What If John Henry Managed B2B Paid Search Campaigns?
According to the The Legend of John Henry, “Steel-drivin’ men like John Henry used large hammers and stakes to pound holes into the rock, which were then filled with explosives that would blast a cavity deeper and deeper into the mountain. In the folk ballads, the central event took place under such conditions. Eager to […]
According to the The Legend of John Henry, “Steel-drivin’ men like John Henry used large hammers and stakes to pound holes into the rock, which were then filled with explosives that would blast a cavity deeper and deeper into the mountain. In the folk ballads, the central event took place under such conditions. Eager to reduce costs and speed up progress, some tunnel engineers were using steam drills to power their way into the rock. According to some accounts, on hearing of the machine, John Henry challenged the steam drill to a contest. He won, but died of exhaustion, his life cut short by his own superhuman effort.”
When it comes to managing paid search campaigns, sometimes I feel like John Henry. I know my clients and colleagues sometimes feel that way. The notion of managing and being responsible for precious budget dollars day in and day out, across multiple ad networks, using manual tools and labor can often feel like trying to tunnel through a mountain with a sledge hammer. There may however be some light at the end of the tunnel. Help may indeed be on the way.
More and more I’m being approached by nearly-full service paid search management companies such as ReachLocal, Yodle, RealPages, etc. that will do almost all the ‘digging and blasting’ for you, usually at no apparent additional cost other than the advertising (the costs are presumably built in). Important: I put these companies in a different category than say hiring a search marketing consultant or agency that would have to add significant fees on top of the advertising for management and execution.
Let me better define ‘digging and blasting’ as things that can take an awful lot of time and once the strategy as been clearly defined, can be executed by relatively cheap labor and in many cases automatically by a computer. These are things like:
- Building out large keyword lists from carefully thought smaller ones
- Setting up the interfaces for multiple networks such as Google, Yahoo, & MSN
- Adjusting bid prices for phrases based on how well they are performing
- Managing to not run over budget, and at the same time get maximum visibility and quality clicks
- Creating reports and communicating results with stakeholders
So let’s say you are in charge of, and have your company’s or your client’s paid search interests at heart. And let’s say you’ve been tirelessly swinging away with that hammer. You may even enjoy and take pride in doing so. When does it make sense to give way to the “steam engine?” And when does it make sense to clutch that hammer all the way to the grave?
I guess it depends on several factors:
- What is the purpose and objective of your paid search campaign?
- How important/vital is paid search to the health of your business right now?
- How much are you willing to trust the day-to-day execution to someone else?
- What could you be doing with the time and energy you would have spent digging and blasting?
- Which approach will produce the best result at the lowest cost?
When it’s all said and done the most important factor is probably determining which approach produces the best result. But of course, the only way to truly know that is to have tried it both ways. In many situations, I think it is prudent to launch a campaign using one approach for three months, and then trying it the other way for another three months. And the only way to know for sure is if you are carefully measuring results and comparing apples to apples.
I wouldn’t base my decision on what feels most comfortable. Lots of things that are good for our business feel decidedly uncomfortable. Usually that discomfort comes from fear of the unknown.
The pros and cons of bringing in the steam engine
- Frees up a lot of your time (and money) you can use for higher-level activities such as improving website conversion, prequalification of leads, and nurturing programs.
- You usually (not always), get a helpful account manager that is vested in seeing your campaign work. My ReachLocal rep brings a good deal of strategic insight and value to the table, which goes a long way with my clients. I haven’t had nearly the same luck with some of the other providers so make sure you are comfortable with the rep assigned to you before you start working with them.
- In some cases, they offer powerful features and technology such as re-marketing, and geo-targeted display advertising that would be unrealistic for someone with limited time and resources to pull off. Again, the bells and whistles vary greatly so do your own due diligence.
- If you are used to micro managing your own campaigns in terms of keywords, bidding, split testing ad copy, etc., you’ll probably be frustrated with the lack of control.
- The same helpful account manager that wants to see you succeed, isn’t likely going to have a lot of time and patience for answering questions about the minutia of a campaign. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you are getting good results.
- You won’t get nearly the visibility and insight into what is working and not working as if you managed it yourself. Often times, it’s simply impossible to get access to what would typically be considered indispensable data (to people that would do day-to-day management themselves). This can be frustrating if you are used to getting into the nitty gritty details.
The best of both worlds?
I think in an ideal situation, you should try to leverage and embrace the steam engine and not fight it. Using these service providers should allow you to get more done in less time.
I guess in the end, it comes down to the age-old decision of outsourcing certain tasks at the risk of giving up explicit control over quality and results. It’s kind of like deciding whether to use H&R Block, TurboTax, or doing your taxes yourself.
If John Henry had grown up a generation later I bet he wouldn’t have been as adamant about challenging that steam engine. My guess is he would have found more productive, but equally as rewarding ways to spend his time.
I’d love to hear your take and opinions on this—please share your comments below.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.