Automation isn’t about what machines can do for you, it’s about what you can do together


Automation puts new capacities at our fingertips, but success will remain out of reach if you don’t take an active role in guiding those improvements. be with us in mag digital.
Automation involves a range of emotions, which is true outside of marketing as well. Within the context of marketing, we should be used to it. Some of us are already so used to it that we use automated tools all the time. However, skepticism and suspicion are also common attitudes when it comes to automation — these feelings are reasonable as well. After all, new automation is often accompanied by a change in the workflow (which can be uncomfortable) or a lack of data or manual controls (which can make us feel vulnerable).

Unfortunately, there’s little to be done about the data or controls that platforms take away, but there is something we can do about how we perceive these improvements. At SMX Create, Carolyn Lyden and I presented a keynote on the ways automation has changed search marketing and how marketers must learn to use these tools and understand our role concerning them if we want to conserve a competitive benefit.

You’re probably already used to automation

The capabilities that AI and machine learning bring to your business range from little automation, such as visualizing your internal links or personalizing ads using data feeds, to realistic language processing, like GPT-3, that can write content or ad copy for you according to a sprinkling of information.
On the organic side, many marketers have automated keyword-focused SEO tasks like rank tracking and monitoring for brand comments. Some tools will examine SERPs for you, and tell you about search volume, how competitive a keyword is, and the assumed purpose behind it. The right mixture of these tools, and more significantly, knowing when to use (or ignore) the information they’re giving you, can help you decide the type of content to create as well as how detailed that content should be.

The paid search experts among us have had a long record of adapting to automation introduced by platforms, dating back to the deprecation of “pure” exact match keywords. And, now that responsive search ads are the default in Google Ads, it’s more crucial than ever for marketers to understand what their role is concerning the technology that powers their campaigns.

Automation still requires guidance

Going full-steam ahead with automation may be a tempting idea, particularly for teams that are short on resources, but the technology is still a long way away from understanding the whole extent of your marketing efforts. And to some extent, that’s probably how it’ll always be.

For example, keyword and SERP analysis tools may help you narrow down which queries to focus on, and you can plug that data into another tool to automatically develop the content, but the technology just isn’t refined enough to publish without an experienced professional to finetune it. Just look at The Guardian’s GPT-3-generated article — it’s relatively good for something that probably did not demand much human effort, but this level of content is unlikely to get you closer to your performance goals without a real marketer tailoring it to match their audience personas, assuring that it doesn’t cannibalize keywords, adding the suitable internal links and so on.

On the PPC side, a “set it and forget it” perspective toward automation can result in wasted funding and effort. Using keyword match types means your ads can activate terms that you think are unrelated or even harmful to your brand, and human intervention is needed to get your campaign back on track. To minimize any possible mistakes, marketers must also ensure that they’re equipping the machines with information that complements each other, as is essential with responsive search ads. In the example shown above, Google Ads denied the ad because the advertiser didn’t provide Google’s platform with special headlines to work with, resulting in the appearance of keyword stuffing.

Advancements in automation generally involve training models on datasets, and the larger a dataset is, the better the model typically conducts. However, datasets may include biases that are ultimately reflected in whatever the model produces, especially if the data comes from the internet. This can even be true on a much smaller scale, such as when you create a lookalike audience using a part of your customer data. The potential for these biases probably isn’t as evident as wasted ad budget, but the threats here are two-fold:
Your messaging, be it ads or organic, misses the mark with your target audience. Microsoft’s Marketing with Purpose Playbook has a great example of this: “A marketer might figure that a luxury accessories brand should target women because gender appears to relate with a higher purchase possibility. That might guide you to assume that only women buy luxury handbags, but gender may just be a red herring. Income could relate to conversion to a much higher degree. The resulting bias of only targeting women would restrict your chance.”

Your automation acts predictably, but there are scenarios that you didn’t account for. The apology in the screenshot below was published when the New England Patriots automated social media retweeted a user’s racist handle. Microsoft’s AI chatbot, Tay, was another example of an unforeseen scenario.

However, marketers aren’t merely stewards of the technology they use. Our role, concerning the automation available to us, is far more fine.

What your relationship with automation should be

As automation continues to implant itself in every part of search marketing, it may be easy to become indifferent towards it or even resent how these developments change our workflows. Not all changes are going to be positive, but many will be vital, and any hesitation in adapting to them will put you at a disadvantage. Below is a framework that can help you stave off that inactivity and take stock of your role as a marketer in an increasingly automated industry.
Chart a course. Successful automation needs obvious business purposes, just like any other aspect of marketing. Setting those goals is possibly up to your C-suite, but corresponding the strategy to get there is up to you. Before any automation can be used, you must talk to stakeholders, set the campaign goal, and determine what’s important to measure along the way.

Fuel the machine. The information you provide has a giant impact on the quality of the results your automated tools produce. You may already be doing this by adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns or manually adapting your SEO crawling or SERP-scraping options, for instance.

Automation, particularly with regards to PPC, often requires marketers to fulfill a data point for it to process the way it was planned — pay close attention to what the platforms recommend and how your campaigns are performing as you adapt your information. In the example above, HR management software company Gusto incorporated offline conversion tracking into the data it was feeding to Google Ads, which ultimately enabled the company to increase its conversion rates and improve ROAS.
Guide the campaign. Automation has been associated with cruise control but that analogy may downplay how important it is to keep your eyes on the road. Whether it’s because of a global pandemic, a competitor’s new strategy, a dramatic change in audience priorities, or just seasonality, marketers must know when to turn off or recalibrate their automated systems.

Google’s updated term match is a great example of this. If your keywords were earlier broad match adjusted, that announcement had a substantive effect on your account structure, and you had to go off of cruise control to reconfigure your keywords for phrase match’s new treatment.
Harmonize your data and efforts. We’re at a point where platforms are so confident about their machine-learning capabilities that they’re making recommendations. But, their ability to provide us with useful understandings has yet to catch up, and even if it did, those insights would be drawn from a portion of your overall marketing efforts because platforms, like Facebook and Google, aren’t going to talk to each other on your behalf.

Your campaigns don’t exist in a void: They’re sensitive to the environment you’re marketing in and what you’re doing in any given channel should complete what you’re doing in other channels. It’s still up to you, as the marketer wielding the automation, to tie together data and information from disparate sources and create a cohesive journey for your customers.

Automation is advancing, so should you

The technological improvements we’ve seen in our industry provide a lot of capabilities at our fingertips, but campaign success will remain out of reach if you don’t take an active role in guiding those advancements. Remember, automation isn’t here to take your job, but it will change the nature of your work, and being cognizant of that evolving relationship will help you get the most out of what’s open to you.

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