The Theory of Growing Vs. Building a PPC Account

By Jacob Fairclough | @RealSecretJake | Senior Account Analyst at Hanapin Marketing

There are two primary ways of conceptualizing PPC processes and systems. Both are viable but create difference paradigms in account management. For this post I’m going to title them mechanical and organic.


The mechanical view considers performance as the sum of its parts. The organic takes the account as a larger whole, something akin of an ecosystem in which the parts combine into something greater than the sum. We’ll start by exploring the two before diving in deeper.




The mechanistic view attempts to create specific methods and heuristics for managing accounts. You can think of this method as the pulling levers approach. To solve problems you simply add or subtract components.


The emphasis is that while the pieces have an effect on one another, they compose a simple machine. While the parts interact, they do so in a predictable and controllable manner. At its heart the end goal is to perform the proper tweaks to bring all of the pieces back into alignment. These tweaks could be changing bids, adding negatives, adjusting ad copy, etc.




The organic view, by which I don’t mean the traffic channel, takes the opposite form. Rather than narrowing down to specific pieces, the emphasis is on the whole. Think of it as an ecosystem. While the account is made up of varied individual parts, they combine into a more complex whole.


Don’t be mislead as organic should not be considered high level or corporate speak. We aren’t simply monitoring the account from a higher level. Instead we are considering that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The components interact and can’t be isolated without disrupting the whole. While it is not a direct analogy, you cannot modify the plant life without at some level impacting everything else.




From the start it is apparent that solutions and processes will take different forms. The mechanical view strengths lie in the directedness. There is a focus that exists here, a distillation to a concrete solution.


This focus is more practical and justifiable when it comes to making changes. Rather than raise more questions than answers, it dives to the root of the problem and makes the necessary modifications.


On the other hand, the organic’s focus on the whole requires a level of abstraction. Not to say this focus is impractical but when forming solutions there is an emphasis on hypotheticals in judging the outcome.


To tie it back to paid search, rather than attack the high CPA in a group of keywords, the manger must assess the overall value in reference to potentials. Removing these keywords may inadvertently cause disruptions in the remarketing campaigns as the funnel of future buyers collapses.


Which is Better?


Being a data driven and performance-based channel, we often take the mechanical view. This view is a brilliant framework for troubleshooting issues and coming up with directly applicable solutions. It’s also much easier to teach and train. As such, both new and existing members of the community often spend the majority of their time working and developing new techniques to achieve performance goals.


Are we missing anything by taking this approach though? My main concern is that the continued evolution of paid search makes the utilization of a mechanistic frame of reference more difficult. While it was and continues to be necessary we must be able to switch frames of reference as needed.


As mobile platforms, dynamic ad copy, advancing algorithms, and a focus on the customer grows; we are left with a market that is not only dynamic but also increasing in complexity. Changes in one area will reverberate, making the addition and subtraction of components more difficult and unwieldy.


But Really Which is Better?


It doesn’t have to be an either or, but you could say “it depends”. Judging by the strengths and contrasts each view has its own place in the account manager’s arsenal. The burden is on the account manager to choose correctly.


The mechanical method is much better for building something new. I’m not quite sure how the organic view would build a new account (unless relying heavily on intuition and past experience).


By installing the building blocks, a new system is formed but until data is gathered there is no hint as to what the correct method is. By continually adding and subtracting pieces the manager is able to compose a fully functioning account.


Similarly, when drastic changes need to be made, such as major goal changes or business restructure the disruption forces one into mechanical mode. Rather than value stability and letting the account settle, the emphasis is not on growing a successful account but reconstructing one.


The organic view is necessary for long-term growth and finding opportunities. At some point the account reaches stasis. The account manager is left asking “what next?” Especially in large accounts, it can be hard to find that specific piece that is missing. This is where concepts like personas, the customer purchase journey, and other frameworks come into play.


Searches don’t exist in a vacuum so the entire search life cycle comes into play. For instance, you may attempt to target users via device or query in order to connect with them earlier in the buying cycle. Alternatively you find ways to segment existing customers into more refined groups, remarketing to them at key points when they are going to search for specific products or services.


Wrapping Up


I started the last section with the obligatory “it depends”. I’m sure the examples given sparked a few “well couldn’t that same example apply to the other view”. The answer is yes.


Thus we arrive at the crux of the issue. In order to successfully manage an account you must utilize both view points. Each new problem can prompt you to approach it from either angle. The challenge is approaching the problem without neglecting the other side.


Due to its history, paid search often revolves around the mechanical view. As the industry evolves and the systems begin to incorporate consumer attitudes, intents, interests, etc, we’ll be faced not only with more ambiguity but larger problems that won’t be solved by solely manipulating a keyword.