Month: July 2019

AI, PPC and Smart Bidding

Alphabet blocks spelling out SEM
Search Engine Marketing and Machine Learning

One of the things I have observed in my (still nascent) consulting career is the eagerness of entrepreneurs / (new to digital) marketers to adopt the ‘Smart Bidding’ strategies offered by Google within Adwords (now Google Ads). And this is understandable. Entrepreneurs have a lot of things to take care of, and therefore, why not leverage the AI powered options provided by Google, right?

In my opinion (and limited experience), I have rarely seen this work. Here are a few reasons why I think businesses should not adopt these Smart Bidding strategies too early:

  • Performance: The smart bidding strategies are based on Machine Learning algorithms. And these algorithms need historical data to be trained upon. I genuinely believe that every business is unique. And therefore, even if reasonably relevant data exists from other businesses in the same industry and market, it is no guarantee that an algorithm based off that data might be the best one for your business.
  • Insights: Search Marketing (both Paid and Organic) can provide a wealth of information to businesses. What are the search terms that your users are using to find the information that you provide, how are they interacting with your ads, your website, what are your competitors doing? The use of manual bidding forces you to dig deep into all of this data, analyse and study them to understand what’s working and what’s not and in the process, gather very valuable marketing insights. When you use Smart Bidding, you do not need to analyse all of this closely, thereby losing out on the opportunity to learn.
  • Competition: The beauty of Paid Search Marketing (or PPC – Pay Per Click), is that it is based on an auction process and what you pay (and where you rank) is influenced significantly by what your competitors are up to. So what happens if you and your competitors are both using Smart Bidding techniques?

I can understand why Google (and Facebook) are developing these Machine Learning based techniques. It is in their interest to simplify the process of advertising on their platforms so that businesses no longer feel that they have to invest in PPC experts to do Search Marketing. And I am sure that, over a period of time, their algorithms will keep improving. However, for the reasons listed above, I believe that PPC experts would continue to have a key role to play within any business looking to leverage Paid Search Marketing.

This post was inspired by this article – Frederick Vallaeys on why digital marketers will still have jobs and what they’ll look like in an AI world

Palakkad (or Palghat) Gap

Palakkad (or to call it by it’s previous name, Palghat) is a small (by Indian standards!) town in Kerala, close to the state’s border with Tamil Nadu. This town, famous for its banana chips, also gives its name to one of the more curious features of India’s geographical landscape.

The Western Ghats is a mountain chain that runs for 1,600 kilometres in an almost unbroken line all along the west coast of India. I say, almost, because just outside Palakkad, this range suddenly disappears, to be replaced by what is called the Palakkad gap. At an average elevation of just 140 metres, this gap with a width of around 25 kilometres is really not high enough to be called a pass.

And it’s not that this is pretty much the only such gap in the Western Ghats that makes it a curiosity. It’s also the fact that the gap appears at the very place where this 1,000 mile long chain has its highest peaks. About 80 kilometres to the north of the gap is the 2,637 metre (8,652 feet) high Doddabetta peak. And roughly a similar distance to the south is Annamudi peak. At 2,695 metres (8,842 feet) above sea level, this is the highest peak in India outside of the mighty Himalaya range in the north.

For a very long time, this gap was almost the only way in and out of the state of Kerala by land for the majority of the country. People in the extreme south of the state could travel to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu around the beginning (or end) of the ghats. While people towards the north could travel onwards to Mangalore and Mumbai along the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Arabian Sea.

The opening up of the Konkan railway in the 1990s has opened up another rail link to the state, but the Palakkad gap continues to be the main channel for the majority of road and rail traffic to enter and exit the state.

I have crossed this gap numerous times (by rail and road), but always in the middle of the night. However, a change in circumstances during my most recent trip to Kerala meant that I had to reschedule my train journey out of Kerala from the original night train to a day train. And this meant that I was finally able to see this curious (and magnificient) sight by the light of day.

A few pictures below. Not the best as these were taken from a moving train, but hopefully it gives a sense of the landscape.

Palakkad Gap 1
Palakkad Gap – looking north
Palakkad Gap 2
The lush landscape of Palakkad Gap

The time for Personal Branding is Now

Personal Branding - representative image

If you, like me, spend even some time on LinkedIn, you are bound to have come across articles talking about topic around changing nature of jobs, loss of jobs, ‘gig economy’ etc. While the Future of Work is a complex topic, I believe that one things all of us can, and should, do is to build a Personal Brand.

