Don’t Shock the System – Steady As She Goes

Pro tip – ready this article while listening to The Raconteurs’ Steady As She Goes. Thank me later.

A few nights ago I had the good pleasure to share dinner with Michelle (fellow Clixie) and Kirk Williams (you know, the guy who creates #PPCchat memes in his spare time). As PPC practitioners are wont to do, we spent a large amount of our time together discussing the finer details of digital advertising. What’s new with AdWords? What’s new with Bing? Have you tried this or that? It’s the kind of conversation that can really energize you. One topic that became something of a recurring theme was the idea of “shocking the system” with campaign changes or shifts in strategy.

What does this mean? Many campaigns that we manage are based on algorithms. We have marginal control through the initial input, but the algorithms themselves are out of our control. Feed-based campaigns, automated or algorithmic bid strategies (CPA, ROAS, etc.) or features that incorporate some dynamic element all are dependent on the behind-the-curtain mechanics that are out of our control. These algorithms learn over time, adapt and become stronger. When you introduce something new or make a significant change, you effectively run the risk of shocking the system.


Shopping Campaigns

  • Product feeds in. Campaign structure uploaded. Let Google (or Bing) do the rest by matching you to relevant (hopefully) queries. You review the data, add negative keywords, optimize the feed and look to adjust bids to improve performance.
  • What happens when you have the need to completely overhaul or restructure your campaigns to better focus on products or categories? Potentially – chaos. Kirk and I saw it happen on a campaign we worked on together. Logic dictated that the new campaign structure would vastly improve performance. Instead, ROAS declined, CPA skyrocketed and the client got nervous. There were positives, and the long term plan is to use this new structure, but the shock of this change had a significant negative impact initially.

Automated / Algorithmic Bidding

  • AdWords has Flexibile Bid Strategies. Facebook has optimized CPM (OCPM). Any number of 3rd party tools have their proprietary algorithms to adjust bids.
  • These systems require data and history to understand how to make changes to your bids. No history? No data. Change your product prices? Conversion performance changes and the algorithm has to catch up. Insert a series of new creative? CTR and conversion rate fluctuates and the algorithm has to catch up. You get the idea…
  • Sometimes seasonal or outside factors can disrupt search volume, available impressions, etc., and throw bidding algorithms for a loop. Sadly, this is out of our control. We just have to know how to adjust and rebuild data for the algorithms to keep plodding forward.

Dynamic Search Campaigns

  • Dynamic Search Campaigns can be either feed-based or based on your website content. Change either of these, and your DSC campaign will recoil from the shock.
  • Build out a new search campaign (old school style – with keywords!) and you run the risk of pulling traffic away from your DSC campaign and throwing that algorithm into a fit.

All the (New) Things!

  • New features are coming at us all the time from Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter… you name it.
  • Any new thing you throw at a campaign will change your data flow. Even if that flow is positive, you have to be aware of the fact that you may very well shock your campaign. Maybe that shock is merely a burst in traffic/spend. Maybe that shock is a bunch of new traffic that isn’t relevant. Whatever the case – keep your eyes open.

What Can You Do About It?

the-raconteurs-steady-as-she-goes-2006-5-t[1]Steady as she goes. That is not to say you should do nothing by keeping the status quo. Instead, I intend “steady as she goes” to be a mantra to be mindful of your campaign changes and how they could potentially impact short term and long term performance.

  • Will your change make short term pain with a rough patch where performance might suffer? Good to know. But will the long term impact result in sustained growth and provide a foundation for expanding your campaign into the future? Worth the risk. Just looking for a short term bump? Check yoself before ya wreck yoself.
  • Running automated bids (in any capacity)? Be aware of how the rules or algorithms work and their minimum data requirements. When you launch new elements – plan accordingly. Ramp up with manual CPC bidding, build your data set and then kick ass with your automation!
  • Conducting a campaign overhaul of any sort? Take baby steps. Don’t transition everything at once. That’s just too risky. Start small rolling over a few pieces (product targets, keywords, etc.) and as performance equalizes, move onto the next piece.

Have you shocked the system lately with big campaign changes? What happened and how did you fix it? let us know in the comments!