The Search Time Warp
Search advertising is easy. You just pop up a couple of bids and drop in some text and you are off to the races. Search ads are a cash machine and you really only need about 20 minutes to really start spitting out ATM goodness.
Of course, none of the above is in any way true. The simple reality for those managing search advertising is that the process and development of a truly intricate initiative is a bit more complex than what you can learn in (loosely) 30% of an hour.
While most advertisers spending $250, 000 dollars and above — in the top tier– seem to have embraced the complexity of the search ad world, emerging advertisers with comparatively smaller budgets could use some advice on the space. It’s worth taking a closer look at how search is positioned in the middle of the marketplace.
Larger advertisers have resources to match expectations. Concepts like using testing platforms, comparing metrics, tying display lift to directive search revenue along with complex attribution methods are all common place. Larger advertisers have the resources to corral multiple layers of technological tools for things like testing frameworks, landing pages and multiple layers of conversion metrics.
Smaller emerging advertisers use tools like this in a one-off capacity, often in the absence of sound strategic counsel, staffing and they lack the resources of top-tier advertisers. They may only have one agency, one technology tool and a very short list of priorities if anyone bothered to make a list.
While off top-tier or “no man’s land” advertisers have long been the victims of not having enough budget to spread around, low cost tools, technologies and other resources are now available to advertisers in this category.
Who Do You Trust?
Why any advertiser — even a smaller one — would think that Google is different than any other media vendor is beyond me. The process of buying and building digital marketing campaigns is a delicate balance of managing what the site or network offers with the advertiser’s goals and stated budget. And any media vendor is anything but un-biased.
It’s important to remember that advertisers in the middle tier may not even be aware of 3rd party ad serving and the associated online advertising operations and creative demands. Many of advertisers I’ve encountered in this category started with search prior to moving into display. For most large advertisers, the opposite is true.
As a result, more than a few advertisers lately have accepted Google recommendations as Gospel because the search site (a.k.a. media vendor) is their only source of intelligence. In Google’s defense, it usually offers pretty intelligent intelligence.
Yet, in spite of tremendous advances in traffic estimator automation, consistently irresponsibly high spending recommendations are adding value to search specialist agencies in business by forcing the agencies to consistently reality check budget recommendations.
Then again, clients forced to qualify search marketing firms usually have to wade through a baffling array of misdemeanors and half truths. While I have discussed bad behavior in this forum, I am not at all surprised when I find clients that don’t trust recommendations coming from agencies today. When you reflect on the fact that many firms are now considering themselves both agency and media vendor, it must be hard for a brand steward to trust anyone with a true third party recommendation.
Regardless of your spending category, setting realistic timelines along with managing to an expectation level while delivering on objectives is the hallmark of any good professional services (or agency, if you prefer) company. If a deliverable sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Technology That Works
I love technology. Twenty-five percent of the time, technology makes my life more fulfilling every time. In the search category, technology comes to us via third party bid and positioning (a.k.a. portfolio) management tools that provide a unique perspective on search advertising along with necessary checks and balances.
It’s assumed the big budget early adopters will know and use all the latest tricks. That’s why discretionary budgets exist. In online advertising’s middle tier, discretionary budgets exist in the same dimension where unicorns roam freely.
While the latest and greatest tricks may not be available through these tools, more stable, tried and true methods should be ready for use. Middle tier advertisers live in the practical world.
The Next Level
Many of these mid-tier advertisers have approached me over the years complaining they have “reached a certain point” with search and would like to reach the next level. While the all encompassing “next level” designation is entirely overused, it doesn’t seem to be going away for an entire category of advertisers whose only knowledge of online advertising is search.
When people hit a wall with search (or any other form of online advertising) it’s usually because they didn’t take the time to do it right in the first place. In some instances, they just don’t know any better. It’s hard to balance the complexity of taking an effort to its next level.
Search ads are not an ATM machine for your brand. It takes time and testing to build scalable metrics that you can apply to other forms of online marketing. Taking the time to do it right is always a worthy investment.
Trying to piece together an initiative with unrealistic timelines, outlandish success criteria, and a generalized misunderstanding of the sandbox you wish to play in will place you in a perpetual loop seeking the next level. That being the case, I assure you, the next level will be painfully lower.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.