PPC Bid Automation: A Must In 2017

Seems like every year, I write a post on PPC bid automation and bid management. Manually managing bids used to be practically a full-time job when I started doing PPC in 2002; now, it’s almost an afterthought due to automation.

Two years ago, I was asking if PPC bid management was still a thing. Adwords Scripts, automated bid rules, and bid management solutions were my alternatives to manual bid management at that point, and they’re still good suggestions. Last year, I talked about the best times to use automated vs. manual bidding. This year, I find myself wondering if anyone should be using manual bidding at this point. I’m thinking the answer is no.

10 years ago, the only way to use PPC bid automation was through a tool, like Marin, Kenshoo, or Acquisio. Today, with free tools like Adwords Scripts and bid automation rules in both Google and Bing, even smaller advertisers can take advantage of bid automation.

Google was the first PPC engine to launch bid automation within the interface. Several options are available, including:

•    Maximize clicks
•    Target page location
•    Target CPA
•    Target ROAS

Most strategies are available both as individual campaign strategies, and as portfolio strategies across multiple campaigns. Portfolio bidding is a useful strategy that helps advertisers maximize profits across campaigns or sets of keywords. I used a homegrown type of portfolio bidding back in 2005 when I worked in-house; we created a spreadsheet that calculated our profitability on every product we sold, and cranked out the right PPC bids for each product. It was a manual process, but very successful for us. Read more on portfolio bidding in Adwords at Search Engine Land.

Not to be outdone, Bing Ads rolled out with PPC bid automation shortly after Google did. The rules are essentially the same as Google’s.

If you’re going to use scripts or engine automation, you’ll want to do some homework first. Frederick Vallaeys has a great article on Search Engine Land with an overview of setting up bid management rules. If you’re using scripts, or Frederick’s tool Optmyzr, you’ll need to think about things like lookback windows, ROAS, and target CPA. These metrics are important to understand, even if you’re using a paid tool that does some of the calculations for you.

Automating bids in the engines seems easy – and it is. But you’re giving up some control to the engines, which is a little like the fox guarding the hen house. Not all experts are in favor of using PPC bid automation through the engines. Wordstream has a thought-provoking post on why you should never use Adwords automated bidding. It’s from 2014, but I still tend to agree with most of the article. We’ve often seen automated bidding hurt client performance, either by limiting impressions or click volume, or by inflating click cost to where campaigns become unprofitable.

We’ve had the best luck with paid bid management tools. The benefit of a paid tool is that it’s a third party, so there is no vested interest in gaming the system or inflating CPC. Paid tools tend to have algorithms built in that reduce the number of manual calculations PPC managers have to make. The tools learn quickly, yielding performance improvements within a couple of weeks. Here’s a typical example of results seen before and after implementing a paid bid management solution:

Bid management was implemented in April 2014; immediately the client saw an increase in clicks and a large decrease in CPC. All else equal, this is a win for any client.

Bid management solutions can also optimize mobile bid adjustments. We use Acquisio, and here’s an example of how mobile performance improved with their Bid and Budget Manager tool:

Prior to implementing the bid management solution, mobile performance was erratic. With bid management, cost per conversion stabilized, and total conversions increased significantly.

There are many paid bid management solutions out there – here’s one list, although I don’t agree with their rankings. For instance, they list Marchex, which is a call tracking software, not a bid management solution.

Most bid management software providers offer a free trial. I’ve found that the time I save in calculating targets and setting up rules more than pays for the software.

Paid PPC bid automation tools aren’t for everyone. With all the great free options out there, there’s really no reason to be manually managing bids these days.

Can you think of a situation where manual bid management makes sense or where automation has gone wrong? Or is automation the only way to go? Share in the comments!

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Bid Management In 2016

Last year, I wrote a post called Bid Management: Is It Even Still a Thing? In that post, I talked about all the bid management tools PPC managers have at their disposal, from Adwords Scripts to automated bidding in the engines to bid management software. I wondered, with all the tools available to us, whether manual bidding had become a thing of the past. Do people even focus on bid management, or do they let tools do the work?

A quick Google search for “bid management” indicates that it is still very much a thing:

bid management serp

3 PPC ads, plus an organic listing and an irrelevant Wikipedia definition, show above the fold. 2 of the ads are for agencies (including my local friends at Netvantage), and one is for a bid management platform. So clearly, people are searching for help with bid management.

There certainly is no shortage of bid management tools out there. Just last week, Google launched Adwords Smart Bidding, which uses “powerful machine learning” and device performance optimization, among other things.

So is automated bid management really better than manual bid management? My answer, as with many things PPC, is it depends.

