In PPC, Let Probabilities Rule Over Passion
Andrew Goodman | March 25, 2011
Five reasons we change the channel to turn away from our core focus on overall rates of customer acquisition, aggregate revenue growth, and total profit.
In the last column, I showed examples of shiny objects that distract us from our core missions as marketers, taking up far more of our discourse, brain cells, and time than may be justified by their impact on our bottom lines – often minutiae that (even when combined with other minutiae) drive less than 1 percent of revenues.
But why? Why do we so often change the channel to turn away from our core focus on overall rates of customer acquisition, aggregate revenue growth, and total profit?
Five reasons that I can think of:
- Letting "passion" rule over probabilities. Our industry is also a cultural milieu, so the means of demonstrating commitment may be separate from the best outcomes. (Why do marginal prospects in junior hockey fight more, even though it doesn't help their team win? To get noticed.)
Digital marketers are supposed to be good with numbers, but they also try to live up to a stereotype of being all-hours, fire-breathing passionistas with bottomless commitment. Not only should they invent a 48-hour day, they should execute nonperforming keywords in a public square while denouncing the search engine that would even dream of serving the ads on them. ("You mean Scroogle BadWords?" said one PPC account manager to me at an SES New York party this week.) They should do all this while tweeting, chugging Red Bull, and whipping up a nice vegan soufflé.
Needless to say, posturing is not the same as maximizing account performance. In my office, even if you wear drab business casual clothing, you won't be accused of being less "advanced."
- Old proverbs about "taking care of nickels and dimes." And the dollars will take care of themselves? How many people do you know who scrimp and save relentlessly on toilet paper, only to waste $100,000 because they fail to research their mortgage terms?
In paid search, if we're going to micromanage bids down the long tail, for example, we need to find a means to automate it. This is routine work; it shouldn't be considered your only contribution. You can't get rich by switching to a cheaper brand of milk, no matter what the proverbs say.
Features like negative keywords are key, but advanced strategies for same? I doubt they’re time-effective, even if you’ve invented a 48-hour day.
Consider what the overall impact can be of dynamics and principles that have big impact that you can apply across an entire account. Take, for example, the long-term principle of finding the psychological triggers that affect ROI on ads for your company's products. Many of those findings will be complex, and take a long time to piece together, but taken as a whole, they govern the ROI and growth potential of everything you do. Best of all, it’s not tablestakes stuff that everyone else is already doing.
- It’s heresy to say "it's all about the money." But why? The purpose of marketing is profitable company growth – within certain value parameters, to be sure. If you actually own the business, you don't need to go hunting around for reasons to be "passionate" about your AdWords account: it's very much about financial gain and/or loss. Indeed, if you become an AdWords "addict," someone should pull you out of there and hire some professional campaign management help. So if a business owner knows what drives them, there really shouldn’t be a need for SEM professionals to make little countercultural speeches about how awesome the Quality Score algorithm is and how neat it is that we get to go to SES to learn about new changes in trademark policy. How about put yourself in the business owner’s shoes and realize that the point of the business is to be successful enough so that the owner gets to spend quality time with their family? They're passionate, you’re passionate…we get it. But if you want a successful SEM career, pretend your job is to help a business owner retire early. Long-term, you can't go wrong taking that approach. They'll never thank you for simply being "addicted to keyword research."
- You’re also not allowed to say "It's only money." Try it, though. And translate real-world buying behavior into a dispassionate, financial scorecard. Beware of our human cognitive tendency to be overcautious penny-pinchers – it's called myopic loss aversion syndrome. And don't let it get worse by accepting the blame game voices in your head ("orange socks never sell in April – I should have known that!"). On Wall Street, important real-life things like soybean futures and people’s mortgages are packaged and traded and hedged, all as dispassionately as possible. Marketers should take heed. Although growing attachment to market verticals and customer personas can be a natural side effect of working on an account, too much of it can actually distract us from the goal. We need to bring into effect thousands of micro-decisions across the account. From time to time, something will not be perfect and will need to be adjusted. But it isn’t a trivia contest. If you weren't sufficiently "passionate" to know all the likely characteristics of the type of person who buys the "XA500848 bolt assembly unit" and the account missed a few cents worth of opportunity, maybe you were calculating enough to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit that year by relentlessly pursuing excellence (not perfection) in account optimization.
- I guess some people think we're all sinners. "Bad keyword!" – that's essentially how novice campaign managers talk to their accounts. Repent in your spare time, please. A better way to approach our challenges is to pretend that you can't possibly be evil. This isn't about whether a keyword or your effort was virtuous.
Much of humanity seems afflicted with those "blame game voices in their heads." More than a few times, I've audited an AdWords account that looks like a spanking happened to the hapless account manager. Paused keywords everywhere, with not much left to build on other than piles of supposedly inexpensive long tail keywords (which look like they require a hefty work ethic, but make the business little or no money).
People shut down large segments of their digital advertising out of anger or fear, but again, also out of ignorance about the degree to which this form of targeting relies on probabilities, not "black and white" media buying decisions. We thrive on ongoing optimization towards targets, not one-off litmus tests.
Sure, there are often keywords and channels that should be left in the "entirely off" position, but the only way I can explain the phenomenon whereby people change the discourse from "allowable CPA ranges" to "stamp out that evil!" is that some of us carry some pretty guilty or accusatory baggage around in our heads.
In fact, there is a whole range of improvable components of your total campaign effort that you can tap into as you strive to keep marginal keywords alive long enough so that their CPAs come into range. Giving "almost good" parts of accounts a chance to get to where they need to be should be part of your long-term, dispassionate approach to campaign success. I'll write about these techniques in a future column.