Armed with interesting features, pretty reports, extensive customer service, and solid sales pitches, 3rd-party platforms might look to be the solution to all your SEM problems, but that may not be the case. Engaging with a 3rd-party tool can be extremely beneficial for the right account when leveraged properly. However, the impacts you’re looking for might not require what a platform provides, and you could be better off without it.

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Here are three considerations (and a lot of sub-considerations) to walk through before going down the path of evaluating a 3rd-party Platform. If, at the end of these vetting points, you elect to move ahead with finding a provider, you’ll have a better idea of which features you need in a tool, and you’ll be better able to make your selection.

1.    Do You Really Need It?

Google is improving quickly to meet the requirements of more complex accounts that typically need 3rd-party assistance. At the end of the day, no matter what tool you’re using, you will have to execute some portion of your account analysis and/or execution via the AdWords or Bing UI.

Here’s a short list of questions you should run through to see if you really need a 3rd-party tool or if the publisher UI will cut it for you.

a)  Do you have multiple conversion types with different goals and strategies for each? This is a scenario that almost always requires a 3rd-party tool. Google’s AdWords UI and Bing’s adCenter do a really poor job of allowing you to isolate and optimize for different conversion types.

b)  Do you have significant display activity? If so, stick with AdWords; some 3rd-party tools offer pretty robust optimizations for GDN, but this is typically under-supported.

c)   Are you running YouTube campaigns? 3rd-party support for YouTube ads simply doesn’t exist. If you’re investing heavily in video advertising, leveraging a 3rd-party tool isn’t going to help you here.

d)  Do you participate in several different publishers at scale? Is Bing a factor? Social? If so, leveraging a 3rd-party tool is going to be a significant advantage. Allowing you to easily report and optimize campaigns across SEM channels, as well as glean insights across channels, is one thing you certainly cannot do in the publisher UI alone.

e)  Is Google Shopping a significant component of your portfolio? If so, you’re likely already using a PLA/Shopping-specific tool. 3rd-party platforms offer little support for this specialized ad type.

f)    Are you running Google Sponsored Promotions (GSP)? Recently out of beta, this ad format is now widely used, and no 3rd-party tool offers any support for optimizing or managing it.

g)  Do you need rich reporting? There are more reporting tools out there than any of us need; the question is finding the one that is right for you. 3rd-party platforms offer significantly more from a reporting standpoint than the AdWords or Bing UI, but it’s worthwhile to consider other options if reporting is the primary factor for consideration.

h)  Are your auctions really that sensitive? Are you in an extremely competitive market where you will benefit from robust bidding algorithms? If so, see the next point:

i)    Do you have enough data? Is your account structure set up in a way that lets you lump data together in a way a 3rd-party tool can leverage it? Bidding algorithms don’t do well on small amounts of data; you need a deep data pool to get the most out of a tool.

So you made it through the last 9 questions and you still think you need an upgrade. Good for you! There are two more major questions you should ask yourself before you move forward with considering an integration.

2.    Are your accounts and your business environment stable?

1. Is it the right time of year to be making this change? Make these moves in the most stable part of the year, in case your transition timeline goes long.

2. Do you have sweeping changes to your product or service in the pipeline? If so, this could be the right time to update your platform and have the robust tool required to maximize that move. It could also be the wrong time, adding instability that you don’t need when everything else is in flux.

3. Is your engineering team ready and capable? Do you have tag management or pixel issues plaguing you? If that’s the case, you’ll certainly benefit from the customer support you’ll get from a 3rd-party tool. If you have a really complicated integration, however, their help is limited, so be sure your engineering team has the capacity (and they’ve bought in!) to the transition.

3.    Do you have a back-up (or two)?

Even the savviest engineering team and a stable environment uncover significant issues during a 3rd-party integration. Have a stable back up in place. This is most relevant if you are electing to move from one 3rd-party tool to another, but either way, make sure you have a baseline you trust and are comfortable using as a proxy.  Don’t dive in without a life jacket, in other words.

1. Is your Analytics setup working smoothly? It should be providing you with secondary data that you trust and can make optimizations on.

2. Do you have Google AdWords working as efficiently as possible? Bing? DCM? Are they all running correctly and adequately, and are you comfortable using them for all your data?

3. Is your CRM set up and working properly?

If you successfully integrate a 3rd-party tool, you’ll be extremely happy with the rich data and optimization value you gain from it. In selecting a tool and executing the integration, you’ll be in much better shape at the end of it if you take your time and consider all the steps and questions found in this post.

Do you have 3rd-party integration success story you want to share? Nightmares? Share your stories, but please keep the tool’s name out of it. (We are all friends, after all.)

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Ada Pally
Ada Pally has worked in marketing since 2002 and online marketing since 2005. Prior to joining 3Q Digital in November of 2011, Ada worked as both an in-house marketer and a consultant advising companies on digital strategies. Her focus on measurement while developing brand integrity has performed across industries and for companies of all sizes. Ada specializes in paid search, display, SEO and email marketing, combining her dual degrees in English and Marketing to create SEM strategies that perform for the entire business.