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Bored, Broken & Burned Out: Overcoming Challenges in Search Marketing

Here's how to find continued satistfaction and success in your career by overcoming stagnation, performance downturns, or a lack of motivation.

Overcoming Challenges in Search Marketing

Search marketing is, by nature, a monotonous game.

It’s a series of math problems.

We’re working the levers that we have at our fingertips to make more people click more buttons.

Its excitement comes in its power.

A few small tweaks to a landing page, a few more keywords in the account, or a few lifted bids can be life-changing.

Picking all the low-hanging fruit on a new account yields instant gratification.

“We’ve doubled our numbers year over year,” you exclaim.

The initial results are amazing!

But what happens when you have to start comparing yourself to… yourself?

What do you do when you’re stuck in the grind of day-in, day-out tweaks that make marginal lifts?

What happens when year-over-year numbers fall?

What do you when you’ve lost the spark and excitement to drive great results?

I’ve been doing the same job for 12 years, and have had more than my share of ups and downs.

I’ve burned myself out, developing a process blunt-force pushed onto every client I’d touched.

Sometimes the processes worked, sometimes they didn’t. But they were my best practices, they have to always work, right?

I’ve learned, over the years, to shift my way of thinking and to find continued satisfaction (and success) in my work.

We’ll walk through three scenarios you’ll encounter in your search marketing career.

  • Stagnation (boredom).
  • Downturns in performance (broken).
  • Worst of all, a lack of motivation (burnout).

I’ll examine through the lens of SEM, but the advice should ring true for all disciplines.

Bored: Your Accounts Are Stagnant


Nobody ever made a car faster with more oil changes. I often see accounts that are flat year over year, or worse, spending more for the same results.

The account manager is going through the motions. There are ad tests, bid tweaks, search query reports, and new keyword builds.

There are best practices, but there’s a lack of innovation.

Odds are these accounts are devoting the budget to “what’s always worked.”

When an account falls stagnant, the best bet is to challenge old assumptions. Use new tools to take the same old same old to the next level.

What to Do

1. Challenge the adage of being in position 1.0 100% of the time for your brand terms.

You’re devoting more and more money to brand each year as your CPCs creep up higher and higher – nudge bids down (not up).

Find the sweet spot of efficiency and volume. You won’t lose much, trust me.

2. Bear with me here; relinquish control!

Google Ads started The Smart Era because there are too many bidding levers that we can’t control.

Shift budget away from exact match and towards broad match with Smart Bidding layered on.

I didn’t think it’d work either, but it does.

3. Review your attribution philosophy.

I don’t mean turning on Data-Driven Attribution (which, yes you should do), but rather evaluating your KPIs.

Some tactics aren’t meant to drive a user to the end of the funnel on the first try.

Test alternate KPIs; develop an email list or feed a remarketing audience with top of funnel tactics.

4. Add Audiences EVERYWHERE.

Audiences will be a more powerful targeting tool than keywords.

Imagine intent layered on broader keywords, pointing the algorithm in the right direction.

Start by adding as many audiences as you can on observation mode and see what insights arise.

Broken: Your Accounts Are Doing Worse Year Over Year

Sticking with the car metaphor – I am unreasonably excited about the premise of self-driving cars. I cannot WAIT to be on a long drive, relaxing behind the steering wheel with a good book or movie.

I’ll have the opportunity to grab the wheel if things go awry, but if I don’t feel like driving, I won’t have to.

That’s where a good SEM account should be today – self-driving with a steering wheel. Focused on automation, but keeping the opportunity for manual intervention.

If an account is trending down year over year, odds are it’s resting on laurels of dated best practices.

I realize the irony here, as I’ve long been a proponent of super ultra crazy hyper account segmentation.

I teased this in the prior section, but the days of controlling everything are over.

An account that’s trending down doesn’t need tweaks – it needs a new foundation.

New tools for automation won’t have the same power on a structure built for control.


What to Do

1. Simplify your accounts.

Mitigate SKAGs and SKCs except in the position of extreme competition.

With the shift in exact matching behavior, SKAGs don’t work the way they used to anyway.

Instead, focus on thematic ad groups. Allow algorithms to make the decisions they need to make to bid.

2. Craft campaigns based on budget and volume.

Remember, automation needs data to make decisions! Your new campaigns built for automation should generate 50 conversions/month.

