Following our recent guide on the Five ways brands can thrive in the age of Search Automation, Niki and Jodie sit down with Kirsten Pistor, VP of Operations at Squared.io, to unmuddle the world of Automation, it’s benefits and why it’s seen such a boom in Search.
Available to listen to here.
Hello and welcome to The Kite Factory’s podcast series Unmuddled where we take complex media matters and well, unmuddle them. My name is Nikki Grant and I’m the head of search at the Kite factory. And today I’m joined by Jody Brookton, who is digital account director at the kite factory. Hello and Kirsten Pistol VP of Operations at Square IO which is an insight and automation platform which helps teams automate their search marketing. Hello. Please do excuse the sound if you can tell that we are recording remotely. Everyone is being incredibly kind and accommodating my requirements because my back has a problem with it and has flared up at the moment. So thank you. The Kite Factory’s diversity and inclusion agenda that allows us to record remotely like this. So let’s start as we tend to by defining the scope of the conversation that we’re going to have today which is automation specifically in search marketing. So if we start at the beginning, what is automation and why is it that we’ve seen such a big uptake in this in the market recently? I think I can probably start with that and to sort of summarize what that is. Automation means we don’t need to press all the buttons that we used to so longer the days that we needed to spend all day every day in paid search accounts. I think I’ve been doing this for ten years now. So at the start of my career I think even just to change some sale copy on a Friday I would be staying late at work and tried to press all the buttons and manually write in summer sale into our ads as long as the day’s gone of that really thankfully I think search has been around for a while and that means that it’s become complex. We’ve got more data inputs that we can utilize and put in place. So to simplify the complexity I think automation can step in and help. Yeah, that’s a lot of button pressing as well. To do ten I think I’m up to 1413 years, something like that and it is a lot of button pressing. So especially considering Google stats on this that 15% of the queries searched on Google today have never been searched before. Which how marketers are expected to keep up with that I don’t know but what kind of stuff have we got available to us within automation? What kind of features are we talking about when we ask about that? Well, I think from our perspective there’s obviously degrees of automation. So a platform like Squared will allow you to switch a button from off to on and essentially software comes in and just does a job for you. So things like applying a default setting to your campaigns it’s a repetitive task, it’s something that should be done and people forget to do it when they create a new campaign. So you can have software that can come in and just create a safety net and things like that. But other areas I think we would always say to people you can automate process and then have humans step in at a particular time. So you talk about queries that you don’t know about, you can choose to add queries or you can choose to analyze those queries and add them as negative keywords. But getting to that point of making that decision is often a time consuming thing. So being able to automate the reporting, even that leads up to that point where you can just very quickly make a decision. Do I like a query? Do I not like a query? So I would say there are different degrees of automation and probably something that I guess we’ll talk more about not being afraid to explore things that are fully automated and things that are part automated and you can step in at the end of it. Yeah, it’s absolutely where human and machine have ended up meeting right at the forefront of this bionic world. Jody, within your practitioner kind of experience, are there any other benefits of automation that you’ve kind of noticed or think are important? Yeah, and I think like Kirsten, you mentioned a lot about sort of like maybe it’s once the campaigns launched and those types of things of keeping a campaign running and sort of maximizing its effectiveness, but even the beginnings of that. So most recently performance, Max, like what we’re doing, we’re putting in a couple of images, couple of text ads and Bob’s your uncle, we’ve got a whole campaign that’s across the funnel on YouTube display search. So it’s kind of saving that time and making something that in the past has looked like the dark art. We are a PPC specialist. You must be like absolutely crazy. But I think that it’s taken away that complexity and given more of an opportunity across the Google Ads sort of spectrum in that sense. And then once you’ve started with those campaigns, you then get optuschool. So I think optuschool came around in 2019 more of a recommendations tab, but now it’s more of an automated button that you can press and it starts adding ad copy and random broad match keywords. So it’s kind of taken the campaign set up away from being super manual and then also added in that OK, now what are the best practices of that brand new campaign? Yeah, and I do think it’s really handy, obviously strategic at the same time. But as the focus has moved increasingly towards best practice and towards optimizing and having to make all these wee