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3 Top Line Search Marketing Resolutions For 2013
The beauty of working in the digital marketing industry is that it is difficult to get bored. There is a new advertising option available every week, it seems, a new Google algorithm update, a new targeting option, and a new rocket ship social media platform clamoring for attention.
The demands on the online marketing director’s time have never been greater or more fractured, and it only gets worse from here.
The greater the array of programs to manage, the more essential it becomes to prioritize. There is a natural human tendency to focus attention on the newest, shiniest object in the room, regardless of its importance in the great scheme of a business, but losing sight of the core can have devastating consequences.
Every person who oversees online marketing should, therefore, make the following 3 resolutions:
1. Prioritize Budget Effectively
I resolve to prioritize attention based on the size of the marketing budget for each channel and its importance in driving incremental revenue, not based on the novelty or coolness of the program.
We see, time and again, prospects who want to talk to us about sophisticated attribution methodology when their paid search program is a shambles, their site can’t be crawled, and their display advertising budget is being spent without proper tracking or ROI metrics in place.
We’re big believers in the value of fine tuning and testing the latest and greatest, but as exciting as multivariate testing in Facebook advertising sounds, that should draw your attention only after your search marketing efforts are thoroughly buttoned-down. The return on effort will be much greater when applied to areas where the most opportunity lies.
Easier said than done!
The difficulty in this usually takes one of two forms (sometimes both):
- Corner Office Interjection: “I read an article about X, what are we doing about X?!? X should be your top priority.” “Our arch-rival competitor is doing Y, what’s our Y strategy? Stop wasting time on search and email and focus on Y!”
- Self-Awareness Limitations: Oftentimes, advertisers think their core programs are in better shape than they are. “We have a top rated agency managing this, so we’re good.” “Our in-house SEM manager had many years of experience prior to joining us, so we’re good.”
Resolving difficulty #1 is tough. It requires education… which is difficult… and, when education fails, enough gumption/job security to tell the big boss that s/he isn’t in position to evaluate marketing priorities. In other words: this problem is often insuperable.
The answer to #2 is simply: “Trust, but verify.” We should never put faith in ratings, rankings, reputation, or “experience.” We should put faith in strategy, practices, execution and results. Every program from paid search to SEO to email, CSE, display, affiliate, etc. needs to be evaluated regularly based on changes in the landscape.
The world of online marketing is in constant flux, and staying on top of the latest opportunities within each channel is no small task. Excellent managers welcome performance evaluations.
2. Look Below The Surface
Within Paid Search, I will pay attention to what matters most, not simply what is most obvious on the surface.
Because it is most apparent, ad copy often garners the most attention and the great preponderance of management time. That’s rarely a wise allocation of effort. There is terrific ROI on effort in writing targeted and compelling ad copy. There is sometimes value in turning copy with offers; but, the value can be illusory, improving CTR but damaging value-per-click to make it a wash.
Copy changes effectively reset the Quality Score to ‘average’ until the copy proves itself to be better or worse, meaning frequent flips hurt Quality Score and prevent capturing the benefits of strong control copy.
The odds that the time spent flipping copy to catch a 10% discount on tube socks is worth the cost of that time is very very small.
The right reasons to change ad copy include:
- Demonstrably improving results against the control
- Updating brand messaging
The wrong reasons to change ad copy include:
- You’re bored with the existing copy
- You read somewhere that constantly testing copy was the best use of your time
- You don’t know what else to do
- The boss likes to see stuff happening
Outsiders don’t understand the importance of research, analysis, and the impact that these projects have on targeted bidding. Outsiders believe that an automated bidding system eliminates the need for smart human analysis and tuning. People who know their stuff know better, but sometimes can’t focus on the levers that matter because they’re forced to chase the tip of the iceberg, instead of drilling into the core where the most impact can be had.
Management By Objectives applied poorly, often results in a search manager’s performance being judged by the quantity of work done rather than the quality and value of the work. As John Wooden once said: “Never mistake activity for achievement.” It is trivially easy to keep an army of staff busy working on an enterprise paid search program; but, absent knowledge, all that work can be counter-productive.
Paid search is part art, part science. Neither artists nor scientists produce their best work when used as “a pair of hands” by non-artists or non-scientists. Creativity and ideation in paid search require time set aside for thought. Productive thought can look like idleness to the uninitiated. The way to tell the difference is to look at the ultimate results.
3. Evaluate Success
I will evaluate success based on strategy, execution and results against opportunity, not based on performance against wishful thinking forecasts.
Enterprise paid search managers cringe when they hear the big boss announce: “We have very ambitious goals for paid search next quarter!”
Particularly when, as is often the case, the paid search manager did not participate in the forecasting process.
Budgets and forecasts are necessary even if they are inherently impossible, but when they are developed to fit company aspirations rather than carefully constructed based on anticipated market opportunity, they can become downright detrimental.
“We plan to double the paid search program next year at an even better ROI!”
To a top-drawer paid search manager with a program hitting on all cylinders this sounds a great deal like: “Get your resume together. We don’t understand what you do, and plan to make your year miserable if you stick around.”
We face this as an agency on occasion, and sometimes it is a product of our own past success. Taking over management of a badly broken program and generating a 300% growth in revenue on improved ROI does happen, but it can lead to expectations that those kinds of growth rates will happen every year.
Again, this reflects a failure on the part of the paid search manager to successfully educate the people who create these budgets and to force themselves into the budgeting process. Nevertheless, when a budget is presented fait accompli, it can be very difficult to focus attention on what is and what is not within the realm of possibility.
Even when the paid search manager participates in the forecast, forecasts should not be the basis of evaluation. Accurately forecasting paid search performance would require knowing not only what consumer behavior will be 3, 6, and 9 months down the road.
We can’t serve ads if people don’t search for them — it would require knowing what changes the engines will make to the page layouts, what changes they will make to their matching algorithms and partner networks, and what new controls and ad formats might role out impacting performance.
We’d also have to know what our competitors’ strategy and execution will be in the coming year, or whether new competitors will enter the marketplace. We don’t know and can’t always predict what will happen in our space any more than a stock analyst can tell you today what stock you should buy 6 months from now.
Forecasts serve a purpose for staffing, merchandizing, and accounting, but serving those needs demands frequent re-forecasting to adjust to present realities. Performance should be evaluated by how well the paid search marketer performed given the opportunity landscape they faced, not by how well they were able to predict what the results would be.
If you’re an online marketing director, please make these pledges for the New Year. If you’re a lowly paid search manager, consider slipping this under her/his door!
Have a great 2013!
Images from Shutterstock, used under license.
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