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Search marketers agree: automation the least favorite part of PPC

Whether you love it or hate it, PPC is a part of digital marketing that just isn’t going away any time soon. I’ve been working in PPC for over 10 years and I’ve seen it all. ETA’s, RSA’s, cost-per-touch? (looking at you, Apple), broad match modifiers (RIP), and attribution to name just a few of the most recent changes.

Earlier this month we asked you “What’s your least favorite part of PPC?”

We received an overwhelming number of answers ranging in everything from Google support to agencies (no offense taken), to clients with unrealistic expectations. But one answer stuck out: Google automation.

Let’s dive in.

Automation can be your best friend or a nightmare. Learning how to navigate and find a balance between machine learning and manual management has been on a lot of marketers’ minds lately. (Did you catch Brad Geddes keynote on day 2 of SMX Advanced?)

Here’s what you said:

  • “Google’s movement toward AI & machine learning which is ultimately taking away decision-making and control away from advertisers. While it may make sense for some advertisers to have more automation, for others who have the desire, knowledge, and resources there’s a strong case to continue with manual orchestration and intervention of accounts. Studies we’ve performed have already shown less desirable results with the match-type updates and introduction of RSAs. It truly feels as though these initiatives by Google are driven by their agenda to increase advertiser spending.”
  • “Constantly having control of what we’re doing taken away through automation.”
  • “Everything becoming more automated, broad targeting, less insight in data and overall less control over your campaigns.”
  • “Gradual loss of control over targeting over the years. Search engines introducing changes that will clearly harm performance but selling them to advertisers as “upgrades.”
  • “Giving all control to Google with Smart bidding, dynamic ads, and lack of reporting while also seeing prices increase year over year!”
  • “Google forcing automation on those of us that don’t want it.”
  • “My biggest frustration is consistent pressure to relinquish control of performance to the platforms by adding automation features and broadening our targeting.
  • “I believe in algorithms I do. But the idea that we should start new campaigns with broad match keywords, on an automated bidding strategy, with ad copy made up by a robot and just trust it will work is silly and demonstrably false based on even the limited amount of search term data we get. It makes it really hard to trust anything Google puts out, and especially difficult to trust the reps who are pretty obviously bonused based on acceptance rates of automation features. Our job is to feed the system data, make sure it’s the right data, then from there allow the algorithms to uncover additional value we can’t see, based on what we tell it is valuable to us.”
  • “Automated bidding is all or nothing – I want to turn off certain targeting and use automated bidding at the same time. But I can’t and SA360 hasn’t learned when a targeting option truly performs terribly in my account. I know when that is and I should be able to turn off devices or select dayparting/DOW targeting and have it work from there instead of having to switch to manual bidding.”
  • “These days my least favorite part of PPC is the forced automation. It is designed for high volume, particularly e-commerce, accounts and it just does not work the same way for low conversion volume accounts. It is really frustrating to have fewer and fewer options available to manage these types of accounts successfully. The reduced access to data that is part of automation is also frustrating. Platforms are showing us less and expecting us to “just trust the machine learning”. Well, I’ve seen the query reports (with the data we can still see!) and I don’t trust the machine learning a whole lot based on what I see there.”
  • “The constant push for automation by Google and Bing reps. I get it, it’s their job to grow revenue for Google and Microsoft. We’ve used automated bidding, and it works for some products…until it starts eating away at itself and we have to go back to manual bidding to fix performance.”
  • “Google forcing their automation on every account. Some of it is good, but others just don’t work in certain circumstances and is clearly a money generator for them.”
  • “The constant drive to push automated bidding. I only work with local businesses for lead gen and the recommendations are rarely relevant. Related, is that they bypass the agency to talk to the customer who doesn’t understand so it constantly undermines me.”

Google support. Many of the answers we received specifically named Google support as lacking when it comes to offering help. As hard as they may try, most times they miss the mark.

