What March Madness Taught Me About Managing AdWords

You’ve done the painstaking research. You’ve combed over everything and put every little minuscule detail into place. Hours and hours have gone by in your unrelenting quest for the perfect bracket…and here it is. It sits, holding the energetic glow of a winner, waiting to be proven.  

Then it all falls apart.


If you’re an Adwords manager this will sound all too familiar.Whether watching youngsters battle it out for basketball supremacy or my friends and I yelling at each other as our brackets fall apart, I suddenly started drawing more and more parallels between March Madness and my Adwords Management. 

Here's what I found:

1. AI Is Smarter Than You


Been upset by an upset?  Guess who isn’t upset by upsets: computers. SportsLines simulator has predicted some ‘major upsets’ within the tournament two years in a row now. They’ve done it by setting up a simulator that amalgamates all the known data points on teams, players, coaches, and even stadiums.

If that sounds familiar as an account manager it’s because it should. That’s AdWords.  Google has more data on more touch points than an account manager could possibly keep track of while staying sane. Mike Rhodes, supported by his Google Reps and a signed NDA, has been pushing the industry towards AdWords AI functions in a big way recently. He’s brought up the fact that we’ve reached the turning point officially, from historically inconsistent AI performance within AdWords to officially better than a human could do it. Why? Google has the data. They have the signals, indicators, and search history to know when someone is about to become a conversion.

Don’t get left behind. Start getting accustomed to the new interface, smart bidding like Target CPA, and features like Dynamic Search Ads now.

2. Cut Your Losses Early

Like any good tournament, the top is reserved for the best. Watching teams battle it out on the court and watching many fall away into oblivion reminded me of Keywords.  We’ve all had that one team we are rooting for. Hanging on to the idea that they are going to make it, they are going to be champions, only to be disappointed in their performance. Well, time to let it go.  

If you’re getting Low Search Volume keywords within your account cut them early.  Google is flat out telling you impressions won’t come, and they have the significant data to be statistically relevant with that prediction.

I’ve personally been rooting for a vein of Keywords within accounts that spend and spend and spend without a single conversion. “How is this possible?” I think to myself as I look at the client’s business model and nod in agreement that my messaging and keyword choices were in fact spot on.

Hanging on to Keywords within an account that aren’t performing is the equivalent of giving them a participation trophy in the form of client spend. Imagine if a championship trophy was handed out to a team that had lost easier in the tournament because everyone agreed they were a great fit for it?

Trim the fat of your account, cut the Keywords and targeting methods that aren’t performing.

3. There Will Always Be Surprises

Similar to the last lesson, there will always be surprises when you fire up an AdWords account just as there will always be eyebrow raisers in a March Madness tournament.

This year a surprising correlation came out about the tournament that had been previously unrecognized. A Bloomberg study showed that a perceived upset within the tournament resulted in a skyrocketing of applications for that school. Apparently people love a cinderella story and want to be a part of that magic. As the director of marketing for a school that just pulled an upset, I would be thanking the athletic departments wholeheartedly, as well as Bloomberg for giving me a slam dunk marketing angle for recruitment of new students.

Account managers with experience will usually have some quirky accounts under their belt that ended up performing well against industry best practices. I once ran an AdWords account in a niche market where there were only two companies in the US (one of them was my client) who sold the product. The other company not only wasn’t using AdWords, their organic listing was under their parent LLC name. The surprise with that client? The account received 60% of its conversions from three competitor keywords that the competitor was failing to get in front of. The competitor ended up going out of business.

Train your eye to spot the surprises and either exploit the success or cut the failure.

4. Score Over Hype


The team with the higher score wins, period. The game is a clean, data driven system that produces winners and losers. Of course there’s passion and hard work. Of course you will struggle and overcome and learn hard lessons. In the end though, you are doing so by the data. If as an account manager you’ve been throwing around ideas for testing and you’ve reminded yourself to let the data decide, you understand this principle. 

The value in an account manger is to interpret the data. Understanding that a slightly higher cost per conversion for a certain keyword is okay because it has vastly better return on investment brings real impact to a campaign.

Why are there sports stats fanatics? Why do they have so many deeper stats than just the score? Because the game is broken down by numbers. As your AdWords should be. Take the time to make sure tracking is clean and deep. Dig into your analytics and return on investment numbers. Your account will thank you.

5. Halftime Adjustments Win The Day

The Austin Peay basketball team was down by 16 points at halftime in a recent March Madness game. The coach ignored his beleaguer team for a moment and looked at the data. He quickly realized one of his strongest guards only had two shots the first half and was generally inactive offensively. At halftime he challenged his team to pass the ball more and spread out the shots. The result? The team fought and rallied to win the game in the second half. The star guard ended up shooting 6 for 6 for 21 points. 

What is the star guard of your account who isn’t getting the ball? Is it remarketing? Is it display? Is it YouTube? Is it a low negligent bid that is pushing a star search term below first page?

Similarly, early adoption of data driven winners can send your campaign success through the roof. Early ad extension adopters have seen 10% increases in CTR. Stay on top of the data driven TRENDS within the industry so that you can capitalize on newer features. Keep an eye out for Chatbot and Voice Search extensions. Realize that the industry is moving from the Keyword to the Audience and the people that tailor their account accordingly are going to rule the day.

That being said I think I’ll let a computer pick my bracket next year!

Let’s pass the ball to you!

What management schedules have you tried? Where have you had success or failures? We’d love to have this conversation with you over on our Facebook page

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