Gone are the days when one’s professional identity was defined by the organisation she or he worked for. The days when one joined an organisation for life and grew steadily up the corporate ladder are behind us. Yes, there might be still be people who spend a majority of their working lives in a single organisation, but my hunch (without any supporting data) is that these people would be in the tiny minority. The majority of people in the workforce today are likely to find themselves looking for a change from what they are currently doing and where they are currently employed at some time in the not-so-distant future. And these could be due to factors either within their control, or most likely, outside their control. And these are no longer just restricted to so-called ‘blue collar’ jobs.

In case you have missed these articles, here are a few:

How much will automation impact the middle class?

Future of work for tech workers

Fewer jobs from ecommerce to IT (Indian context)

So how can one prepare for this? Again, I do not presume to have a solution. But I do believe that it will be vital for everyone in the workforce to build an identity for themselves that can stand independent of the organisation they work for. By this, I mean creating a story about themselves that tells who they are, how they have reached where they are, and where they might want to go next. This might come easier for people who have spent a few years in the workforce, but it’s also important for people just starting their professional careers to continuously think about. This can help them narrow down their learning objectives, identify and connect with the relevant people both within and outside their organisation.

Prepare for the inevitable rise of the ‘gig economy’. Invest in continuous learning. Identify topics of interest, read about them and start participating in conversations around these. Use the many social channels wisely to start dissemination information about yourself. See if you can pick up some side projects that can give hands-on experience and feel for the areas that you want to invest in. And don’t be afraid to ‘pivot’ if you feel that your present career trajectory is unlike to go much further.

This is just another topic that convinces me that we have just entered an age where our understanding of what it means to ‘work’ and how we live our ‘life’ is going to be fundamentally questioned and possibly altered. I don’t know how ‘work’ and ‘life’ is going to look like when the dust finally settles, but I do believe that it’s up to us to proactively think about this and take appropriate steps to adjust as easily and painlessly as possible to this new era.


Inspector Montalbano

It’s not often that I write about, or indeed, watch TV shows. But a curious sequence of events lead to this article.

I was casually browsing through a guide-book on Sicily the other day (yes, I love reading travel guides!). And reading about the many baroque towns on that island led me to reminisce about a TV series that I used to watch while living in Dublin, Ireland. Inspector Montalblano chronicles the life and adventures of a police inspector in Sicily. It’s wonderfully easy-paced show, highlighting to great effect the natural beauty of the sun-kissed Mediterranean island with charmingly weathered baroque architecture. The plots were nothing spectacular, but that was never really the point of watching it, at least for me.

So I read up a bit about the TV Series during my commute to work (hadn’t known that the first episode aired 20 years ago in 1999!), looked up some of the locations where the TV series was shot on a map. And then, while I was browsing a new site later that evening, while at home, I came across the news that that Andrea Camilleri, author who created the character of Inspector Montalbano, had passed away… It seemed a strange co-incidence, hence the article.

RIP Andrea Camilleri.

If you want to know more about this series and its author, BBC has a great piece.

Who should own Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Conversion Rate Optimisation

The question of who between Marketing and Product should own Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) in a digital transaction oriented business is an interesting one. It would seem that this naturally fits within the Product function. But I believe that this should be the responsibility of the Marketing, especially Digital Marketing team, with the support of the Product team (and other teams as appropriate).

Product, I believe, should own the overall vision and be responsible for feature development and enhancements. User experience should also absolutely sit within the Product team. However, Conversion Rate should not be the primary metric to judge usability of a site. In fact, it is very difficult to pinpoint and identify the right baseline for Conversion Rate, as it is influenced by so many factors beyond just product design – merchandising, inventory, sources of traffic, seasonality, competitive action – are just some of these extrinsic variables that can impact Conversion Rates significantly.

And which is why I believe Marketing is best placed to work on CRO. They are the team that knows more than any other team (or should know!) about all of these extrinsic factors. They are the team responsible for customer acquisition, engagement and retention, all areas where CRO is key. Not to mention that they own the Performance Marketing budget where again Conversion Rate plays a key role.

So what does this imply for an organisation and their Marketing function? In my opinion, strong marketing teams should have a good mix of the following core capabilities:

  • Analytical skills to understand data and draw actionable insights from the data.
  • Basic technical skills to understand how sites, apps and pages are designed and function, along with understand of analytics tracking systems to work closely with product and tech teams.
  • Customer empathy to understand customer behaviours, motivations and user journeys.
  • Communication skills to listen, communicate and engage with users across all channels.

Having these skills (either in-house or via external agencies or consultants) within the Marketing team will greatly help organisations in their journey towards improving Conversion Rates.

However, merely having these skills within the Marketing team is not enough. Organisations should ensure that they have the right processes in place to empower and enable the marketing team to act on improving Conversion Rates with the full support of relevant internal stakeholders, primary of which would be the Product team.

Contact me if you would like to discuss how to improve Conversion Rates for your business.