Last month, I gave a talk at BrightonSEO on PPC automation; I focused on this because the beginnings of the automation revolution are already here, and now is the time to decide if you’re going to embrace it to get ahead, or if you’re going to ignore it, and get left behind.
Here, I summarise some of my top tips for embracing automation tools, with more detail in the post below:
Things are already starting to change in PPC automation and I hope that those in the industry will get excited about the potential that PPC automation has to improve our working lives.
Why no change?
We are knowledge workers, yet so much of our time is often spent on repetitive, mundane and time-consuming tasks. I first learned about automated bid management tools over 11 years ago.
At first, it terrified me because all I could think was "What would I do all day if I couldn't optimise bids anymore?" - but then I thought about all of the other ways I could use that time, and use the other knowledge and skill I have to add value to accounts.
Yet over a decade later, I don't think that we as an industry are much further ahead, despite big efforts by Google and others to step up the amount of automation in our lives.
It's a bit like attribution, which has also been around for over 10 years; we all know it's important and that it can have a lot of value, but it's tricky to know where to begin - which means that in the same way many of our businesses and clients are still using last click, and that we're still spending a huge amount of our time with repetitive tasks like reporting and bidding.
If you can write down a task, it's possible to automate it - particularly through the use of APIs, software and coding. But for some of us that's a little overwhelming and out of scope, so I focused in my talk on three areas where you can begin to leverage the power of tools and technology to help with some tasks that you might have done manually in the past - bidding, analysis and reporting.
There are paid-for tools out there that can do a lot of what I covered - tools that can perform the analysis, present the findings to you and even roll out any changes, such as Optmyzr and Adalysis - but I wanted to keep the focus on free (or very cheap) tools to keep things accessible for as wide an audience as possible.
It's feasible to do a lot of the same work for free, with just a little bit of human intervention - which will still save you heaps of time compared to doing it manually and also ensures you keep a handle on what's going on - which can be really important for those not wanting to automate entirely.
Your automation toolkit
Your pathway to automation success lies in the tools you use to help. I'd recommend the following as a starting point - while not a comprehensive list, once you've got to grips with these essentials, you'll be well placed to look at more advanced methods.
It amazes me how many people don't yet use scripts. There are two key kinds - AdWords-based scripts and those that run in Google Apps such as Google Sheets, making them really versatile.
The AdWords scripts are used to make changes in your AdWords account based on what you specify within the script, while one that runs in Google Sheets, for example, is great at taking raw data and visualising it, or doing clever things with it to make your analysis easier.
I’ve linked to a lot of scripts within my BrightonSEO presentation that do different things, from helping with reporting, to analysis and more, so feel free to check them out.
Excel is still a key part of the workflow for many of us, and the main tool that we use for reporting and analysis on a day-to-day basis. The good news is that there are plenty of add-ins you can get to supercharge your Excel experience. My favourite free or very cheap ones are:
This is probably the best plug-in for expanding the scope of what you can do with Excel. Want to select cells based on their formatting? Done. Deselect cells you've selected? Easy. Remove excess spaces without needing to use a TRIM formula? Sorted. And much, much more. It has over 300 features and you can easily customise shortcuts. If you use Excel, you need to check it out.
Most of us use Google Analytics in some capacity as part of our roles, so naturally we spend a lot of time pulling data from GA. There are often limitations in the amount of data you can get in a single report, so using a plug-in like Analytics Edge which queries GA via the API can save lots of time. It also makes it possible to refresh reports using a single click - so it's brilliant for creating and populating reporting templates.
Bing Ads Intelligence
This is a tool which has been around a long time and is still criminally underused. This is a brilliant plugin that helps with so many tasks such as keyword research, traffic estimation and trending. It can help you understand trends around demographics, devices, locations and much more. My favourite feature is how you can use it to help select the best landing pages from a Quality Score point of view, but I go through that in more detail in my talk.
It’s currently only available for Windows devices, so if you're on a Mac you'll need to either dual-boot Windows and/or add your voices to those on the Bing Suggestion Forum to ask for a Mac version.
