Will Google Smart Campaigns Replace Agencies?


Recently I was invited to speak at the Vertex Summit event at WeWork, London. I was part of a panel discussion followed by my workshop on digital advertising. At the panel I was asked the inevitable question: “will automated campaigns eventually replace humans?” What would be the role of PPC agencies when all campaigns could be run on autopilot?

Over the last years all major online advertising platforms, led by Google have been making improvements and clear steps to bring advertising to full automation. Ad tech companies using widely available Google and Facebook ads API make the experience of creating online ad campaigns even more simplified. A whole industry based on agency and freelancer fees is in danger of disruption because of the fast automation technology.

Automation has been on the way for a while

I strongly believe that machines are not going to take over humans jobs, but make the whole industry adapt one more time. Looking back at history digital advertising took over their market share from traditional advertisers. What is the reason for this not to happen again?

Earlier last year Google introduced Smart Campaigns, Smart Shopping and before that Smart Display. Facebook ads also have semi-automated bidding campaigns and the tendency is that more platforms are introducing similar models. What can a well experienced PPC manager do to stay relevant?

As with all changes they start happening slowly while the majority is denying them until one day the disruption becomes visible. This is the time when it is already too late to adapt.

So how to make sure you stay ahead?

Automation is not an evil

It is inevitable that we try to make tedious and difficult jobs easier and more perfected. Being proud that you can do repetitive tasks better than anyone else is not a good start when it comes to competing with robots. Automation can save us time and help with tasks which are difficult for us. Analysing tons of information to make sure you always serve the right ad to the right customer at the right time is an example of such a task. Making  manual adjustments, selecting bids and schedules is time consuming and still might restrict your campaign unnecessarily. Actually in my experience, the more rules you set up on your campaign, the worse it starts to perform. Trusting smart bidding is a challenge to someone who is used to be paid to manage campaigns. However this is what the future of the sector would look like.

What is exactly automation?

The amount of data which is generated every day is astonishing. When talking about automation, we often hear “machine learning”, even though many people do not really understand the term. Machine learning is type of artificial intelligence technology with uses data to “train” algorithms in performing tasks based on the gathered information. Google owns seven platforms with more than a billion users logged in daily. Data from these platforms can give information about users journey in detail. All this information can be used to target niche audiences based on their recent interests and online behaviour.

Machine learning automation is only one type of automations which can be used in digital marketing. Simpler solutions can track trends and find relevant online conversations, send automated direct messages, scrap data about business prospects, etc.

Where will campaign managers fit in this picture?

It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself…

Charles Darwin

The new type of marketer will be the one who is able to control automations and understands how they work. The type of work which automation cannot do is what people are best in – creativity and long-term strategy.This is where marketers can thrive and still offer a relevant and outstanding service. Having all the right tools like analytics and results from automated campaigns can provide you with all the information you need to understand the right move for this campaign.

Here are my tips on how to use automation to strategize better:

  1. Ad copy testing. Testing ad copy and landing pages used to be a tedious, manual job which takes a lot of precious time of a marketer’s job. Now with settings like “Optimise for the best performing ad” in the standard Google Ads campaigns and responsive ads for search, display and shopping you can easily let Google’s machine learning based technology test multiple combinations of headlines, text and images. The result is reports showing you to what your audience responds. This can help you easily shape your message for each stage of the marketing funnel.
  2. Bidding. Constant manual analysis and adjustment of bid  were one of the key tasks a PPC manager. Bringing bids up and down based on multiple adjustments, scripts and hour long research was one of the main reason advertisers would outsource this job. It simply took too much time. Now with smart bidding you can easily target by a result(conversions, return on ad spends, cost per acquisition). A whole set of skills is going to become outdated. Google has been gradually sunsetting different manual adjustments one at a time.
  3. Most recently they took away the average position metric as a step towards smart automated bidding. Advertisers used to be proud by “owning” the top results of the search. Now the focus is moving to where an ad would more likely lead to a conversion.
  4. Audience targeting. When in comes to audiences we often used think about them only as functions of Google Display. Now they are becoming more and more spread between search and display. RLSA or remarketing lists for search is a way for you to bid higher when people who have already been on your website do a search. Audiences for search expanded adding Similar Audiences and In-Market Segments. One of the most common mistakes is to add this audiences but not setting a higher bid for them. If the campaign has automated bidding, then higher or lower bids for these audiences will be set automatically. The automation will make tiny adjustments to these bids based on the query type, the time of the day and the history of the user.

All this is information we as advertisers might not have access to and also it would be highly ineffective to manually update settings around.

The marketer of the next century will be able to use the data and signals they receive to shape the overall strategy, while a set of highly effective robots will do the rest of the work. Still we humans can control the message, timing and budget of the campaigns as well as any creative material.