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Paid Search Marketing – the ultimate direct marketing channel?

by mattobrien on September 18, 2012

The rise of paid search over the past decade has been unprecedented and predominantly driven by the returns that advertisers are able to achieve from the channel. It has reshaped digital, into a lean mean, ROI focused machine. So does this make it the ultimate direct marketing channel?

We are all familiar with direct marketing and they are core to our practices, right? The direct marketing basics, such as targeting the right audience, using the right message, testing, learning, evaluating and acting.

Paid search offers a perfect environment for doing this and the live nature of paid search marketing means that tests can be undertaken all the time, learning can be achieved and change can be actioned. All resulting in continually improving paid search marketing programmes. We can’t argue that paid search, as a channel, doesn’t allow you to do all these things and much more. However, we have found that at times the execution of paid search campaigns doesn’t always fall in line with these tried and tested DM principles.

As independent paid search auditors we see a lot of different paid search campaigns, from a lot of advertisers, across a number of different industry sectors. This gives us a unique insight into how paid search marketing as a channel is being deployed and how direct marketing principles and practices are being applied, or not.

One of the most fundamental things about any DM programme paid search or otherwise, is being able to measure results and make decisions accordingly. To be able to make a decision it is necessary to have accurate and reliable data, from which to base these decisions. Statistically viable samples. At times we find that this is where paid search management techniques and direct marketing principles start to diverge. All too often we will see campaigns that have been divided and segregated to the Nth degree, with campaigns containing single keywords or like words or phrases being split into several separate ad groups. While this may allow for marginally improved targeting of creative, it can leave specific keywords or campaign elements in isolation, not delivering enough volume of any data, be that impressions, clicks or sales, to allow a decision to be made about how to manage and optimise them. At times, this can mean that it is not possible to make a statistically viable decision about the performance of large parts of a campaign, potentially leading to inactivity and worsening results.

In this case the quandary of the paid search practitioner is whether or not to have a perfectly targeted campaign, made up of many hundreds of individual elements, each producing little data of any meaning or to have a slightly less perfect campaign, with functional targeting, but with groupings of keywords to allow meaningful decisions to be made. We aren’t saying that a keyword shouldn’t have a campaign to itself, but if it does, do make sure that it is going to give you enough data to be able to make a decision. Be led by your own data.

We have long said that even the perfect paid search campaign has a half-life and that good decisions can quickly become dated. To get the best out of any campaign it will require constant analysis, evaluation and optimisation, being in a position where you are not able to accurately analyse and evaluate data can out you at a disadvantage before you start.

If you think that you are not getting meaningful data from elements of your campaign or that you cannot make the day to day management decisions that you need to, perhaps it is time to get an expert second opinion.

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