Supermetrics Data Grabber
This is not a free item (not beyond a few days), but if you need to pull data from multiple marketing sources, the time you save using this tool will make it pay for itself very quickly. You'll be able to combine data from Facebook, AdWords, Analytics, Bing, YouTube, Twitter and more. If you know Excel is going to remain a key part of your workflow, it's a worthwhile investment.
More and more businesses are opting to shift their reporting from Excel to data visualisation platforms. There are a number of benefits, as it's a great way to easily share data across a business and once a report is initially configured, it can be really easy to maintain and populate.
Here are some ways you can get started with data visualisation yourself - whether it's for reporting, or to help you with your campaign analysis (which is a brilliant reason to do it!)
While not strictly a data-vis tool and often used as a means to an end (used a repository for data that's processed elsewhere), Google Sheets has a lot of potential as a simple dashboarding tool.
You can update data, create basic dashboards that refresh and easily share the file around the business. For sharing and collaboration it's hard to beat a Google Doc. You can then layer on plug-ins if you want to get more complex, as well as make things more pretty.
Supermetrics for Google Sheets
This plug-in is similar to the one they've create for Excel, but it allows you to connect to almost anything you can think of. The connection to GA is free to use and you've got 30 days to trial it, maybe set up some templates and see if it's of value to you.
This is another of those tools which isn’t free, but in terms of the time you'll save pulling data yourself, a very worthy investment.
Team it with Google Sheets for fully automated reporting and dashboarding.
Google Data Studio
Google Data Studio is probably the best known tool out there at the moment for data visualisation. Naturally, it integrates pretty flawlessly with the Google stack, enabling you to combine Analytics, AdWords, Search Console, Doubleclick and more with ease.
There's integration with Google Sheets too, so you can pull in data from platforms like Bing and Facebook which might not be supported natively (but are easily reported on via the Supermetrics plug-in!).
To create a report it's all about drag-and-drop - I encourage you to map out on a piece of paper what fields you want where, so you already have your layout planned before you try and replicate it in GDS - it'll make things go much quicker.
Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is another great tool that's brilliant for data-vis, but it can also do much more. It supports uploads from Excel, different databases, the Azure cloud and platforms like Mailchimp and Salesforce. It also has integration with Google Sheets, allowing you to maybe combine the best of both worlds.
Unlike Data Studio, you can work online or offline - creating reports on your computer and sharing them online once you're finished. It's also a great tool for PPC analysis - you can upload a report into Power BI and use it to easily visualise data and drill down from an account, to specific campaigns, ad groups and keywords.
You can create filters for dates, device types and more that will alter the charts in front of you - if you normally do all of your analysis in Excel through the use of pivot tables and conditional formatting, I encourage you to give analysing via Power BI a go.
You can then very easily create templates for your most common pieces of analysis that can then be refreshed as often as you need - saving you even more time.
So, what now?
Which one of the above you use will depend on your business needs and workflow and there isn’t one simple solution. You might want to try and use Data Studio for your reporting, but Power BI to help with analysis and digging into your account performance - whatever you do start simple, and don't feel like you have to be tied down to a single platform.
Even if you're no longer having to do things manually, you should still be reviewing the data and making sure you can answer the "why’s" - whether it's why device splits/performance are how they are; audiences - why are different audiences performing better, how do they compare to the overall business personas/performance; or why your performance in paid follows different trends to that of the rest of the business.
Unfortunately there's no real shortcuts to really good insight - that is definitely one area where you can add value far above what automation can deliver!
Having more time to focus on strategic tasks will help you add more value to the businesses you work for and will also make you a more rounded digital marketer, which is becoming all the more important at the moment with the increasing need for people with a “T-shaped” set of skills.
Make sure you carve out time for your own development and put in place a plan for improving your skills and knowledge. Pair this with taking the time to step back and look at things on a broader level - enabling you to get out of the day-to-day and focus more on the strategy - and I promise you that you’ll be amazed at the results you can drive.
Chances are you’ll also enjoy your job more! So what are you waiting for?