A Paid Search Christmas Carol: Learn From The Ghosts Of SEM Past, Present & Future

shutterstock_135529310-scrooge copy‘Twas the night before Christmas in the search marketing department and SEM Director Scrooge was heading out hours before his staff.

“Director Scrooge,” said one of the young SEM analysts, Tiny Tim. “It’s Christmas Eve. The gang and I wanted to know if we could get a paid search management tool for the holidays so we can program bid changes and ad scheduling, as well as automate the optimization based on our ROI goals? I promise we’ll check on our campaigns remotely at home.”

Bah, Humbug!

“Bah, Humbug,” grunted Scrooge as he locked up his office. “We don’t need to spend good money on something that you can do manually. Don’t be a lazy bum.”

Tiny Tim’s smile faded “But, sir—”

“—but nothing, young man,” replied Scrooge. He turned to the rest of the staff. “Now get back to your bulk uploads and your report downloads. Automation is a dream. We built this very successful paid search program on doing things manually and I don’t see any reason why we should change now.”

And with that, SEM Director Scrooge took the train back to his nice, yet lonely, apartment and went to bed after binging on frozen pizza and Breaking Bad.

That night, Scrooge was awakened by the sound of rattling chains. When he opened his eyes, he found himself looking into the translucent eyes of a ghost. It was Marley, a friend he had made when they both were interning in digital marketing way back in 2001. (Later, Scrooge would wonder why Marley appeared as a ghost when he was still alive and well working at a daily deals startup in Silicon Valley.)

“Scroooooooge,” wailed Marley, “You have lost the love of search marketing and your jaded attitude is affecting you and those around you. It will be your dooooooom.”

“Shoo away, Marley. I do things the way we did them ten years ago. They’re called best practices for a reason,” said Scrooge.

“You need to remember what was, think about what is, and know what is to come in paid search marketing or it will be your dooo—“

“—doom. I got it the first time.”

Marley looked a bit perturbed by the interruption, but smoothed out his ghostly clothes, “You will be visited by three ghosts tonight to show you the way.”

And with that, Marley disappeared. Flustered by what had occurred, Scrooge sat up waiting for a while, but eventually fell back to sleep. Until…

The Ghost Of SEM Past

“Where are we?” asked Scrooge as the Ghost of SEM Past walked him through time and into an old memory of an office building.

“Your internship at the advertising agency over a decade ago,” whispered the apparition.

As the scene materialized before him, Scrooge saw the younger versions of himself and Marley hunched over a computer in the corner of the office.

“This is taking forever,” said younger Marley, looking exhausted. “I can’t believe I have to load in every campaign by hand. I heard Overture and Google are going to be offering offline editors soon, and I can’t wait.”

“You know what would be great?” said younger Scrooge. “What if we could specify the Return-on-Ad-Spend (ROAS) target we want to generate from our campaigns and the system just bid up and down on our keywords in order to hit that goal?”

“I was at a conference last week and they said that one day we’ll have automated tools both in the engine and via third party technologies that will help us not only manage our bids, but also control so many other operations by using algorithms and other processes.”

Young Scrooge’s face lit up, “Oh, man. That would be amazing! I can’t wait for that day!

As the scene began to fade, Scrooge turned to the ghost, “I said that? I guess…I guess I did. Well, bah humbug! We were just dumb and lazy back then. I would have gladly accepted a tool to help shave just five minutes off of my day even if it messed up my bids. Manual is still the way to go if you want full control.”


The Ghost Of SEM Present

“Where are we now?” Scrooge began to ask but then saw they were in the offices of his competitor across the street where that smug Search Director Barrett was addressing his paid search analysts. Holiday decorations lined the walls.

“Oh, I wish I had my tablet so I could take notes,” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how he does it but his paid search practice is top notch and I’ve had more than a few analysts leave to go work for him.”

In a conference room, Barrett (wearing a fun Christmas hat) turned to his staff, looking somewhat like Santa addressing his elves. “Okay, everyone, are our campaigns ready for the holidays?”

“We are good to go, Director Barrett. We’ve trained our bid algorithm to match the seasonality spikes we’re expecting over the next two weeks,” said an excited staffer.

“And I set up automated reporting so we all will get daily summaries in our email during the break,” said a smiling man.

“And we made sure all of the New Year’s ads have been set to start on Jan 1,” said another.

“What about attribution?” asked Barrett.

“All set,” said a happy search marketer, “I was also able to connect our new attribution model to our bid policies so we’ll optimize against more accurate measurement.”

“Fantastic,” bellowed Barrett. “Now, let’s PARTY!” The cheery staff began exchanging presents, chatting about their holiday plans, and munching on cookies.

