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Simon Poulton – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Tue, 09 Jul 2019 17:56:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 PPC and machine learning: Where do we draw the line on automation? /ppc-and-machine-learning-where-do-we-draw-the-line-on-automation-319099 Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:35:44 +0000 /?p=319099 During SMX Advanced, Frederick Vallaeys and Brad Geddes examine automation and need to understand the potential impact of unintended consequences.

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One of the most hotly debated (and least understood) topics in the PPC world, Automation, is a behemoth to take on. Functionally, we have 2 distinct levels of automation that are happening simultaneously on both PPC platforms and in the processes used to manage PPC media. Our industry is at an inflection point, and we will not simply become better marketers by automating everything with blind faith in machines. Rather, we must take an intelligent approach to automation and how we think about the future roles that PPC professionals will need to shift to.

A behemoth of a topic obviously requires some industry heavyweights to take it on at SMX Advanced 2019, so it was no surprise to see Frederick Vallaeys of Optmyzer, Inc. and Brad Geddes of AdAlysis.

Before we dive into the insights shared during this session, it’s important to note one key theme that was prevalent throughout. That theme is the idea that we don’t need to automate everything. While it can be easy to imagine a fully automated future where, at the touch of a button, everything falls into place – that is simply not the reality of the world we are facing. Indeed, the digital transformation is particularly challenging for this exact reason – some things should be automated and some things absolutely shouldn’t – but where do we draw the line?

Insights From Frederick Vallaeys

Hot off the press, Fred just released an excellent new book, entitled “Digital Marketing in an AI World: Futureproofing Your PPC Agency” which I started reading on the flight to Seattle, and honestly, couldn’t put it down! Many of the highlights of his book were featured during his session.

As one of Google’s early employees, Fred has been around long enough to see how the world of PPC has evolved and has, himself, provided a number of functional automation solutions to the wider PPC community.

Fred kicked off his session talking about the key reasons to automate PPC processes, specifically to: 

  • Save Time (Reducing costs to grow the bottom line) 
  • Improve Quality & Reduce Churn
  • Allow for Scale ( in order to make more money)

These reasons, of course, are not exclusive to the world of digital marketing but are key considerations for automation across all industries. The key idea here is, just because we can automate something, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. In order to prioritize our automation work, we need to leverage a Degree of Impact framework. Here’s one that Fred shared during his presentation:

“PPC is Becoming Easier & Harder at the Same Time” – Frederick Vallaeys

This sentiment was echoed by Brad Geddes as well, and fundamentally means, “in-platform account management is becoming easier” while “cross-platform advertising is making it harder as users fragment and walled gardens prevent the sharing of audience/performance data.”

Fundamentally, the role of the PPC Manager is being reshaped by the waves of automation available to both platforms and advertisers. The PPC community has often pushed back on Google’s automation technology, claiming the new solutions don’t work, or that a human can still outperform a computer. But, as Fred notes – perhaps, this is a failure of the PPC manager not understanding how to train a machine correctly and giving up too quickly. This idea is key, and will likely be the main trend we see in future generations of PPC experts – instead of knowing how to manually optimize, we must instead think about how to feed data into the machine and allow for the machines to optimize from there. By understanding core principles of machine learning, the best PPC managers in the future will take a data science approach to campaign management, which in turn, will enable them more time to actually become good marketers.

The evolving role of the PPC manager

Moving beyond the evolution of the PPC Manager to handle platform-specific automation, Fred jumped into the topic of automating workflows associated with PPC management. While it may appear to be a backhanded compliment for one of my favorite companies from our host city (Seattle), I absolutely loved this quote from Fred:

“Starbucks doesn’t make the world’s best coffee, but they do have the world’s best process.”

– Frederick Vallaeys

And, it’s true – Starbucks has scaled because of their ability to bring that local, curated experience to thousands of city blocks around the world. At the end of the day, a defined, repeatable process is required to scale, and that means we need to look at the automation of your organization’s management processes.

