Dear Santa, All I Want For Christmas Is A SEM Super Tool

In The Trenches is a spotlight of tips, tricks, and news about the tools search engine marketing professionals use to give them a leg up on the competition. Today’s in-depth look: Creating a SEM Super Tool and a contest for search engine marketers: Calling all search geeks: PPC management tool vendor Marin is running an interesting contest for SEM pros. I spoke to Marc Barach, Marin’s CMO about the promotion:

We’ve teamed up with Danny Sullivan and SMX to create the SMX Biggest Search Geek Contest. It’s a timed, very tough, 20 question quiz that is designed to really put search marketers through the paces and allow them to show their mettle. The program is about giving search marketers the recognition they deserve for mastering the complex and challenging world of SEM. The winner also gets a paid trip for 2 to SMX West, two conference passes and receives an on-stage award from Danny.

Go check it out and win yourself a nice trip. Read on for my Christmas wishlist…

All I want for Christmas is the perfect search tool

Dear Santa,

Digital marketing has given birth to the role of the Media Technologist. Before the web, I think of marketing in the way it’s portrayed on the tv show Mad Men. Business was driven by martini meetings and handshakes. Now, in the Age of Measurement, the web has created an advertising industry that is driven by ROI, analytics and technology.

SEM is inherently one of the most technologically driven suburbs of the digital marketing landscape. We’re in Excel as much as Outlook. It’s the granularity in understanding KPIs of individual keywords, which can mean the difference between success and failure. And if you’re going to manage hundreds, thousands, or millions of terms across multiple engines, it made sense that PPC management tools would surface to help SEM pros handle these accounts.

GoToast was the first tool I remember using and it was later acquired by Atlas to become Atlas One Point (now Atlas SEM). The benefits at the time were simple: cross engine reporting and management. Just having one interface to change bids and combine reports was miraculous…especially at a time before AdWords Editor and the leaps and bounds the engines have made since to help with management efficiency. However, over time, PPC Management tools grew with the engines and have provided not just management and reporting help, but also advanced functionality for work flow, tracking, and optimization.

I recently came across a great article, “Pay Per Click Advertising Success With the Right Tools” by Bonnie Jo Davis that lists the ten capabilities a PPC management tool must have:

  1. Allows you to manage your campaigns from anywhere in the world at any time.
  2. A simple and intuitive interface that does not require a degree in engineering.
  3. The ability to manage the most popular PPC advertising vehicles: Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing.
  4. A wizard or step-by-step instructions on setting up an account and campaigns, determining a budget, selecting keywords and writing ads.
  5. The option of monitoring multiple campaigns with multiple goals at the same time.
  6. The ability to set goals and use several different bidding strategies automatically without human intervention.
  7. The flexibility for you to fine-tune your campaign keywords, ads, goals and budget at any time.
  8. The option to set-up e-mail alerts for performance changes that you define based on your own criteria.
  9. A history or summary screen that gives you an overall picture of your campaigns without having to run reports.
  10. A robust reporting function that allows you to generate reports using many different variables that you choose on your own.

That’s a great list, Santa, but frankly, I need more! More tools, more features, more optimizers… I’ve either used or demoed many of the tools in this space and I’ve come up a list of features that I would love to take from each tool and create one single SEM Super Tool.

Can you get the elves on it, please?

My SEM Tool wishlist

Note – These features may exist on other tools, so I hope any vendors and readers utilize the links and comments below section to let me know if I’ve missed anything.

Platform integration – Moving forward, having your search tool integrated with your other tools such as your ad server, your email tool, etc is very important. It would create some great efficiencies such as cross-channel reporting and being able to use the same tracking pixels/scripts–having your IT team implement a new tracking code every time you get a new tool can be aggravating.

Most importantly, with Conversion Attribution becoming the norm and the “last ad clicked” methodology soon to be extinct, being able to track all of your digital media in one place to see how users are engaging your advertising before converting requires an integrated system. Double Click, Microsoft (Atlas), and Mediaplex offer this level of integration.

Virtual groups – Omniture SearchCenter has a fantastic feature that allows you to segment elements of your account into virtual groups. If you add in new promo creative to several ad groups, you can aggregate them all into a virtual group and follow their performance without moving them into new groups. Also, if you have important keywords that appear in many places in your campaign, you can put them into a virtual group and track them.

Landing page rotation – Tools such as SearchRev and BridgeTrack allow you to include multiple destination URLs for each keyword to find the best combination that increases conversions. To me, this a no-brainer and I’m super surprised that this is not a more widespread feature.

Analytics integration – One of the best features in Omniture’s SearchCenter and Google AdWords is that they integrate with their web analytics tools (Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics). This provides seamless analysis to gather insights into how your SEM traffic is performing onsite. This can be very valuable as understanding what keywords drive high engagement (more page views, more time on site, more repeat visits, etc) versus just conversion tracking will give you more insights for optimizing properly. Using analytics tools with your SEM can help comprehend how your paid and organic search traffic is either working together or against each other.

Instant campaigns – SearchRev’s “shadow campaigns” feature is one of the coolest new technological advances I’ve seen in SEM in recent memory. Basically, if you want to segment your campaigns to new geotargets or dayparting targets, it can become cumbersome…usually you have to download a bulksheet, copy/paste, manipulate, and then reupload. SearchRev’s tool does this for you automatically.

