A Prediction for Online Marketing in 2011

At The Search Agents blog, people were asked to ‘cast their predictions for the developments, opportunities and trends that will most impact online marketing in 2011‘. I was quoted as saying:

It’s an AdWords’ bug that humans are so deep into keywords, ad copy and bids. This is inefficient, unsustainable and undesirable. Soon, PPC marketers will troubleshoot problems and set ‘big dials’, but let machines do the dirty work – Expect downsizing then. In few other industries does knowledge obsolesce so quickly.

On the face of it, that might sound pessimistic about the future of pay-per-click marketing, but it’s not. Please let me explain.

My statement was based loosely on Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s quote that “It’s a bug cars were invented before computers“. Operating cars is generally a mindless, automateable task. Think of how many lives and how much wasted energy could be saved by having computers instead of people drive cars.

No more drunk-driving deaths. No more 100 car pile-ups because some guy up front wasn’t able to pull out of a spin properly. And no more millions upon millions of man-hours wasted per year having doctors and lawyers and accountants and computer programmers and customer service representatives and little children sitting, staring forward and watching white dashes zip by when they could be doing something more useful and productive with their time.

The Google guys created this incredible algorithm for sorting (now literally) trillions of webpages. They built this immense network of computers to scour the web, collect and analyze those pages. They attracted hundreds of millions of users to do billions of searches per day. And then they let a few tens of thousands of individuals just guess which keywords are ‘broad matches’ for those queries?! Write ad text based on what they hope will attract users? Pick bids based on how much more traffic they feel they could get by bidding a little more?

Something is wrong here.

Every search query is a question – a problem to be solved. Online marketers solve peoples’ problems by connecting those people to potential solutions. Yet we’re using human beings like modern-day switchboard operators in this incredibly labor-intensive process of fiddling with spreadsheets to wire up the last step in that process. Why?

Google says they calculate the relatedness of your landing page content and ad copy to the search query with every search that is performed. So tell me this: why doesn’t Google just visit a list of potential landing pages whose URLs I upload, and then TELL ME which keywords are ‘relevant’?

Isn’t the mere *existence* of Google AdWords Editor a recognition that something is drastically wrong with AdWords’ user interface?

For that matter, why doesn’t Google use the algorithm they wrote that determines whether or not a particular webpage has ‘commercial intent’ to visit every page in my site and TELL ME which among them would make good landing pages?

In their ‘Google Online Marketing Challenge’ (for undergraduate marketing students) they say that each entrant account in the GOMC contest is automatically evaluated to determine how well that account is structured. So, why don’t they use that algorithm to automatically test and improve my account structure for me? Just test millions of different account structures and pick whichever is best.

And since when has marketing been about picking keywords and setting bids and optimizing “Quality Score” and “structuring” an account, anyway?

Someone in the PPC industry (Acquisio, I think) has this great banner ad that shows a spaced-out account manager sitting in front of a computer with drool dribbling out of one corner of his mouth. The text says something like: “Congratulations! You just edited your 1,000,000th bid!” and then under that it says something like, “Don’t be a robot. Let our software automate bid management for you.”

The main point of my statement was not that there is a problem ‘between the computer and the keyboard’, per se, just as Schmidt’s argument wasn’t that we need faster, better drivers. It’s that we shouldn’t be using precious human brainpower to do mundane, mindless tasks that computers can and should do. This isn’t a pessimistic point of view. It’s an optimistic one.

There have been plenty of times before when human labor substituted for things that are now done automatically or by amateurs: lamplighter, pinsetter, typesetter, elevator operator, telegrapher. All of these jobs were created by technology, and all were eliminated by newer technology.

This is a natural progression.

Likewise, there are jobs now being done that are on the verge of vanishing: travel agent, translator and, if Schmidt is right, truck driver and chauffeur will also go the way of the dodo. Maybe surgeon and astronaut and soldier too.

The idea that ‘AdWords demystifier’ is going to be the sole exception and that 50 years from now people will still be writing blog posts like “Top 10 Tips for Writing Killer PPC Ads!” is ludicrous.

It’s good to try to remove humans from the PPC process as much as possible. I believe the extent to which online marketers are able to do this will be a primary determinant of their long-term successfulness.

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  1. I agree with your assumption.

  2. G

    Google needs to eat its own ecosystem to survive.

    There is nothing logical about the changes now happening




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