Challenges of Scaling Big PPC Management for Small SEM Shops

Posted in Agencies, Paid Marketing, SEM

ppc-flagOver the last 10 months the number of PPC accounts aimClear handles has multiplied by more than 20X, which has been seismic to say the least. At the same time the ever-evolving PPC landscape continually undergoes its own “global warming crises,” as heated paradigm shifts pile upon chilling conceptual overhauls at the advertising platform level.

Any search marketing agency handling small, let alone voluminous, PPC accounts knows the serious challenges. Reporting, billing, conducting multivariate ad message/landing page testing, conversion tracking, making analytics actionable, communicating with the client, and dealing with monthly cash flow makes any PPC intense- if not daunting.

Obstacles the small SEM shop encounters, when scaling to big PPC management operations at the portfolio level, can make for stormy afternoons.

First, the Solution
Straight up front, the solution for us was to research, build, and deploy a suite of API based PPC management tools comprised of both commercial and internally built applications. As a small SEM shop, handling about a million bucks in annual PPC-spend, we did it in self-defense. Absent automation, the human PPC account manager never has time to focus on the really important (and fun) stuff: messaging, landing pages, creativity, high level strategy, interacting with the client, and tactics.

Enterprise PPC by Hand Is Impossible
Hell, even small PPC management by hand is impractical. “Head” keywords (short tail) have become expensive ROI killers as everyone slugs it out for the same keywords. Over 20% of queries typed into Google each day have never been searched on before (Staggering but true) so keyword research does not reveal the entire long tail. This makes mechanical keyword phrase construction important again. Campaigns that used to be 300 keywords, while blissfully ignoring the long tail and still making money, are now 3000 words deep.

This alone makes it nearly impossible to effectively manage even one campaign by hand because the account manager cannot hope to give each keyword the ROI intensive scrutiny necessary to squeeze every last drop of CTR (click-through ratio) out of every keyword. Besides, maximizing CTR is not nearly good enough. Sunny days are all about CONVERSION tracking, which associates SALES to clicks after the CTR and in relation to each keyword’s overall cost and revenue generated.

No Search Engine is an Island
There is no function in Google Analytics conversion tracking which automatically ratchets your AdWords spend down for keywords if the ROI on Panama or MSN is better. LOL…Of course there’s not likely to ever be. However, real-world-needs make it absolutely critical for PPC managers to compare keyword ROI ACROSS all advertising platforms and construct bids based on ROI.

How can humans hope to accomplish this, with surgical precision, for multiple campaigns made up of thousands of keywords? API management tools aggregating keyword management across multiple search engines is literally the only solution.

Reporting

Clients are partners. They must be kept apprised of how much they’re spending, earning, and general ROI trends. To the extent we allow them to see the highly detailed data (rarely a good idea), they want keyword performance reports by email-sometimes as .CSVs or as HTML.

Our accountant needs data to associate our CRAZY monthly credit card bills to each of our clients’ and internal accounts. She wants forecasts, spreadsheets, and reconciliation twice monthly so we can invoice clients.

The reporting modules in mainstream search engines’ web-based GUIs are far from enterprise level conceptually and funtionally. To depend on Google, Yahoo, or MSN even to do our monthly billing (let alone client reporting) used to be horrible. There’s no such thing as allowing your client a login to adWords with only high level reporting enabled and other reports cherry picked for your client’s level of expertise.

The solution is to utilize 1-click API tools to pull reports, format them, and email them to clients in the appropriate format. We serve analytics in a client center environment with various levels of access to users, depending on the level of detail they require for their level of expertise.

It’s Going to Get Worse

Behaviorally targeting social community members by “social graphs” means self-serve ad platforms will become even more intense. The era of small businesses en masse handling their own online media buys may come to a screeching halt because of the complexity, fluidity, and cost of making expensive mistakes.

Google AdWords is slowing down and Panama, which has always been slow, SUCKS. Jeez, Panama doesn’t even have a client center to look at all existing accounts in your PPC manager’s portfolio without logging in and out dozens of times.

The small SEM shop faces important hurdles in scaling shop PPC capabilities but they can be overcome. Remember that your clients hired you to work with YOU and it’s incumbent upon your shop to free you up to actually BE with them. Making informed decisions in response to the growing challenges of managing paid marketing ultimately defines the ability of any search marketing agency to successfully grow.

