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Digital Advertising Automation

Automation has become interwoven into everyday life, from scheduled bill payments to voice assistant devices. Workplace performance in particular hinges on our ability to automate processes and leverage artificial intelligence, especially in promoting our businesses to prospective customers.

Marketing automation can reduce time spent on repetitive tasks and improve campaign results. This can free business owners and marketers to focus on high-level strategy rather than tactical-level tasks. Accordingly, many start-ups have launched to offer full automation of services such as advertising. Tenured platforms such as Google have also led recent efforts to largely automate tasks such as ad creation and placement. The question is, “are these options effective?”

Ad Automation Vendors

Many vendors have recently come to market, offering automated management of digital advertising with the potential to outperform human marketers. None, however, have seemed to leave a signature mark on the industry yet.

The advantages?

  • A capable AI could weigh ads’ performance data quickly and make adjustments across multiple networks (e.g. search, display, and social) without requiring a human to interpret data and implement optimizations.
  • Vendors have simplified the processes of ad creation and campaign management so most business owners can run a basic ad campaign without much assistance from a marketer.
  • These platforms are typically less expensive than traditional agencies’ ad management fees.

The potential downsides, however, have far outweighed the promoted benefits of these platforms in most cases.

  • In the systems I’ve encountered to date, advertisers’ results didn’t experience significant uplift.
  • AI platforms can overlook key contextual factors that would be common-sense to human marketers.
  • Many automated platforms lack the comprehensive tools and targeting otherwise available in Google or Meta ads.
  • Most vendors’ reporting is rather basic and doesn’t provide nearly the level of information as Google or Meta ads. Without sufficient data, it may be difficult to determine campaigns’ true results, precisely how ads appeared, and where ads were shown.

Automation in Digital Ad Platforms

Similarly, Google and Meta have developed ad automation tools such as AI-driven resources for advertisers seeking improved performance as well as simplified account options for non-marketers.

Google’s Smart ad accounts offer “watered-down” advertising solutions geared towards users with minimal experience with Google Ads. These can be effective in obtaining ad traffic with minimal input though generally lack the data and comprehensive targeting most marketers demand in order to ensure ads are reaching the right audiences, matching accurately to user intent, and generating quality leads.

Smart Bidding is a core element of most Google campaigns today, optimizing bidding via machine learning towards goals such as website clicks, conversion actions, or even a defined cost per acquisition. Initially, advertisers should implement proper setup of conversion actions and allow a “learning period” for ads to calibrate. Provided the campaign can generate sufficient data, the AI will identify best-performing ad elements and continually optimize the campaigns. This is a significant evolution from advertisers having to manually manage bid rates and generally produces improved results.

  • A caveat with Smart Bidding is that machine learning has to receive sufficient data from which to operate. Narrowly targeted campaigns or those with smaller budgets may not be well-suited for advanced bid strategies, potentially resulting in dramatically higher costs and inferior results. In the case of a local advertiser desiring to generate leads within a small geographic area for a niche set of searches, the more basic “maximize clicks” bidding method actually resulted in better results than the otherwise intuitive “maximize conversions” method.

Dynamic ads have also become an interesting option for Google advertisers. For businesses with a well-developed website, dynamic ads can automatically generate ad components from content on your site. This can dramatically reduce time spent developing ads, keep ads fresh with your current website messaging, and reach relevant searches that might otherwise slip through a strictly defined set of target keywords. However, dynamic ads *are* automatically generated. If utilized, advertisers should invest significant time initially in defining the scope for ads to operate within and continually monitor dynamic ads’ appearance and matched search terms to reduce the opportunity for undesired results.

Automation Considerations

Advertising automation can exponentially improve campaign results and dramatically reduce time required in managing ads. However, these resources are certainly not to be set up and then forgotten. Significant time should be spent upfront considering defined scopes for automation and exploration of “what if” scenarios. Manual review of performance data and user experiences is critical in the early stages of automation as well as during significant changes to your business goals, website, and other marketing elements. Ongoing analysis is then beneficial in guiding results of automation and reducing opportunities for potential issues.

Checks can be implemented to monitor results of automated advertising. In addition to the advertising platform’s data, consider reviewing ad traffic via your website’s analytics to confirm the accuracy of reported clicks and to evaluate the engagement and locations of users arriving from ads. (One local advertiser’s previous marketer had targeted ads to major US cities, and the ad platform reported these as the matched locations; however, a review of their website data showed most of the traffic was actually from India, clearly indicating the need to further refine the campaigns’ configuration.) If you utilize a CRM, you can also filter new leads by source to analyze the quantity and quality of prospects from ad campaigns. Scheduled email reports can also be helpful in reviewing performance on an ongoing basis.

Summary

Automation has the potential to save time, freeing marketers and business owners to focus on strategy and operating their businesses. However, as with many things, “all that glitters is not gold” when it comes to marketing automation. While some ad automation tools have revolutionized the industry and delivered improved results, others have faltered altogether or failed without proper setup and guidance. Carefully research ad automation options and consult with a specialist before investing heavy resources. Then, perform due diligence by evaluating results and user experiences on an ongoing basis to reduce opportunities for potential issues.

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*This article is provided for informational purposes. Use your best judgment and/or consult with a marketing professional for your specific situation.