Fred provided several great examples and a mapped hierarchy of process that other organizations can use to start compartmentalizing their processes:

Further, Fred shared some great insights regarding Automation tactics including:

  • Tactics are shifting – The old way was crunching numbers and looking at spreadsheets. 
  • PPC Marketers need to become MORE marketers and think about contextual alignment – setting the right goals and ensuring the measurement systems are correctly in place. 
  • WE MUST FOCUS ON GIVING THE MACHINES THE RIGHT GOALS IN ORDER TO TRAIN THEM CORRECTLY. 

Yes, I decided to type in all capslock for that last one, but it’s a fundamental truth that we need to fundamentally rethink about we engage with the machine learning (ML) based future.

Next, Fred took us to an advanced place as we started to think about the nature of automation layers interacting with each other. This is a key concept to keep in mind with every automation, and we need to ask ourselves:What could the unintended consequences of this automation be, and what could it interact with?

One particular example looked at the relationship between bidding automation and the selected Attribution model applied to the associated goal in Google Ads:

Finally, Fred summed up his session with a few, key insights:

  • The engines are unlikely to be great at cross-platform automation.
  • Automations are point-solutions. Humans still need to define the overall process.
  • Your role as a PPC expert will shift from tactical to strategic.

Insights from Brad Geddes

“I have a confession to make – I don’t *actually* want to automate everything”

– Brad Geddes

Brad is probably one of the smartest people in the world of PPC, and to see him present a session (rather than his typical curation role on the SMX team) was nothing short of fantastic. Indeed, the idea that we want to, or should, automate everything is absurd, but there is a happy medium to be found. For one, functions like reporting should absolutely be automated, did you know that a recent study by the AdAlysis team found that “The average agency spends 8 days a month creating reports” – that’s 26% of our time dedicated to a repeatable task!

Brad kicked off by talking about the various tiers of automation that can exist and their respective core benefits: 

When we think about the way we should be using automation, it’s important to keep in mind that “Automation is the Machine recommending optimizations – BUT you need to decide what to do.” These recommendations sit within 2 core categories:

  • Optimizations: The rules for the category are “debatable”
    • Pause poor performing ads
    • Use rotate ad serving
    • Pause duplicate keywords
    • Use negatives to stop multi-ad group query serving
  • Repairs: Everything is useful
    • Missing extensions
    • Keyword conflicts
    • Broken URLs

But before we even look at recommendations, you need to know your KPIs, know what will actually change as a result (education), understand other changes that might occur (unintended consequences), and the general workflow. In order to understand if we should act on the recommendations provided, Brad shared a great Evaluation Framework:

If you can’t make a workflow then you can’t automate it, you can’t repeat it, and you can’t be consistent in what you do. Be sure to look at your recommendation and ask: 

  • Does this fit for how we think accounts should be optimized? 
  • Should we test it? Sure, put a test in place and actually run a test, rather than making blind modifications. 
  • Did it work? If yes, should you now roll it out in other places. You often do not want to roll out account wide as that can have a lot of impacts

Additionally, when making changes based on automation recommendations, you make a note of what you did – why, and when? 

  • Avoid making the same mistakes twice by documenting your iteration process. 
  • Project management systems are probably your most powerful tool in Paid Search because it keeps everyone on the same page with what actually happened. 
  • Remember, Google will not remind you of a change you may have recently made that has yet to truly show it’s impact. 

Next, Brad tackled the topic of unintended consequences with a client example where a recommendation was actually impacted by other settings:

  • Client example: eCPC – Target CPA for a client – after three weeks, it was almost double than what they were looking for. Why didn’t it work? They had device bid modifiers in place (+100% for Desktop, -25% for mobile) but the machine is using those and is therefore unable to optimize correctly. 
  • When you switch to any automated ad systems, it changes ad rotation – this is a big deal as you can move away from your actual best ads (highest converting vs. highest CTR)

One of the big ideas that Brad shared is to always ensure that any automation will follow the same rules you do, for example, if an automation, such as a bid-modifier by time of day is in place, this can be heavily impacted by conversion volume and may not always follow the best practices set out by a human.

