We have a new product coming out – and naturally, we’re excited about it. Every time I build a new piece of software (and I’ve lost track of how many I’ve produced now) I’m re-reminded about what an enormous amount of work it is. In a way, it’s rather like having a baby – mothers always seem to forget the pain until they’re back in the hospital again. And I suppose it’s just as well this should be so – or else there wouldn’t be many people and there wouldn’t be any software!
On the whole, I’m extremely happy with this particular child. I think it’s probably the best one I’ve ever produced – though the creators’ judgment – whether it be in children, movies or software is notoriously suspect.
What is I like about this product so much? Focus, simplicity and elegance.
Let’s start with focus. As a frequent creator of software, I know how serious the temptation to do everything always is. I also know that most good software really only does one thing well. CampaignTracker provides Search Engine Marketing Reporting. That’s it. It makes it easy for you to build presentation quality reports on your existing PPC campaigns. The reports are built using data exported from Google, Yahoo or any other SEM or online channel source. They take only a few minutes to build, and the output is a slick, useful and pretty comprehensive Excel Workbook that includes a set of Chart Views (for high-level reporting) and a set of tabular views that work down from high-level engine and program summaries to detailed keyword reports.
CampaignTracker then takes those Search Terms and let’s you build a set of Competitive Reports that tell you who else is buying those words, what organic positions they have, what ad copy they are running and what changes they’ve made over time. We like to call it a 360 degree view of your SEM Campaigns – because it shows how you’re doing and what your competitors are up to as well.
If you’re a SEM practitioner, chances are, you spend a couple of days a month building just these kind of reports. So what does the software buy you? Just those couple of days of time. Plus a greatly reduced chance of mistakes, errors and Excel screw-ups. I don’t see CampaignTracker as providing revolutionary new capabilities. It probably won’t rock your world. It isn’t going to suddenly make all your PPC programs 20% better. But if you’re like me, I suspect that getting a couple of days – or even a couple of hours – back in time each month is more than worth the $499 list price for CampaignTracker.
If you find yourself – at least semi-regularly – cutting and pasting reports from Search Engines into Excel or hacking about with tools like WordTracker™ or WebPosition Gold™, then this product is going to save you real time.
How about simplicity? As with the creation of any software product, we made a number of trade-offs as we built CampaignTracker – and we really tried to stay focused on simplicity.
Once you’ve created your Google and Yahoo requests (and you only have to do this once), it takes all of about a minute to generate a report suite.
In the web analytics world, where we work with pretty much all the leading Enterprise-class software solutions, every product offers literally hundreds of different reports. That’s tempting to do – and actually quite easy to execute – but I think it causes more problems than it solves. CampaignTracker has two major functions: PPC Reports and Competitive Reporting. The PPC Reports are built entirely in Excel (more on that in a second). There are six chart views and a dozen or so tabular views. Every one is self-explanatory. In the Competitive View, there are eight reports. That’s it. We didn’t put reports into the product unless we thought they might actually be useful.
In fact, the PPC Report Suite is almost the same (with some minor improvements) to what we typically build for ourselves when we have a SEM Analytic Engagement. That’s actually how we first came to build the software – we got so tired of producing these reports by hand – that we decided to automate the process. And once we’d done a bit of automation, the idea of building a full-on product wasn’t far behind.
So what about that Excel decision? Well, building the reports in Excel has real limitations – you can’t slice and dice and you can’t produce reports with more than 60K lines (not that you ever should). On the other hand, when we talked to practitioners, they were pretty much all doing the same thing we were – taking reports from various sources and combining them in Excel to get consolidated and presentation-ready reporting. So we decided that if that’s what everybody was already using, why not just make it easier for them (and us). And let’s face it, it’s almost impossible for a company to produce a reporting environment as comfortable and rich (in terms of presentation tuning and user manipulation) as Excel.
Which brings me to elegance. Elegance is hard to capture and – more than almost any other aspect of software – very much in the eye of the beholder. But CampaignTracker has several features that I really like. First, borrowing a cue from the latest generation of Microsoft products, CampaignTracker makes it very easy for you to give feedback. Right on the front screen of the product are links to get Product Support and make Product Suggestions. Believe me when I tell you that we will take any and all suggestions very seriously.
I think CampaignTracker also strikes a very nice balance between the needs of power-users for fast and direct functional access versus the desire of new users for hand-holding and explanation. Every CampaignTracker dialog has side-by-side help – explaining every field you fill-out or select – without getting in the way of the power-user at all. The first time you enter any new CampaignTracker screen, there is split-screen help introducing you to the area. But once you’ve started working and come back, that help goes away – leaving an uncluttered work-area for the power-user.
Finally, I think every report in CampaignTracker actually means something. We’ve spent too long as Analytics Consultants to ever fall in-love with building reports just to have them. This report set is pretty rich – it provides a beautiful level of integration between PPC Reporting and Competitive Reporting – and it isn’t cluttered with mindless permutations built by programmers who really have no idea what kind of reporting actually makes sense.
But hey, obviously I like the software – I built the damn thing. But if the feature set and approach I’ve described sound useful, you can give it a try yourself. 15 Day trial demos are available on the web site (http://www.semphonic.com) – and you can let me know what you think…