  • “Google reps that just tell you to apply everything from the Recommendations tab and offer no additional insight or guidance. I don’t need a call to tell me to look at the Recommendations tab and I’ll apply recommendations that are appropriate, not just to improve a nonsense account score.”
  • “Google’s lack of transparency and their account managers chasing me to increase daily budgets!”
  • “My least favorite part in PPC are the Google Representatives that keep calling you even in the middle of the night. Although, there are times that their advice make sense but most of the time it will just drain your budget. They’re just very annoying to be honest. I get more sensible recommendations on Facebook Groups than their Representatives.”
  • “The constant calls from Google reps offering solutions which invariably make my campaign’s performance worsen. The calls and emails are non-stop. It’s borderline harassment, and even though I’m in Europe so can normally take advantage of privacy laws to stop this sort of thing, Google seems to be above those laws and carries on regardless, even when I’ve asked them to stop.”
  • “Google Ads reps. Bad advice.”
  • “Google Reps pestering to apply auto recommendations.”
  • “Dealing with Google reps who are more concerned with increasing Google’s bottom line than your results.”

We’re starting to see a trend here.

But Google isn’t the only offender when it comes to paid advertising. Facebook and Microsoft make a cameo also.

  • “Facebook Ads has become frustratingly difficult to perform with too many issues, policies and useless pathetic chat support.”
  • “The fact we have little to no say on the future of it. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, et. al. sort of do whatever they want with many changes coming down the pipeline looking more like ways to make these companies more money by taking control out of our hands.”
  • “Weird changes made by Facebook. Explaining the ever-changing landscape to prospects who just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that online advertising isn’t the cheap alternative.”
  • “Ads that I have run a million times before are suddenly not approved by Facebook and get rejected. I appeal and get them back, but seriously, what happened?”
  • “The changes to the interfaces are too often, Google screwing with match types and Facebook changing their targeting options make long-term methods impossible to develop.”

What about clients? Agencies unite when it comes to managing client expectations.

  • “Explaining to each client how Google works when it comes to “learning mode”– each client seems so worried about week-over-week performance when everyone knows that is not a good true gauge of performance especially when you make large changes to the account. And explaining learning mode is like wasting time to clients. They don’t understand no matter how you dumb it down.”
  • “Clients who don’t understand how marketing works. Asking to run “brand awareness” in Google Search, and running a remarketing campaign with a “max impressions” type of reach strategy.”
  • “Small budgets! Oftentimes, the smaller the budget, the more precious the dollars are to the client, which in turn means the need of results that are rarely possible to achieve. Especially for industries with high Search CPCs… $500 doesn’t go far, even if $500 is a lot of money for a small business. Options end up feeling like (1) miracles, (2) disappointment, or (3) turning down small budget prospects.”
  • “The client.” (LOL)
  • “I work for an agency. My least favorite part of PPC is telling clients that they can’t get 100 HVAC clients with a $2,000 monthly budget when the weather is mild. They can complain all day long and that still won’t change the fact that they are asking for a miracle and cheap…sorry not sorry.”
  • “Most of my clients are great, but the constant flow of emails/calls is exhausting and takes so much time away from the work I actually like to do – testing and optimizing.”

 More least favorites. While these didn’t quite fit in any category, we thought they deserved an honorable mention.

  • “The lack of options for B2B targeting. This is true across all platforms except LinkedIn. There are countless, niche targeting options for B2C, and a scant few for B2B – and those that do apply to B2B are so generic they don’t perform well. Also, match rates for first-party audiences are horrible – 10-15% in some cases. So using first-party data isn’t really a solution either.”
  • “Piecing together the data to determine how the ads are performing and make adjustments. I have yet to come across a platform that’s intuitive, or even straightforward to use. Second least favorite (related) issue is tracking conversions, which also seems to be far more complex than it needs to be.”
  • “My least favorite part about PPC is attribution. Everyone working in PPC is having or have had to prove the value of what we do and that is becoming more difficult to do without being able to complete attribute our work to overall goals.”
  • “There are several things but my least favorite part is the human factor from clients to devs. Alternatively, it’s conversion tracking because neither GTM nor Google’s Consent-Mode are GDPR compliant in their current form.” 
  • “Simply not cost-effective.”
  • “Trying to explain to the clients that PPC is an omnichannel approach. The PPC campaigns contribute to online sales, but also for offline sales.”
  • “The theft by bots and competitors.”

Why we care. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone when we get frustrated with our jobs. Whether we work for agencies or in-house marketing teams, we all face similar issues and concerns. It’s important in marketing (now more than ever), to adapt to changes, but that doesn’t make them any less maddening.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

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