Your AdWords campaign is now spending about $50,000 a month. Not pocket change, but still modest. Google hasn't treated you to Lobster Thermidor lately, or comped you Bublé tickets.
You ask Ricky, your overworked marketing manager: "What are we doing in the mobile channel? And weren't we going to try to get more aggressive in Europe?"
Ricky, naturally, is afraid that smartphones and Europe will impair ROI. The only way to do this properly will be to break out separate campaigns - possibly, many separate campaigns - and manage them actively.
"We're going to do those breakouts next month," announces Ricky. One month turns into two.
There are two problems with this. First, if it's a good idea to break out all these campaigns and manage them actively, then it's a good idea to do it today. The second problem is: it's not 100 percent clear that it's a good idea. Especially not the "managing them actively" part, if the newly created segments are only spending a few hundred dollars a month, and Ricky has tons of other urgent priorities.
Enhanced Campaigns: All Bad? Or Largely Good?
Could the oft-maligned Enhanced Campaigns architecture actually come to the rescue here?
Maybe so. I'll focus on a couple of great new aids in our quest to drive advertising ROI. Yes, there are drawbacks to the loss of some granularity in Enhanced Campaigns, but right now, I'm finding more wins than losses. Perhaps the silent majority will also come to see it this way.
Those benefits are: 1) ease of geo-specific bidding; and 2) heuristics, or the elimination of "endless possibility" in favor of "getting the job done better."
1. Geo-specific bidding. You don't need to be running an extensive "national local" campaign, or want to besiege people ambulating by your proverbial "pizza place in Palo Alto" to enjoy cool new geographic capabilities in the settings of Enhanced Campaigns.
First example: our client, a high-spend retail account that spends 96 percent of its budget in the United States, and 4 percent in Canada. Canada should be closer to 8 percent, but with the smaller-volume segments being hard to get working properly, the safe approach is to pause some campaigns. That's an opportunity missed.
With the current campaign architecture, we need to mirror 14 campaigns, thousands of ad groups, and 300,000+ keywords - pursuing ROI-appropriate bids - for the Canadian consumer.
Over time, we might slowly lose the "sync" of the campaigns as the Canadian ones fall out of date as compared with the U.S. campaigns, much better optimized based on much more data. We run into even more fragmentation if we break things out by device.
There could be some advantages to managing the Canadian campaigns separately - namely, bidding lower and also bidding differently based on different buying behavior (that may eventually come to light after a long wait for statistically significant data). We can also put "shipping to Canada" customization in the ad copy.
Those advantages are probably outweighed, though, by sheer amount of time required to manage the account, while keeping mirror campaigns in tip-top shape.
Enhanced Campaigns offer an elegant solution. We can take care of the "bid less" imperative by simply enabling Canada and using a bid factor across the campaigns, based on aggregate performance stats. Every subsequent action we take to optimize the vast number of segments in the core campaigns will also apply to the Canadian campaigns. The ROI will be evened out with a simple bid factor across the board.
Isn't that actually a win?
Sure, we're "blending" performance numbers and taking a predictive leap rather than painstakingly "re-"managing all the same keywords and ad tests. But assuming a reasonable correlation between one set of behaviors and another set is something we do all the time, whether we realize it or not.
In another example, a client in the tourism industry spends about 70 percent of their click budget in the U.S., and 30 percent dispersed across over 50 foreign countries. With more certainty as to bidding strategies, we'd improve ROI and volume alike. I'd like to see this international spend reach 50 percent of the total.
The country performance data we now see for this client have us more bullish than we previously were about the potential for strong performance almost everywhere. We had spent the better part of the past few years with only about 20 countries enabled. Now, we just want to exclude the odd one, and bid the rest according to performance. With Enhanced Campaigns, it's more feasible to do this within fewer campaigns - or if you really want, just a single campaign!
We're already getting calls from this client, thanking us for the new business from Sweden and Slovenia.
AdWords makes this powerful functionality accessible to any advertiser, large or small. And having a large, complex set of campaigns won't be a limitation, either. This reduces the divide between big companies with large teams and big data platforms, and the rank-and-file advertiser.
2. Heuristics. Advertisers should be making more sensible use of heuristics. They need to let go of some of the detail they claim to be seeking as a matter of "best practices," so that they can actually do better by quickly finding "good enough" approaches in areas where that's most appropriate.
When you're doing triage in a war zone, that point is obvious. Dr. Oz, with a sack full of high-antioxidant-count blackberries, isn't particularly welcome when patients are bleeding to death. But the point has wider applicability, too.
For a couple of years now, I'd been noticing a change in the tone of conference sessions devoted to AdWords. The expected level of busywork - embodied in yet more "campaign breakouts" around mobile, geography, match type, etc. - kept ramping up. The insight into marketing strategy, buying intent, and the complexity of how to juggle various KPIs, as a result, got crowded out amidst the blizzard of "best practices" tick-boxes. Many of these tiny pieces of data remain statistically insignificant for years, so you're "managing" random noise. And overzealous, ADD-addled campaign managers, paradoxically, can no longer pay attention to the way that key ad groups are functioning.
Even a $100,000 per month account is not necessarily big enough to overslice and overdice, especially if you're talking about an international account that is divided up into multiple themes and/or products. If you look at a particular campaign, within a smaller country market, on a particular device segment, etc., you're managing a large number of keywords and ads that all get to fight over $300 a month. Doesn't compute. Can't be managed accurately to KPIs, anyway.
To be sure, no country, device, or other significantly different segment is truly "the same" as (let's say) a core campaign running for computers in the U.S.
But my bet is that the heuristic approaches described in the examples above - when applied in the real world - are often going to beat the "pivot yourself into a pretzel" approach that has become fashionable of late.
Like you, I live and breathe the details. I know that sometimes "big win" means "many small wins that add up across a campaign, using systematically applied techniques."
It's also the case that many businesses are better off targeting in more granular fashion, such that managing ad copy and everything else based on metro region is getting them much better results. As long as the means to that end remains "campaign breakouts," then some advertisers will want to keep organizing their accounts that way. But not every business needs to think this way.
It's possible to pursue detail to the point of insignificance. Attempting to manage every nuance in an environment that is poorly architected to do so just might not be feasible. As Nick Fox pointed out, even well-funded advertisers have been drowning in complexity, with thousands of campaigns "pivoted across every dimension."
Time isn't unlimited or free. With Enhanced Campaigns, I suspect Google is doing the majority of campaign managers and companies - especially those managing accounts spending less than $50,000 a month - a favor.
The Complex Future
Some sharp analysts believe that this is an interregnum period entailing a slight loss of control as Google gears up to provide even more advanced bidding capabilities that transcend what we've seen so far. For now, for example, we're losing the ability to bid separately on tablets. In the future, some believe that you'll be able to bid to "screen size and velocity," and engage in other byzantine fine-tuning.
But this degree of granularity represents a sharp break from the history of advertising as a tool for influence and persuasion; possibly too sharp. It is almost certainly overkill for all but the top 0.1 percent of advertisers.
Stop obsessing over every little nugget of data. Plug key holes as well as you can, and remember that big marketing ideas (and great fundamentals) drive most businesses ahead of their competition. Spending your days chasing elusive "noise" data and obsessing over rounding errors will just hold you back from making the big breakthroughs.
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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.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT