PPC automation can save time, improve campaign performance, and reduce waste from ad spend.
No surprise then that the PPC automation market, valued at $6bn in 2022, is gaining in popularity.
So let’s take a few minutes to understand what PPC automation is, its pros and cons, and some tips and tools to get started.
(If you’re only interested in the tips and tools, feel free to scroll past the listed benefits and risks below. But it’s generally a good idea to know what the common pitfalls are before you dive in headfirst. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
What is PPC Automation?
PPC automation uses machine learning technology to manage and optimise PPC ad campaigns and strategies.
Cutting out tedious manual processes allows marketers to control their spend on ad platforms like Google and Facebook more effectively and efficiently.
PPC Automation Benefits
“All things have become automated to the greatest possible extent. Everything is so fast and progressive. The PPC industry is evolving as never before. This should be understandable to all PPC specialists. If you’re not willing to adapt to the changes in a particular industry, you won’t be a good specialist for long. Fast adaptation to changes matters” he said.
The most significant benefit, as with most automation tools, is the time it saves you and your business as a whole.
Automating manual tasks means you can reallocate your time to something else. Like lead gen. Exploring new ad types. Or making everyone in the office a cuppa (coffee, black, no sugar thanks).
So aside from time-saving, what are the other main benefits of PPC automation?
Scale PPC Campaigns Faster
Maybe you’re at a point with your business where you’re ready to grow rapidly. To double your spend and run more ads. PPC automation allows you to tap into economies of scale and leverage historic conversion data to expand campaigns almost instantly. Simply select your automated bidding strategy, your target return on ad spend, and let the algorithm do the rest. Manual oversight is always still needed to make sure you’re not overspending by a considerable amount. And it doesn’t always work out as intended. But there is always considerably less manual set-up work to be done.
More Efficient Bid Management
As we mentioned above, bid management is a time-consuming task when done manually. PPC automation uses powerful algorithms to manage your bids in a way that maximises the particular conversions you want to get. But it doesn’t guarantee that the conversions you’re optimising for are the ones that actually deliver most value to your business. PPC automation can help you achieve your campaign goals. But it’s up to you to make sure the goals you’re working towards are the right ones.
Faster A/B Testing
Ad campaigns are all about testing and refining. Seeing what’s working and what isn’t, to further optimise future campaigns. PPC automation does this at scale, analysing 1000s of ad asset impressions and interactions within a few seconds and picking out those that get the most clicks. For example, Google’s automated Performance Max campaigns evaluate all your text, images, and videos to let you know if any are underperforming.
If you’re a PPC manager, gathering data and importing it into endless spreadsheets for reporting purposes probably isn’t your favourite part of the job. If it is, you can celebrate the fact you’re in a very niche group and feel free to skip over this particular benefit. But for the rest of us, PPC automation can dramatically reduce the tedium of regular reporting.
One final thing to mention – when done correctly, PPC automation also has the potential to improve ROAS. But as we outlined above this is only the case when your wider campaign strategy is set up in the right way. If it isn’t, automation can actually reduce your ROAS much faster than if you were making mistakes in the old manual way.
PPC Automation Risks
As well as having some great benefits, PPC automation also comes with its fair share of risks.
Algorithmic Bidding Wars
One current weakness of PPC automation is its tunnel-vision focus on one single metric. But the art of PPC advertising is in the consideration of other factors. Things like competition, seasonality, or other external influences. Because of this focus on driving more conversions at all costs, automation tools can end up bidding too much on clicks that don’t ultimately deliver much return.
That’s great for Google. But not for advertisers. In high-demand markets, once a keyword bid increases, it can generate an unnecessary bidding war as PPC campaign algorithms from different companies start to compete against each other. This can push up the bid price rapidly in a short space of time, relative to two real humans bidding against each other. And once bids are up, it’s a difficult task to bring them back down again without losing volume or ad positions.
Increase in Invalid / Fake Traffic
Back in April, I wrote a piece on the dangers of over-automation with Performance Max. Within the article was a note on invalid traffic. It said:
“Because Google continues to hide insightful data, it’s impossible to know where your ads are displayed or who is seeing them. This is a dangerous by-product of over-automation because these are the conditions invalid traffic thrives in.”
The same principle applies to other automation tools. Google’s Smart Campaigns caused all sorts of problems for one of our clients, Epos Now. Their Marketing Director, Carlos Barros, said “We were trying out Google Smart Display. We were hyper-targeted but were still getting leads from locales such as Iran where Google doesn’t even allow advertising”.
The Human Touch
Fresh and engaging copy is crucial for PPC ad performance. Especially in competitive markets. It’s what makes your ad stand out ahead of others.
