Making the Leap: The Paid Search Marketing Toolbox

"Tools, tools, tools. From small in-house accounts to ones with millions of keywords, it's the new advances in search marketing technology that might just make the difference between success and failure. Are there tools you could be using right now to help double your conversions, lower your costs, or save your team hours of time every week?"

That's the tantalizing description for Search Marketing Toolbox, the panel I'm presenting on at Search Engine Strategies San Francisco (you've registered, right?). With five panelists and a moderator covering both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) in an hour, you're sure to leave with huge list of tools.

Before we dive into a list of tools, let's take an important step back and consider the landscape as a whole.

The Paid Search Technology Landscape

Inspired by a slide about the display technology landscape from the IAB keynote delivered by Terence Kawaja, I've created my own visualization of the Paid Search Technology Landscape:


On the left, we have advertisers and agencies, the buyers. On the right, we have the searchers, our target audience. The search engines are the marketplace we use to reach them.

Layered between the advertisers/agencies and the searchers are the tools we use to measure, manage, and automate various components of our marketing, divided into nine buckets:

  1. Keyword Research

  2. Competitive Analysis

  3. Display Research

  4. Performance Marketing Platforms

  5. Niche Tools

  6. Testing & Personalization

  7. Analytics - Qualitative

  8. Analytics - Quantitative

  9. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)/Lifetime Value (LTV)

The companies in each bucket are representative, but obviously not comprehensive.

Paid Search Tools for Paid Search Problems

Each of these tools is trying to solve any of these four types of problem:

  1. People: Complementing experienced staff or assisting inexperienced staff.

  2. Process: Automating or reducing inefficient workflow.

  3. Analytics: Getting more complete data or more accurate data.

  4. Technology: Enabling tasks otherwise not possible (e.g., testing and personalization).

More holistically, though, these tools are one part of making the leap from your current profit to your potential profit. Along with tools, the distance between the two is the gap of knowledge and experience keeping you from improving your return.

The Paid Search Technology Maturity Curve

Having been the user of tools and working at a paid search technology company, I've seen both sides of the marketing table. My conclusion is that the appropriate level of investment falls on a maturity curve:

In this image, the y-axis is level of investment in tools and the x-axis is maturity. No one variable defines maturity.

In some cases, the size of your budget dictates a need for a tool, because it becomes unwieldy to manage manually. In other cases, you can have a relatively smaller budget, but a more mature campaign that needs new efficiency.

Maturity can also reflect market realities outside of your company. Retail is a more mature vertical and competing effectively, especially against national companies with strong brand names, can require more sophistication. That's also true of many lead generation industries, such as education, where the competition is mature and CPCs are high.

All of those definitions of maturity combine into how critical paid search is to your company, which can be classified in one of four ways:

  1. Task: Paid search is only one of many things you do. You have limited time, attention, budget, and experience. These are most small businesses.

  2. Channel: You have a more mature online presence or service offering and paid search is part of that mix.

  3. Core Competency: Paid search is a leading component of your company's marketing or services. You have extensive experience.

  4. Differentiator: You are an advanced paid search practitioner and paid search is fundamental component of your business model.

Early on, people and process problems dominate as companies struggle to gain experience and establish paid search into their marketing mix. There is little investment in technology because the free tools are sufficient. Some companies will begin to buy lower cost specialized tools as they start to see diminishing returns of education and hit the limits of free tools.

As paid search becomes more central to a company's needs and more mature, analytics and technology issues start to surface. No amount of education can solve these issues; they're purely technology issues.

People and process problem still exist, but they're more strategic: How do we grow as an agency without adding staff? How can we spend less time on reporting and more time on strategy? In these stages, companies will invest in integrated platforms and higher cost specialized tools.

Join me at SES on Day 3 (Thursday) at noon to hear me explain the Paid Search Technology Landscape and maturity curve in more detail, and get the skinny on more search marketing tools from the real experts. I'll also be at the Search Engine Watch booth on Wednesday at 2 p.m. for their Meet the Experts hour. And, of course, you can also catch me in the ClickEquations booth.