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Automation & the changing role of the PPC professional

Profile image for Kherrin Wade

The rise of AI and machine learning has transformed many industries, some for the better, others against massive controversy in the form of job losses. The world of marketing is also not immune, but I think until recently we haven’t really felt the effects of a machine doing our role and displacing us.

I’ve been working in digital for the last 12 years, and during this time I have been involved in performance marketing campaigns which have been powered by machine decision making (cost per acquisition targeting, ad copy optimisation etc.) as well as the familiar love/hate relationship with search and social algorithms. But these practices have never taken away a part of the role that I have come to expect of a digital marketer, they have just enabled it and become a necessity to achieve results.

This is until now. Over the years Google has tried to lead the way to convert many ‘old skool’ PPC managers (like me) to ditch the manual techniques for creating and optimising search campaigns and encouraged us to use its machine learning capabilities to cut out the grunt work.

I must admit, I’ve met this journey with some hesitation and reluctance at many major milestones. For example, enhanced campaigns was a painful transition from complete control of campaign management (especially devices) to one of smart optimisation by Google.

Enhanced campaigns help you reach people with the right ads, based on their context like location, time of day and device type, across all devices without having to set up and manage several separate campaigns.

(Google, Inside AdWords, 2013)

I’ve disliked Google AdWords Express because it dumbs down the profession - you set a budget, select a product and write an ad, AdWords Express does the rest for you. For many small businesses it could have its value, but I’m just not used to working for these types of businesses. But that’s just me. I’m used to putting my heart and soul into setting up campaigns with business objectives, unique selling points and keyword research at the core. 

For any aspiring PPC marketer, I believe the grunt work is a rite of passage to learn the trade and appreciate how it all works. I “lost” many hours in the early days running search query reports and marvelling at the outlandish queries people input into Google, but it was an easy entry point into this world and far less daunting than making bid changes from day one! I refer to lost in “ “ because it really was a necessary stepping stone to become a confident PPC manager, it just took a lot of time which in today’s world I accept may be challenged as a waste...

And then there is marketing attribution. It’s been the holy grail for many years, but very few advertising campaigns explore beyond the last click model because it can become tricky to align all marketing channels in this way, and unite one picture. Plus many don’t have enough data to truly make it useful, especially data-driven. So at times we’ve been shown a world which is hard to attain for many advertisers and have chosen to stay comfortable with the status quo.

But, we’re starting to see progress in our thinking and in our behaviour...

In 2018, when Google AdWords became Google Ads, smart bidding made its entrance. Initially this came in the form of enhanced CPC - the setting which could automatically adjust your max CPC bid for clicks that seem more or less likely to lead to a sale/conversion. This new feature we could get to grips with straight away, it was a small step forward and a useful next step to improving performance. But this was only the beginning…

In 2019, there is a repertoire of automation settings and services which are designed to alleviate the banality of grunt work and empower PPC professionals to spend more resources on creativity and strategy. And this is where we find ourselves today, reluctant to let go of the skills and experiences which have got us to where we are, but also optimistic and excited by the new skills we’ll be developing as we learn to adapt.

For further information on automation features available, why not download our ‘Automation in PPC - how to be ready for 2020’ guide. Packed with information on attribution, bidding strategies and ad copy as well as reflecting on the skills of the PPC marketer and role of your agency in this new age of paid search.

We are always afraid of what we don’t understand, and unfortunately machine-learning is certainly still in the black-box territory for most. Not being able to unpick or reverse engineer what’s happening can frustrate many, and a lack of transparency in areas like reporting can leave the most experienced PPC marketer lost for words.

Trust is very much at the heart of how successfully PPC professionals will embrace automation features:

So what skills should we expect PPC professionals to learn, discover, adopt and become passionate about?

Less repetition, more creativity

The core skills of a PPC marketer are rooted in numeracy. At Adido, whenever we interview we like to assess whether someone is a ‘words’ or ‘numbers’ person. PPC requires a confidence with numbers. We research keyword volumes, calculate avg. CPCs, conv.rates and CPAs, forecast scenarios, and extract/interpret data on a daily basis.

In a new automation world, these core skills will still be important, however, how they are used will evolve.

The machine is fantastic at processing large amounts of data and figuring out patterns and it doesn’t begrudge repetitive tasks. So bid management, keyword research and reporting may become a thing of the past for a human. In their place we should see a rise in strategic decision making and direction as well as creativity across ads and problem solving.

From the outset it may be too much of a challenge for a PPC executive to be strategic. After all, strategic decision making requires wisdom and confidence, both of which come with experience. So if you have a young team, or your agency has a lot of junior staff you will need to consider the impact this could have on performance. Not enough chiefs, too many indians perhaps?

On the other hand, search marketing still requires empathy and creativity in copywriting, competencies humans have in abundance and machines are yet to master. Whilst copywriting might not be high on the skills list for a PPC marketer, we do feel it’s a skill they’ll need to learn and develop.

PPC ad copywriting is a fine art - with limited characters and a highly competitive landscape, crafting an ad which will stand-out, qualify clickers, and achieve clicks is no easy feat. We’re lucky to have up and coming PPC superstars like Maddie, who have embraced this landscape and are keen to shake things up.

examples of great PPC ads

Training the machine

The machine cannot function without human input. Determining the rules, targets and parameters is paramount to successful automation, and a human has to make this call. 

Activities like smart bidding are also far from set-it-and-forget-it approaches - these strategies need to be regularly reviewed and revised with human judgement and business context thrown in. 

The machine will in effect become a member of your team. Something to ‘mentor’ and nurture with additional data, new boundaries and semi-strict guidelines. Poor human input or neglect can mean the child-like machine could run away with itself (and your money!) so instruct wisely.


Changing the focus

The role of client services and account management in presenting and explaining performance will remain a key component of delivering a PPC service. After all, you’ll still need answers to what has happened, why and how it could improve. 

The future for PPC professionals should focus on the type of PPC professional they want to be – someone who is creative (ad text bias), client-facing (account managers) and/or technical (capable of getting to grips with scripts & selecting the right tools).  

I’ve gone on a bit of journey reflecting on this topic, and whilst my day-to-day life isn’t focused on PPC management, I can certainly see these traits emerging in our PPC team. 

They are the next generation of PPC professionals, marketers who may not be so ‘stuck in their ways’ (like me) or people who walked into this industry on a mission to never have to do the grunt work, leap-frogging their way into the more enjoyable and potentially more rewarding aspects of the role.


A final thought

If you’ve got an internal PPC team, or have a PPC agency, I encourage you to reflect on how well this team is prepared for PPC management in 2020. Whilst machines may ‘do the doing’, it’s the skills and expertise of the PPC professional that you’ll rely on to do the thinking.


Making the right decisions could see your PPC activity fly (saving time and generating better returns). However, making the wrong decisions could see your costs spiral and performance plummet.

Kherrin Wade, Strategy Director


For further inspiration: download our PPC automation in 2020 guide

Download Guide

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