The Ghost of SEM Present took Scrooge’s hand to leave.

“Fools!” said Scrooge. “Computers can’t possibly do the work of humans. Wait for one glitch and then we’ll see just how happy they are.”

As if on cue, Barrett turned to his staff as he bit into a snowflake cookie, “Okay, good. Make sure we check everything every day. Remember what I always say, ‘The tools are only as good as the people using them. Check your bids and check them twice.’ If you see anything funky in the daily reports, jump on it immediately.”

Scrooge saws Barrett’s staff nodding their heads in agreement as they faded from view.

The Ghost Of SEM Future

The Ghost of SEM Future was a scary, shadowy specter in dark robe and hood. His skeletal hand was ice cold as he led Scrooge through time to their final destination.

“Oh, we’re at my office,” declared Scrooge. “Where is everyone?”

They were in Scrooge’s office but it was full of futuristic technology. All of the desktop monitors were as thin as paper and an older Scrooge was dressed in LED-lit clothes. He adjusted his Google Monocle device and addressed his handful of staff.

“As you know, business hasn’t been good,” began Old Scrooge. “We’ve had some layoffs and this holiday season we have a ton of work to do and so we’ll all be working overtime – even me – to get this done.”

The staff groaned and Old Scrooge nodded. “Yes, believe me, I’m not happy about this either.” The old man turned to look out the window. Across the street, the future Old Barrett and his much bigger staff were enjoying their holiday party with a 3D hologram of a Snowman passing out cookies.

“…for those of you who haven’t chosen to go work across the street, I offer you the satisfaction of knowing you’re still doing paid search the right way – manually.”

Old Scrooge turned around as his staff began filing out the door. “Wait, wait. Where are you going? We have millions of keywords to analyze! Tens of thousands of bids to change! There are ads to be changed out—”

“Sir,” said a voice behind him. Scrooge turned. It was Tiny Tim, older and balder. He was the only one left.

“Sir, I’ll stay here with you,” said older Tiny Tim. “You gave me my first job in this industry so I’ll stay with you all night if need be and help get the work done.”

Old Scrooge was touched. “You’d do that?”

“Yes, I will,” said Tiny Tim as he turned his advanced computer back on with a hand gesture. ”I just wonder how things would be different if we had embraced technology, Director Scrooge. Aren’t there just some things computers can do better than us? Yes, the creativity and the big decisions should never be out of our hands, but what about managing huge keyword lists at scale or analyzing millions of rows of keyword performance data? Shouldn’t digital marketing be a marriage between the best of what we can do and the best of what computers can do?”

Old Scrooge paused at the window. Across the street, Barrett was welcoming Scrooge’s last employees into the holiday party with hugs.

Tiny Tim put a hand on his old shoulder, “Sir, I know there are obviously some big benefits to doing things manually, but maybe if we had used the technology where it was strong, we could have put our time into things that only humans can do well and, well…maybe this company wouldn’t be losing market share so badly.”


Scrooge awoke in his own bed and he had a lot to think about.

After the New Year, Scrooge called an all-hands meeting in his office to review the holiday campaign performance. Many of the team members looked weary and many of the men hadn’t shaved in days.

“…and the ROI wasn’t as good as we hoped but we did have a positive year-over-year growth,” finished Tiny Tim as he finished his presentation.

There was a pause as the staff waited to hear from their boss.

“Oh, yes…thank you Tiny Tim,” said Scrooge, a bit distracted. “Great stuff. Good work everyone. I know there were some late nights and I’m very proud of how we were able to improve upon last year. The people upstairs will be happy.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Tiny Tim and the rest of the exhausted staff nodded in appreciation.

Scrooge smiled, “And, Tiny Tim, why don’t you begin a review of the bid management technologies out there. I’m sure there has to be a partner out there that can help us do our jobs better this year and for next holiday season. You should all have input into the vetting process so that we bring in the best solution to fit our needs.”

The staff looked shocked. Tiny Tim grinned, “Yes, sir, Director Scrooge. Right away!”

Scrooge watched the excited staffers as they filed out of the room, chatting amongst themselves happily about the new vendor evaluation process. Tiny Tim lingered behind.

“Why the change of heart, sir?” asked Tiny Tim.

“Let’s just say I had a chance to reflect on things. Best practices should be continuously reviewed as they change with the times. Just because doing things manually was how we started in paid search, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see how new tools and processes can’t help us.”

Tiny Tim smiled, nodded, and left the room. Scrooge sat down in his chair and looked out the window.

Across the street, Barrett was looking out of his window, sipping his morning coffee. He caught Scrooge’s eye and gave him a cheery wave. To Barrett’s surprise, Scrooge waved back.

Happy Holidays to all and, to all, a good night!