PPC Origins – Mike Schuerman

Is journalism really dead? We don’t think so, but for Mike Schuerman it is. In episode 33 of Getting Granular, we learn how one of our Sr. Paid Media Managers took David Bowie’s “Changes” to heart by dashing his own dreams of working as a music journalist to become a richer, different, paid media man.


So you wanna be like Mike? Cool. Lucky for you we are here to show ya how in an easy 10-step process:

  • Step 1 – Meet Mike (01:13)
  • Step 2 – Explore how to travel from journalism to a paid search career (04:13)
  • Step 3 – View the paid search landscape through Mike’s eyes (09:31)
  • Step 4 – Allow someone named “Chris” to validate your views (12:32)
  • Step 5 – Accept the Ch, ch, ch, ch, chan-ges (13:41)
  • Step 6 – Start to focus your skills and area of interest (15:18)
  • Step 7 – Learn Mike’s personal approach to account management and client relations (20:26)
  • Step 8 – Find your way to Granular! (24:27)
  • Step 9 – Look into the eyes of the future of PPC (30:32)
  • Step 10 – Like, subscribe, and follow the Getting Granular podcast


Narrator:  Welcome to Getting Granular, the podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the industry. Whether you’re here to learn how to grow your business, improve your digital skills, or just want to hear some Midwest PPC experts rant about digital media, you’ve come to the right place.

Chris: Thank you once again for tuning into the Getting Granular podcast. I am your host, Chris Cesar, and I am joined today by one of the newer members at Granular here, Mike Schuerman.

Welcome, Mike.

Mike:  Happy to be here.

Chris: You’re one of the relatively newer hires, correct?

Mike:  That’s correct. Yes.

Chris: Not necessarily the newest anymore. You’ve been here a bit.

Mike:  No. Yeah. It’s … I think LinkedIn gave me a notification the other day that I had been here for seven months, and I’m like, “Wow, that really went by quickly.”

Chris: Yeah, definitely. I feel like you just started, but also feel like you’ve been here forever.

Mike:  I guess that’s good that I fit into the culture enough to where it feels like I’ve been here forever.

Chris: Yes, definitely. I guess to kick things off, just give us a quick intro rundown of who you are and what brings you here.

Mike:  My title here is the Senior Manager of Paid Media. I have been working in digital media in different regards for the last seven years, seven or eight years now, in the Milwaukee area for that entire length of time. I come by way of UW Madison. I was in the journalism program there, which I know you were as well. Our paths didn’t cross at the same time, though. We’re a little bit over in terms of ages. That’s kind of where I had learned and figured out that I was good for digital media. I guess we can get into that later, but that’s sort of where it all started for me.

Chris: Very cool. Anything special about your journey here, your trip here, what you did in the past to get here?

Mike:  Yeah. It’s interesting coming from the journalism program at UW to now pretty much exclusively not using my degree in that regard, because back in college I had grand aspirations of wanting to be a music journalist and I even wrote for the school paper, and I wrote for an online blog for music reviews and things like that. But sometimes you got to get realistic with what pays the bills, and that’s sort of where I figured out that maybe it’s better to be in an emerging industry, rather than print media, which is kind of dying. I guess that’s interesting.

Chris: Sure. What exactly is a music journalist? Would you write about concerts, basically?

Mike:  Yeah. It all depends, really. There’s a couple different ways that you could approach that. There are people that review new albums that come out, and you can make a whole career out of that. You can review concerts. You can review music as a whole. There are culture journalists out there that write about trends in the industry or how music has changed over the last decades or so. I think there’s a lot of things that can be covered in the music industry.

The one outlet that I was most interested in was doing reviews, but it seems like that has kind of separated away from print media. There are a lot more people that do vlogs and podcasts now about music than ever before, so it’s really changed in the last 10 years, and so I’m kind of glad I never really explored that, because I feel like I’d just end up doing freelance work or something like that. I don’t know if I could ever do that.

Chris: It definitely sounds like you made the right choice.

Mike:  Yeah.

Chris: Let’s talk about how you got into … How you started off in music journalism and ended up in the paid search world. How did that transformation look?