  • Local SEO Guide

    Marty, in your experience what commercial PPC management platforms would you recommend?

  • Marty Weintraub

    Andrew, because I have commercial relationships with more than one company, I want to avoid a public endorsement. I’m happy to share and will touch bases with you directly :).

  • Silvio

    Marty

    I’m also interested to hear about what commercial PPC management platforms you recommend.

    Can you pls contact me directly via email.

    Thanks

  • Will Critchlow

    Really insightful stuff, Marty. Thanks.

    We are in the middle of a lot of strategy discussion here and a lot is around how can we differentiate our tools….

    I hate to say ‘me too’ but I would also be interested in your experiences with commercial platforms if you can spare the time to fire me an email!

    Thanks

  • Steaprok

    Hey Marty-

    Great post. I too am going through manual to automated transition and can appreciate your post.

    Also I wanted to thank you for your TravelSMX posts, I have several Travel accounts and really wanted to go , but couldn’t due to time constraints.

    So thanks for the hard work.. Keep it up!

  • Marty Weintraub

    Sylvio, thank you for stopping by. I feel your pain. Let’s connect after the holiday. Steaprok-I appreciate your comment.

  • kelvin newman

    Those big campaigns are killer the trick is using automated tools to take some of the strain but keeping the personal hand made touch.

    That’s what seperates the great firms from the average ones

  • Gab Goldenberg

    This is a fascinating post, and teaches a relative newb to PPC management like yours truly something important about automation.

    In terms of automation, could you share some common functions that you recommend automating? I could see the use, for example, in something that highlights significant discrepancies in volume between one keyword or a set of keywords and the rest of the adgroup. Then you’d break those out into a new group and make more targeted ads/landing pages. But a pro like youself could surely share some things I’m missing :).

    Cheers
    Gab

  • Gab Goldenberg

    Btw: you deserved eCopt’s recomendation

  • Marty Weintraub

    Thank you very much Gabe and welcome to aimClearBlog.
    Marty

  • Marty Weintraub

    @ Gabe: First, reporting is SO much easier with automation. For anyone who’s ever pulled 35 daily PPC activity reports one at a time from Panama, one button reporting via the API saves DAYS each week.

    Also the day to day bid management functions, including automatically bidding based on keyword level ROI, are essential functions to automate.

  • Daniel Owen

    Hi Marty,

    Like the others leaving comments, I would greatly appreciate your views and opinions on PPC Management Platforms. Please do shoot me an email if you have time.

    Thanks in Advance!

  • Marty Thomas

    Great post! Once again, I would love to hear about the platforms that you like to use. Please shoot me an email if you get a chance…

  • Jamie MacNaughton

    Very interesting to get your thoughts on this

    I recently arrived at a similar conclusion, though am further back down the track in terms of resolving the problem.

    Would be very grateful if you’re able to send me details of which management platforms work best in your experience.

    Best wishes!

  • Marty Weintraub

    Jamie, we’re working on a post regarding tools due to the many requests for insight.

  • Jamie MacNaughton

    Sure thing. Look forward to it. You’ve nailed one of the key issues for small agencies with big ambitions and any light you can shed on it will be greatly appreciated…

  • Lindsey Walsh

    Marty,

    Nice article. Add me to the list of people very interested in the software/APIs available to automate systems like reporting for the PPC agency.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Lindsey: We’re preparing a PPC API tools post. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Tammy

    Hi Marty,

    I came across you great article as I am currently researching automation tools for PPC management. It’s a bit of jungle out there searching through all the information. I am very interested to hear of your experience with API tools. Thanks for the great information.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Tammy: Good, we’re glad the post was useful for you. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Carrie Matuga

    Hi Marty,
    Great article! I too, would love to touch base with you about tools for PPC management.

  • Lanza

    Interesting to know.

  • Robert Coats

    Hi Marty,
    Truly a great read. And I have now spent the previous hour devouring several of your blog posts. ALL great reads.

    Earlier their was a request wanting to know which commercial PPC management platforms you would recommend and you mentioned that you couldn’t comment publicly but you were happy to share privately. Is that offer still open? If so, please ping me, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers!

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Robert Coats: Thanks for the kind words. Give a call to our office next week on Monday or Weds and we’ll have a chat about PPC platforms.

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