Manage by Exception: Why Search Marketers Need Automated Alerts

Kye Mou
April 18, 2013
Red Alarm

Imagine a world where firefighters wander the streets, putting out 2-alarm blazes as they happen to come across them. Thankfully, Francis Upton introduced the world to the first electronic fire alarm in 1890, and since then, firefighters have been much more efficient at identifying, responding to, and extinguishing deadly blazes.

In paid search, online marketers are also responsible for fighting fires. Though these fires are far from life-threatening, they result in wasted ad spend and plenty of headaches. Whether it’s addressing non-converting keywords, pausing under-performing creative, fixing broken landing page URLs, or submitting exemption requests for disapproved creative, critical paid search issues can quickly lead to wasted budget and missed performance goals.

Only You Can Prevent Paid Search Fires

Alerts are a quick and easy way for search marketers to identify and address issues when their account experiences a significant shift in performance. Setting up alerts is simple. Using filters to manage your performance data by exception, set pre-defined conditions that constitute a critical issue. Schedule an automated email so that if and when these conditions are met, you are automatically alerted via an email identifying the affected campaigns, groups, keywords, or creative that require your attention. There are two types of alerts search marketers can set up across their account; and each has a unique purpose in helping maintain a healthy paid search program.

Performance-Based Alerts

Performance-based alerts are great for helping you identify objects within your account that can be further optimized. A simple example would be identifying high volume keywords with low click-through rate (CTR) by creating an alert that looks for keywords with a high number of impressions and a low CTR. After receiving this email alert, you might consider breaking out these keywords into new groups, or possibly changing the ad creative to increase relevance.

Another alert might identify significant shifts in campaign, group, or keyword spend; using an absolute value percentage to identify both increases and decreases in spend. Large swings in cost would warrant investigation into seasonality, negative keywords, quality scores, or other factors that influence spend. Other performance-based alerts include:

  • Keyword conversion rate increases or decreases by more than 30%. This could indicate a significant change in landing page, creative, or seasonality.
  • Keyword average position decreases by more than 2. This could indicate an increase in competition in the auction environment.
  • Keywords with high spend and no conversions. This could indicate under-performing keywords that should be paused or re-evaluated.

Account Alerts

Account alerts help ensure that your paid search accounts are structured properly, tracking has been implemented correctly, and that all objects are aligned with business needs. All of these alerts are actionable because they identify an administrative issue in your account. For example, new keywords and creative are always subject to editorial review. Creating an alert that returns any object with a “Disapproved” status enables you to quickly review the affected keywords or creative, and submit the appropriate exemption requests. Without alerts, these types of issues can remain undetected for weeks, significantly impacting campaign performance. Other account alerts include:

  • Destination URLs missing tracking parameters.
  • Ad groups without active creative or active keywords.
  • Promotional creative that is active outside of that promotion's valid date range.

Keys to an Effective Alert

Marin Software Automated Reporting and Alerts

For the same reason you wouldn't want your smoke alarm to go off for burnt toast, pre-defined alert conditions should be rare enough that they are immediately actionable. In other words, be restrictive. If almost everything in your account is considered a fire, your alerts won’t be of much use. Also, when defining an alert, be specific and set your filters to pull enough data. Whether it’s “show me all keywords with 0 conversions and over 100 clicks” or “show me all creative that has dropped 50% in CTR over the last 7 days”, significant data is crucial to making informed decisions.

Finally, when setting your alert threshold, it’s a good idea to leverage the absolute change of your key performance indicator (KPI). For instance, set an email alert when “a keyword’s spend has changed by more than 100% over the past 7 days”. Keywords with significant spend increases and decreases over the last 7 days would be included in this alert; both sets deserving of attention.

Keep in mind that alerts don’t always point to a critical issue. In some cases, using the absolute change value of a KPI can help you identify areas within your account where optimization efforts are paying big dividends. Play around with alerts and see how they can scale your optimization efforts and help you maintain a healthy paid search program.

For more information on how Marin Software can help you manage by exception, contact

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