SMX Advanced 2016 recap: Harnessing SEM analytics for smarter automation

Columnist Christi Olson provides tips and advice from PPC experts on how search marketers can make SEM automation work for them.

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Automation doesn’t devalue the work of marketers; it allows them to focus their time and efforts on more strategic aspects of paid search. In this SMX Advanced session, three industry experts — Steve Hammer, Amy Bishop and Caitlin Halpert — tackled SEM analytics and automation solutions that will help save time and improve account performance.

Amy Bishop, director at Clix Marketing

Bishop presented on looking at PPC through a marketing automation lens, based on understanding marketing funnels and evaluating the conversion path so you can spend your time and money more effectively.

No one likes to be pushed — so it’s important to learn how to lead customers down the right path.

Use lead scoring to identify your most valuable customer and the most impactful paths. Determine which criteria (actions and behaviors) are most important to your conversion path and assign them a value. Then, layer both actions and behaviors into your model to understand your higher-value customers and to build out your funnel progression.

For instance, a high-value customer might spend more than 30 seconds on the site, then view a video or download a coupon before taking the final goal action of filling out a lead form or making a purchase. By layering criteria together, you can create a hierarchy of values to understand which actions are most likely to result in your end goal and show intent.

In PPC marketing, automation is less about creating a point-valued score and more about developing the process so you can scale. Use the flow reports in Google Analytics (behaviors, events, goals and funnel visualization) to understand and create your paths.

Then, begin to organize your paths and funnels to understand context behind the behaviors and actions and create unique audiences and messaging to help them get to the next action which would most likely result in your end goal.

Make sure that you track the right events and build audiences from them to see how sequenced behaviors impact conversion rate.

Test using custom audiences, messaging and landing pages to help drive consumers through the funnel and workflow. Just remember that as you test various combinations of audience, message and landing page, you’ll need to have enough volume to get statistically significant results.

Finally, remember that there is more value in some visitors than others. Identify where you have efficiencies and use the 80/20 rule to focus your budget. Consider creating separate campaigns for each stage of the funnel so you can allocate budget and control the focus on elements like new prospecting and funnel progression.

Now that you have your marketing automation infrastructure set up and understand where there are efficiencies in your accounts, you can save time by shifting your budgets to create the most profitable outcomes.

Steve Hammer, president of RankHammer

Hammer presented about the impact of attribution models on bidding and SEM. The key takeaway from Steve’s presentation is to use an attribution model that goes beyond last-click and take assists into consideration; this will help you understand the true value of performance.

Why is this important? Because remarketing isn’t scalable on its own, so you need to understand what is feeding your remarketing campaign success.

As Hammer put it: “No one cheers the hockey stick; it’s the player, not the tool, that wins the game.”

Are you over-valuing remarketing and giving it too much credit? The answer is most likely yes, and if that’s the case, you are undervaluing the feeder channels that are driving remarketing success. Use a data-driven attribution model (not just the beta product from Google) to understand what channels are feeding into your remarketing campaigns, and do more of that!

If the model you are using today overvalues channels and keywords due to last-click attribution, eventually the channels that assisted in driving that last click will be de-emphasized, and you’ll see your remarketing campaign performance dwindle as well.

Make sure that you have the right tools in your marketing toolbox — and one of the most important tools is an attribution model.

In AdWords, check out the data-driven attribution model, which is in beta, to get more insight on conversions based on the AdWords specific customer decision journey. This model shows which elements of your account (keywords, ads, ad groups, campaigns) play the biggest role in assisting conversions. Once you understand which elements are driving conversions, you can and should adjust your bid models to reflect the assists.

The next step in attribution is to go one step further, looking at Google and Bing, as well as other channels like Social and Email, to understand the entire customer decision journey and to build an attribution model that gives credit across all touch points that lead to a conversion.

Caitlin Halpert, account director at 3Q Digital

Halpert presented on how good automation not only saves time but also improves overall performance. The key takeaway from Caitlin’s presentation was to focus where and how you automate to save time. Don’t automate something for the sake of using a shiny new feature — automate when you can have meaningful, long-term savings and improve overall performance. Make sure that you have safety measures in place, like automatic reporting that can warn you of automation actions and outcomes.

There is the good, the bad and the ugly side of automation. Take the time to evaluate your current processes so that you can benefit from what is possible instead of looking at how automation might fail or cause issues.

The good side of automation helps you save time. Are there repetitive tasks that you do on a regular basis that could be automated? Automate parts of your reporting process by creating reusable reporting templates and scripts to pull data.

Use tools, or scripts, to help you identify when there are issues within your account. Create scripts to identify and automate processes when top-performing keywords have a drop-off in impressions or clicks, when landing pages are showing error messaging, when products are no longer available and so on.

The bad and the ugly side of automation is that you can automate specific elements, like keyword builds, that can lead to failure due to bad data or unscalable management. For instance, Caitlin shared an example of how automating keyword builds can create multi-million-keyword accounts that are difficult to manage or have little data behind them, causing an increase in time needed to manage the account. To address part of the ugly side of automation, Caitlin suggests that clean query mapping can help you enable effective bidding and reduce the amount of time you spend playing Query whack-a-mole.

What is Query whack-a-mole?  It’s when the same terms appear as unique keywords with different match types in the same or different ad groups. This can cause issues with different messaging and landing pages for the same base keyword, and small data sets scattered across multiple experiences. It’s why Caitlin recommends creating SKAGs (single keyword ad groups) and single match type ad groups plus an extensive negative structure.

To avoid the bad and the ugly side of automation, follow these simple rules:

  • Automate when you have processes that result in meaningful, long-term time savings and will impact performance.
  • Make sure you have safety measures in place to keep automation from running amok.
  • Test all automation before releasing it into the wild.
  • Review data more frequently than if you didn’t automate to make sure nothing has run amok.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Christi Olson
​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she's not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.

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