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PPC automation, human input & follow through = secret sauce

Automation is a powerful tool, and PPC success comes when we match that power with intent and follow through in our campaign plans. Read on.

Automation in search engine marketing (SEM) continues to grow and evolve. What started as basic bid rules have blossomed to touch on nearly every facet of an account and campaign.

Bids, yes… and ads, targeting, and more.

Truth be told, automation scares some advertisers as they feel they lose some level of control or can’t see all of the details behind the scenes.

These feelings are entirely valid and not to be dismissed. We all desire to understand and trust the tools we use!

One pathway to building trust in automation and confidently putting these tools to use is to focus on Input, Output, and Outcomes.

More to the point, to focus on leveraging automation deliberately and intentionally – matching desired outcomes to automation features.

Combining intention with powerful automation and smart human input leads to the secret sauce that will drive growth for you and your campaigns.

SEM Outcomes

One of the first times I heard the word outcomes used in business was with a non-profit client I had years ago. It was part of how they measured success.

Yes, they had obvious KPIs at the campaign performance level and desired to increase lead generation.

But the ultimate goal was outcomes – how did this non-profit’s services actually help the individuals who came through the proverbial door?

It wasn’t a quantity game, but one of quality.

I’ve since learned that outcomes are used widely in non-profits, healthcare, and many other industries. I believe it is a word and definition that we should start to adopt in the world of SEM.

Goals and KPIs are great and necessary for success in marketing all up, but they aren’t the full picture. What are some of the less tangible, but arguably more important outcomes that you are driving towards by choosing to apply automation in your campaigns?

Maybe you need to save time (bid strategies, scheduled Google Import, scripts) or efficiently scale your business (Smart Campaigns, auto-applied ad recommendations)?

Perhaps you have tasked yourself with augmenting your ad strategy to be more inclusive and deeply connect with your audience (RSA)?

Or maybe you want to create the best dang keyword research machine around to expand your reach on search (DSA)?

Whatever the desired outcome, knowing what you want to achieve ahead of time means you can:

  • Match your outcomes to automation features.
  • Do the work of preparing quality input.
  • Clearly define what output equals success.

Input for PPC Automation

Throughout my career, I’ve heard one consistent theme with regards to automation: you will get out of it what you are able or willing to put in.

What might your input look like?

  • Sufficient time frame and data.
  • Strong landing page copy.
  • Effective ad messaging.
  • Clear goals and KPIs.

Put another way, think of making a meal for your family. You want lasagna but are only willing to spend 20 minutes cooking and using spaghetti noodles and cheese whiz.

You might get lucky and end up with a weird and tasty meal… but let’s be honest, you will likely end up with a lukewarm, disgusting mess on your hands.

Dang. Now I want real lasagna! Or cheese whiz. Sometimes we just want what we want.

Moving on…

Quantitative Output

So, your input was of high quality. You can set it and forget it now, right?


Automation is about efficiency, yes, but that doesn’t mean you get to let go of the steering wheel. Getting the most out of automation features requires deep curiosity, iterative testing, and a dash of patience.

If outcomes are qualitative goals, output in this context is quantitative – time, performance, insights gained.

Did performance trend up, down, or remain flat?

Is automation improving efficiency and saving me time, or serving as a blocker and time-suck?

The onus is on all of us to do post-mortem SWOTs, or even mid-stream analysis to understand what went well, what did not, and what needs changing going forward.

Practical Examples of SEM Outcomes, Input & Output in Action

It is one thing to think and talk in the abstract, and another thing altogether to do the work.

How do you put the Outcome, Input & Output concept into action?

Here are some examples:

Google Import

  • Outcome: Save time when managing campaigns across Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising.
  • Input: Set up Google Import, schedule recurring imports, and set email alerts.
  • Output: New keywords, ads, and campaigns made in Google are automatically added to Microsoft Advertising. X amount of time is saved every week, month, quarter, etc.

Smart Campaigns

  • Outcome: Grow my business online with minimal time and ongoing management time impact so I can focus on managing my business.
  • Input: Plug in your business and billing information, set your advertising goal and basic ad copy in a matter of minutes.
  • Output: Quality traffic is driven to your website through automation and clear, understandable results surfaced on demand.

Auto-Applied Ad Recommendations

  • Outcome: Stay up-to-date with new ad formats and optimize ad copy with minimal impact on my time.
  • Input: Review ad recommendations in the UI or review email notifications to approve of recommended ad additions or revisions.
  • Output: High-quality ads, improved campaign performance (review KPIs like click-through rate, conversion rate, etc.), and time counted in minutes vs. hours.

Responsive Search Ads

  • Outcome: Deliver search ads that are not only inclusive but will allow me to learn what values-based messaging truly resonates with my targeted audience.
  • Input: Identify the words and phrases from the nine feelings of inclusion (celebration, zest, hope, relaxation, relief, safety, confidence, acceptance, clarity) or the three metaphors for inclusion (connection, openness, balance) that you wish to test, create RSAs that test these words and phrases across the 15 headline slots and four body copy slots.
  • Output: Using asset performance reports identify the headline and body combinations that performed best, create new ads to continue testing these themes, and carry this messaging to other areas of your marketing efforts.

Automation is a powerful tool at our disposal and success comes when we match that power with intent and follow through.

Understanding your desired outcomes for using automation, doing the work to provide quality input, and reviewing the output to make decisions is the special sauce we should all be working towards.

Happy cooking… I mean, automating!


By John Lee
source: SEJ