How Big Is Your PPC Data Set?

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Big data is all the rage these days. I’ve written about big data in PPC before. This isn’t a post on big data per se – but this week I’ve felt the need to talk about how much data is needed to make good decisions in PPC.

Let’s start on the micro side. A couple years ago, I wrote a post on PPC testing and why days are not data. I stole that phrase from my friend Andrew Goodman, but it’s so good that I find myself using it frequently, including every day this week.

Teaching people and clients about PPC is a passion of mine. I love to help others learn about the career that I love. Sometimes, though, the great aspects of PPC such as quick launches, instant data, and cool reporting get overstated. Suddenly you have a client or boss who wants a daily detailed report on his or her PPC campaign progress.

I don’t advocate that. I talk about that at length in my Days are not Data post, but in a nutshell, a one-day snapshot is full of too many normal fluctuations to be meaningful. Those unfamiliar with the ebb and flow of PPC get too bogged down with the daily deluge, causing unnecessary worry and alarm.

I try to remind these folks that they hired a PPC pro for a reason. We DO watch the data on a daily basis and adjust as needed. We just don’t make pass-or-fail judgments on one day’s worth of stats.

Now let’s look at the big data set of the coin. I wrote a post for Search Engine Watch this week called Do the PPC Engines Reward the Right Behaviors? It was a fun post to write – I’d been mulling it over in my head for literally a year, and finally the time was right to write the post.

In the post, I stated that Enhanced Campaigns are a case of Google rewarding for A while hoping for B – rewarding advertisers with lots of levers, while hoping they’ll create fewer campaigns.

While the number of comments and feedback on the post weren’t overwhelming, they were definitely interesting. Most people agreed that Google made things worse for advertisers and themselves with Enhanced Campaigns.

But Larry Kim disagreed with me. He has been out there trumpeting the nirvana of Enhanced Campaigns ever since they were in beta. Therefore, I wasn’t at all surprised with his stance.

I have a ton of respect for Larry and have no problem with what he said. But I still disagree.

Enhanced campaigns are fine for smaller advertisers with simple settings and campaigns. They’re good for local advertisers who previously had trouble hyper-targeting their PPC.

But for those of us running complex campaigns with diverse goals and objectives, Enhanced Campaigns are a nightmare. Several large PPC companies have written about their tribulations with Enhanced Campaigns, including higher CPCs and worsening performance across millions of dollars of spend. Matt Van Wagner is moving budget to Bing because of them. We’re seeing weirdness with our clients who’ve transitioned, including the same CPC spikes that others are claiming.

I’m not questioning the veracity of Larry’s data. I’m sure it’s accurate for his client set. But for most of us, the PPC big data says that Enhanced Campaigns are bad news.

What do you think about PPC data? When is enough enough? Share in the comments!

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  1. IMHO Google (AdWords, Analytics, Search & G+) have been opaquing audience data to a high degree lately. Analytics has taken away some of the drill down options that I use to live on to identify niche segments. AdWords has Enhanced which is combining device so targeting is restrictive and the PPC Long-Tail is getting shorter (F@#$ing Low Search Volume!). Google+…, well I don’t have time today to really get into that.

    It all boils down to gathering deep data and what you can do with it. It’s almost as if there is a Superman III/Office Space conspiracy to whittle away advertisers budget 1/100 of a percent at a time without them knowing it, by getting them to second guess their results because they can’t fully identify what’s wrong. Good thing Google is not accountable for it’s earnings and has to report to a higher power or I might think this is more than a conspiracy;)

    • Melissa Mackey says

      And then there’s the whole “not provided” disaster, which I didn’t even touch. Google claims it’s too small to worry about but it’s totally not. The sad part is, the average advertiser won’t have a clue that the 1/100% is being whittled away.

  2. As Google makes these types of changes in an effort to extract more value out of their customers, we advertisers/businesses better get focused on improving the value of our customers through A/B testing, price testing, UX, etc. if we want to survive. PPC is driven by the value of the customer. We can always maximize PPC traffic for a particular customer value and work on squeezing out more efficiency from our PPC campaigns. Google just made our lives harder and themselves more profitable because they can.

    Control what you can control, starting with your customer’s experience. Make sure they’re willing to pay you more when you decide to raise your prices 😉

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Great attitude, Chad! Very well put. Was just thinking about you the other day – hope you’re well!

  3. Ah, ‘Big Data’ it’s such a buzz word around the industry but very little companies are really able to use it the way it should (although they like to talk about it in meetings). I would say enough is enough when you have all this data, but no way of doing anything to actually action it. Data needs to have a purpose and a reason behind it, if you don’t have that then don’t bother looking at it.

    Completely agree with what you said about Enhanced Campaigns, it’s great for small accounts where you can switch over to enhanced without that much thought. But for big accounts it has been a nightmare trying to combine mobile, tablet and desktop campaigns the same without impacting performance to much. Like I’ve said all along, the idea behind it of targeting the right person, at the right time in the right location is great, but the implementation of it makes it so difficult for us all. Tablets don’t convert as well as desktop in a lot of industries and I don’t think they ever will, so we should have never have to treat them the same (as they two completely different devices).

    • I think enhanced campaigns are too early. Google Analytics new version universal Analytics by default measures the visitor, not the visit any more. The visitor once identified can be tracked cross device directly from Analytics. In the current version this isn’t possible. So in order to take full advantage of Enhanced campaigns you need universal Analytics. Most clients aren’t there yet because Google haven’t enabled companies to easily upgrade and keep their historic data. And if you don’t use GA you’ve got more issues to worry about. So in a nutshell it’s google acting too quickly in an attempt to bring its products into line at the expense of their customers at least in the short term.

  4. Loved this post, Melissa, on both points you make.

    There is so much data with PPC, it’s hard when clients get into the intricacies and start obsessing over day-to-day fluctuations. I find the hardest situations are the ones where they managed it in-house for awhile…it’s a tug of war.

    I once had a client that was obsessed with being in the number one spot. I audited their account before we agreed to work together, and pointed out that the conversion rate was the same in lower positions, and the cost was less, consistently. They agreed.

    I took it over, adjusted everything to account for this, dropped their cost per conversion by 30% while maintaining the rate….and they kept logging into the account, refreshing to see their average position. Multiple times a day. The relationship didn’t last, needless to say. But that kind of tunnel vision over ghost metrics in a day-to-day lens is a total killer.

    Don’t even get me started on Enhanced Campaigns – that said, I 100% agree with you. When they rolled it out, I thought it made sense for smaller, do-it-yourself advertisers, but it really sucks for enterprise-level users.

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