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New Year’s Resolutions: Paid Search Strategy in 2018

It’s time to rethink goals, objectives, strategies, and desires on both a personal and business level. In December we notice things that are off track (think waist lines and checking accounts). January is the time to fix it. For the paid search marketing team, there’s a lot to analyze after the crazy holiday season, but January is the time to figure out big wins for this coming New Year and start bending those chart lines upward.
2017 was probably a good year (if so, congratulations). But every SEM knows that year-over year growth is the name of the game, and it’s not always easy. So after cleaning up the champagne from your recent holiday record-setting party, it’s time to start ratcheting up performance to carry you though this year ahead of the pack.
Here are some New Year’s resolution ideas for paid search strategy in 2018:

1. Fill in the Gaps

Now is the time to analyze your entire portfolio and identify the holes. Chances are there are missing elements to your campaigns that can be corrected early in the year. Take a look at these and beef up your to-do list.

    1. Product Inventory – Are there products and categories that you haven’t built campaigns for yet? What new products or services were launched last year that don’t have a strong presence yet? Building out those missing campaigns, ad groups, and product targets early is one of the best ways to grow any account year-over year.
    2. Features – What new features have been announced that you haven’t implemented yet? Are you up-to-date on the latest ad formats, betas, audience targets or other features? How about updating that old Customer Match list from eight months ago?
    3. Extensions – Are some campaigns missing some site links? Are they outdated? Have location extensions been updated to include the three new stores? Can mobile users click to call?
    4. Campaign Settings – Look for any undesirable or inconsistent settings that may have crept in throughout the year. Ad rotation, budget, ad scheduling, device targets, languages, geo targets, networks, search partners, you name it.

2. Invest in Automation

SEMs are some of the busiest people I know. Give yourself the gift of more time to work on the tasks that require a human touch (ad creation, campaign builds, reporting and planning, vacationing). Let the bids be managed while you sleep. If something takes too much time and a robot could do it better, it’s time figure out how to delegate that task to automation.
AdWords has a decent set of basic automation features (CPA bidding, automated rules, eCPC to name a few), and can be expended even further with scripts and custom API integrations. There are dozens of more robust third-party automation platforms that are ideal for more complex accounts. Ask yourself: What’s cheaper? Hiring one or two extra teammates this year to help with the mundane tasks, or investing in a platform such as DoubleClick, Adobe Media Optimizer, or Marin? You might be surprised.

3. Act on Attribution

Good attribution modeling is complicated. Perfect attribution is impossible. But zero attribution modeling is absurd in this day and age. Many SEMs hold back in attribution because there’s really no right or wrong answer. There’s no perfect data. Don’t let the ambiguity of attribution paralyze you from a decision, though. Analyze the cross-channel data, make the best data-driven estimation you can, and adjust your goals accordingly. Nobody knows what the perfect bid will be for your keyword (Google has their opinion). We just guess based on the information that we do have.
This much we do know: some channels are top-of-funnel “finding” channels (non-branded paid search, paid social) while others tend to be lower-funnel “closing” channels (email, affiliate, branded campaigns, remarketing). It’s critical to identify which of your channels fall into each category and then how much value they either contribute to or steal from other channels.
We don’t need complicated and expensive software to see how different channels interact from first to last touch conversions. The MCF Channel Grouping Path in Google Analytics can give a basic breakdown on which channels contribute the most to other channel’s success (finders), and which channels tend to benefit more from interacting with other channels first (closers). Just set up the report to filter different channels for first touch and last touch to see how each channel feeds the other. Play with it, make a basic spreadsheet, figure out the “give:take ratio,” and adjust accordingly.
2018 Paid Search Marketing: Attribution Modeling

4. Get a Second Opinion

Fresh perspectives are a quick way to shake up an account and get it moving again. Borrow another set of eyes for your account and see what you learn. Each SEM is a unique person, so the accounts we manage year in and year out tend to take on our own beliefs, preferences, and biases based on our own (limited) experiences. We do things the way we do for a reason. But so does every other SEM expert. And aren’t we all about testing anyway?
If you’re part of a larger in-house SEM team, ask a qualified colleague or another agency to “audit” your account and show you exactly what they would do (if they were in your shoes). Work for an agency? Try an “account swap” for a day, where you each analyze an account that you don’t regularly manage. Swallow your pride, share notes, and help each other out. We all have blinders on to some degree or another, and no paid search account is ever perfect.
New Year’s resolutions are about rising up to (or getting back to) the best versions of ourselves. Exploring new things, growing, learning, reaching new heights. SEMs also need their resolutions for paid search management in 2018.
The year is young. Try something different. Start working on your next all-time record charts, and remember to Scotchgard the carpet before December’s annual SEM report goes out and the champagne flies.
Let us know how we can help you pull it off. Reach out for a free, no obligation paid search analysis or a more comprehensive digital strategy plan.

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Mark Curtis

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