Contributor Frederick Vallaeys believes the PPC professionals with the strongest knowledge of paid search fundamentals will have the best opportunities for successful campaigns and solid career growth.
I've been doing pay-per-click (PPC) since 1998, when virtually every setting was manual. While it was painful to manage everything by hand, it forced me to learn the ins and outs of PPC, and that helped me build a successful career.
Today, with automation playing an ever-more-important role in PPC, new account managers don’t have to learn all the fundamentals because tools handle the details.
But as humans learn how to co-manage accounts with artificial intelligence, I believe that those with the strongest fundamentals will have the best opportunities for career advancement.
Automation erodes expertise
Remember the days when photography was an expensive hobby? Before digital, every time you clicked the shutter, you used another frame of film. To see the result, you’d spend more money to get the roll of film developed and printed. And not only was it expensive, it was also slow, with most labs taking an hour or more to turn the film into a print.
In the pre-digital days of photography, it mattered that you understood how to frame a shot and set the right exposure to get a beautiful photo. If the photo you took didn’t look amazing, there was very little you could do easily and cheaply to turn it into a masterpiece.
Compare that to today, where everyone has a decent camera on their smartphone and hobbyists have mirrorless cameras that can shoot 60 frames per second. Results are instantaneous, and all the computing power in the camera almost guarantees correct focus and exposure.
In PPC, where Google is pushing really hard to automate as much account management as possible, we run the risk that new PPC professionals will grow up in an era where they do nothing manually and never learn the fundamentals.
When the machine learns too slowly, results suffer
So, why does it matter if the person you hire to manage your AdWords doesn’t know the fundamentals? Even my 4-year old takes great photos, after all. But there is a key difference between taking photos without knowing what an f-stop is and running an AdWords account without knowing how a cost per click (CPC) is calculated.
With photography, we can take shots with ten different exposures in one second, knowing that at least one would be great. It costs nothing to throw away the nine bad photos, but if we’re lazy as account managers and we do nine pointless experiments in AdWords, those clicks cost real money.
I’ve made the point before that testing the right things is what will set great agencies apart from mediocre ones. In PPC, that means that fundamentals still matter so that you can set up a reasonable test that gets as much as possible right, leaving fewer variables to test. This helps find winning tests more quickly, and that can make a huge impact.
When humans rely too much on machine learning, we run into the following issue. Google doesn’t care if it takes ten clicks before their bidding model starts to make good predictions; they still make money on every one of those clicks.
But advertisers should and do care about the amount of investment required to get to a stable situation where machines deliver predictably good results. This matters even more for small companies that may not have the cash flow to wait it out.
The more humans can help machines go in the right direction, the more money is saved and the happier the advertiser will ultimately be. Doing all that requires knowing the fundamentals.