You Need Killer PPC Software. This is the phrase used to begin the announce of our Twitter Contest. Is it true? During a recent Omniture webinar they claimed (I think it was a Jupiter statistic) that 85% of paid search accounts do not use any tools beyond those provided by the search engines. If nearly 2 million advertisers can get by with nothing out Adwords itself and perhaps the Adwords Editor, why shouldn’t you?
The Obvious Reasons The first reason many people think about 3rd party paid search software is the convenience of managing the three major search engines from within a single interface. Logging into three web sites, navigating three different interfaces, and translating three different sets of terminology gets tiring fast. The second reason seems to be a desire for some type of automated bid management. It’s hard to figure out how much to bid, and the problem is compounded by the number of keywords being managed and the rate of competitive and other changes in the market. The idea of algorithms that put some math on your side of the table is undeniably appealing. A huge amount of data that needs to be constantly crunched and re-crunched – the perfect job for computers and software. These are both solid reasons – and alone (putting aside the actual quality of most bid management solutions for the time being) could easily justify the effort and expense of moving onto a paid search management platform. But I don’t think these really capture the most important advantages paid search software currently provides, nor the more exciting benefits which are only now emerging.
Let Me Count The Ways Paid search marketing campaigns are run to make money. Their operation requires that you you buy and organize keywords, set bids and write text ads, and then read reports to see what we should change to make it all work better. Each of those steps – even within this massive over-simplication of the process – takes a lot of time, has a ton of room for error, and can swing your costs or revenues dramatically in either direction. PPC is a complicated task, both logically and logistically – and you can’t do it without good tools. The question is whether you want to use the free ones provided by the people who have very little incentive to make you efficient or effective, or the paid ones from people for are only incented if they can do those things. Now before the comments come in from my friends at Google or Yahoo or MSN (ok, I don’t have any MSN friends) let me clarify and expand that point. It’s not that they don’t build and deliver tools that are designed to both make it easier to use their services and to help you produce better results; I think generally speaking they are trying to do both. But there are limits. First of all they have to build general purpose tools serving the needs of the full range of users. Most of whom would be generously described as casual users. They don’t want power and complexity and sophistication – they want basic utilitarian capabilities that can be understood and applied quickly and easily. Secondly, these tools are designed with the idea of making it easier to use the engines to run the ads, and then supplimented with features to help you do so successfully. They’re not designed around the goal running profitable campaigns within the technical constraints of the engines. This not wordplay. One is task oriented, and one is goal oriented. One is about how you satisfy their needs, one is focused on satisfying your needs. And they’re absolutely not the same. Which is what’s wrong with the engine tools – it’s easy to complete the task but hard to accomplish the goal. And it’s why most advertisers aren’t making nearly as much money as they could from paid search.
Let’s get more specific: Creating and Editing Campaigns In the nuts and bolts job of building campaigns and ad-groups, the engine web interfaces are fine, with some clear logical/quality differences between the various implementations (ie there are some crazy limitations with both the Yahoo and MSN interfaces.) For one-at-a-time adds and edits they generally work pretty well. The largest limitation they have is with the interface constraints of HTML or even AJAX, which the new beta Google Adwords interface looks to be the first to move beyond. For both bulk and individual editing, the Google Adwords editor is excellent. It’s the standard to which most third party tools are playing catch up. The interface is fast, the layout intuitive, the features powerful, it’s just a great all around tool. If it supported Yahoo and MSN the third-parties would really have very few advantages in this area. But this is the core of the utilitarian argument. They engines make money when you expand and tweak campaigns. So they do an excellent job of enabling you to do so.
Reporting clarity Here the tables turn. The reporting capabilities of the engines are basic and unimpressive. They provide just enough data in their core web interfaces to make simplistic editorial decisions. They offer batch-mode report modules that can provide more data, but without real-time delivery it’s difficult or impractical to use them for serious analysis – unless you have the time to design and request many different reports (each time you want them), export them and then import them into excel, and then sit for hours digesting and interpreting. The best of the third party tools make you much better informed, both in the midst of their editorial capabilies and with pure reporting and analysis modules. There are simply more reports, a greater ability to customize and save them, and much faster date and data filtering and intra-report navigation. This enhanced reporting enables more review, faster and deeper analysis, and better decision making. In some cases, the reporting capabilities go beyond better access to the data provided by the engines, with enhanced data collected at the site (regarding user behaviour and conversion), and/or proprietary metrics which offer additional views or insights. Some even provide direct integration into excel for even more advanced charting, analysis, conditional formatting, and one-button updates. All of this enables smarter decisions based on better and deeper information.
But Wait, There’s More Better reporting and simpler editing are important. They can be huge time savers. And for anyone who spends $10K or more per month and five or more hours or more managing their campaigns these benefits should easily more than justify the cost of paid search software. But beyond this, what paid search software can and should really do that the engines themselves don’t is to help clarify what should be done and make it easier to accomplish the right changes. Clarifying opportunity starts with simple alerts that warn you of ‘out of norm’ conditions. It includes advanced data insights such as our ClickShare and ClickVariance metrics and ‘what’s changed’ reports that highlight severe increases or decreases in performance that almost certainly require your reaction. Getting things done features include keyword suggestions (positive or negative), automatic or suggested campaign re-organizations, multivariate text-ad testing, dynamic match-type assignments, day or geo-parting, cross-engine campaign cloning, and many more. A range of initial versions of many of these features are available today. What’s it worth to get warned that your campaigns are making money in most states but losing a lot in a few others? How would your campaign improve with an MVT test that boosts your CTR by 350% in your top ad group? And these are just a few examples.
It’s Not If But When Managing a paid search account without a high-end third-party PPC platform doesn’t make logical or economic sense. If you only use the engine interfaces, you’re agreeing to be disadvantaged in terms of the information you have access to, the pace at which you can make necessary changes, and the range of feasible analysis and improvements.
- You lose by spending money that shouldn’t be spent. In most accounts this is a solid double-digit percentage of your current spend.
- You lose by missing revenue that could have been had. This number is much harder to globally estimate, but it would be a rare account that didn’t have the potential for double-digit improvement due to better structure, CTR, or even bidding.
- You save 2%-5% of your spend – unless your spend is huge in which case you save even less.
Paid search management tools, I need to point out, don’t do these things by themselves. They really just enable better results by enabling deeper understanding and more efficient execution. The ‘battery not included’ in this case is an engaged and intelligent search manager. It’s only in their capable and properly resourced (as in with enough time and even assistance) hands that these tools are advantageous. It makes sense to work without high-end tools if you only spend a few thousand dollars per month on paid search. There’s clearly no need for a professional tool if you don’t have a professional person using it. But expecting a full time search manager to wisely carve up and and spend thousands or tens-of-thousands of dollars each month and serve up good or even great returns in this competitive market, with the technical equivalent of a butter knife, is quite a lot to ask. Which software platform should you buy? How should you decide? That’s a topic we’ll tackle here soon. (Despite my clear bias and preference for Acquisio.)