little changes, I do think it’s quite handy that some of that bigger, heavier lifting can be automated because it’s a bit of a slog, isn’t it? When you’ve got to do all of the set up manually and then all of the optimization. I think something that I’m always super excited about with automation is that it allows advertisers to benefit from Google’s data set in a way that we just usually couldn’t. So if we think of something like RSAs or Performance Max, we will never have access to the amount of data that Google does in the sense that we can’t necessarily see all the things that they can see through the interface. Whereas when we automate something through their functions, if Google has happened to include a load of their data in the decisions that are made in the background, then fantastic. It doesn’t mean that they need to share that data with us because obviously they generally won’t like sharing the recipe for Coca Cola, but at least it means that we get to benefit from it, right? I think one of the key reasons automation exists is to allow humans time to do things that humans are better at and let software do things that are boring. I would summarize it in that kind of bucket. I think that’s a really good point. And is this something Jody having a team that are working in search day to day, is this something that you’re seeing people appreciating a bit more? Absolutely. Especially those that have been around a bit more before automation and just having that time to be more strategic. I think we spent a lot of time back in the day making tiny little adjustments to manual bids and now we’re able to think, okay, what’s actually our audience strategy here? How are we communicating with people in specific audiences or whereabouts people are on their journey? Like if they’re not got the strong intent to buy yet or complete that action? We’re actually able to think about the tactics behind getting that person all the way from a consideration type of query right through to complete that goal that we want. It felt like it used to be somewhat of a rite of passage that you had to sit at a desk. I don’t know, when I started I was increasing bids by about two or three pages. Nikki, I think you and I are definitely giving out ages away here because I did exactly the same and I think it’s such a journey allowing automation to do something you’re comfortable doing, thinking I can do bid management. There was a point in time where I thought I could do bid management better, whereas now bid management is definitely one of those no brainer automation that we willingly opt into. And I think a lot of features and functions and data points will move more and more in that sort of way. Right now it feels scary, but as we get more comfortable with what it’s doing and what we’re trying to achieve, we’ll be more comfortable letting software come in and make those repetitive decisions for us. This was something that came up, actually. It’s a fantastic point. It’s something that came up. I was at a universal app campaign event a few years back and it was when they were launching when Google were launching UACs and they explained during this event that marketers wouldn’t be able to see the entire breakdown of every single bit of performance from that campaign. And they said, you don’t need to see this data because we optimize the campaign for you. We’re Googling and we’ve got all this data and we do it for you. And a man in the crowd stood up and said, but I’m a human, I know my client, I know all this information about them. Do you not think it’s a bit arrogant of you to think that you can do a better job than me? And the response, not a word of a lie, the response was, we are Google. Is it not arrogant of you to think that you can do a better job than we can? And that does it comes into my head all the time when I’m looking at automation because I do think, yeah, do you know what? You do have a point there. I’m not going to claim to be as good as Google, but I think it comes to the point of the inputs that Google is working with. And I think that’s where we as humans and account managers and people who know our products, our clients products, know what our goal is, and we know therefore, what we can put into the machine to make it do a better job. A piece of software is going to do a better job at doing a repetitive task, but it’s only as good as the inputs that it gets. So if you’re not giving it good inputs, what you get out of it is not going to be better performance. So I think there’s an important distinction to be made around software works as well as the information that it’s given, because ultimately it’s just rules based and it’s doing what it’s designed to do over and over again. And I think that’s a really good point to lead to my next question. If this is all so ruddy fantastic, why is literally not every single business already automating everything? I think that