Finally, Brad summed up his session with a few, key insights:

  • Recommendations are great starting places to determine what to automate vs use a workflow.
  • Always understand how the automation works. 
  • Put a recommendation & automation evaluation workflow in place.

The State of Automation

If there was a Gartner Hype Cycle specific to the world of PPC Automation, I believe we would be descending rapidly from the Peak of Inflated Expectations, and adjusting to the rapids within the Through of Disillusionment. As mentioned at the outset of this article, we are at an inflection point in the world of PPC. It is now when we set forth towards our ML-driven future and we must all embrace the future of intelligent automation, albeit cautiously and with an understanding of the potentially massive impact of unintended consequences.

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Pixel problems: Troubleshooting your paid media tracking implementation /pixel-problems-troubleshooting-your-paid-media-tracking-implementation-311660 Wed, 06 Feb 2019 16:45:22 +0000 /?p=311660 Here are tips to avoid tracking problems with GoogleAds and BingAds by carefully managing tags and also learn to identify solutions for some common mistakes.

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You have just launched what might be the greatest campaign of your life. You’ve nailed the research, dialed in your keywords and you have a grand vision for the success you’ll inevitably encounter. People will be chanting your name in the streets and writing articles about your innovative approach, and how you can rightfully include “gamechanger” in your LinkedIn bio. Like a kid on Christmas morning, you can’t wait to see what you’re going to get so you check in on your campaign after a few hours… no conversions. But that’s OK, these things take time, right? You look the following day again – still no conversions – and doubt starts to creep in.

What could be wrong? Your campaign is driving lots of engagement and your analyst is telling you that sales appear to be up, but it’s hard to say what’s driving them. You realize that it wasn’t your campaign build after all but instead, it’s your tracking. Your feedback loop is broken and you don’t know why. Queue the long-chain of emails with your developers trying to explain the ins and out of pixels to a team that is already overburdened with requests and doesn’t understand why your need is so immediate. Combined with several frantic searches on the topic, you’ve now landed on this article in the hope that this will solve your problem – welcome.

This article focuses on troubleshooting tracking for GoogleAds and BingAds, although the solutions contained will also extend over to other pixels (e.g., Facebook Events) that would fire based on the same user actions.

Tag management

It’s 2019. If you’re not using a tag management solution by now, what are you waiting for? I highly recommend using a solution like Google Tag Manager (free) or Tealium (paid). For this article, we will assume you’re using one. Hardcoding tags onto your site gets very messy, limits your flexibility to trigger (or to mitigate) tags and in general requires significant development support for even the smallest change.

Before you troubleshoot your configuration within your tag management solution, perform a simple crawl on your website to ensure that your tag container appears on every page of your website. Using a tool like Screaming Frog will allow you to see if some pages (or sometimes entire subdomains) are missing tracking and potentially save you a lot of time before you head down the rabbit hole.

What actions trigger your conversions?

As we think about troubleshooting, the first thing we need to understand is how you’ve configured triggers to fire the conversions created within your accounts. Are you using a pageview (most common), an event? Or something else entirely?

GTM makes it very easy to use both the GoogleAds and BingAds templates. For Google, you need to add in your conversion ID and label associated with the appropriate trigger (this could be a pageview or an event) and include any exceptions that may be causing false positives.

In this example, there is a validation event that fires when a specific form is completed and the website displays a success message.

Often I see marketers place click-listeners on a form submission button, rather than waiting for validation that the form submission was successful. It’s highly likely this will result in over tracking as it will also include all incorrect form submissions (where a required field is missing) along with those that go through inflating your data.

You’ll notice in the example above that we have also included an exclusion for this pixel firing within the dev and staging environments. This is to prevent any rogue individuals internally inflating your data when performing test transactions and leading you to believe that some obscure long-tail non-brand keyword is more efficient than your brand terms.

Similarly, here’s an example of the ideal configuration for Google Ads transaction tracking. Note the inclusion of the OrderID as a variable to support deduplication within Google Ads (if you accidentally do fire it multiple times on the same user conversion event) as well as the dynamic revenue field.

