What’s In Your SEM Toolbox? I’ll Show You Mine…

Matt Van Wagner on
  • Categories: Channel: SEM, Paid Search Column, SEM Tools: PPC
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  • A question I get asked pretty often is, “What tools do you use for managing paid search ad campaigns?”

    I love this question, especially when there are other paid search managers within earshot. Everyone’s got their favorite tools and everyone wants to add their two cents’ worth.  More often than not, I go home with a list of interesting tools I’ve never heard of before.

    We’re going to have that exact conversation in a few weeks at the SMX East “What’s in my SEM Toolbox?” panel on Oct 3rd in NYC. You are all invited to come learn about the tools that search marketing experts Andrew Goodman and Elizabeth Marsten are using on a day-to-day basis. I can guarantee you’ll pick up more than a few new ideas.

    I will be moderating that panel but not presenting, so I thought it might be fun today to take an impromptu look inside my own SEM toolbox and talk about the tools I like to keep within arm’s reach. As you’ll see, some of the tools I like are more rusty than trusty, but I still find myself using them. Old habits die hard, even in the fast-paced world of online advertising.

    Personal Sanity Tools

    Anyone who has been working on PPC campaigns for any length of time knows that one of the toughest parts of the job is getting on task and staying there. Between emails, phone calls, campaign alerts or active procrastination (have you seen my favorite cat video on YouTube?), it can take a long time to dial into a good, productive groove. Researchers looking for subjects for their next big attention deficit disorder study are sure to find a rich pool of candidates in the SEM space.

    Author’s Sanity Tools – Lava Lamps, Sonos Wireless Music. Windows 8 and huge mouse, circa 1859.

    I’ve got a few personal sanity tools — well, toys really — in my office that help me get myself dialed into a good working groove. These include my Sonos wireless music system and two groovy Google Lava lamps. I had three groovy Google Lava Lamps, but the TSA now owns the blue one because I absentmindedly packed it in my carry-on bag flying back from Google HQ, and they decided to keep it for themselves. Bummer. For online music selection, my tool of choice is Pandora.

    When I am working with data and crunching numbers, I find that instrumental jazz (Abdullah Ibrahim, Oscar Peterson) or classical (Mozart, Haydn, Handel, Vivaldi) work best to groove me in. When working on ad creative, website copy or other language-based tasks, I find that more lugubrious sacred vocal music (Palestrina, Tallis, Gibbons) in a somewhat familiar Romance language keeps my fingers moving and writers block at bay. I am sure there is some neuro-marketing genius who can explain these phenomena to me, but all I know is these are the sanity tools that help me get focused and stay focused on the SEM task at hand.

    Competitive Analysis Tools

    Keeping tabs on competitors is something I find myself doing quite often — and honestly, I’ve liked just about every competitive tool I’ve ever come across. I just can’t afford to keep them all in my toolbox all the time.

    The tools I personally tend to use most are:

    AdGooroo: I absolutely love this tool for monitoring text and display ads. It does a great job of showing how competitors jostle for position over time. Their industry insight tool is great for getting a sense for unfamiliar market segments when onboarding a new client.

    SEMRush: Dollar for dollar, this is absolutely the hardest working collection of competitive tools in SEM today. I love it and rely on it heavily — especially for international SEO and SEM data.

    MixRank: MixRank is great for display advertising intelligence. It catalogs the actual display ads your competitors are running, so you can see all the sizes, shapes and animation sequences they are running.

    SearchMetrics: I’ve used this tool for many market potential benchmarks and competitive audits because it gives me a great sense for a competitors’ entire online strategy and strengths across all sources of inbound traffic, including paid, social, linking and organic sources. Terrific!

    iSpotTV: Recently, I had a competitor jump into TV advertising for the first time and wondered how extensive their campaigns were and what impact they’d have on our own online campaigns. This great tool, iSpotTV, captured their commercials, showed us where and when the commercials aired, and gave us estimates of both ad spend and audience reach. Knowing that, we were able to observe the lift on their brand terms online, impact on our brand, and develop appropriate counter-tactics.

    Campaign, Keyword & Management Reporting Tools

    I’ll assume that every SEM manager already has Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (or some free MS-Office knock-off), a decent text editor, and search engine tools like AdWords and Bing Ads Editors. These are the hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches of all SEM toolkits.

