Imagine you are offered an opportunity to have control of all the creative, copy, and budget in your Google Ads account (or your paid media platform of choice) put in the hands of an anonymous six-year-old user. Each day, you are allowed to tell them whether they should or should not spend money, how valuable a conversion is, and nothing else. This is billed as a massive gain inefficiency, as they can handle all the tedious tasks while you focus on the bigger picture. Whether or not you get to keep your job depends on this user’s continued success. Do you feel just a hint of hesitation or fear moving forward with this plan? When put in those terms, probably so. Yet somehow, we all seem to have no problem implementing automated bid strategies across our accounts.
There’s no arguing that automated bidding can be an effective tool, but it’s a technology that gets plenty of undeserved credit too. Machines do their best work when they are performing rote, repetitive tasks. Humans do their best work when they’re thinking strategically, and a successful account requires input from both parties. However, there are few, if any, paid media platforms that provide an adequate framework for communication between both parties. In the PPC world, miscommunications can be costly. In this article, we’ll go through the role of automation in paid media, how that influences rank, why rank is relevant, and how to use the tools you have at your disposal to make automation work for you.
Automation’s Role in Paid Media
Saying that automation is ubiquitous in PPC would be an understatement. It’s no secret that as advertisers call for more depth and granularity, advertising platforms answer their demands by developing increasingly complex features that require more automation to use. This is not only pragmatic but wholeheartedly welcome. Letting machines focus on execution means we can spend more time on the activities uniquely suited to humans, like analyzing and strategizing. However, as our focus broadens, we start to lose oversight into the most fundamental aspects of our campaigns, such as our rank.
Why Rank is Relevant
Rank determines where ads are relative to other ads, but it also serves a much more vital function. It determines whether ads show up at all. Even though it serves the most critical function in an account, we still don’t talk about it all that often for a number of reasons:
- The term rank is sometimes thought of as synonymous with the average position. When Google sunsetted the average position metric in 2019, conversations surrounding rank became scarce.
- Increasing complexity in our advertising platforms is causing our attention to become fragmented. We don’t have the bandwidth to manage something that at least appears to be managing itself.
- When efficiency is our main metric of success, how our ads are serving is only as important as our ability to pace our account budget. If spending is fine, no questions are asked.
- We trust automation too much. If a campaign sees low volume, we assume it’s for reasons out of our control. We’re either reluctant to question if automation is relevant, or we’re so entrenched in it that we don’t even think about it in the first place.
How Automation Hurts Rank
There are valid reasons rank may not always be top-of-mind, and it might not need to be if it weren’t for the fact that the automated bidding strategies we use everyday bid far too conservatively, inherently limiting our volume. Then consider the compounding effect of a schedule of continuous optimizations that further limit and refine an account where volume is already limited. Campaigns using automated bidding will end up serving a mere sliver of the potential audience. Without specific attention put towards improving rank and scale, every optimization made on a campaign brings it an inch closer to irrelevance.
Making Automation Work for You
It is clearer than ever that those of us who manage paid accounts need to rethink automation. The question isn’t whether or not to use it. The benefits are clear. What we need to consider is how we can make better use of automation without artificially limiting our audience. There are a number of options to test, ranging from simple to complex:
- Testing unconventional automated bid strategies.
- Testing unconventional combinations of values and goals.
- Test for growth opportunity by (briefly) turning your account into a tessellation of micro-campaigns, then recombine them with updated settings.
Using any of the strategies above has the potential to positively impact rank and help you retain efficiency at scale, but the safest method for doing so is the one that allows for the most manual control. In this case, that involves taking management into your own hands by breaking your campaigns down into smaller components to give yourself the clearest line of sight into growth opportunities. It’s a technique we’ve employed across a variety of clients at Voro, which has helped them achieve impressive results.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to take back control from the machines, employing an effective mechanism for retaining efficiency at scale, how to manage stakeholders’ expectations even when performance doesn’t go according to plan, or how burritos and popcorn relate to paid media management, I’ll be going in-depth on these topics and more at PPC Hero Conference.