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6 SEM Tips for Avoiding Mistakes That Could Cost You a Client (A Cautionary Tale)

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6 SEM Tips for Avoiding Mistakes That Could Cost You a Client (A Cautionary Tale)

6 SEM Tips for Avoiding Mistakes That Could Cost You a Client (A Cautionary Tale)In any large, complex search marketing account, there are bound to be some mistakes. Considering the scope of most large accounts, these mistakes are almost always relatively tiny.

That said, some mistakes fall into the bucket of things that you can easily clean up during your periodic account checks, while others – even small ones – have the potential to leave a really bad taste in your client’s mouth, which could cost you the relationship. Often the things that are important to a client are actually quite different than the things that are important to a performance marketer, but for the sake of the relationship, the marketer needs to nail both categories.

I will start by telling the cautionary tale of my biggest screw-up ever.

I did a bunch of things wrong, and I am way better after learning from these mistakes. Hopefully, you can learn something by reading about my mistakes, instead of repeating them.

It was a dark and stormy New Year’s Eve; I think it was 2006. The weather was actually pretty nice, but I was tethered to my computer at the stroke of midnight, uploading bulk files into DART search, so I was feeling pretty stormy. I also felt like a really great SEM manager, having chosen to forego all NYE plans to make sure my most important client could launch its new January 1 landing pages and associated budgets right at the turn of the year. There were no scheduling tools available to me at that time, and Excel 2007 wasn’t yet out, which meant I found myself up until 4:00 in the morning uploading more than 40 60,000-row docs, one after the other.

I did a few spot checks once the job was completed, and everything looked okay. I slept late the next day before checking in on the top line metrics. Conversions were coming through with the expected holiday volumes and CPLs. I enjoyed the rest of my day off – and the proverbial poo hit the fan on Jan 2.

Turned out that all 40 files were not fully processed by DART search. As a result, over $50K in spend had gone to the old landing pages over the previous 48 hours. The old pages were still live and producing leads at normal levels, but this was a disastrous mistake to this particular client who was very corporate, very branded, and totally focused on making sure all of the new year’s budget was directed at the new branding collateral they had paid their ad agency hefty sums to develop, collateral that aligned with TV and radio flights and a whole host of other initiatives. The agency did not lose the client, although they almost did, but to keep the relationship, they ended up having to refund $50,000 to the client.

Here’s what I did wrong and how to avoid making the same mistake.

Problem 1

I didn’t listen closely enough to the client’s needs. From my standpoint as a performance marketer, the landing page isn’t all that important; it’s the results that count. To my client, this was not the case. The client would have preferred pouring money into the new page, even if results tanked. Had I been more attuned to the client’s needs, I wouldn’t have bothered to check the performance metrics on January 1. Instead, the right check would have been to download all the keyword-level destination URLs to make sure every single one was going to the right place.

THE SOLUTION: Listen closely to your clients and never let your industry bias get in the way of their needs. If you are at all unsure of what is most important to the client, ASK! All your spot checking, reporting structures, and optimization processes should spin out of a true understanding of what is important to your clients, even if it sometimes seems counter-intuitive to the SEM brain.

Problem 2

I trusted a third-party application to do what it was supposed to do. Even though the technology has gotten more reliable in the years since this happened, I still find situations fairly frequently where third-party management solutions fail. Sometimes it’s a big sync failure; other times it’s as simple as a non-standard character getting passed through in a funny way.

THE SOLUTION: Any major uploads done through third-party platforms need to be verified in the engine UIs for completion and accuracy. This often means coming back to a task hours later or the next day. Schedule calendar reminders for yourself to verify proper sync and upload any time you perform major updates in a third-party platform. In some cases, a spot check can be good enough, but if you have any doubts, do a full dive to make sure everything is correct.

Problem 3

I performed a big launch late at night and in the middle of a holiday.

THE SOLUTION: Just don’t do this! Never launch on a Friday or a holiday or late at night or anytime that your brain might not be fully fresh and/or you will not be connected to your computer babysitting the changes. Monday morning is the ideal time to launch or make big changes. You will have a fresh head and a full week of time to check on the results. It can be really difficult refusing a client who is eager to launch a campaign or make a change, but I advise you to stay strong and refuse to do it. Had it not been the middle of the night before a holiday when I executed this change, I would have had my full focus on the campaign, and I would have definitely caught the problems earlier.

While I am listing relationship-killing mistakes, I have a few more that I’ve run into during 13 years of experience that don’t apply to the situation mentioned, but they do apply to others.

Problem 4

Ad Disapprovals. Clients really get freaked out by ad disapproval emails. I put the blame on Google, and I personally think their language is too strong. The client recipients of these emails tend to think something has gone horribly wrong and that the SEM person is incompetent. Disapproval on a single, tiny, text ad can cause a real stir-up at a client’s company.  

THE SOLUTION: Proactively make sure that your client contact knows what an ad disapproval means (one text ad has been disapproved, generally out of thousands) and that this is a normal part of builds. Make sure they are ready to advocate and remind less-versed people in the organization that it is not a big deal. Also, if you are doing a huge ad upload, or you have any suspicions that something may be disapproved, take a proactive stance and tell your client, “Hey, don’t be surprised if some ad disapproval emails come through. We are on top of it.”

Problem 5

Missing vanity keywords. Nothing erodes trust in an agency like a CEO, board member, owner, etc. doing a random search and not seeing their company’s ad when they think they should. It’s the “Our ad isn’t showing for…” problem.

THE SOLUTION: Always proactively ask your client contact what words you absolutely MUST show up on. Isolate these in their own campaign, and make sure the bids allow 100% impression share. Sometimes this means bidding on keywords with little to no volume or on keywords that do not meet your performance goals. It’s another one that is often counterintuitive to the performance marketer, but it can make sure that there are no hiccups in the client’s perceptions and happiness, which, in the decision-makers’ eyes, often trumps the metrics.

Problem 6

A mistake in Campaign Settings. The campaign settings are the easiest way to screw up in a big way. A single check mark or an extra zero, and you can blow thousands in unapproved spend. Most seasoned SEMs have at least one horror story of not turning off display on a campaign and blowing through some serious dollars.

THE SOLUTION: Triple-check your campaign settings, most importantly, budget, geo, and networks. If you work in a collaborative environment, have your colleagues spot check your campaign settings before any launch. Always follow rule #3, too, so you will immediately catch any errant metrics.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, my cautionary tale will keep a few people from making big mistakes that could cost them a client.  If you remember to proactively communicate, listen to the client’s needs from outside of the performance marketers’ bubble, and follow some best practices for checking your work, you should be golden. Any other horror stories to share? Post them in the comments.


Image Credit: Shutterstock / Sergej Khakimullin


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Susan Waldes

Susan Waldes is an Account Director at PPC Associates, a digital marketing agency in the Bay Area and downtown Chicago. ... [Read full bio]

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