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How Google’s Move to Automation Costs My Company £500k A Year

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The number in the headline is my rough calculation, based on changes to Google’s products in several areas: AdWords (‘Google Ads’), AdSense, and Gmail. I’ve used Google’s tools for over a decade, managing some extremely large Ads accounts, and currently spend mid 7-figures per year on my own businesses.

This post talks about something extremely experienced Google Ads managers know, but that is not widely discussed: That is – how Google’s automation tools are costing businesses very large amounts of money, not helping them.

I recently posted a thread on Twitter which got some interesting response. I’m sharing it here as an article to see if I can gather any more feedback/war stories.

Full disclosure (& credit to google) Matt Brittin, President of Google’s EMEA Business contacted me following the thread, to discuss the content in more detail.

This isn’t about Google bashing (though I’m as game as anyone for that), it’s about trying to get someone there to fix the problems with their move to automation.

Google recently released a report highlighting the “true impact” of their operations that are “helping Europeans succeed”.

The article contains lots of easily digestible statistics on things like average ROI and how Google Search and Apps have saved workers 2,800 million hours a year. All these stats do is demonstrate what any dominant search engine would contribute to an economy, rather than what impact Google’s operations themselves have on businesses.

Here’s an example of one of the claims in Google’s report:

snapshot of google's report

As someone who runs a business that is heavily intertwined with many key Google products and platforms, I don’t think they understand the reality of what they are like to work with. Their push towards automation is making them an un-predictable, time consuming channel that is hard to place trust in.

Here are 5 examples of areas where Google’s switches further towards automation are by my calculations losing us large amounts of money without adding any benefit to our businesses.

1. Smart technology in Google Ads is inconsistent and not cost effective

The process of trying to adopt smart technologies in our Google Ads account (mid seven figures spend per annum) has been an eye wateringly expensive time sink. Well-meaning Account Managers sound like Charlie, the chef from Snatch who repeats “two minutes, Turkish” whenever Turkish (Jaston Statham’s character) asks how much longer till the sausages will be ready.

With Google Ads we’re forever “two weeks Turkish” from hitting an ROI target while the algorithm learns, re-learns, or doesn’t learn – whichever one it is.

Compare this to the situation before the heavier push toward automation of the last few years: Google slowly removed control of some elements (‘exact match’ watering down, device-type bidding limitations), but we at least knew where we stood. The investment we made delivered an ROI that we’d worked to achieve. Swapping that for a system that promises better results, but never delivers, means we are now investing in Google and achieving significantly lower results from them in return.

And if Google’s automation does find a way to deliver the expected results, then experience tells us that it is likely to fall apart one day for no obvious reason, pulled like a rug from underneath our feet, leaving us and our Account Managers wondering what to do next (Facebook, anyone?).

2. Automation on the publisher side is highly volatile

Our experience with Adsense and Ad Manager (tier 1 publisher, 7 figures per annum) has shown that Google’s push to automate everything leaves a huge opportunity on the table as the systems fall over every time there’s a small change to the environment they exist within.

A small front-end bug or a change to a H1 tag’s position on one of our templates can cause the Adsense system to seemingly forget the majority of what it ever knew, usually at a 10-30% cost to performance.

My fag packet calculations are that due to issues like this, this product continually operates at 2/3 of its potential for us. In other words: If the many bugs and quirks and inefficiencies present in the system compared to how it’s ‘supposed’ to work, we’d make an extra 50% of revenue vs our current position.

The Google robots are replacing our jobs in this case, but they’re doing so in a way that takes us more time, and costs us a huge amount of money.

3. Gmail algorithms ask you to do one thing, but reward another

Gmail are fighting a good fight against spam but outwardly the new TensorFlow technology behaves nonsensically; Postmaster Tools’ indications of reputation seem to have an inverse correlation with deliverability, and following best practice often reduces performance.

Trying to improve it is another time sink, and opportunity cost for legitimate business senders, who are often trying to contact users that they have paid Google Ads to acquire in the first place.

4. Policy automation gets things wrong

Our Google Ads account gets thousands of disapprovals a week for things like “Certificate required: Complex speculative financial products”, on ads with absolutely no connection at all to financial products. Keeping pace with them is like painting the Forth Bridge.

Once, our account was shut down for nearly 3 weeks because a bot got a false positive when testing for malware. They couldn’t re-enable without us proving we had got rid of the bot. But there never was a bot. Many pounds of sterling and many nights of sleep were lost because the computer said no.

5. Helpful Googlers aren’t equipped with the tools to help customers

Customer-facing staff are not adequately equipped to help customers in this environment. I talk every day to highly intelligent, well-meaning Googlers who aren’t able to consistently effect change for clients in their portfolio because control of products is not permitted to those who are managing it. This renders clever, motivated people useless in many situations.

It’s not just the experience of our business either. Most of the companies I speak to or work with are frustrated with Google and feel it’s becoming an ineffective and painful organisation to work with. It’s the company everyone has to work with but no-one wants to.

They are the only partner that has the ability to give me and my business partner a poor night’s sleep, and that’s not the company they should be.

Google: Fix your Automation, or Give us Back Control

I’d much rather that real life was as described in Google’s study – that the shift to automation was adding extra revenue to businesses, but until Google put the focus back on making products work for the customer their assertion that they are helping Europeans succeed is just not the case.

So, Google. Please, please, please make these 3 changes:

  1. Make automation in Google Ads and Adsense manageable by giving customers insight on what it’s doing and why it’s doing it.
  2. Provide customers controls to change, direct, or re-set the behaviour of smart technology.
  3. Give your customer facing staff further controls over what your technology and your product staff are doing. Policy teams get things wrong. Algorithms get things wrong. And that’s OK – as long as it can be fixed.

As I said at the start: I’m not here because I want to bash Google. I’m here because I’m a big partner who they’re letting down. I want these issues fixed, and I’m happy to talk to anyone at Google to move this further.

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