For any dynamic values you’re pushing into this tag, these need to be picked up from the dataLayer in advance. All around Analytics Superhero, Simo Ahava has a fantastic article on persisting dataLayer variables across pages when they may not appear on the thank you page for example.

Quick Tip: It may sound almost too simple, but be sure to double, and triple check, your conversion ID and label data to ensure that it matches across platforms. It’s very easy to overlook this and will drive you up the wall trying to solve the problem when everything appears to fire correctly.

Now we are ready to check the validity of the firing trigger. It’s important that we troubleshoot this in two ways: Does it fire when it should be based on the rule we have set up? Does it fire based on any other actions when it shouldn’t?

To do this, we’ll want to initiate preview mode within Google Tag Manager and initiate a test conversion. You do not need to go through a paid search ad to do this. Rather, the conversion pixels should fire for ALL conversions and the platforms (Google and Bing) will match this back if they have previously tracked a user interacting with one of your ads.

In addition to using preview mode, I recommend creating a recording using Google Tag Assistant. This extension will allow you to create a log of all events that fire (for Google platforms) and the data that is passing along with them.

Once you’ve initiated both of these tools, perform your conversion action and you should see something like this:

Using preview mode in Google Tag Manager will allow you to see what tags will be triggered without needing to publish them first.

Now find the tag you wanted to fire. All tags will be present, but they will be split into “Tags that Fired” and “Tags That Did Not Fire.” If your tag fired – great, check that the data being passed along is correct. If it is, then there shouldn’t be an issue. If your tag didn’t fire, then you may have a problem with your trigger. Start by reviewing what did fire on the page and the associated triggers. Next, click into the tag you wanted to fire and see what rule wasn’t met. Using this to communicate with your development team will go a long way to hone in on the issue to make technical changes.

Of course, there are so many different reasons why you may not be tracking conversions accurately. I sat down with my coworker, Wpromote’s Director of Development Mike Ulrich, to come up with a short list of quick hits for problems you may run into and the most likely solutions based on hundreds of implementations handled by our company.

Problem: No conversions are being recorded

Possible Reasons:

  • The trigger is being blocked or has not been set up correctly. Review within preview mode to see if any of the rules mismatched (and thus stopped it from firing).
  • The trigger isn’t firing due to a tag sequencing issue. A delay can cause an issue when content loads and the user closes the page before your tag firing.
  • The tracking IDs are incorrect and the trigger works causing data to pass into another account.
  • The conversion is firing but fires before the conversion data is available in the dataLayer.

Problem: No dynamic data (revenue) is being captured

Possible Reasons:

  • The conversion pixel is using the wrong dataLayer variables (i.e., there is a mismatch).
  • No dataLayer variable has been created to push dynamic data.
  • The confirmation page has been changed causing the data passing into your dataLayer to break.
  • The data object used to push conversion data into the dataLayer is broken or has been removed.

*Note: Your dataLayer is the most powerful aspect of any analytics implementation. It’s crucial that both you and your development team are aligned on what kind of data you need to be able to pull from here and how it will populate.

Problem: Too many conversions are being recorded

Possible Reasons:

  • TransactionID is not unique and is unable to be deduplicated if the conversion is triggered multiple times. Transaction deduplication occurs on the platform side (once the data has passed to Google Ads) and as such requires the transaction ID persists as not to double count.
  • The confirmation pages transaction data isn’t session based, causing duplication when you reload the page in a different session.
    • Note: This is a particular issue we have observed with Shopify and requires a custom script be added. You can read more about the required solution on Shopify Help Center.
  • The same conversion pixel exists in both a hardcoded state on the site and within your tag management platform. (Platform should deduplicate if transaction IDs match.)
  • There is no form validation in your trigger to limit conversions to only full form submits.
  • The is no rule set to limit your conversion pixels to only fire once per page load.

Given it’s highly likely you’ve stumbled upon this article because you’re dealing with some pixel tracking challenges, I wish you the best of luck and a speedy resolution. Just remember to take a calculated, iterative approach to troubleshoot to avoid chasing your own tail. Even the best developers can end up in a troubleshooting feedback loop at times of heightened stress!

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