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Your Paid Search Data is Wrong. Now What?

Published: November 23, 2011

Author: Sean Marshall

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about an issue with the accuracy of data in geo reports. I had just learned about the issue a few days earlier, and I can still remember the smug satisfaction I felt when I realized I had caught something that no one else had. Google runs this game, and finding what I deemed a bug felt pretty cool. Shortly after the post, I started feeling angry and stupid. Not because I ended up being wrong (I wasn’t) but because I started realizing how idiotic it was for me to continuously put my trust in data I couldn’t validate. This is why I was so adamant about calling it a bug. It was broken; it had to be fixed.
Imagine how much dumber I felt when I read that certain AdWords placements don’t track conversions. I was directed to this post a couple days ago, and it brought those feelings back all over again. The bottom line is this: if an SEM can’t trust the data he or she is using, what are we really good for? (Hint: the answer is right there in the initials.)
When people ask me why I like paid search so much, I almost always refer back to data and quantifiable results. Accurate measurement is what makes performance marketers valuable. Even in down economic times, PPC is a profit center, not a blind expense. Our agency won’t even start working with customers until some form of conversion tracking is in place. If we can’t see things from click to conversion, we’re flying blind and bringing far less value.
Data is our lifeblood as SEMs.  Looking back on how I felt after learning about these data issues, I can’t help but feel righteous indignation all over again. These aren’t system quirks; they are bugs! Fix them! Now now now, go go go. Otherwise, who am I to really decide how a program is performing?
So what do you do when you find out your data is wrong? Fixing the problem is one obvious choice, but it’s even simpler than that. You go back to being a marketer. People have been marketing products without this level of data for decades. Research, gut reads, and good ole instincts are the qualitative skills that too many SEMs (that’s search engine marketers) ignore. These are foundational skills that you can always rely on, regardless of data.
As we move into an era of integrated marketing, multi-touch sales and cross-channel attribution, being forced away from the data isn’t such a bad thing once in a while. While you’ll inevitably have to dive right back into the numbers (or else why does multi-click/channel attribution even matter?), it doesn’t hurt to step back and ask yourself: how would I approach this without data? You won’t necessarily get the optimal answer, but you’ll force yourself to do the one thing SEMs forget most – to think like a marketer.
Sean Marshall, Director of Search Engine Marketing
– Questions? Comments? Email us at blog at ppcassociates dot com.

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