With the rise of machine learning and the relentless march toward large-scale automation, digital marketers are now finding themselves in the middle of a perfect storm where they have less control over their campaigns, higher costs, and lousy results. 

To state the obvious, Google’s goals are not your goals.  

Source: Google

Over the last few years, Google introduced and pushed PPC automation while also removing many of the controls marketers typically used to prevent wasted spend. 

Here’s just a small list of what they’ve done:

  1. They killed off match types – As a result, keywords are no longer granular enough and Google’s understanding of “close” variants and “similar” intent fluctuates between terrible and horrific.
  2. They Added Audiences – Google has made significant efforts over the past few years to replace keywords as the primary PPC control lever; audiences (+ the derivatives thereof) have been the most successful of these so far.
  3. They introduced and pushed “smart” features – Google’s “optimization score” and “smart shopping campaigns” were the first major efforts; now, we have Performance MAX, the end of ETAs, and much more on the horizon. 
  4. They introduced auto-applied campaign changes – because who doesn’t want a Roomba running their account?
  5. They removed the majority of search term data – of course, the claim was that this was for “privacy”…but does anyone believe that? 

As a result, CPCs and CACs are spiking across the board and we’re left with the perfect recipe to waste a LOT of money.

The pace of change has left many PPCers wondering how to adapt to this brave new world, with a few approaches becoming more and more pervasive: 

  1. Lean Into The Automation – give the machines what they want – control and volume! Consolidate everything into a couple of campaigns, turn on Broad Match, and away we go. 
  2. Old School – focus on keeping granular control with a rigid, EM-based structure and negatives everywhere. 
  3. Shanty Town – some weird fusion of the two – where there are some EM campaigns, some full broad, maybe some audiences or DSAs sprinkled in…, and a heaping helping of confusion. 

Unfortunately, the automation approach will have you wasting money, the old school approach will have you going crazy trying to maintain control in the face of RSAs, bidding strategy, and match type changes, and the Shanty Town delivers the worst of both worlds. 

The only thing that HAS stayed the same is the desire to find the right account structure that balances scale with control, spending with results, and predictability with discovery. Too much to ask for? No! 

Source: Google

Six Things to Keep in Mind When Setting Up PPC Campaigns

Automation is here to stay. The increasing role of automation will have an impact on PPC account structures, and this isn’t good or bad – it just is. Our job as marketers is to set the machines up for success and defend against their flaws.

The structure is about people. Campaign structure is the “how” you connect your organization’s marketing to the people you want to target. Keep your audience in mind when you structure your PPC campaign and put yourself in the mind of the audience.

Better Data = Higher Probability of Good Outcomes. Don’t focus only on conversion data.  Make sure that each platform you use (not just Google, Microsoft, and Facebook) has the business and financial data it needs to maximize your chances of a good outcome. In short, efficiently leverage your data and help the machines be smarter!

Exclusions are more important than inclusions. Be liberal in your campaign exclusions to ensure machines focus on what you want (and don’t make bad inferences that blow your budget).

Be Machine Learning-friendly. Resist the urge to hyper-segment everything. Build a structure that is ML-friendly while still being sufficiently refined. You might end up with fewer ad groups, but that’s ok! 

Be brilliant at the basics. Do the little things extremely well – align your ads to the intent of the user, deliver a relevant message and have a delightful on-page experience. 

Want to learn more? I’ll be speaking at HeroConf London on July 18 at 10:15 am on the Main Stage. During my session, “The Art and Science of PPC Structures,” I’ll dive deep into the essential account and targeting structures and how they can be used to prevent automation from running wild.

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