If you want to split a national campaign out to say – seven top states, you simply choose those states via geotargeting and SearchRev’s technology automatically creates seven shadow campaigns in the engines for that purpose–instantly. As well, they have “conditional” shadow campaigns. They’re the same as shadow campaigns but only occur under specified conditions like a term getting a certain number of clicks within a specified time frame; or a certain number of orders, etc. Amazing!

Sync me, baby – Most tools require you to perform all engine actions on their platform. If you don’t, the tool won’t know you’ve made the changes and then you have a discourse between them. Having a Sync Button is great because you can go into the engines, make bid changes, add keywords, etc, and then go back to your PPC tool and click “Sync”. This is a great workflow efficiency as sometimes users are more comfortable in the engine platforms. As well, a platform like AdWords has so many optimization tools but you can’t take advantage of them because your PPC tool won’t be able to “see them”. I know some other tools have this feature, but I immediately think of Omniture SearchCenter.

Where’s my account history? – In most tools, account history starts when you start with the tool. That’s fine for a brand new account, but what if you’ve been doing paid search for years? That historical account info is vital for benchmarking and performance analysis. What if you want to generate reports that go months or years back before you started with the tool? Marin allows you to upload previous account info so that you have that history inside the tool.

Excel integration – Advanced excel integration, not just bulk sheets. Most of the tools do offer a bulk worksheet download/upload feature so that you can make changes to the account. However, Omniture SearchCenter has an advanced excel tool in which you can make changes directly to the excel sheet which can immediately make changes in the tool. A huge time saver.

Intra day bidding – Most PPC management tools wait each morning to pull down the previous day’s engine data. DART Search gives you the ability to pull impressions, clicks, click costs and average position directly from engines every 2 to 4 hours so that you can make changes and optimizations throughout the day.

Giving credit to assisting keywords – SearchRev and Marin utilize technology to follow not only the converting keywords, but the other keywords that users click which ultimately end up converting users, even if they weren’t the “last keyword clicked”. This makes their auto-bidding tools more accurate so that they don’t end up completely bidding down the top-of-the-funnel general terms that actually have value, even if they don’t show up as converting words.

Portfolio bidding – Efficient Frontier and SearchRev take into account more than just the value of the keyword when auto-optimizing. They also take into account your overall goals. For example, in a hard-set rules methodology, if a keyword triggers a rule, then action is taken. This black and white approach is too blunt. Let’s say you are beating your overall CPA goal of $20 by $5…these tools understand that if other keywords are performing slightly over the $20 benchmark, it’s possible that they won’t get bid down by the tool as the overall understanding is that the account is doing well and we can “live” with those “under performing” terms. In a strictly rules-based bidding structure, those slightly under performing terms may end up being disabled by low bids.

Intuitive GUI – Some of the PPC tools are just fugly (one of my favorite words). They’re not intuitive to use and the User Interfaces can be cumbersome. I am waiting for a tool to come out that matches AdWords almost to the font point. Google is a usability master and as they are the most used SEM tool on the planet, it would make sense to provide users an interface that they already understand and are comfortable with.

Competitive terms – Understanding what keywords other advertisers in your space are bidding on is a great way to find new keyword suggestions. Tools such as AdGooroo, Compete, and SpyFu can help you with this task so why couldn’t this be a part of a PPC Management tool?

Competitive ads – AdGooroo can help you understand what other advertisers are bidding on your keywords, but they also show you what ads they are running as well. I like this feature because not only can you see what is working for your competitors, but it might help you craft ads that can stand out on the page by not doing what everyone else is doing.

Data guarantee – DART Search is the only vendor I have heard of to have a data guarantee in their contract. That might be a deal maker for those of you who have had problems in the past with your tools not being accurate.

Keyword suggestions – Keyword development is obviously one of the major tasks any SEM pro tackles. Tools like Google’s Keyword Suggester, Keyword Discovery, WordTracker, should be native to any PPC Management system.

Not all conversions are equal! – DART Search’s margin based bidding feature that allows you to set different weighted values on each conversion metric to bid more efficiently. This totally makes sense, right? If you’re tracking white paper downloads or newsletter sign-ups, those conversions are probably not as valuable as actual sales. You want your bidding methodology to take that into account.

No need for redirects – As those of you who have used many PPC tools know, one of the core requirements is for the tool is to rewrite your keyword destination URLs with redirects. Thus, when a user clicks a paid search ad, instead of going straight to the landing page, the user gets redirected through the PPC tool’s system to be cookied/tracked and then out to the correct site. This all happens in milliseconds so the user doesn’t notice anything abnormal, but if you end up leaving the tool vendor, all of your engine accounts have their redirect URLs instead of the right landing pages. This can be a huge issue. Marin’s system has figured a way around this by using tags on the landing pages so you can leave the destination URLs alone. That’s a handy workaround.

I’m not done, Santa, but I’ve run out of room in this post.

P.S. – Here are links to the tools mentioned above: Omniture SearchCenter Mediaplex Double Click Atlas SearchRev Marin BridgeTrack Google Adwords Ad Gooroo Keyword Discovery Wordtracker

Josh Dreller is the Director of Media Technology for Fuor Digital, an agency concentrated in the research, planning, buying and stewardship of digital media marketing campaigns. Josh can be reached at The In The Trenches column appears Fridays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


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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