This is a job for a skilled copywriter that understands emotion. And who uses that understanding to make ads resonate with people. This is something current AI tools don’t do very well. More often than not, the message is underwhelming and sometimes just plain wrong. AI-generated copy has come a long way, and the fact it works at all is extremely impressive. But it’s still quite far off the abilities of an experienced human copywriter.
Whether AI is eventually coming for my job in the future is a different discussion. But for now, ad copy is a job best left to human copywriters, or copywriter/AI hybrid combinations (more on that later).
Set and Forget?
Although PPC automation sounds like a “set and forget” approach, it’s not. Campaigns still require humans to monitor and review them. It’s still on us to determine bidding strategies. To make tweaks to budgets or creatives. And to set relevant objectives.
Many in the industry dislike PPC automation because of the danger of complacency. Some believe it could lead to the creation of lazy marketers. And you can understand why.
Tips & Tools For Getting Started With PPC Automation
Now we’ve had a look at the pros and cons, you might want to give it a try. If that’s the case, here are a few pointers and helpful tools for getting started.
1. Have Clear Goals From the Start
To set relevant PPC goals, you need to know your numbers inside out. What is your break even ROAS? What is your break even cost to acquire a new customer? Is your first sale more valuable because you can upsell more on the backend? Or is your first sale typically less valuable than the ones that follow? These are the kinds of questions you need answers to. If you know your numbers inside out, you can translate them into concrete goals within campaigns.
2. Choose Conversion Goals Wisely
In the early stages, you’ll need to feed the AI conversion data so it becomes accustomed to what you want to optimise for. There are lots of conversion goals you could set, such as ‘video views’ or ‘completed forms’ but not each one has equal value. So focus on the ones that do. The last thing you want is to optimise low-value conversions that don’t contribute much to your bottom line.
3. Be Patient When Gathering Data
Some things don’t happen overnight. Meat only falls off the bone after long enough in the slow-cooker. Roast potatoes only get crispy after a good stint in a hot oven. The best sauces are the ones that are left to reduce for a while. But being patient with each element is worth the wait when it’s all combined into a delish…a delicious…Sunday roast…Sorry, where was I?
Ah yes. Data. It takes a while, okay? The recommended automated campaign “learning-phase” duration is about a month. So give the algorithms time to find their feet before making any drastic decisions about whether your automation system is working or not. Of course, if your ad spend is becoming wildly inflated, you should pull the plug before it’s too late. But if your initial results are mediocre, sit tight. They’ll likely improve after the first month.
4. Use Tools to Automate Reporting
We mentioned the time-sink that is reporting earlier on. So this is a massive plus for automation. If you use an AI tool, make sure it has the necessary integrations to report on your campaigns. There are a few on the market that we like – Dash This, Swyndo, and Reporting Ninja, to name a few.
5. Experiment with AI-Generated Ad Copy
We wouldn’t recommend using AI-generated copy tools in isolation. But they can be incredibly effective when paired with human copywriters. AI systems can throw out a whole bunch of ad headline variants very quickly. And human copywriters can use these as the starting point to refine the best messaging at a much quicker rate. The top variants are then pitted against each other to see which converts best. Rinse and repeat.
6. Try Automated Bidding Strategies
Effective advertising is about matching the right ads to the right customers. Keyword research is crucial, but so is getting your bids right. Too high and your costs spiral. Too low and you risk missing out. And no one likes FOMO.
This is where automated bidding can help you. Some goals you can set for the tool include:
- Maximise clicks (as many as possible, great for driving traffic to your site)
- Maximise conversions (but remember what we said about selecting the right ones)
- Target CPA (how much are you willing to pay per conversion?)
Ready to Automate?
So there we have it. A brief overview of the pros and cons of PPC automation and some tips on getting started. Before I head off to plate up the roast dinner, a final reminder to be careful with automated campaigns. They can be really useful, but carry significant risks as our client Carlos outlined earlier.
Based on data we’ve collected at Lunio, we commonly see around 10 – 20% of ad spend is wasted on bots and fake users on ad platforms like Google. Which is something you should always take into account if your campaigns are failing to meet your conversion targets.
Lunio uses machine learning to instantly determine the legitimacy of each and every click on your PPC ads. If a click is identified as coming from a bot or fake user, Lunio blocks that user from seeing any of your ads across all networks. If a click comes from a real customer, they’ll continue seeing your ads on all platforms they use.
The details of all fake and legitimate clicks logged as first-party data in real-time, providing useful insights into the key differences between converting and non-converting traffic.
Check out our reviews on G2 and get in touch today to find out more.