As Mar­keters, we often get busy with the mechan­ics of mar­ket­ing and for­get some of the fun­da­men­tals of key­word bid­ding.  Here’s a quick check­list to make sure your bids are optimized.

•    Search Engine Suggestions

Search engines offer sug­ges­tions on where to set your bids, based on the land­scape
and his­tor­i­cal search traf­fic.  They will tell you to set your bid at “X” to get “Y” results.  Going with those sug­ges­tions is a good start­ing place.

•    Rel­a­tive Posi­tion Targeting

Con­sider what posi­tion you’re try­ing to snag.  Do you pre­fer that your cus­tomers see you right before or right after your com­pe­ti­tion?   Start with the search engine sug­gested bids, then spot check and exper­i­ment with your own bids.  Search engine mar­ket­ing is fairly respon­sive, so you can dis­cover within five or 10 min­utes just how your bid is work­ing.  Though it’s an imper­fect sci­ence, see­ing your ad in con­text is tremen­dously valuable.

•    Bid Hierarchy

At what level are your bid set­tings oper­at­ing?  Search Engine– Account– Cam­paign– AdGroup/Category– Key­word– Cre­ative?  You can stan­dard­ize your bid across any of these lev­els.  To opti­mize, con­sider ben­e­fit going one level deeper.  If you need to save time, make broader bid strokes by focus­ing higher up the hier­ar­chy.  REMEMBER: gran­u­lar bids trump default bids, so if you’re opti­miz­ing man­u­ally (vs. with Search­Cen­ter), increas­ing a campaign’s default set­ting will only impact key­words that don’t have their own bid.

•    Revi­sion Triggers

Often, as search engine mar­keters, we get our bids work­ing at a sin­gle moment in time, and then sort of neglect them.  Even if high-level met­rics look sta­ble, keep an eye out for the fol­low­ing events that can dra­mat­i­cally impact your bid­ding environment:

Com­pe­ti­tion: New com­peti­tors and changes in exist­ing com­peti­tors’ SEM strate­gies make for a very dynamic mar­ket­place.  If a com­peti­tor boosts their SEM bids, for exam­ple, it can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on your own place­ment.  If for some rea­son they scale back on SEM, you may find that you no longer have to bid as high to achieve the same placement.

Dis­tri­b­u­tion: Changes in dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works can also affect your SEM cam­paign.  If Google signs a sig­nif­i­cant new pub­lisher for an Adsense cam­paign, you might see a sud­den lift in traf­fic.  You’ll want to look at those vis­i­tors, see whether they’re work­ing for or against you, and adjust your bid accordingly.

News: Say, for exam­ple, Omni­ture was bid­ding on a broad match of the term “analy­sis” and pro­duc­ing an appro­pri­ate Return on Adver­tis­ing Spend (ROAS).  Then, a national eco­nomic stim­u­lus report gets pub­lished, and tons of peo­ple are search­ing for “eco­nomic analy­sis.”  This surge of search inven­tory may be largely irrel­e­vant, result­ing in a lower click through rate (CTR) and a higher bid to main­tain posi­tion.  Con­versely, another news item on a new prod­uct release may be highly rel­e­vant, dri­ving up clicks, CTR, and requir­ing a lower bid.

Cam­paign Opti­miza­tion: As you opti­mize Search cam­paigns, you might see per­for­mance change based on those adjust­ments.  For exam­ple, say you cre­ate some more appeal­ing ad copy that dri­ves up CTR.  Or, you could decide to bet­ter qual­ify traf­fic by mak­ing ad copy more spe­cific, dri­ving down CTR.   Suc­cess­ful con­ver­sion opti­miza­tion on your land­ing pages may improve your ROAS enough to enable you to tar­get a higher posi­tion on the search engine results page.

There is a good range of tech­nol­ogy avail­able to help you make this hap­pen.  Omni­ture Search Cen­ter, for exam­ple, is espe­cially help­ful when it comes to auto­mated bid­ding using the impor­tant met­rics that your web ana­lyt­ics is mea­sur­ing deeper within your customer’s expe­ri­ence.  It allows you to set rules before­hand, so that you can select cri­te­ria that allow your bid to change auto­mat­i­cally, as it needs to, for exam­ple: when your ROI is greater than X, it will increase your bids by Y.  Check out the resources on the Search­Cen­ter prod­uct page for more SEM specifics.

No mat­ter what your cur­rent approach is, don’t over­look the com­pet­i­tive impor­tance of a proac­tive sys­tem for man­ag­ing key­word bids.