paying off, e.g. “Is that new bid management system improving the ROAS as expected?” These reports are also essential for keeping stakeholders appraised of the results of your work for them.
Reporting can, and should, go much deeper. One particularly helpful report in the Optmyzr library, the Annual Performance Report, keeps clients much more informed about your total value as a PPC pro. With one click, advertisers can see a summary of their 2018 PPC performance and share it as a PDF, an Excel download, or as an interactive link.
While reporting is one essential tool for PPC managers, it only goes so far to meet the needs of sophisticated search marketers. Because of the minute-by-minute PPC world in which we live today, many traditional reports are too static — too slow when decisions are being made instantaneously by ever-faster automated systems.
Imagine if airline pilots functioned like old school PPC managers, relying primarily on static reports. After every flight, the pilot could generate a report summarizing how much fuel they burned and how many passengers were on board. Helpful information for the airline when it comes time to report earnings and helpful for the pilot to understand if a decision to burn a little more fuel actually paid off with a closer-to-on-time arrival. Unfortunately, that basic and necessary information doesn’t help at all when the unexpected happens.
Enter the need for two other critical tools a pilot needs: automated alerts that flag performance anomalies, and indicators that show that systems are online and working. In PPC, these equate to dashboards with alerts and policy-based audits.
PPC Dashboards and Alerts
PPC is a fast-moving industry. Every search that happens on Bing or Google is a new auction with thousands of advertisers competing for a valuable top ranking. A static, scheduled report won’t be of much use when a competitor unexpectedly does a mid-month strategy shift. In this scenario, an immediate and timely interactive dashboard offers several benefits compared to a scheduled report:
- The data is updated almost instantaneously to reflect the current state of the business.
- Automated alerts draw quick attention to what the human PPC pilot needs to focus on.
- Interactive data lets the PPC pilot quickly investigate by zooming in and out of the data.
In Optmyzr, the MCC dashboard (shown below) provides all of these capabilities. For example, advertisers automatically get alerts for things that seem out of the ordinary, such as a huge decline in impressions or a sudden spike in cost. An agile PPC pro can also set their own thresholds for alerts when they have specific goals in mind, like a target CPA, a minimum number of clicks or any other target.
Alerts can have drawbacks, however. False positives can cause the alert recipient to start ignoring them. In PPC, it’s fairly common to get false alerts about CPA, ROAS or conversions when not accounting for the typical conversion lag of a campaign. For example, you can’t have a real-time alert for declines in conversions when it takes half your audience more than 7 days to go from a click to a sale.
To help reduce false alerts, advertisers can customize a date offset in Optmyzr so data from days where conversions have not yet been fully reported will be ignored. Finding out how long a typical conversion takes from click to conversion is now easy thanks to Google’s reporting metrics for “days to conversion.”
Optmyzr even offers an automatic budget pacing capability that helps advertisers continuously stay on top of whether they are on target to hit their budget targets for the month (even if they run budgets on a custom monthly cycle, for example starting the 15th of every month and ending the 14th of the following month).
When an alert warrants a deeper investigation, rich data visualizations make it easier to understand what elements of an account are most responsible for a performance shift.
A good alert system must have advanced dismissal capability. Imagine if the alerts on your phone kept reappearing five seconds after you’d dismissed them. The alerts would quickly become completely useless. In Optmyzr, an alert that has been investigated and addressed can be snoozed so it will only trigger another alert if the detected problem persists after the snooze period has ended.
AI is also changing how we interact with technology. Take the proliferation of Amazon Alexa devices which now number more than 100 million. Users are coming to expect to get all their answers by simply voicing their question. To allow PPC pros to get their account questions answered quickly, Optmyzr launched its Alexa skill in 2018, letting users interact with our PPC Investigator entirely by voice.
Finally, a PPC expert must have an audit tool to support their role as the PPC pilot. But what’s the difference between reports and audits?
Reports tend to be heavy on metrics and show performance over time. Alerts tend to look at performance that is suddenly unexpected or, like a URL checker script, look for things that are broken.
Audits, on the other hand, examine the structure of an account for the purpose of identifying things that, while not necessarily broken, could be improved upon. For example, if all campaigns had sitelinks, the CTR could likely be improved, which might boost conversions.
Audits also help monitor account management policies. Many agencies and big advertisers have a preferred way for how accounts should be managed and those rules may encompass things like the maximum allowed number of keywords before an ad group should be split up, the minimum number of ad variants that should be active for A/B testing, what types of bid management is allowed to be deployed, etc.
With Google’s recent announcement that its Complimentary Account Management service may involve changing account settings, serious advertisers would be well advised to put in place an audit and policy monitoring tool like the one from Optmyzr to ensure any elements managed by a 3rd party, whether Google or an agency, conform to the advertiser’s policies. Audits help you, the PPC pro, navigate and retain essential control.
It’s also important to note that PPC professionals can benefit from an audit system to double check their own work. We’re all human — prone to mistakes. With the potential for different tools and multiple account managers to all be working on various aspects of one account, it is truly challenging to ensure all the elements work together in the intended fashion. A simple automated weekly audit can let advertisers know if the account structure is deviating from what is intended.
Optmyzr is designed to be the tool that can take a PPC pro to PPC rockstar status. Our tools are designed to help search marketers build on the automations Google and Bing continue to roll out on a seemingly daily basis. Ironically, the more automation we see from the big engines and from AI and machine learning, the more PPC pros need advanced tools to become the essential strategist as opposed to day-to-day tactician. Check out our blog throughout this year for more context about PPC in the age of automation.