I remember the day I launched my first paid search campaign. It was in the fall of 2000 and I had only been an online marketer for a few months (having been thrust into the job at a start-up after the lone marketer abruptly quit). I had no idea exactly what this whole “GoTo.com” thing was, but I liked the fact that I could pay a few cents to get a visitor to my Web site. It felt like – for that price – it had to work! When the daily clicks went from 10, then 100, and then 1000 a day, it was a rush. I was hooked.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been doing search marketing for seven years and I’m sure I’ve bought at least 50 million clicks in that time period. In many ways, I’m jaded. Driving millions of dollars of revenue is still exciting, but it’s also become par for the course. Finding the next big keyword is still fun, but my colleagues and I aren’t giving each other high fives every time we uncover a new winner.
Over the last year or so, there have been a lot of changes in paid search. Google alone has launched multiple new products/tools that could become major parts of future ad budgets (Audio Ads, Video Ads, Print Ads, etc). I know that there is a lot of value in testing out these products, not only because they’ll be important in the future, but most likely because there are some arbitrage opportunities today while usage is still low. But I can’t seem to find the time to fully test these. I suspect that there are two reasons behind this.
First, I know the ‘vanilla’ paid search well-enough to know that I still have lots of optimization opportunities left just by focusing on my standard search campaigns. Every second I spend trying to discover the secret sauce for Google Print Ads is one second less I could spend adding another hundred keywords to an existing campaign. So until I feel like I have truly maximized the revenue from my regular Google campaigns, the opportunity cost for trying something new is too high.
Second, I’ll admit again that I’m jaded. Over the years, I’ve tested a lot of alternatives to basic search – everything from “site targeting” to “PPA ads” to 3rd tier search engines, in-text advertising, and so on. Most of these tests have gone nowhere – despite sales promises to the contrary, either the traffic has been non-existent, the quality has been poor, or both problems have occurred. So when someone approaches me with a great new advertising opportunity, my brain is now wired to say “no” until proven otherwise.
So I think back to 2000 – when I launched my first paid search campaign – and I wonder what I might have done differently had I had seven years of online marketing experience then. At that time, the “in” online marketing mediums were basically display banner ads and email marketing. I suspect that I would have looked at the GoTo.com paid search opportunity and concluded that the risk was too high and the traffic too low to spend any time on it.
And I probably would have continued along this path for a few years – until Google became a household name, GoTo started distributing clicks to MSN and Yahoo, and all signs pointed to paid search as a driving force in online marketing. As noted above, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a conservative “wait and see” approach to a new marketing channel. Just as WalMart didn’t start selling MP3 players until there was a clear consumer demand, an experienced online marketer probably shouldn’t jump into a new marketing channel until it’s clear that the channel has legs.
On the flip side, however, there are definitely advantages to taking risks on new opportunities. Being an early adopter has arbitrage advantages, learning curve advantages, and can sometimes even have contractual advantages (for example, in 2001, I negotiated a one year fixed-rate #2 position on the word “lawyer” with one of the top three search engines for $.25 CPC. When the contract ended, the bidded rate was at $1.60).
This leads me to two thoughts. First, if you are not a WalMart, that is, if part of your success depends on finding arbitrage opportunities to squeeze out a few extra dollars of profit, spending the time and money to test lots of new opportunities is probably a good idea. Second, the best way to test new ideas is to hire young and somewhat naive marketers who a) aren’t set in their ways; b) don’t quantify the ‘opportunity cost’ of a new channel versus an existing channel and c) get really excited just trying to figure the new channels out.
So to answer the question posed in this post’s headline, new marketers are probably better at finding new opportunities than experienced marketers, while experienced marketers are better at making smart resource and budget allocations that ensure that your marketing budget drives the expected revenue and traffic volume. If you accept these two statements as being true, the logical next step for any marketing team is to hire a young marketer and have him spend some of his time testing new opportunities (these days, the biggest ones would seem to be social media, video, and mobile), but under the guidance of one of us jaded oldies.