This post is part of the Hero Conf Los Angeles Speaker Blog Series. Megan Taggart will join 50+ PPC experts sharing their paid search and social expertise at the World’s Largest All-PPC Event, April 18-20 in Los Angeles, CA. Like what you read? Find out more about Hero Conf.

These days automation is synonymous to account optimization. eMarketer recently reported two-thirds of senior marketers surveyed in Australia, the UK and the US have invested heavily in marketing technology over the past year. Top reasons for use of marketing technology included gaining deeper understanding of customers and prospects, automating process and reducing time on administration, and taking a data-driven approach to marketing.

The concept of machines perfecting what human marketers practice is now a standard business practice throughout the marketing world.  PPC practitioners (and their companies) turning a blind eye risk not only management mundanity and payroll bloat, but also performance deflation. Transitively, those employing — or considering — automation face the conundrum of investing in third-party management tools vs. building an in-house solution.

While the opportunities of automation are boundless, it is also a pressure point for many. Below outlines the strategies behind introducing automation into your business intentionally. We’ll also share a case study of how establishing an automation strategy for Aimclear resulted in 128% increase in workload capacity (with less than $100 spent per month on tools) along with client performance improvements.

Taking The First Step

To move forward with automation, it will be imperative to take a few steps back. Before diving in head first with a $500K service, headhunting a Google developer, or queuing up a hefty ticket with your dev team to automate for the sake of adoption, understand where the bulk of your PPC team’s time is currently spent. Take the time to ask questions and analyze the patterns in your business’ or client’s data. Recognize how these data points affect the bottom line. Chart optimizations that could benefit from automation, and draw the line where human intuition is compulsory. Only when the foundation of a clear goal has been established can a strategy then be shaped to achieve the goals.

Before automating solutions are decided, identify:

  • What needs be automated?
  • How are we going to automate?
  • Does the solution work with big data (scalability)?
  • Can back-end data be integrated?

…and build full inventory of what can be automated within accounts.

Front end and back end automation considerations

The Technology Tango: Buy vs. Build

Will you buy or will you build? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer here.  Electing the right technology stack that fulfills your objectives in an appropriate timeframe can seem daunting with the overabundance of solutions available. Taking inventory of budget, account sizes, capabilities, and resources against objectives with stakeholders will become paramount during initial research and help the process move along faster.

Buying an Automation Solution

Investing in a third-party marketing automation tool may be the right fit if business goals include full integration among various complex marketing channels and backend systems in a short amount of time without hoarding internal staff resources. Search marketers can more easily tie optimizations to backend data and individual customer journeys.  Buying also avoids shaking up the system too much and allows for employee time efficiencies by adapting to one system and dashboard without multiple pivots that can occur with building. Support and troubleshooting in one location also tend to be a point of agreement for users.

Though buying an automation solution is the lower-involvement route, it is not without limitations. Often, third-party stacks offer less complexity, functionality, personalization, and data ownership. To offset, developers have created a variety of plugins or add-ons in effort for businesses to get closer to needs.

Building an Automation Solution

Building a solution in-house may be a better route for automation if business goals include custom functionality, and most importantly, if tech capabilities for data integration exist. It allows for businesses to hone in on personalization of automation capabilities without restrictions that some tools carry. Mature systems and platforms may not need additional automation, but rather increased data capabilities are desired. Additionally, building in-house can net out to be a more cost-effective means of optimization if pivots are limited during build.

The pitfalls of building automation in-house include time invested in mapping, defining, and creating an automated solution, and iterations it can take before reaching a usable, efficient tool.  Again, it is crucial to assess your current stack against desired outcomes and capabilities. It may be a business development play for staff to become well versed in coding or for your development department to focus on data integration of specific platforms.

Marketing Automation Tips:

  • If time and technology resources are a scarcity, and account sizes are mid-level size and spend, lower-tech options such as automated rules  and scripts will need to be a starting block to build a case study. Between scripts and automated rules, many are able to reach an intersection of performance and efficiency with minimal training.
  • If tech or dev resources become available, and large data sets are the norm, harnessing platform APIs as means of automation offers marketers the ability to automate nearly anything optimizable in a deep and customizable way. API automation can be accomplished by way of a resident dev team, or third-party integration platform as a service (PaaS), putting business and channel automation in the hands of the marketer.
  • Encourage Search and PPC teams to become acquainted with coding basics to develop foundational knowledge and development of automation capabilities.

Remember, there is no “all-or-none” when it comes to automation. Pick and choose where task repetition meets performance. Automate portions of tasks to better achieve goals. Spend time doing tasks that add to performance and fill in analyses and recommendations manually when necessary.

A Case Study

To cite an example, our agency Aimclear recently set out find a solution that would improve both client performance and internal efficiency. An enterprise B2B search client was paying 3.5% of media spend per month on a third-party bid and budget management system. We soon began hypothesizing ways to save the client money, while accomplishing performance goals of reducing cost per lead goals and yielding a higher ROI.

By establishing our goals (reducing CPL) and identifying automation possibilities (budgets, bids, bid modifiers), we found a solution by building our own ad tech landscape using AdWords, Scripts Supermetrics, Google Sheets, and Google BigQuery.

Ad tech solution

One hiccup arrived early in the process when Google Sheets hit cell limit (which tends to happen fast when there are multiple accounts and MCCs in the picture). The workaround included tapping into APIs by way of scripts to push data into databases, where it could then be extracted and pushed into logic formulated into Sheets. From there optimizations could be pushed back into AdWords in a continual loop.

Automation with optimization loop

For the client, this process aided in a nearly 20% decrease in CPL, while yielding an increased ROI.

Automated strategies and increased workload

Internally, adopting automated strategies across paid search increased workload capacity by 128% with less than $100 spent per month on tools.

Closing Thoughts

Now more than ever, search specialists are forced to step far beyond mastering their channels. Instead of fearing the machine, embrace it by understanding how to leverage automation to reach efficiency and performance goals.