    Acquisio: Actually, this is not so much a tool as it is an entire campaign management platform. I initially fell in love with Acquisio for its ability to visually display data and automate reporting functions; but now, I rely on it heavily for so much more, including bidding, budgeting, keyword and ad management across Google Bing, and Facebook. By way of disclosure, I think so highly of this company and their products that I joined their technical advisory committee five years ago.

    Monkeymerge: This is one of those old and rusty tools that doesn’t get used much. But when I need it, it works magic. Monkey merge lets you merge multiple spreadsheets and text documents together in a single step.

    TextAnz: Another oldie, but goodie, and I thank my good friend and colleague, David Szetela, for recommending it to me. This tool analyzes keyword themes on webpages and raw analytics data to help you distill the essence of a webpage or huge keyword list into its fundamental components. We find this very helpful when optimizing GDN placements to figure out why Google is placing ads on particular sites, both good and bad, so we can figure out the best way to exclude or target the sites more precisely.

    Wordle and Tag Crowd: These are great tools for visualizing large lists of search term analytics data or for dressing up your next SEM status report for management.

    At a glance, this Wordle graphic shows that this article is mostly about tools, SEM, AdWords and, of course, love.

    SnagIt: This may be the single most used and loved tool in my toolbox. It is as versatile as duct tape, and I have SnagIt open all the time. Techsmith, creators of SnagIt, also offer a companion product, Camtasia, for video capture and editing, too. I bought Camtasia because it is super cool, but haven’t used it much. It seems stuck on my, “I’ll get around to it one of these days” list of cool things to spend more time on.

    Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator: We use the Adobe tools all the time to create and edit display ads for GDN, FB and other networks. There may be other cheaper solutions out there, but we’ve grown to love Adobe products.

    Rapid Keyword and The Permutator: These are two more “oldie, but goodie” tools for building out lists of keywords. Back in the old days, these were the tools of “power” users who wanted million-keyword inventories with every iteration of every keyword phrase possible, including plurals, word reversals, and misspellings. Even though that’s not considered best practice these days, these two tools are still highly useful for constructing keyword lists from raw noun, verb and modifier components gleaned from keyword research.

    The Evolution Of A New Category Of AdWords Tools

    While I love my old tools, I am a total sucker for the latest and greatest new ones to add to my tool box. Lately, I’ve been licking my chops in anticipation of an emerging new category of SEM tools based on AdWords scripts.

    I am willing to bet that in the next 6-12 months, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of new scripts-based tools available on the market. They are sure to become as prolific as smartphone apps and WordPress plug-ins because they are so easy to write, share and customize.

    Like smartphone apps and WP plug-ins, script-based tools are also sure to vary wildly in quality, functionality and price. We’ll be seeing super-specific tools that automate a specific AdWords task, complex tools that automate entire processes, and toolsets (collection of tools). Pricing models will range from free or almost free, to monthly subscriptions for toolsets at premium prices.

    The most exciting aspect of this emerging tools category is how they enable PPC experts to share the best parts of their secret sauce — their well-developed optimization processes — and package that expertise into customizable scripts. Very exciting possibilities are clearly on the horizon.

    I’ve got my eyes on two companies, at the moment, that are doing wonderful things with AdWords script-based tools.

    One is Optmyzr.com, the brain child of Fred Vallaeys, well-known (ex) Googler and AdWords evangelist with a deep understanding of how to optimize all aspects of AdWords accounts. He’s just announced a new, one-click optimizer and is readying a new tool to help you set mobile bids correctly within AdWords enhanced <choke> campaigns.

    The other is Pat East’s Hannapin Marketing with their PPC Hero Pro Tools platform. Hannapin is home to a collection of the most active, energetic and insanely creative PPC consultants floating around this planet. They share their expertise openly and prolifically through blog posts and webinars published daily.

    Take a look especially at their Ad Guardian tool. Ad Guardian “Detects when your site goes down and automatically pauses your campaigns until it goes back up.”  Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

    What’s In Your SEM Toolbox

    Okay, that’s it for this quick peek into my SEM toolbox. Do you have a trusty old favorite tool you want to tell the world about? If so, please feel free to brag about it in the comments section below.

    About The Author

    Matt Van Wagner
    Matt Van Wagner is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.