Do You Need To Be A “Data Nerd” To Be Great At Paid Search?

By Matt Umbro | @Matt_Umbro | Senior Account Manager, Community

The common consensus among the many paid search professionals I speak with is that you need to love digging into data to do this job well. I’ve heard terms such as “data nerd,” “data junkie,” “numbers guru,” and many more. Whatever the classification, the implication is that you should have a love for numbers and crunching the data to most effectively optimize accounts.


Though I don’t disagree with the notion that digging into data is an integral part of our profession, it is possible to run successful accounts without being a “data nerd.” In fact, I believe that relying too much on the data overcomplicates matters and takes away from the necessary and decisive judgment that account managers should possess. Put another way, excessive review of data leads to analysis paralysis.


I do want to mention that this article is meant for the account manager who reviews data, makes tactical updates, and determines strategy. I recognize that data analysis in itself is a role, solely consisting of one’s job duties (we call this position an Account Analyst). The purpose of this post is to provide insight for how to more efficiently review data instead of it hindering overall account management.


Reviewing Data With The End In Mind


When reviewing data, I ask myself 2 questions:


  1. What will my action item(s) be from analyzing the data?
  2. Is my effort going to be worth the reward?


For example, when reviewing a search query report I know my action items will include adding negative and positive keywords to the account. In general, running the report and making the optimizations won’t take any more than half an hour. In this case, a half hour’s worth of work can help save money and give me ideas for expansion. Regarding the 2 questions, I have clear answers that tell me I should review the data.


This scenario sounds simple enough, but what if I throw a few wrinkles in? When reviewing the data, I may ask questions such as:


  • What timeframe should I review?
  • Will I set a click threshold so I’m reviewing enough data?
  • Should I ensure that all queries are matching to the right keyword?
  • Is my search query not converting because my ad copy isn’t relevant enough?


You can see how asking these additional questions can take you down a time-consuming path. Asking more questions of the data is fine as long as you have processes in place to answer them. In our example, answers may include filters and/or scripts that give us the information we need based upon our predefined rules. You are looking at more data because you have a clear purpose of why it will help with optimizations.


Too often we dig below the surface because we believe we can extract more information that will better help inform our decisions. It may be that we analyze more metrics and/or create formulas, but ultimately we are spending more time determining our next steps instead of acting upon them. The problem becomes when time spent on analysis is significantly greater than time spent performing account updates.


You may tell me that analysis and the tactical/strategy work isn’t mutually exclusive. In other words, you can’t make sound decisions without first reviewing the data. You won’t get any argument from me. Again, though, it comes back to having a clear process in place that doesn’t make you over analyze every situation. I’ve worked with many professionals in my career that had bright minds but didn’t understand how analysis, strategy, and tactical should work together.


Focus Your Efforts Where You Will Make The Most Impact


Often when we think of data analysis, we look at it from a holistic perspective. Instead of looking at geographic data for 1 campaign, we have to review all 100 campaigns, even if 75 of those campaigns only account for 10% of total account spend. The project may take 6 hours when it was only necessary to review the top spending 25 campaigns, of which could have taken 2 hours.


For argument’s sake, let’s say we did review the data and make optimizations for those 75 campaigns. We may see a slight increase in conversions and those dollars will be spent more efficiently, but was the effort worth the reward? I would argue that it wasn’t. We could have spent those 4 hours working to expand the account or put off the research for these particular campaigns to a later time (perhaps when activity is slower).


This thinking seems simple enough, yet it’s often forgotten especially when accounts aren’t performing well or have seen stagnant growth. We overanalyze the data, even if it can only tell us so much.


Use Your Best Judgment


Everything written in this post so far has led to a key truth that account managers must possess. They need to use their best judgment. All the data in the world won’t help an account perform better unless the account manager knows what to look for and make informed decisions.


I believe some account managers are afraid to make decisions because they don’t trust their judgment. They use data analysis as a means to show that work is being done, but it’s not always time well spent. Here’s where confidence and account experience come into play, but that’s a post for another day. It’s beneficial to be a “data nerd,” but make sure you have a clear purpose in mind when conducting your analysis. Otherwise, you are slowing down, if not halting, the growth of your accounts.