4 Ways to Disaster-Proof Your SEM Campaigns

Hurricane Sandy and Election Day can both be a source of education and strategic inspiration for those of us who spend most of our time thinking about SEM campaigns.

If Hurricane Sandy has taught us anything, it’s that one rarely prepares sufficiently for disaster, be it hurricane, tsunami, or earthquake. Even when one does, it’s easy to underestimate the disaster’s impact. In real life – as in digital advertising – some damage from disaster is inevitable, regardless of the level of preparation. However, there is no longer an excuse for failing to prepare for unforeseen changes to your campaigns, because you rely on the online marketing ecosystem to deliver immediate sales, leads, and brand lift.

The U.S. presidential elections also taught us a valuable lesson in the value of online media as a tool for influence. Several industry professionals have evaluated the Obama and Romney paid and earned online media campaigns and most gave the Obama camp the nod for a better executed campaign. I saw some fascinating marketing campaign executions from both sides, which in many ways were more innovative than much of what I’ve seen produced by the private sector. It seems that political advertising and marketing are innovating faster than their equivalents in the traditional for-profit business sector. An especially important factor in this innovation cycle was the fact that data from search and social media ended up being used to accurately predict voting patterns, as well as to stimulate “get out the vote” community action behavior.

Let’s get back to planning for unforeseen disasters that might impact your SEM and online media campaign. The kinds of surprises you should prepare for include:

  1. Unexpected staff availability. In the event of a natural or unnatural disaster, your staff may be unable to commute to your office or even get online. This is why you need to have more than one person familiar with the ins and outs of each one of your campaigns. This is true both for your in-house team and/or your SEM agency. One reason agencies are often included as a partner in running campaigns is that agencies always build redundancy into teams so that clients are best served in the event of unavailability of staff.
  2. Unexpected staffing changes. People move on (hopefully to other gainful employment and nothing more depressing than that). Maintaining some degree of staff redundancy (in terms of people familiar with your campaigns) protects against unexpected staff changes.
  3. Human error. AdWords and Bing Ads can often let you turn back the clock and revert back to previous campaign structures, keyword mixes, or ad creative. However, human error can manifest itself in many ways throughout a campaign, from forgetting to add tracking tags to erroneous changes in ROI settings within a campaign management platform or within the AdWords/Bing Ads interface.
  4. Unexpected technology outages (on your side or on the publisher/campaign management side). Technology occasionally breaks, particularly when two, three, four, or more technologies must all communicate with each other in close to real time via an API. Think about the role your technologies play in maximizing profitability and ROI and plan for how you might have to live through a temporary glitch or outage.

Regardless of the cause of the challenge, there are some things you can do to minimize the impact of any disruption, including:

  • Back up your knowledge.There is a tremendous trove of knowledge in your brain about your SEM campaigns that probably isn’t documented at all. Have a discussion with your team and/or superiors as to how best to take some of this valuable knowledge and document it. As long as there is a consensus on the process to capture this knowledge, there are lots of ways to incorporate it into a usable storehouse. Some of my favorites methods for doing this are:
    • Setting up a private wiki organized by campaign.
    • Using a project management platform like Basecamp, Asana, or any of the other many platforms out there.
    • Using some combination of Google Docs or shared documents on the Microsoft platform.
  • Back up your campaigns within an editor. There’s no reason not to install Google’s AdWords Editor and Bing’s Ads Editor. These applications automatically create a copy of your campaigns on the desktop.
  • Export and back up your campaigns with a bulk sheet. Bulk sheets are .csv files that contain the exact information within your campaigns. Just like backing up any data, it’s good to date your backups and not just have one, because you may not catch a problem until several backup cycles have occurred.
  • Show your boss what you actually do every day. Yikes, that’s scary! Do you really want her to know? Yes, you do. Your transparency will be appreciated and rewarded. Resist the temptation to stay a “black box” hoarding all the knowledge to yourself.

This has been a test of the emergency campaign management planning system. We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

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