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In the spirit of the newest release of Nintendo’s legendary fighting game “Super Smash Brothers”, I thought it would be fun to pit SEM tools against each other in an epic battle of their own.

A common argument within SEM teams is which platform they should use when making changes to their accounts. Purists prefer the UI; old-school power users prefer to use AdWords Editor, and those who manage massive accounts prefer to use a 3rd party tool such as Marin or Kenshoo.

Choosing between the tools can be tough as they all have their features and flaws. I looked at five of the most common SEM tasks and pitted them each against each other to find an overall winner. The tasks are as follows:

 

1. Bulk Uploads (campaigns, ad groups, keywords and ads)

2. Geographic Targeting and Exclusions

3. Day Parting

4. Negative Keyword Implementation

5.Bidding
For the sake of keeping things simple, I will use only one 3rd-party tool. I have deemed Marin the most worthy 3rd-party tool for battle. Here’s how the competitors fared…

 

Bulk Uploads

I’ve found that most teams go directly to AdWords Editor when it comes to bulk uploading in their accounts. While this may be nature of habit, the tool still holds a lead when it comes to this task. The ability to download your accounts and prepare the sheets offline definitely gives it an edge. I would have deducted points for the infrequent updates that Editor receives, but Google pulled a fast one and completely overhauled the interface with version 11.0.

While Google has been quietly adding more and more features for bulk uploads directly in the UI, the functionality still isn’t quite there. I ran into some errors when uploading more than 10,000 items, and the bulk sheets required too many columns, keep it simple! Marin is a close second for this task, but the frequency of issues I ran into where Marin would duplicate an item rather than editing gives the edge to Editor.

Winner: AdWords Editor

 

Geographic Targeting and Exclusions

The AdWords UI is definitely the easiest to use when implementing new geographic targets and exclusions, but the inability to copy and paste across campaigns loses it a few points. Editor is the only tool with such functionality, making it a powerful tool when it comes to geographic targeting. Marin does have some bulk features of its own when it comes to this, but without radius targeting support, some sophisticated accounts will be out of luck.

I think the UI and Editor go hand-in-hand for taking honors for this task. Use the UI to set the initial targets, be they addresses, zip codes, DMAs or a radius, and then use Editor to copy and paste the targeting to the campaigns they should be applied to.

Winner: TIE: AdWords Editor and AdWords UI

 

Day-Parting

Marin does not yet have the ability to day-part of bid by hour, so unfortunately it is ineligible to fight, thus disqualified. I find this task to be very similar to geographic targeting and exclusion in that the UI and Editor are neck-and-neck. The UI is has the best interface when it comes to adding and time/day segments and then seeing them applied visually on a calendar, but it doesn’t have the copy paste functionality that Editor does. Once again it’s a tie between the UI and Editor as they function best when together.

Winner: TIE: AdWords Editor and AdWords UI

 

Negative Keywords

All hail the shared negative keyword list. The UI reigns supreme by a long shot for negative keywords. The ability to implement directly from the search query report, and the option to add negative keywords to a shared list that can be applied to multiple campaigns, gives the UI the edge. While Editor is the best for applying negative keywords with a bulk sheet, bulk functionality isn’t even necessary if you are using shared lists. Set lists up for your own brands keywords, irrelevent searches, and competitor terms, and apply to your campaigns accordingly.

Winner: AdWords UI

 

Bidding

This was the most challenging and drawn-out battle for our tools. All three tools allow for easy management of manual bids and/or CPA targets, but this is where Marin really shines. The ability to bid by ROAS has been around longer than Google’s own version and tends to be an easier set-up. Marin bidding folders and automated reporting makes it easy to set up folders that target a CPA, ROAS, position, or margin. You can also move campaigns or ad groups in and out of folders directly in the Marin UI without having to use any type of bulk sheet.

Winner: Marin

 

At the end of the day, how you choose to complete a task is a matter of personal preference. Everyone has their own workflow and some tools simply work better for certain accounts. Like Super Smash Brothers, the challengers that enter the SEM tool ring gain new skills and abilities every year so this could look completely different next year!

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Sean McEntee
Sean joined 3Q Digital in November 2013 after working previously at Performics and iProspect. Sean holds degrees in Interactive Media from DePaul University and Business Administration from Linkoping University. When he's not helping innovative companies grow, Sean enjoys traveling, building computers, and fondly recalling that one time the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.