The more data AI has, the faster it learns.

3. Don’t ignore what’s flopped before.

Make sure to port any negative (or positive) terms and targeting features. Most bidding algorithms focus only on bidding, not targeting.

If you know where to point the machine already, make sure to do it.

4. Give the machines as much data as possible.

Take advantage of custom conversion types and data uploads to bid on business data. Place a higher value on new customers for ecommerce accounts.

Port in down down-the-line sales information for lead generation. Teach the tools to optimize what you the business is after.

Burned Out: You’ve Lost Your Fire

Warning: we ‘bout to get preachy!

Search marketing is an odd industry. I’ve had a day where I thought “well, I’m done! I did all the search there is to do today.” It’s a job that doesn’t end, a job where there is no such thing as perfection.

While I haven’t heard it in a few years, the word Kaizen was tantamount among agencies for years. The institutional process of constant improvement, seeking but never achieving perfection. Process improvement is crucial as I’ve outlined in previous segments.

The idea of constant evolution is mentally and physically exhausting.

We wind up letting our roles run our lives instead of supporting them. We bring our work home with us. We squeeze in an hours’ worth of work after the kids go to bed.

We fall into the busy trap.

We keep doing the work over and over and over again because that’s what we’re trained to do. We fail to adopt the economic principles at play in our work to our lives.

We don’t think of why, or what the return is. We just do the work.

We find our personal value in clearing our inboxes, in dropping CPA by a few percentage points. We’re never bored if we have our work, and we’re never uncomfortable. We have our dopamine security blankets in our back pockets or purses every waking hour.

We glue ourselves in front of our laptop screens. We bask in the comforting glow of a line graph reaching up and to the right.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned how to value my own time and how to release the false locus of control. I’ve adopted a few core economic metrics that we all use in our daily digital marketing lives as core to my own work life. Return on investment (or Return On Effort) and the law of diminishing returns.

Every hour in every day has less value than the one before it.

I do the most important things first, the more monotonous last.

The most monotonous tasks, I get rid of. I still do them, but manually computing 10,000 simple math problems in a given day doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

A machine should take care of any simple repetitive tasks. It’s better at them, it’s faster and it’s more precise. I devote as much time as possible to what I’m great at, that is strategy and analysis, and leave the rest to a calculator.

I’ve also learned the value of re-setting myself, both on a daily/weekly/annual basis. I have a few personal rules that have eased any semblance of burnout over the years.

What to Do

The author relaxing in Budapest

1. No new work after hours.

I’ll attend to emergencies only, or I’ll schedule projects I want to do when I have a few hours in the evening.

But I won’t create new work for myself. Save that for the good hours, not the bad ones.

2. One day a week is work free.

It doesn’t matter what day it is, it could be Wednesday if I plan my schedule right.

But there will be one day a week where I do not work. That means no email, too.

My team knows to call me if there’s an emergency; it’s more important to free my mind and body for a day and do something else.

Of late, that’s been making hot sauce (reserve your samples!), but anything non-digital will do.

I recommend everyone do this to remind themselves of what it feels like.

3. Take a vacation, physically and mentally.

Not “I’ll be available if you need me,” but entirely offline.

I left HeroConf this year to take a jaunt through Eastern Europe with my best buddy.

I deleted Gmail from my phone and turned my computer on only to buy train tickets. It took planning, but the refresh week worked wonders on my psyche and motivation.


We have a rule at my agency for this: it’s required that everyone take at least one consecutive week off a year.

These rules were hard for me to set in my life thanks to an addiction to constant work gratification.

What I’ve learned is that freeing myself for a few hours a day makes me a better worker and marketer. I’m better able to observe the world from an outsider’s perspective. To tailor my strategy to the end user rather than the best practice.

Above all, I’m able to maintain my passion for the industry no matter what gets thrown at me. I’ve adopted a phrase I heard some time ago as an adage for work/life success.

Everything works better when you turn it off and back on again – even you.

More Paid Search Resources:

Image Credits

In-post Photo: Provided by author, September 2018

Category Careers PPC
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Aaron Levy Director of SEM at Tinuiti

Aaron Levy has been in digital for over a decade, starting as a cross channel manager for a few large ...

Bored, Broken & Burned Out: Overcoming Challenges in Search Marketing

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