Due to the agile and complex nature of paid search, managing a paid search program can often degenerate into a constant barrage of fire drills and ad hoc report requests. I have been there and it is not fun. I have also found that there is a way to dig out of this chaos and achieve SEM nirvana.
The trick is to plan effectively. Developing an effective media plan not only reduces fire drills and ad hoc requests, but also builds trust with stakeholders and promotes long term success.
How does one create a media plan that will produce nirvana? After developing over 30 media plans over the last six months, our team has identified seven areas that need to be included in every plan along with general rules for each area. These seven areas and general rules are described below.
I am continually surprised by how many people are not clear on what they should and shouldn’t be doing within an individual SEM program. Some stakeholders think they should be involved in every bidding decision, and others think they can forget about SEM entirely and expect an effective program to appear magically.
The simple process of agreeing who is responsible for which aspects of the program will reduce stress, and save countless hours of wasted time. Who does what may be different for individual programs, but the important part is that everyone involved knows what decisions they should make.
At Adobe, we use a process called the DACI chart (Driver, Approver, Contributor, Informed) to specify roles. An example DACI chart for one of our paid search programs is shown below (names have been changed).
Every paid search program needs to have three objectives, no more no less. I realize that this is a bold requirement, but I have never come across a program that did not follow this general rule. These three objectives should include volume (Profit, Revenue, Conversions, Clicks, etc), efficiency (Margin, ROI, CPA, CPC, etc), and quality (Brand Compliance, Quality Score, etc).
The trick to balancing these objectives is to determine how much weight should be given to each objective and then to define an actual goal. Actual numbers make better goals than just maximizing a metric. For example, I am more motivated by a goal to increase my profit 20% to $1,000,000 this quarter than I would be by the objective to just “maximize profit”.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t see an unlimited paid search budget to be the most effective budgeting strategy. The problem with this method is that it can swing both ways. Having an unlimited budget can allow for more growth, but it can also increase the chance of getting “extra” money that needs spent in the last week of the quarter regardless of efficiency considerations. Not only does this create more work for an SEM, but it can also affect the quality of a program.
The best approach to budgeting is to have a model for how many conversions one can get for a certain amount of money, and then set the budget based on your objectives. Sophisticated models can be created with predictive modeling tools like Efficient Frontier (Disclaimer: I work for Adobe who recently purchased Efficient Frontier).
A simpler approach can also be used to create a few budget options with corresponding expected returns. Once a model has been determined then it is clear how much money the program will need to achieve its objectives.
SEM’s have a responsibility to keep reports targeted to the objectives at hand. It can often be tempting to include extraneous information in a report to distract the recipient away from stagnant performance.
Over time, this distraction only leads to either disengaged stakeholders or an increasing volume of ad hoc reports. The balance here is to create simple reports that measure performance against the objectives and deliver these reports in a timely manner.
Prioritizing Optimization Efforts
Why can’t you just do it all and have it done in a week? This question does not even come up if I have done my homework on what opportunities are available and which will have the most impact. Writing these opportunities down and putting them in my media plan fills two needs.
First, it shows everyone involved that there is a lot of work to do and that I am thinking about all of the options.
Second, it helps me to focus my own efforts on the opportunities that will provide the most bang for my time. I often use a simple matrix to demonstrate these priorities and include example screen shots for concepts that can be demonstrated visually.
Creating A Timeline
Creating a timeline has a dual purpose. It helps to set expectations relating to the timing of optimization priorities and it provides an opportunity to gather seasonality information from the stakeholder.
Having a timeline sets an antsy stakeholder at ease knowing that even though I am not planning on doing every possible optimization this week, I am planning on addressing everything at an appropriate time. A timeline also provides an opportunity to ask questions about seasonal promotions or other information about the overall marketing timeline that has not already been addressed.
Identifying Critical Dependencies
The last part of an effective media plan is to call out any critical dependencies and provide next steps for making sure those dependencies are taken care of. This is not an exercise in making excuses. If delivered correctly, this part of the plan will show how other parties are needed to help you achieve great results for the company.
Some common examples of critical dependencies in paid search revolve around tracking issues, aligning resources, or communicating overall strategy changes. It is important to include anything that would prevent you from doing your job, but I have found that communicating these items in the context of the programs overall objectives encourages more collaboration.
Managing a search marketing program is tough. Often, I feel like I am walking a tight rope between the expectations of internal stakeholders, team members, and management. Having an effective media plan reduces stress, facilitates long term success, and builds trust with stakeholders. Balancing the seven essential elements above will result in a nirvana state for your search marketing program.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.