When Automated Bidding Makes Sense:

•    In large accounts, it’s nearly impossible to manually manage bids. It’s inefficient and leads to sub-optimal performance. Some type of automated bidding, whether through a paid tool, scripts, or engine optimization, is necessary. I like third party tools, since they’re more robust than the free tools, and include features like budget management that are harder to do with free tools.
•    When you have high click or conversion volume. Even in smaller accounts, if you have a lot of conversions, using the “target CPA” rules in Adwords and Bing can really improve performance and make bid management easier. You’ll still need to monitor your bids, but you won’t need to actively manage them on a daily basis.
•    When your goal is ad position or impressions. Using rules like “bid to position” makes manual bid management unnecessary, if these things are your goal. It’s rare that bidding to position makes sense – I always recommend against it – but in competitive situations on brand terms, for instance, it can be important.

When Manual Bidding Makes Sense:

•    For small accounts with low budgets. If you have an account with a fairly small number of keywords, and a limited budget, you can often just set your bids and check them every couple of days. Your budget cap will keep you from overspending, and if you’re limited by budget, making tons of bid changes isn’t really necessary.
•    When you have little competition. This is pretty darn rare these days, but there are some niche industries where there are few competitors advertising. If no one is bidding against you, bid management is simple.
•    When automation fails. It’s rare, but I’ve had instances where bid management tools have failed, either by killing volume while trying to meet a CPA goal, or by creating a ton more work for me in reviewing reports from a script. Sometimes the bid or competitive situation is too complicated for a tool algorithm or script to understand, and requires a human touch.

What do you think? Do you prefer automated bid management for most of your accounts, or do you still like the control that manual bidding offers? When do you prefer one over the other? Share in the comments!

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Bid Management: Is It Even Still A Thing?

When Google launched Adwords Select back in 2002, the self-serve pay per click model was new. Although GoTo existed before Adwords, it wasn’t as widely adopted. People flocked to this great new way of advertising that allowed them to pay only when someone clicked, rather than when impressions were served. It was a paradigm shift that changed online advertising forever.

One element of early PPC programs that managers quickly had to master was bid management. Bidding for the top of the page, which was actually possible in GoTo/Overture back then, didn’t make much sense to savvy advertisers. Instead, we wanted to pay only what the click was actually worth to us. High-converting terms, we reasoned, should have higher bids than low-converting terms.

I remember spending all day on bid management back in 2002-2003. I was doing in-house ecommerce, and we had hundreds of products, all with different profit margins. I had a fancy spreadsheet that calculated exactly what each click was worth, based on our profit margin and PPC conversion rates. Looking back, it was crazy – but it worked. PPC quickly became our biggest acquisition channel, and we made money on every sale.

Fast forward to today. Few PPC managers are manually managing bids, at least on any kind of scale. It’s time-consuming. It’s complicated. Done properly, it requires math and thinking. Lately I’ve been wondering, is manual bid management even a thing anymore?

I’m not sure it should be a thing, given today’s technology. Even back in the day, I used GoToast (which later became Atlas bid management and then eventually went away) to manage bids. I soon realized that we couldn’t come close to putting our entire product catalog online and still be able to manually keep up with the bidding wars that were happening in the old Overture system at that time. Now, we have both free and paid options for automating bids.

Adwords Scripts

Adwords Scripts launched in 2012 and revolutionized the way PPC is managed. Scripts can automate countless tasks, and one of them is bid management. And they’re free! If you know a little programming, you can even create a custom script that will manage bids exactly the way you want. If Scripts had been around in 2002, I wouldn’t have needed that complicated spreadsheet to calculate my bids – I would have just created a script.

Automated Bidding

Automated bidding was one of the features that actually launched following the much-vaunted April 22, 2014 announcement call. Automated bidding, like most things Google, is also free. Automated bidding is even easier to use than Scripts, and really leaves no excuse for doing manual bid management.

Just this week, Bing Ads matched Google by launching automated bidding. I expect this might actually get more people to start using Bing Ads, now that they won’t have to manually manage bids.

Bid Management Software

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: bid management software. Providers such as Acquisio, Kenshoo, Marin, and many others have been around for several years now. Most bid management platforms have an algorithm that will manage bids for you. All you need to do is set a budget, and the software takes it from there.

Acquisio, which we use at gyro, has their Bid and Budget Management tool, which optimizes bids in near-real time. Marin just launched Budget Optimizer, which tells advertisers what their monthly budgets should be.

Wow. Technology is amazing – albeit bid management software comes at a price – and yet, I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. My days of manually calculating bids in a spreadsheet seem far away. If you’re not automating bids in some way, you’re losing ground to competitors who are.

Do we even need to train new PPC managers on bid management, what with all this fancy software and automation?

I think the answer is yes. In order to properly use technology, you need to understand how it works. Letting a software package or, heaven forbid, Google, tell you what to bid is a scary proposition.

Now, I already admitted that we use bid management software. It saves me untold hours of manual work. But I still monitor bids and ROI on a daily basis. If you don’t understand the bid landscape, how can you make corrections or spot issues? Software and scripts can only go so far – the PPC manager still needs to pay attention to what’s happening.

What do you think? Is active bid management a thing of the past, or is it still a key skill for PPC managers? Share in the comments!

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