Mike:  It’s interesting because at UW they have those two tracks where it’s like journalism and strategic communication, which is essentially marketing. And that’s a lot different than what the business school was doing at the time. The business school of marketing was more analytics driven, and the journalism school was more creative and theory driven, I’d say.

I frankly didn’t even take too many digital media classes, and so the idea of digital advertising was a little bit foreign to me when I graduated. I applied to this random internship for … To be a paid search intern at the time, and I was only vaguely familiar with it as a concept. Obviously, everybody at the time knows what Google ads were and I was familiar with that, but I didn’t know the process of going into it. Thankfully, I had a really good mentor at the time who was really interested … Beyond interested in it. He almost made it like his passion of paid search, and he really showed me the ins and outs of the strategies and the ideas and what goes into developing a digital media campaign. He really got me inspired by it, just because of his energy with it. That’s where I started, even though shortly after that internship I accepted a job as an account manager at the same agency, which was a completely different track to go down. I felt like I took five steps backwards in my career there, just because …

Chris: Did you have any good coworkers at that place?

Mike:  Yeah. You happened to be one of them, and oversaw some of the same accounts, which is very funny that we ended up back in the same place together five years later after the fact. But I learned a lot of things about myself being an account manager. One, that I’m not the best at managing 50 clients at once. The other mostly being that I’m more of a creative individual, rather than someone who can oversee others and have other people get work done, I guess, because that was kind of the setup there, was I was the intermediary between the client and the person who was doing the work. Now that I’m in full control of client communication, it’s a lot easier and more suited because I actually know what’s going on.

Chris: I would agree that being here … It’s a lot better to be the person of charge not only the communication, but the tasks behind it to make sure that everything … Everything is in your hands to make sure that things are going smoothly.

Mike:  Right. It’s almost like a game of telephone the other way, where if somebody tells you something and then you repeat it back, there’s always going to be a missed connection or a miscommunication because you’re not intimately involved as the strategist would be. That was always my issue, was like I never felt like I had 100% grasp on what was going on, and so I wanted to be more in control of that. That’s where my career shifted, because I knew I didn’t want to be involved with that anymore. I didn’t want to be strictly involved in paid digital, so that’s when I made the switch.

Chris: It sounds sort of like the combination of being more task-focused, as well as those skills that you honed earlier, being the communicator in previous jobs and in school. Was that the catalyst to have you stick with it?

Mike:  Yeah, for sure. Because once I had that first internship, my eyes were really widened and opened to that space, and I knew I just wanted to return to that. But we all make decisions early on in our careers, mostly. And that was mostly informed by getting a full-time job and not having my parents think of me as a disappointment and wasting a college education at the time. But your career is a lot longer than the few mistakes you make along the way, so thankfully I ended up right where I needed to be anyway.

Chris: Yeah, definitely. Got a good laugh out of the parents one, but that’s a good one. It’s a good way of looking at it, though. Good perspective.

Mike:  Right.

Chris: Looking at what the paid search landscape looked like when you first started, you want to walk us through that [inaudible]

Mike:  Yeah. Since I’ve been in it for seven years, the changes have definitely accelerated more recently. Back when I started, the SERP had … How many ads would that have been? That would’ve been like nine ads on the first results page, and then … The side text ads were still a thing there, where you could be in the middle of the page. That was back when text ads … Text ads primarily drove the industry, I feel like. Shopping ads definitely weren’t given the same type of priority as they were back then, which is interesting to think about now, just how much that’s changed.

When you only had text ads that had 30 characters per line, that was pre-expanded text ads. Display in YouTube also were almost like afterthoughts in the strategy, I feel like. It was … Just because the inventory seemed so … At the time, there was just this distrust of the inventory and YouTube advertising wasn’t looked at in the same way. A lot of people weren’t even prioritizing YouTube at all, and so clients had very little in the way of assets to even put on there. It was … I felt like most of the budgets that I saw were geared entirely, at the time, towards search advertising. That was the biggest priority, was overtaking that. And then as things went on, there was always a significant distrust of automation.

