10 Bad Assumptions About SEM That Might Get You Fired — Part 2

It can be embarrassing to admit when you’ve been wrong. But that’s what I did in my last post where I listed the first 5 of the 10 bad assumptions about SEM that could have gotten me fired. Today, I admit even more blunders that I hope will help keep some of you out of the hot seat.office worker

Mistakes are generally either the product of apathy or ignorance — one doesn’t care or one doesn’t know. With the latter, the reality is that you can’t know everything. There will be honest mistakes you make simply because you based your decision-making and action plan on a faulty piece of information that you assumed to be true.

So how does one avoid these types of errors when it’s impossible to know everything? Time. Experience. Wisdom.

You learn your own limitations and how to recognize when you’ve gotten in over your head and that you need to double check what you’re doing. It’s not about knowing everything but rather about listening to your own warning bells (as an old mentor of mine used to say). Not pushing through doubt but rather pausing because you know you should be listening to your warning bell when it rings and reassess the situation.

And now, part 2 of the assumptions you should try to avoid with SEM.

Assumption #6: The Rest Of The Team Sees What You Are Seeing

One of the difficult things about analyzing data is that every person in the room might extract completely different insights. You’re making a major error in judgment if you email a report and expect everybody to come to the exact same conclusion as your own.

That’s where I went wrong. I figured everyone would immediately “get it,” and we’d all be on the same page. And to even confess a bigger sin, I would get highly frustrated with my colleagues if they weren’t able to figure out what I thought was obvious. Where this got me in trouble was when I would miss something that was clearly apparent and someone else would gladly point that out immediately.

Tip: Try using better visualization methods to highlight the key points. Learn when a pie chart is better than a bar chart or a line graph. Sometimes less is more. Present 3 observations instead of 10. Don’t get frustrated when others don’t see what you’re seeing, it’s your job to communicate your points clearly.

Assumption #7: You Know The Platform Inside And Out

All digital marketers (not just search marketers) have a deep relationship with the platforms and tools in their space. You may stay logged in to a particular technology all day, every day. For search marketers, mastering your tech stack is absolutely crucial to getting great performance.

In essence, if you don’t really know your tools, you can’t be great at SEM. There’s nothing more embarrassing than when your boss, or a client, points out a button or metric on the screen and you don’t know what it does. So many people claim to really know Microsoft Excel well, but it’s not that hard to find a menu item that they haven’t a clue about.

Don’t assume you know a tool fully, especially if it’s been a while since you were trained. Software vendors are constantly adding new features and functionality, and it’s easy to miss a small upgrade.

Tip: I go through my tools periodically and look through every menu, every option, every setting, etc. If I don’t know what it does or can’t explain it fully to a colleague, then I make sure I figure it out. There might be powerful features you don’t know about in your existing tools that could literally increase performance dramatically. Go find them!

Assumption #8: You Can’t Squeeze Any More Efficiency Out Of An Account

I learned this lesson on a huge account very early in my search agency career. I had been working on this brand for over a year, and my team and I used every trick in the book that we thought might maximize performance. In fact, this advertiser had never seen such a large return from their search budget and was happy as a clam. But my boss always tried to raise the bar. In a review meeting, I [in hindsight, stupidly] said that we had “gone as far as we can go” and had confidence in my statement due to the satisfaction of the client.

Of course, a week later, I was eating crow as a change she suggested ended up yielding a better ROI on a campaign that was not optimal.

Tip: Honestly, this is a sin for a search marketer. You can always get better. Always. Keep pushing. Keep trying. Keep experimenting. There are new keywords to find, new creative directions to test. Try changing your bidding strategies slightly to see if there’s any impact. If you always reach for the sky, you will deliver excellence.

Assumption #9: Paid Search Always Works For Every Occasion

It’s easy to drink the paid search Kool-Aid. It’s a fantastic ad medium that is able to reach consumers the moment they are searching for an advertiser’s most relevant keywords. However, it’s not always the best option for every campaign.

Don’t make the mistake of over-promising your boss or client that paid search is the silver bullet to their marketing performance needs. For some brands, some products, or some campaigns, the limitations of paid search are evident.

For example, it may be difficult to generate any click volume for a new gadget on the market that is unique from anything that’s come before it. Search is a pull medium that requires consumers to trigger ads via search engine queries. It might be better to invest in paid social advertising to generate awareness and buzz, which can eventually lead to a high volume of searches later.

Within certain industries, cost can also be a factor. Maybe there’s just so much competition for those high-volume keywords that to make a $100 sale, you have to spend $200 in expensive clicks. That’s no good, either.

Tip: There’s never a guarantee that paid search can generate the conversions you need. Try doing some testing first to make sure it’s a viable option. The good news is that paid search is highly effective and can work to drive many online business goals. But never assume.

Assumption #10: The Tools Can Do Anything

One thing you learn after a while in the search industry is that some things you thought were completely figured out are still a mystery. A great example of this is when practitioners feel that big reports should be able to be downloaded in seconds and wonder why their vendor’s systems always take several minutes to email the report to them.

I was one of those people. Over the years, after learning more about computing and the limitations of processing, I began to understand why a major data pull of millions of keywords and billions of clicks may take more than a few minutes to compile.

I’ve also been in situations where campaign budgets or end dates were accidentally zeroed out in the system, and I signed in a week later to find that no ads had run.

One very memorable time when I assumed the tools were all working correctly was when a major client of mine called me to complain. They only had stores on the West Coast and their Web analytics platform was showing that clicks were coming from the East Coast. Based on their data, we hadn’t set the campaign geo-targeting correctly, and they were very upset.

It took me nearly four months to track down the issue, but what I discovered is that there are a handful of IP database companies who deliver location data to ad tech companies. Depending on which vendor you use, their databases get updated at different cycles. An IP address that was listed as San Diego today might be relisted as coming from Boston next month. So, the clicks were probably all being targeted to West Coast IP addresses, but two different systems were listing them differently.

Tip: Get to really know the technology side of search marketing. Don’t take anything for granted. Even the best systems can only automate so much of the process. You need to stay on top of your game and the market to know what’s best left to machines and what’s best left to humans.

When it comes to assumptions, the important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Make sure you understand where you went wrong so you can adjust your approach and mindset to avoid the same mistake again. If you don’t, you are doomed to repeat yourself — or worse, get fired!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Pat Grady

    #3 was close, but I think you left out… assuming the entrenched won’t harpoon the newbie who sees that the emperor is nude and carbuncled.


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