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 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 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!