I remember having a colleague at the time who would just adamantly oppose anything automated. Most of the times he would be right. You would implement some new bid strategy or a new smart campaign at the time, and it would just completely derail any type of performance. Very early on there was a significant distrust of anything automated, and it was entirely manual bidding driven, and a lot of that has changed as we have gone on. Almost everything that I knew about advertising on these spaces has almost changed entirely since when I first started. It’s just completely different. Especially in the last two to three years, I’d say, I’ve had to really adapt and almost relearn strategies almost.

Chris: I think that was a good point when you mentioned that the changes are accelerating. It’s not … Like you said, five or so years ago, we’d get this change where text ads are now expanded text ads. That was a two year gap. And then from expanded text ads, we went to super expanded text ads. Now responsive search ads. Over the course of two years. I definitely think that’s a very good point, that things continue to evolve and evolve more rapidly than they did previously.

Mike:  I remember the expanded text ad was the biggest change that we’d experienced at the time, and that was one major change over three years. And now I can’t even keep track of all the “major changes” that have happened over the last two years. I feel like Google is introducing something new and changing something dramatically every other month, it seems like.

Chris: Now it’s just another day. Something changed.

Mike:  Yeah, exactly.

Chris: Anything else that may have changed in the last few years since you’ve been working?

Mike:  I think Facebook too has really changed. Just from every brand’s perspective. Right when I graduated college, it almost seemed weird that brands were having a Facebook presence, where it was like a brand had a voice on social. Now it seems weird when brands don’t. It’s completely reversed, where now you need a social presence and you need to stay on top of that, because that’s where everybody lives. Whereas even in 2014, people weren’t using Instagram in that way. People were just using that to edit photos back then. You would upload your photo there and then put these cool filters on it, and that was it. Now it’s totally changed. That platform and brands’ ideas of what those platforms can be now, where it’s … Where now it’s a way to connect with your customers and get feedback on things, and back then it was just purely a social network with individuals talking to one another. That’s probably one of the bigger media shifts that I’ve experienced. Just the changes in how brands use social media now. It’s completely different.

Chris: Yeah, definitely. Zoom a little bit more in towards you specifically. What sort of specializations have you come to … I don’t know if acquire is the right word, but come to bring to the table as you’ve evolved as a paid media manager?

Mike:  Yeah, for sure. When I first started getting major accounts, they were mostly lead generation based. I think that’s probably one of the better ways to get started in paid digital, is working with those kinds of clients, just because the room for growth and learning is a lot easier than an eCommerce client that’s more focused on immediate results and ROAS. That’s where I started off learning, I guess, and really grinding my teeth on figuring out the paid media landscape.

Eventually, I kind of got introduced to eCommerce clients over time. But where I really learned that skill was … I ended up leaving my second agency to go in house, and I worked in house for a pretty major eCommerce client, where 90% of our budgets every month were spent on Google shopping, and that’s really where I learned the ins and outs of eCommerce and what works there, just because that was my sole focus. It was making sure our return on ad spend was at a certain percentage. I had to find new ways every time to use the same products that we had and figure a new strategy out for seeing what works and getting certain products to convert over others.

Now I guess I kind of consider myself mostly an expert in eCommerce and feed management, but I still do have the same skills that I did before when I was working primarily on lead gen stuff, so I wouldn’t say that I’m defined by eCommerce, but it’s definitely where I feel most comfortable now.

Chris: Sure. A preference.

Mike:  Yeah.

Chris: Cool. I guess, do you have any specific skill sets that you think are particularly valuable, be it managing these eCommerce lead gen or any type of clients?

Mike:  I think because of my days as being an account manager, I think one of the skills that some people underrate for an analyst are being able to communicate what the numbers mean in an efficient way. I feel like sometimes people get wrapped up in not understanding how to put it into real terms for clients. Sometimes people aren’t even intimately involved and sometimes don’t even know certain phrases or the names of metrics, so I feel like after all these years, I’m really good at dissecting the data that’s in front of me and just being able to interpret it and put it into words for a client to understand. I think that’s a really valuable skill set that people just tend to forget sometimes.

