As the principal of an established SEM, I’m frequently asked which bid tools are worth considering. The truth is, they are all worth considering but be open minded about what you need a tool for.
All the vendors will claim they will save you time and labor cost, while improving performance. Personally, I have yet to see all of these benefits from a tool, but hey; maybe that’s just me; a skeptic from way back. And, way back, I had a lot more reason to be a skeptic. The first and second generation tools were clunky, exposed you to potential huge financial losses via errors, and added the work of manually adding your own tracking tags to all kw’s. Ah, those were the days and that’s why I’m a skeptic! Maybe now you understand.
Every couple of years or so I’m back at it; taking a fresh look at the crop of tools available to search marketers; just hoping things have improved and they can really fulfill on their promises. The current generation of tools offers a lot more promise. They usually tag keywords with tracking strings automatically, may not require much or any integration, and have redundancies in their bid logic that prevent costly errors.
It may be best to take a step back and define what I mean by tools. There are generally three aspects; reporting, campaign management and bid management. Campaign management tools allow marketers to update ad copy and campaign architecture with the tool; rather than having to go into each user interface (UI) individually. So, for instance you should be able to make changes in the tool, without having to dive into AdCenter and AdWords. Sounds good, in theory 🙂
OK, so the problem is the campaign management tools generally rely on a web interface, rather than utilizing a desktop tool which is always much faster. OK, you might have to use AdCenter’s desktop tool and Google Editor instead of one interface, but you’re going to spend much more time waiting for a web interface to do want you want to accomplish. Alas, this is the crux of the situation. With our account managers, time is of the essence, and they are going to gravitate to the quickest solution; no matter how much money a tool vendor spends on marketing and promoting themselves. Believe me, I’ve tried getting adoption in-house. The biggest complaint was a slow UI. (I’ll leave the vendor unnamed).
The other big hurdle to overcome is cost. Most of these tools cost $5,000 or considerably more per month; depending on ad spend. For most advertisers that spend less than $100,000 per month, it just doesn’t make financial sense. As an agency, we’re reticent to pass the cost on to our clients as well as eating the cost. The only reasonable work around for us are large clients that have direct relationships with vendors and want Point It to manage for them. That works out pretty well from both parties perspectives. These client’s tend to have very complex campaigns as well and we have at times benefitted from automating the bid management. The promise perhaps fulfilled; “free up your time from manual tasks so you can be more strategic.” You’ll hear that one a lot when talking to the vendors 🙂
I touched on the marketing and promotional aspects of these tools. They are usually backed by VC’s with lots of cash to influence opinion; or they have been bought by larger corporations with substantial capital reserves and skin in the game. So, whenever you hear opinions you have to listen for motivation. Is this person on the board of one of the vendors? Is she getting a cut rate deal in exchange for saying good things? I know, I’m sounding paranoid but in our last review that’s exactly what we found out. We couldn’t get an honest evaluation of capabilities and weaknesses. Industry reports, not a great help either. There have been multiple reports by industry influencers with a description of the tools and their differences; usually sponsored by one of the tool vendors. Ugh! We hear the differences but we don’t hear about the problems that users experience. We really need a consumer reports model in the search industry to evaluate tool vendors as well as agencies (light bulb).
So, after all of that ranting what tools do I think are worth considering?
The main third party tool vendors we would consider are Marin, Omniture Search Center, Acquisio, Click Equations (recently bought), Kenshoo, SearchForce and a relatively new player; Optimine. As defined above, Optimine is a pure bid management tool, so therefore a good option to look at and test. Results of tests we’ve seen have been good so far. Full disclosure, we have a partner relationship with Optimine. See, you can’t even trust anyone 🙂
In my next blog, I’ll give a more detailed assessment of the above vendors. Till then!