In a previous column, I discussed how limiting your exposure to "small stressors" and trial-and-error testing can lead to corporate fragility. This can be what happens when you stop testing, and cede optimization activities to black box campaign automation tools that optimize to "results" without you, the analyst, gaining an understanding of how these results are generated.
Of course, there must be a role for automation in marketing, just as there is a role for grocery stores and drive-throughs in satisfying our daily nutritional requirements. I'm not suggesting you head into the woods with a hunting knife every time your stomach rumbles, any more than I would suggest you should make 5,000 bid adjustments daily, one at a time. But just as eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day by cruising through the drive-through in your comfy SUV could shorten your life, a completely automated approach to marketing will cause your analytical abilities and corporate capabilities to atrophy. Getting the mix right is important.
Campaign automation tools can have some serious pitfalls. If you perform a postmortem on an account that had one or more campaigns running using, for example, Google AdWords' "Conversion Optimizer" (hereafter referred to as "the system"), you may notice that the following serious flaws and strategic errors have crept into the mix. Whether you were aware of it or not, the following may have been happening in these campaigns:
The good news: even if you were a victim of most of the above, you're in way better shape than a company that relies primarily on SEO search query data in its analytics reports. If you pay for clicks, you still get lots of historical query data and lots of other great segments to optimize around, even when your strategy is passive or flawed.
Feel free to chime in with some of the things you may have encountered using automated tools.
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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.
March 19, 2014