• Janice Ryan

When “Smart” isn’t so Smart – Beware of Google and Facebook Fully Automated Ad Campaigns

Over the last couple of years, Facebook and Google have made significant enhancements to their advertising platforms so that almost anyone can run an ad campaign without any marketing experience. Of course, Facebook and Google are essential for any digital marketing strategy as they have wide reach and audience targeting capabilities, but the jury is out on whether these improvements are helping or hurting advertisers.

Google’s Smart Campaigns is a perfect example of how Google has tried to simplify ad campaign management. You can get ads up and running very quickly and Google handles all of the targeting, placements, creative and optimization. Sounds great, right?

In reality, it’s not so great. Last year, a new client of mine said they had launched an AdWords campaign. As I accessed their Google Ads account, I noticed that there were only a few metrics provided and I couldn’t dive any deeper. I hadn’t heard about Smart Campaigns yet so I had to Google (ironically) what is a Smart Campaign.

Turns out Google’s Smart Campaigns are not so smart.

To launch a Smart Campaign, you enter a couple of keywords, some image assets and then Google runs your campaign across their entire network of partner sites. AdWords is included along with display ads, content ads, etc. and Google decides where and how your ads are shown and then optimizes using their algorithm.

My client thought he had just launched an AdWords campaign but actually his company’s ads were running in several formats across Google and its partner sites. I had to find the toggle to Expert Mode and switch the campaigns so that I could relaunch the campaigns, see the complete results and then optimize by individual keywords and type of ads.

The Smart Campaign’s performance had led to a 45% cheaper CPC, but it had yielded zero conversions. When I switched to Expert Mode and just used AdWords, I was able to generate several conversions with the same amount of spend and then was able to scale the spend while continuing to generate the same conversion rate.

Most people think that Google knows best, but at the end of the day Google gets paid on clicks, not conversions. These “Smart” campaigns all happen in a black box, so you have no idea what ad type or audience is working best. The intent-driven search of AdWords typically produces a higher quality click-through than a display ad randomly displayed on one of Google’s partner sites.

Beware of Facebook’s Automated Placements

And it’s not just Google. When you set up a new campaign in Facebook’s Power Editor, the default is set to Automated Placements, which includes Facebook, Instagram and the Audience Network (partner sites) in all different ad formats. Like Google, your assets are automatically turned into ads by whatever the specs are of the ad, which leads to not so great ad creative.

Recently, I was working with an agency that was launching new campaigns for another one of my clients and when I looked at how the ads were set up, they used this Automated Placement default. I asked them how we could really know which ad placements were working if all of the performance results are combined. The agency’s answer was that Facebook says the Facebook algorithm figures out what works best and that Facebook will optimize our campaigns better than we can.

I am skeptical of that type of reasoning, but fortunately, it is possible to test both options to see which yields the best results. With Power Editor, you can launch separate campaigns, where you can test automated placements versus individual placements with optimized creative for each to see what works best for you. Unfortunately, Google does not allow you to do this. You must choose between using Smart Campaigns or Expert Mode.

Does anyone really believe that Google or Facebook has the advertiser’s interest at heart?

Sure, the algorithms must optimize campaign performance to a certain extent, but both companies have earnings estimates to achieve, so it seems fairly reasonable to assume that the algorithms benefit them and not you. Somehow their earnings keep increasing, as ad pricing increases as well.

As a performance-based marketer, I cannot give up all control of campaign optimization to the platforms I use. Google Ads and Facebook’s Power Editor have democratized access to digital advertising but that does not mean those platforms should be running your marketing campaigns completely.

It still makes sense to follow the basic rules of direct to consumer marketing: test different ad types, placements and audiences separately, so that you truly understand where the value is by analyzing the performance results by placement. Then you can create a marketing mix of campaigns that will achieve your overall ROAS and LTV goals.

The good news is that both the Google and Facebook platforms allow you to do all of this, if you are willing to take the time to manage your campaigns.

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