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Interview Frederick Vallaeys: “Search professionals need to understand how they can collaborate with automation technology, rather than compete against it.”

11 November 2021

Automation is playing an ever-more important role in PPC. According to Frederick Vallaeys, CEO at Optmyzr and speaker at Friends of Search BE, search professionals need to understand how they can collaborate with automation technology, rather than compete against it. In this interview Vallaeys talks about the three ways to do this, and gives a preview on his presentation at Friends of Search 2021 in Brussels.

You’re a well known speaker, writer and SAAS-entrepreneur in PPC. For the people who are new in PPC, or haven’t read your book yet: Digital Marketing in an AI World (They should, it’s a great read). Who is Frederick Vallaeys?
There are so many ways to answer this question… Aren’t we all so much more than what we can write down! But what’s probably most interesting in the context of Friends of Search is that I am a Belgian who moved to Silicon Valley at the age of 15. I was enthralled with technology and startups and jumped at the chance to be hired by Google as one of their first 500 employees. They needed someone who spoke Dutch to help translate AdWords and support customers in the Benelux.

A funny story is that Google cofounder, Sergey (Brin), introduced me to the other Googlers at our weekly company meeting by saying: “This is Fred, he’s drinking a Heineken because he’s Dutch!” I made sure the next week they served some Belgian beers too! But I suppose Sergey bucketing me together with a whole different country because of my language wasn’t as egregious a mistake as the one committed by several others who constantly stopped by my desk asking me to translate something from a .dk website. They’d ask “Aren’t Danish and Dutch basically the same?”

In your book there are three roles for PPC experts: The Doctor, the Teacher and the Pilot. Can you explain the concept briefly and what would be your personal favorite role? And why?
The core idea is that automation is playing an ever-more important role in PPC and search professionals need to understand how they can collaborate rather than compete against technology.

There are 3 ways to do this, based on jobs we’re all familiar with:

  1. The doctor diagnoses the problem, recommends a way to fix things, and prevents bad interactions of the ‘medicine’ to fix the patient.
  2. The pilot monitors the automated systems, intervenes when needed to prevent disaster, and when thought of as a fighter pilot, knows which buttons to push to beat the competition.
  3. The teacher teaches the machine learning systems how to perform better and get the advertiser more of what they truly want.

I personally like the teacher role. Figuring out how to manipulate the machines into doing my work for me is really exciting.

Where do you find the inspiration for coming up with ideas for your content and the software you develop?
A lot of my inspiration comes from interacting with smart people at conferences. One time I sat in a session about Shopping Campaigns with a big audience. All the panelists complained about the same problem: how much time it took to build a shopping campaign with the structure they wanted. Then I asked if anyone had seen a solution and when nobody had one, I went back to the office and we built a solution in a few weeks.

It helps that I worked at Google for so long. I feel like I have a pretty decent sense for what Google is thinking and what problems they’re prioritizing. That leaves me and my team at Optmyzr with a good opportunity to fill the gaps and build solutions that Google cares less about.

What are you currently working on?
We’re seeing a continued shift towards smart bidding so we’re adding new capabilities to support advertisers who use automated bidding from Google, but who also still want the ability to optimize their bids further. It all comes down to better communicating what your goals are to the machines, the teacher role we covered above. So we have tools to change tROAS and tCPA based on your business data (like a promotional calendar, margins, etc.) or to do it automatically based on shifts in competition like when the impression share lost due to rank changes. And then we’re going even further by building ways to make new tools from Google, like Value Rules, much simpler to set up and maintain.

We’re also working on tools that take structured data, like a product feed, for example, and turning this into a fully-built, inventory-driven account with a variety of campaign types and all the modern ad formats that Google supports. These are all huge time-savers, and in this day-and-age of supply chain issues and labor shortages, are really great solutions for teams that take PPC seriously.

Hypothetical: As an e-commerce advertiser, I paused all my regular campaigns and I started using Smart Shopping campaigns, Performance Max campaigns and Smart Display campaigns. Initial results are great, but over time performance is declining. What can I do to analyze and optimize my campaigns?
This is exactly the problem of a set-it-and-forget-it approach to automation. It’s nice when things go well, but when things go wrong, there often aren’t any settings to tweak so you can either wait and hope for a recovery or revert to a campaign type with more control.
In my next book I talk about automation layering, the idea that you can maintain your own tools and scripts that control the automations from Google. When you deploy automation layering, you get the time savings of automation, you get the performance gains from modern tools from the ad engines, like smart bidding, AND you also retain control because you have an automation where you control the settings and you’re not completely dependent on Google.

Google released a blogpost that performance max campaigns show very promising results. Do you have any experiences on this new campaign type you can share?
I think it’s great that Google is making it easier for small business owners to be able to be successful at PPC without having to get a mini-education in search marketing. Campaign types like Performance Max and Smart Shopping are great for these advertisers. I work much more with professional marketers and people who live and breathe PPC and they are generally less interested in these campaigns because they want to take performance to the max and performance max campaigns are not the right fit for that, despite what their name suggests.

What skill should PPC professionals be learning in 2022? 
In 2022, being successful in PPC is less about knowing how to manage the details of a campaign. Instead of being hyper-focused on keywords, bids and ads, a modern PPC marketer will be more focused on how to leverage offline conversion tracking and manipulating tCPA and tROAS goals to achieve maximum profits. PPC pros should learn how to help the machine. Be a teacher who feeds the algorithms better data so it can do its job better. If you teach it right, it will handle many of the details that you used to spend a huge amount of time on, and then you can recoup that time to be more strategic. And of course, learn how to be a pilot who monitors these automated systems. And how to be a doctor who knows how attribution models, targets, and a variety of automations can all work together to achieve business goals.

Do you expect the ecosystem around PPC advertising to change in the next few years, because of the simplification of ad tech platforms, but also the changing needs of advertisers, regarding agency business models and tool suppliers?
The only constant in PPC is change! So yes, I believe that the ad engines will continue to simplify things to make access to high quality advertising more equitable. At the same time, I believe Google realizes their biggest customers are the more sophisticated advertisers who need that extra layer of control to get even better results. In my experience, Google will continue to allow these advertisers the control they want, but they won’t always do the greatest job making it easy for them. That’s where 3rd party tools come in. We fill the gaps for these advertisers so they can do what they want without spending a crazy amount of time manually handling all the details. This can be with a script you found on a blog, or a PPC management management and optimization platform like Optmyzr or one of the many others that exist.

What can people expect from your session at Friends of Search? 
We’ve seen so much change in the world since we last saw each other at Friends of Search. What I will talk about in my session is how PPC has been impacted and how it’s redefined what a successful PPC marketer looks like. I’ll talk about how supply chain issues and automation are both big contributors to this new world that requires us all to have a huge mind shift and rethink how we deliver successful campaigns.

Unfortunately, we have decided not to organize a Belgian edition of Friends of Search in 2024. The 11th edition of Friends of Search we are organising in the Netherlands. Belgian visitors are of course more than welcome. Join us on March 21, 2024, in de Kromhouthal in Amsterdam.

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