The SEM automation primer

Posted on: August 29, 2016 by in SEO
No Comments


To varying degrees, my last few posts have flirted with the use of technology in search engine marketing. These posts have resulted in a few great questions regarding tools I’d use, or how to get started with this or that. There was recently a #ppcchat dedicated solely to the role of automation in this field, so I decided it would be a good time to provide a bit of a resource to those wishing to step toward such an approach.

Below is a list of entry points, in ascending order of complexity, along with a bit of an overview and explanation of the role each can play and some resources to help you dive in head-first.

Entry-level: AdWords automated rules

The simplest and easiest way to stop repeating administrative processes is handled right in the AdWords user interface. Over the years, Google has added a wealth of options to the automated rules suite.

The activities you can automate range from turning on or off ad copy at relevant times (e.g., showing “Call Now” type ads only during times when your phone lines are open) to managing financial aspects such as budgets or bidding strategies.

Level 1: AdWords scripts

The use of AdWords scripts has become ubiquitous among PPC professionals. Offering a great balance of simplicity and power, the low barrier to entry provided by the built-in script editor means even the newbie can be up and running, creating useful scripts in very little time. Automated tasks range from basic housekeeping operations to interactions with external web services (See Russell Savage’s recent post on leveraging the power of IBM’s Watson in AdWords).

The only requirement is a little understanding of JavaScript. If this is something totally new to you, I’d highly recommend the Codecademy intro to JavaScript. An understanding of the fundamentals will take you a long way.

Once you’ve learned a bit of JavaScript, you can get started with AdWords scripts via the Google Intro & Documentation.

Some great sources of inspiration (and scripts!) include:

Level 2: Platform APIs

The next step up in complexity is the world of APIs. The Application Programming Interface (API) is “a set of functions and procedures that allow the creation of applications which access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other service.” In layman’s terms, an API provides a standard “language” and set of protocols to request information or to pass on instructions.

Taking the API path generally requires a bit more development experience, unlike with AdWords scripts, which take care of the environment you are working in. Although an API provides info on how to make requests to it, it’s very much up to you how you do this (e.g., your client could use Python, Ruby, Java or PHP to make requests). The benefit of this ownership of the method is that the world is your oyster when it comes to deciding how you will utilize the API. This provides a bit more stability, particularly when automating at scale.

Many web-based platforms offer this programmatic method of interaction, so it’s no surprise that Google and Bing offer these services:

The AdWords API intro page has a really good breakdown of how this level of interaction relates to the others in terms of complexity/requirements:


Bonus level: data analysis workflows

Outside of direct interaction with the ad platforms themselves, the technology stack (as it appears to be termed these days) for analyzing your data offers some great opportunities to create a powerful but efficient workflow. To round off this post, here are a few of my personal favorite tools, including reasons to use them and a starting point to explore more if you wish:


The increasingly popular statistical analysis language, R, provides a great way to do robust, complex analysis of your SEM data. It’s great for data visualization and (to my mind) much easier when it comes to executing “rinse and repeat” processes than Excel.

The Microsoft ecosystem

By my own admission, having long been an Excel lover, I drifted away over the last few years in favor of a more programmatic approach. However, my route back in was when they acquired an R distribution and started integrating R functionality all over the place. With excellent interactions between Power Query, Power Pivot, Power BI and Azure ML (to name a few), I highly recommend exploring how you can leverage these for an efficient, powerful way to analyze your data.


Hopefully, the above provides a bit of insight or inspiration for those who’ve not yet dabbled in incorporating automation into their SEM workflow. There is a huge amount of potential for eradicating inefficiencies and freeing up your time to do the non-automatable value-add tasks, such as applying strategic thinking and planning.

A word of warning summed up in a wise tweet from @robert_brady in the #ppcchat discussion:

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Comments are closed.