Automation in SEA: A wolf in sheep's clothing?

For seven years, Friends of Search is the not to be missed Search Engine Marketing conference in the Benelux. As a Belgium-based agency, we really didn’t want to miss out on the first ever Friends of Search in Belgium. Packed with fascinating new insights, the event is a great opportunity to get up to speed with innovations in search engine marketing. In this blog, we gladly run you through everything we learned about Search Engine Advertising (SEA) during the event.

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Google’s machine learning offers marketers the tools to work faster and smarter. It helps us hit our goals and focus on strategy. On the other hand, automation is one of the biggest black boxes in marketing today.

The biggest question on every search engine marketer’s mind is: will Google fully take over control or can we partially take the wheel back into our own hands? And if Google takes all this control away, how will this eventually affect the role of a digital marketing consultant? In other words: automation might be a blessing for marketers, but it could just as well be a wolf in sheep's clothing.


How automation drives business value

TUI Benelux’ Jeroen Maaijen and Brussels Airlines’ Lisa Diamant demonstrated how automation generated business value for their organizations. Instead of manually creating thousands of campaigns, they leveraged a search management tool to automate the campaign creation process, smart bidding and budget management. For Brussels Airlines this resulted in a very specific optimization per route, controlling costs in order to increase margins.

Automation might be a blessing for marketers, but it could just as well be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Jeroen Maaijen brilliantly showcased how they already successfully embedded automation the last couple of years. Because of this, they are able to scale campaign creation and bidding for the numerous destinations TUI has to offer. They even went the extra mile and created a prediction model that pauses campaigns when paid channels would no longer be an added sales channel.

Martin Röttgerding from Bloofusion introduced another way of driving business value through the concept of “conditional ads” as he zoomed in on the creation of relevant out-of-the box messages. In this advanced and very efficient form of ad customization, you can cleverly target ads to the right people. You can achieve this in most cases with a one-time setup. When certain conditions are met (eg. weather conditions or user locations), ads dynamically change. This creative use of data and ad copy can help energize campaigns.


Regaining control in an automated world

Automation gives us room to focus on more value-adding tasks such as integrating business data into operational decision making and creating relevant messages.

But what if automation also implies partially losing control? Brad Geddes from AdAlysis and Gianluca Binelli from Boosterbox zoomed in on this with changes in keyword match types. Google recently launched an update that expands the volume of the selected keywords in your account. Because of this, your keywords will start matching to queries they’ve never matched to before.

In the good old days, “exact” actually meant “exact”. A search query was (in theory) synonymous to your keyword. The last couple of years, though, things got more complex, and in 2019 everything got downright blurry. This reshaped the discussion of “what keyword match types should you use”. Lines between match types continuously get thinner and thinner:

evolution of keyword types

These updates reshaped the importance of each keyword type. Because of this, the role of a digital marketing consultant has shifted. A few years ago, you had to deliver exhaustive lists of keywords so that they strictly matched queries, in particular for Exact Match. Now, given the recent updates, machines in a sense partially automate the keyword selection process. This is great, but we don’t lose all control over this process since “same meaning” can become tricky. Machines don’t always grasp the semantics of your keywords.

Brad and Gianluca stressed that it’s imperative to keep an even closer eye on your search terms than usual. Though results will vary across verticals, it’s likely that you’ll see an uptick in impressions and clicks from users whose queries are irrelevant to your business. Especially for ad accounts that cover multiple match types within different ad groups, this can still be very challenging.


Do we still need digital marketing consultants?

Is the role of a digital marketing consultant shifting with the emergence of automation? Frederick Vallaeys believes the age of automation is full of opportunities, but our jobs are going to be different from what we've been doing for the past 10 years. From setting up to managing and optimizing campaigns, our roles are being redefined to focus more on strategy. So no, don’t panic about losing your job as a marketing consultant. You should, however, be prepared to accept the changes that automation force upon your role.

The age of automation is full of opportunities, but our jobs are going to be different from what we've been doing for the past 10 years. 


Letting Google handle bid calculations and campaign creation used to be a daunting idea. Google’s algorithms got smarter over time, though, and adopting these automation tactics offer opportunities to focus on strategy. The role of an online marketing consultant might be redefined, but we should be welcoming of this. After all, nobody likes doing tedious, repetitive work. That’s what machines are for.

We get to actually be marketers again. Thanks to automation, we have more time to think about audiences, messaging, and relevant keywords. It opens up space to draw up insights and come to fleshed out conclusions. Machines can think inside the box, but it takes humans to do the outside of the box thinking.

So no, automation isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s not a competitive relationship, but a partnership between machines and humans. United, we’ll stand stronger than ever before.

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