I’ve worked across clients that are going through this sort of transformation of becoming automated, right? And I’ve worked with clients that have internal teams of 50 people, right down to a two or three person team. And I think that each of those sort of teams, they are still finding it difficult of where to start. I think knowledge gap is quite a big area because automation forces into a false sense of security. And I think that’s encouraged a lack of knowledge in the fundamentals of paid search. So we have people coming through, like I’ve interviewed people, I’ve worked with, some internal teams, where you skip the fundamentals, so you skip learning. How does an auction work? What is quality score? What does Google actually want from me? It’s looking for the best journey for this particular keyword. It doesn’t care about what my business is as such, it’s trying to provide the user with the best journey. And I think that lots of people coming into Paid Search now, they go, okay, right, I’m going to add a broad match keyword, a bid strategy, and then there you go, there’s my getrichquick scheme and everything is going to be hunky dory. I’m going to report back to my MD that we’re seeing 90% new customers and it’s all because of Paid Search. And unfortunately, I wish it were like that, but it doesn’t. And that gap in knowledge needs to be filled. And I’m not saying if you’ve come into Paid Search and gone straight to automation that you’re wrong because you’re not. I think 90% of people are doing that now. It’s just knowing that there’s a skill gap there and you should understand the inner workings of Paid Search before you try to automate those things. Yeah, because I guess the more complicated the automation, if anything goes wrong, you do still need to know the underlying mechanism in order to fix it. Right. You can’t just go, can you please automate a solution for me now? I agree. One of the key challenges I think we see when people put their accounts onto square IO is they put it on the platform and then just expect it magically to do some good stuff without thinking about is my structure of the account. Right. And that’s where we’ve tried to bridge that gap and say there’s a bunch of things you can do to get all your inputs working really well. From a structure perspective, from a quality score perspective, we highlight all of the areas that people should be spending time on to create the best inputs to ultimately feed information into your bid management. So I think, Jody, you’re right, bridging that gap of people knowing what they can fix is an absolutely fundamental thing that we need to all be working on in the industry. For me, it’s kind of two parts to it. One is structure, the basics, the fundamentals, getting good data in the second part, I think, is a very human challenge that we’ve probably all gone through. I think, Nikki, you and I have already alluded to it and it’s that trust and lack of control elements thinking, how can software come in and do something that I’ve done as a human being? And I think getting sort of grads in people who are more comfortable in pressing the buttons will benefit us because as we’ve already mentioned, ten years ago, we were bid managing manually, whereas now people understand that bid management just happens by software. You’re never going to do it manually. And I think as more and more things get automated, RSAs, for example, it’s now the default and I think RSAs are an automated way of running ad copy and be comfortable with that. So it’s getting people comfortable with the language of automation that it’s not a scary thing that software works in the way you tell it to. So as long as you’re providing it, as I said, with good data, with guardrails or rules and parameters in which it can work, as long as you’re clear on those two things that are within your control, you have to get comfortable with letting what it then does with that information out of your control because it can do a better job than you. And I suppose it’s a fantastic point and I’d love to know, Jodi, and your experience. How many advertisers have you come across that just happened to be set up perfectly data wise for automation? And don’t worry, yeah, of course we’ve got that feed, we’ve got that data labeled. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that and I think it’s a really difficult thing to do right when we pitch for new clients and that sort of thing. I know it’s quite an old school way of doing things, but when we audit those accounts and try and look at the ways that we can improve them, we do this scoring rating basically when we do our audits. But all the accounts that we have audited have always struggled on automation. I think it’s something that everyone tries to do but is not necessarily sure on the places to start. I think that’s a really fair point and I think this is something that will potentially be quite helpful to you folks out there listening. So to round off our session, that seems like a fairly sensible point to hit on. What do businesses do, right? So we sat here talking about automation. It sounds fantastic. Save so much time. Oh my God, it can bear so much data in mind. It can drive all of this stuff that we haven’t been able to do before. How do you do it? What do businesses need to do in order to be able to capitalize off of all of these benefits? My top tip is for, let’s say, a week to two weeks. Be conscious of all the tasks you’re doing. The minute you’re doing a task this week, the same as you did the task last week, that’s an area that is right for automation. It can be something as simple as budget pacing. For example. We work with a lot of partners who still every day come in, log into your Google Ads account, look at your spend and plug it into an Excel spreadsheet. If you’re doing that every single day and generally you hope that person is not on annual leave. You hope that person puts the decimal point in the right place, something like that. It’s prone to mistakes, it’s boring and it’s repetitive. The minute you identify on your list of tasks you’ve been monitoring for the last two weeks, the minute you see those three things pop up, that’s the area that you can automate. And it can be as simple as writing a macro for an Excel spreadsheet. That’s automation. It can be as simple as putting some new RSAs in and letting Google Ads show the best one. That’s automation. My top tip is, first of all, monitor and understand what you’re doing and then start. It doesn’t have to be this magical sort of black box. