Consider yourself lucky to be a search engine marketer.
When you log in to AdWords each morning, you are presented with an array of tools, reports, and options. You can mass-edit bids, run historical analyses, A/B test ad text, and even adjust your bids by time of day (to 15-minute intervals) or geography (to a zip code).
And for the tech-savvy amongst you, you don’t even have to log in to get all of this information. Through a search engine API, you can integrate all of this data into your internal systems.
The problem most search engine marketers have is not access to information, but rather information overload.
I’m sure some of you are thinking “but there’s so much more the search engines should be providing me.” I think the same thing sometimes. But to quote Cinderella, the 1980s big-hair band, “Don’t know what you got (till it’s gone).” This has been my experience ever since expanding my online marketing reach to beyond the search engines.
Take comparison shopping engines – sites like MSN Shopping, PriceGrabber, or Shopzilla – as an example. The standard operating procedure amongst comparison shopping engines is to force you to bid on a category level, not a keyword level.
For some comparison shopping engines (i.e., PriceGrabber) you can’t even pause your campaigns online, much less make bid adjustments. If your campaigns start to spiral out of control on Saturday, you need to wait until your account manager shows up on Monday before the account is paused.
The major search engines recognize the correlation between click quality and their overall revenue. Click fraud still exists, but the increase in transparency (raw search queries, IP address reports) and decrease in questionable partners (better monitoring of content networks) makes this less and less of a problem.
About a month ago, I had a different experience with a comparison shopping engine. In a single day my clicks for a particular product went from about 10 to over 5,000. The result was about $1,500 in losses. If I contacted a search engine about this experience, I’m confident that I’d at least get an investigation and likely get some or all of this money back.
When I contacted the comparison shopping engine, my rep told me that one of their partners had run a promotion for my item on their homepage ( imagine selling an exercise ball for $20 and having a portal run an ad that says “get in shape – click here” and paying $.25 CPC). Additionally, since the comparison shopping engine didn’t write anything into their contract with the partner about click fraud or spikes, I could not get a refund – I had to pay for their bad business practices.
Once upon a time, this sort of thing happened in the search engine space. Of course, all the search engines that preyed on ignorant marketers no longer exist today.
Although I’ve focused on comparison shopping engines, this is but one example of a non-SEM advertising channel that is woefully inadequate in transparency and accountability. I need hardly mention offline channels like the Yellow Pages or TV, where terms like “lift” and “average readership” are the closest you can come to a metric.
Where does this leave us? Well, the next time you get frustrated about a report taking longer than a minute to run, remember what other marketers – online or otherwise – have to deal with. And secondly, don’t be surprised if the search engines start to move into other advertising channels, and the marketers within those channels welcome search engine accountability with open arms.