Navigating choppy waters in paid search with dedication & experience.
In the current shopping environment, paid-search campaigns require constant analysis. Every day brings new challenges, and the year-on-year benchmark for gauging performance has gone out the window. It’s time to make sure you’re making the most of every precious ad dollar.
No, it’s not 2008 again — at least not yet. But paid search agencies are entering the most significant period of uncertainty in over a decade. The equity market is precarious. Americans have been encouraged to stay home to slow the spread of a virus without a vaccine. Jobless claims are rising. Congress is debating a stimulus package to stave off the worst near-term impacts. Consumer behavior is changing because how we live is changing.
There’s no clear timeline on the eventual return to normality; the weeks and months (years?) ahead represent a stress test for analysts and SEM agencies. In this environment, projected year-over-year growth will undoubtedly change. But reduced performance expectations due to COVID-19 should not be allowed to mask poor analyst attentiveness and missed opportunities. Here are some of the key points to consider as you adjust to the new realities of paid search in days to come:
Volatility Requires Constant Attention for Adjustments
Budget pullbacks, changing auction dynamics (Amazon and other competitors recalibrating), and supply chain disruptions are all important factors influencing paid search performance. Late Q1 and Q2 are beginning to look like a twisted mirror-image of Q4: performance volatility without the benefit of elevated conversion rates, plus no signposts like Cyber Weekend or shipping cutoff to guide preemptive bid changes. Stay vigilant and develop strategies to respond to rapid changes in performance.
Don’t Rely on Cruise Control
Automation works best in stable environments. It can adapt to slow-developing, longer-term trends, but can run into trouble in the face of more substantial performance fluctuations. The result is needless inefficiency — made all the more painful by reduced ad spend budgets. Analysts need to intervene to steer the algorithm to superior outcomes, which is why we’ve long been pushing a hybrid approach to bid management. Agencies with a less sophisticated approach to automation have a rough road ahead.
All Hands on Deck
If one of your analysts gets hit by a bus, do you have someone else who can seamlessly step in and take control? One can imagine several scenarios where your lead analyst is out of pocket for a time. Redundancy is critical at this moment, and multiple team members need to be completely in the know on strategy AND tactics. If your ‘bus factor’ is high, it’s time to get safety nets in place.
Beware of Over-Burdened Analysts
Some amount of triage is inevitable, but severely overloaded analysts are positioned to fail in the current environment. For many analysts who are treading water, automation is the crucial time-saving device maintaining the veneer of composure. As automation breaks down in the current auction environment, analysts (and agencies) with unrealistic portfolios will be exposed.
Rely on Experience
In a normal year, Q1 is a slower, more predictable quarter. Lower ad budgets and reduced performance volatility decrease the potential risks of having an inexperienced analyst at the helm. But 2020 is different — all the rules, scripts, and automations that safeguard the novice analyst have gone out the window. What’s needed now is a deep understanding of paid search and acumen hard won through experience. Senior-level engagement will better help you navigate this uncertain environment; demand it of your agency.
Consider How to Measure Success
The economic impact of COVID-19 has been massive and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Year-over-year growth rates have been disrupted, making it difficult to evaluate success of paid search programs. Different standards will need developing, including cross-channel comparisons suitably calibrated for unique influences. A certain amount of triangulation is called for.
It’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism — COVID-19 is not a blanket excuse for all bad performance and agencies/analysts shouldn’t be allowed to use it to rationalize shortcomings or missed opportunities.
With brick and mortar coming to a standstill, many retailers will find increasing pressure to produce in e-commerce. Much of what we know about shopping behavior is in flux right now. Take advantage of this time to tighten up campaign efficiency as well as team dynamics. Even now, there are opportunities for improvement and growth.
Eight Oh Two Marketing is a boutique, search-marketing agency for enterprise. As the VP of Digital Advertising, Dan Pietrucha is an industry veteran. With degrees in commerce, finance and philosophy, Dan takes an analytical approach to any challenge, and you’ll often find him knee-deep in projection models and pivot tables. Click here to learn more about Eight Oh Two, our methodology and our team.
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