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Take the time to understand what your goals are, where your areas of time consuming repetitive tasks are, and then start taking off. How you can use software, all the features within Google if relevant, to be able to drive better performance. Awesome. So just start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to admit that things are boring and you don’t want to do them anymore. Exactly. I’ve never heard anyone say, do you know what the favorite part of my job is when I fill out this XL every morning? No one joined the world of advertising to manage negative keyword lists. What are you talking about? I do. No, definitely not. Thank you so much. JD, what would your tip be for businesses to get started with automation? Yeah, if I do want to say I completely agree with that curse, and to add on top of that, I would say don’t do that, but don’t set and forget. Always make sure you’re checking in because it’s very easy to go, oh yes, it worked well for the first two weeks and then some unknown thing happens and you don’t do a quick double check that the budget pulling through. It is correct and you’ve burned all your budget in the first week of the month or something like that. So I think that would be my piece of advice. On top of these sites, there’s other bits that can affect it as well, aren’t they? So if you’re running like a bid strategy and you’re targeting an audience and suddenly that audience gets very small, that bid strategy is still going after what you told it to. It’s not going to recognize that variable and react to it. Exactly. And this comes back to why it’s important to understand what it is you do have control over and how you can ensure your tracking is set up to measure what you’re trying to achieve at the end. If you haven’t got those building blocks in place, you can’t kick back and expect to get great performance just because you switched on a button that says I’ve ticked the automation box. Absolutely. If there’s anything that you take away from today’s session, do not set and forget. It is a cardinal sin in the world of search. To sound a little bit cynical, I’m afraid, but I would say my top tip personally would be know which automations you want to opt into and which ones are beneficial to your business and which ones may be getting recommended within the interface for reasons potentially other than the absolute health and performance of your search campaigns. I would say broad match for me is a slightly concerning thing to be referred to as an automation by Google and to be pushed in that way because I think all of us are aware. And for any of those listening who aren’t aware broad match is a manner of inputting your keywords into your account where they kind of run riot a little bit so you may find your ad triggering for all sorts of things. And whilst that is referred to as an automation, I understand why that is. Automations are generally for efficiency a lot of the time and I’d say that broad match one kind of going to be the opposite. Well, exactly. And I think this comes back to knowing what you’re trying to achieve. If you’ve got a very complex product, a long conversion process, you’re in a niche market, you’ve got many different products why would you just bucket everything together under one big umbrella and let Google decide, you know, what your brand term is. While we can still manage exact match and point people to where we want to point them knowing the user journey and create dedicated pages to get people to the right part of your website why would you not make use of those features to drive better performance? I think a lot of search marketing which has been around for a long time is about driving incremental gains. That’s why we’re in optimizing existing accounts. And if you’re not taking the time to drill in and understand where you’re spending inefficiently which is often in Broad Match, then you’re missing a trick and you’re not going to see that performance and the benefit of using automation to make your life easier. If you’re bucketing things up in Broad Match to make your life easier you still have a job to do to identify where you’re wasting money. And if you spend your time adding negative keywords to that Broad match campaign, great. Then you’re using automation in the right way. But if you’re not doing that job then you are not going to see the benefits of why we’re in the world of automation now. You’ll be setting and forgetting and Jodie will be very unhappy with you. I need a T shirt on it. You do well. On that note, thank you so much for listening. Thank you very much to my guest, Jodie Brookson, digital account director at the Cotton Factory and Kirsten Pistol, VP of Operations at Square Dot IO. Today we have unmuddled search automation and I hope you will join us next time also. Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Bye.