Paid Search Bid Management Tools: Great Investment or Save Your Money?

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  • November 15, 2012

The Promise of Paid Search Bid Management Tools

There are a million paid search management tools. Well, maybe a million is an overstatement, but the paid search and bid management space is quite saturated with companies promising the latest and greatest tools to do the work of an analyst.

Most of these tools have similar offerings with 1-2 killer features that are used to differentiate them from a sea of similarity. When an excellent search marketer uses their product, they often take credit for the success in their marketing materials. Case studies are published and everyone looks like a hero; the client, the agency, the analyst and the software they used. One big pat on the back for all parties involved.

Paid Search management tool makers and marketers use this success in their marketing materials, showcasing the great results that come from their software as expected results for anyone else using the tool. It’s hard to argue with such compelling numbers and the promises of efficiency gained while using the tool, and these results effectively lead to software sales for the tool maker.

Lured by the results and efficiency promises, agencies and in house marketers purchase these tools and undergo an extensive configuration and tagging process to get up and running. Often configuration will take 3-6 months, a complete re-tagging of all websites using the tool, and 20-40 hours of training in the nuances of the tool.

Assuming that they survive this indoctrination and the tool is implemented successfully, the analyst finds it’s time to start trying to achieve the results they witnessed in the case studies provided by the tool provider, only to find…

The Reality of Paid Search Bid Management Tools

The first few days of using a paid search bid management tool are often underwhelming. All of the promise is met with a learning curve. Basic edits that were easy to make in AdWords Editor or AdCenter Desktop now take 5 times as long in the new interface and involve executing a series of actions in a specific order to make sure you don’t break your bi-directional synchronization with search engines.

You begin to fear making major changes in the tool and miss the days when management was so much easier using your primitive tools. Bid management is much more complex than you were lead to believe, and your implementation representative warns you that implementing bid rules should be done by a highly trained consultant. The package also does not have any bid rules to choose from, but rather a blank canvas that you are expected to use to paint your way to bid rule paradise.

The other tools aren’t much better. Reporting only works for the period of time after you implement the tool, so you have no historical data to work with. Managing multiple search engines is not as easy as they made it out to seem either. You still have to tag each search engine separately, so the only thing you gain is consolidated reporting, only this doesn’t work as you expected either. While the tool has every report you have ever dreamed of built into the product, none of them are as good as you need them to be.

Your web analytics tool starts to show funky URL parameters at the end of your top content report, much to the dismay of your analytics team. Your web team is concerned that the new tags you add to your site will break other tracking and slow down the website… and that the next release is in 2 months.

Then there is the the biggest issue for agencies; the fact that the monthly charges for the tool are based on a percentage of the ad spend you run through their systems. This can be anywhere from 1-5% and will significantly cut into the margins the agency makes off of paid search management services.

Suddenly, you are looking to see if there is a way to end your contract early and revert back to our primitive methods.

How to Succeed Without Paid Search Management Suites

Here is how you succeed in the world when you don’t have the patience or budget for a management suite:

Hire great analysts

This should go without saying, but a great analyst is better than any tool will ever be. Sure, we have programmed computers to play chess better than humans, but paid search management has far more variables at stake – and most of these variables are not available to anyone outside of the engineers at Google and Bing!

Use the best tool for the job, for each job

If you are not tied down to a management suite, you can piece together your own system using the best tools in class, usually with incredible cost savings.

Technology as an enhancement to intelligence, not a replacement

There are only so many bid strategies that you will need. Be smart about what strategies you are looking to implement and implement them! Don’t wait for technology to do your job, because it will never love the results like you will!

Use Features Built into Search Engines.

  • AdWords has bid rules; use them
  • Conversion Optimizer has access to variables you have never dreamed of using, take advantage
  • Use AdWords Editor for bid changes. It’s super efficient.
  • Integration between Google Analytics and AdWords has always been strong, and now Google Analytics is allowing you to import your cost data from other engines! You can now have all of your reporting in one place

Bottom Line: Tools don’t create efficiencies, thinking through problems is what creates efficiencies

You come up with the strategy, and the tools do your bidding. Not the other way around.

Great Investment or Save Your Money?

Save your money for now. Use that money to invest in a superior paid search tactician and provide them with the best in class tools needed to do each function of their job.

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Author Jeff Sauer

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of San Francisco, CA.

More posts by Jeff Sauer
  • Jordon Meyer

    Well said. I’ve experienced the shiny object syndrome first hand, where leadership thinks a tool can solve all of the problems. It can’t. You nailed it with the fact that the analyst is the key to a successful account, not the technology. Being technology agnostic is also key; each account has a specific set of needs.

    I have to say that I have used 3 bid management platforms and none compare to Marin. It has been amazing for the past 7 months and setup wasn’t too bad. But of course, there are still many things that are more efficient to do on the Desktop or in the native UI. And both main engines are quickly closing the gap of advantages between them and bid management platforms.

    If you have the talent and the time, you can succeed without a bid management tool. However, large accounts take a lot of time, and bid technology can definitely help improve bidding efficiency.

    Good stuff!

    • Jeffsauer

      Interesting when you say that it’s a leadership driven decision. In my experience, it’s been driven by the Analyst (me the first time I got burned) because of the amount of workload on our plates and not enough time to get it done. I can see how both sides are lured to the solution, though.

      Good to know on Marin. They certainly have great studies and advocates, and your endorsement goes a long way.

  • Jeffsauer

    Interesting when you say that it’s a leadership driven decision. In my experience, it’s been driven by the Analyst (me the first time I got burned) because of the amount of workload on our plates and not enough time to get it done. I can see how both sides are lured to the solution, though.

    Good to know on Marin. They certainly have great studies and advocates, and your endorsement means a lot.

  • PPC Campaign Generator

    So true. From an agency stand-point, you have to weigh the cost vs benefit and overall risk. It’s a big investment of time, effort and cost in hopes that it will make the organization more efficient and drive better results.

    My experience has been that the tools I’ve used have made management harder and the results were worse than before I used the tool.

    Types of problems I’ve encountered are: UI slowness, destination URL redirects, poor UI search criteria, slow pixel tagging implementation on client side, not as intuitive as they make it seem, important missing features, sync takes a long time, bulk-upload files via Excel (both a pro and a con), saw decreases in account performance rather than increases, not easy to build out campaigns with.

    In my opinion, any one of these bid management companies can approach a business with a lousy paid search program and make a case study out of it. If an account sucks to begin with, the results achieved from using the tool look 10X more impressive.

  • Delve Partners

    Jeff – great points and funny to boot. I’d say that the outlook for 3rd party bid mgmt tools outside of large agency customers is questionable. Google has some great tools.