One of the amazing qualities of paid search is its addictiveness. Once in the profession, people tend to stick around. Even CEOs of good-sized companies have been known to cling to the campaigns they initially set up, ceding the work to specialists only after colleagues and family members manage to wrest the mouse out of their hands.
We have a remarkable employee retention rate at our agency. While that's probably due to the winning charm of the executive team, to say nothing of the luxurious pewter toilet paper holders down the hall, something else might be at work: paid search marketing is a stimulating, ever-changing puzzle. Word has it Google is considering re-releasing AdWords as an iPhone app simulation -- no advertising account required. It vibrates when your Quality Score hits 10.
Rapid feedback to marketing experiments is certainly addictive, but it's not all you get in paid search. And indeed, you won't get it unless you handle a range of longer-term strategic elements with aplomb.
So, It's About Math? Duh
Third-party accounts of the application of science to various professions have a curious quality about them. Have you noticed how uncritical they are about what science is? "Moneyball," "Super Crunchers," "Blink"...the narrative basically says we replace old superstitions by accepting the insights of more scientific people that come along to improve a profession. And these people are essentially mathematicians or statisticians of one form or another.
Got math? Got stats? You're golden.
In a way, this is true. But it only scratches the surface. It's a gee-whiz, numbers-are-important type of analysis brought to you by some compelling storytellers.
In our field, the result can be oversimplification, to say nothing of complacency. Got a "numbers person" on your team? You'll be alright.
The profession is broken down into science versus non-science, math versus non-math. Don't smell like math? You must be non-math. But wait! Things really aren't that binary.
Reading the section of Ian Ayres' "Super Crunchers" that actually dealt with paid search was a case in point. He briefly referred to a tiny sliver of the math we've all been crunching for years. He misapplied it and gave a weak example: one relating to the ad copy CTR (define) for his own book.
Make no mistake: we're mired in a milieu where statistical feedback comes at you fast and furious. The complexity is astounding. But that's true of anything that involves many variables, a competitive marketplace, and the use of your brain.
Wearing Multiple Hats
And what about that brain? Who, ultimately, can be good at paid search?
The answer is surprisingly complex.
All of the following can make paid search work better:
Maybe You Should Find Another Job ...
Who might be the worst at paid search?
Yes, it's often -- or even usually -- about math. About reaching optimal outcomes, often by optimizing many small details to produce the most efficient spend and higher total profit. But we haven't gotten anywhere by just stating as much. How do we act on that, find our unique contribution to the project, work with others, and build our organizations and technology supports appropriately?
You may be asking: is all of this overkill? How big is paid search anyway, that we should be considering the nature of cognition in connection with it?
First, AdWords. Tomorrow, the Advertising World?
It's not tough to answer. Today, writers like Ian Ayres, Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, and their more obscure scientific counterparts, are considering how the nature of cognition and analysts' use of large data sets affect every field from baseball to viniculture to driver safety to online dating. As the line blurs between the $50 billion spent annually on digital advertising to the much larger global advertising pie, fortunes will be won and lost in the process.
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Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.