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The Limitations of Stand Alone Machine Learning and Marketing Automation

Behaviors change. And humans (read: marketers) are more perceptive and intuitive than machines when it comes to adapting to real-world changes. It doesn’t always take global catastrophes to alter the effectiveness of your PPC campaigns, and we shouldn’t leave it to machine learning alone to decide how best to optimize our campaigns indefinitely.

Humans are still the most important factor in running effective campaigns

Hands down, the most important variable in the success of digital ad campaigns are the humans involved, on either end of the transaction. For example, the success of your Google Ads campaign is determined by the individuals behind the campaign, and their expertise in putting the right content in front of the right audience. This includes the graphic designer creating your Display Ads, and the marketer reading the data and determining the targeting strategy.

But humans are only capable of doing so much on their own, and while we excel at processing massive amounts of data from our environment, it takes years of study and practice for a human to learn the principles and tactics that will help them become expert marketers. But it is possible for a human to work together with a machine, and create beautiful things. The most inspiring example of this comes from Garry Kasparov who paired novice chess players with computers and showed that, in the chess world, you can combine computer tactical thinking with human strategic thinking to make even a novice player win against someone who has years of practice.

Human+Machine Level One: Using Platform Provided Automated Bidding Strategies

If you decide to switch to an automated bidding strategy, make your decisions based on a forward-thinking strategy developed using data from your current campaigns. It may seem counter-intuitive, but doing this gives you greater cause to keep a close eye on your KPIs. If you don’t, the machines can go haywire and spend your entire budget, especially if you missed a setting. It will take some time for the machines to optimize your account (weeks, if not months), so make sure your campaign portfolio is well-balanced so that your conversions don’t completely dry-up. And understand that an automated strategy is never completely hands-free! You will still have to raise/lower your bids in enhanced CPC if you aren’t getting the desired amount of clicks. Or raise/lower your target CPA if the cost of your conversions suddenly skyrockets or conversions start to drop.

Human+Machine Level Two: Third-party PPC Automation Software

PPC automation works best when it serves your goals, essentially acting as an extension of the marketer instead of her replacement. Let the machines perform the monotonous, repetitive tasks in seconds, so you can glean insights from what they report to you.

Many companies provide off the shelf software that can be used to manage your PPC campaigns outside of the platforms. Some provide a nicer user interface to make building campaigns easier to understand, while others provide computing power that gives insights you might not have found using the platform alone or analyzing data by hand in spreadsheets.

Using ppc management software to track your data can give you an advantage over marketers who are only using features provided inside of the platform. Software that ties into the API of digital ads platforms can add efficiency into your workflow, and allows for some objectivity in your strategy – the calls aren’t being made by just you and/or Google and Facebook. After working with software for some time, expert marketers may develop their own opinions and that will lead them to…

Human+Machine Level Three: Custom Tactical PPC Automation Software

Building your own software can be daunting, but the best marketers, or the ones who are putting millions of dollars into it, are looking to gain a level of control over their campaign effectiveness that just isn’t provided by the platforms or off the shelf software. If you’re at this level, you can build on insights you received from third party software and start to develop your own features. Remember, computers are best at tactical so you will want to know the limits of software and focus on your software integrating with a human with proven strategic abilities. If you find a tactic that works well, that isn’t public knowledge, you can really drive conversions with your marketing campaigns, beating out your competitors. Just remember that most API access comes with a set of rules that you must follow, so play nice.

Man + Machine: A Beautiful Union

At the end of the day, you must make the decisions and execute the PPC strategy that is best for your situation. Successful marketing is about being creative and insightful – machine learning can’t do that, but it is a useful tool. When strategic humans and tactical machines work together, beautiful things can happen.

It may go without saying, but you will want to put a talented marketer in charge of your campaigns, or partner with a digital marketing company, and give them enough capacity (AKA budget) for some experimentation. You’ll also want to give that marketer the tactical tools to get the job done – tactical machine learning algorithms that look for patterns in the data and work with the strategist to execute effective marketing campaigns. Successful marketing involves testing new strategies, new markets, new audiences, new creative, and the synergy of a human working together with a machine leads to more effective marketing.