The way to describe things in the written format, because we communicate by emails, and that’s just the landscape right now, is communicating by emails all the time, and sometimes you just need to have a good understanding of how the data is going to translate to that format. I think because of my background, I’m pretty skilled in that regard.

Chris: The ability to tell a story is really …

Mike:  Right. Yeah.

Chris: I would definitely agree. Shout out to the Wisconsin J School. Give you the ability to tell the story.

Mike:  Exactly.

Chris: You can tell anybody your click through rate is this or your cross per conversion is that, but then a lot of these clients, what does that mean to my business?

Mike:  Exactly. That’s the end goal here, is just describing to client what they’re investing in how that’s translating to their business. They don’t care that we advanced click through rate by X amount and that’s it. Nobody cares about click through rates. At the end of the day, they want to know how their business is growing. You can wax poetic about how your change from one ad to another increased click through rates by 20%, but at the end of the day, you want to be able to tell the client, “Because of those click through rate increases, we saw a lot more segmented individuals that were ready to buy, and it led to X percent growth in your business.” Really, at the end of the day, that’s what they care about.

Chris: Definitely. I guess, as we talk about your working with clients throughout seven to 10 years now in varying levels of interaction, talk about what your personal approach is as you work with a paid media account, as you work with clients, as you work with the reporting aspect of it. How do you manage all of those, and what’s your personal approach as you do these things?

Mike:  I think just attacking the account first. The best thing for me is to have it just as well organized as possible, so having campaigns grouped in the way that makes sense to me and where I can easily find things. Putting products where they make sense in certain campaigns. Particularly in eCommerce, the best approach that I do is the 80/20 method of focusing on the top products that are driving 80% of our business. I use that approach to pretty much anything. If I want to segment the top products into their own campaign, I find what’s generating 80% of the revenue. If I want to …

If I’m auditing an account and I need to group keywords a certain way, I find what’s driving 80% of the clicks relative to the other keywords that are on our account. That way … And also two, for optimizing, I find what’s driving 80% of the spend and I focus all my time there. That way it kind of breaks it down into more bite-sized chunks on what’s actually driving the business, what’s actually important, and what’s ultimately the key focus there. That really guides everything for me, from campaign structure to search query optimization and negative keyword optimization. Just following that method really helps simplify things for me.

In terms of just working with clients, I try to keep communication as seamless as possible and make it an open relationship to where I’m telling them about things that matter most, whether that’s a big win for us. We celebrate the wins. We be upfront about the losses and if things don’t work out. I think that honesty … The brutal honesty does help, because you don’t want to live in this fairytale land where you think everything is good and dandy. Sometimes things don’t work out the way that you intended it to. It’s being honest about communicating that, that really helps build that trust with you and the client, and what keeps them around as knowing that you’re going to tell them everything that happened and not paint it through these rose-tinted glasses. That’s always how I approach things, is be there when you want to celebrate something good that happens, but also don’t be afraid to tell the client that something didn’t work out the way we intended it to.

Chris: Sure. And you’re never going to have a 100% success rate.

Mike:  No.

Chris: In anything you do, ever.

Mike:  Right. That comes with time too, like accepting the fact that sometimes you’re just not going to 100% know all the answers, and accepting that’s okay sometimes.

Chris: Yeah, definitely. Focusing a little bit more on Granular now, you’ve been here, you said, what, about seven months.

Mike:  Yes.

Chris: I guess first off, what brought you here?

Mike:  I think in the Milwaukee area, there’s just kind of a high regard for Granular. I’ve always … Ever since Granular became a thing, I’ve always heard their names from anyone that I’ve worked with. I’ve heard nothing but good things from other people. It just kind of stuck out in my mind as one of the top destinations to get to if you want to get serious about doing paid digital and having a strong career there. It’s not just the clients. The level of expertise here is a lot different than other places.

And that’s kind of what energizes me about the place as a whole, is just that everybody here is not only passionate about the industry, but they’ve been around long enough to where they’ve tested and worked in so many different aspects of all industries, that if you have a problem or want to talk about something that’s going on in one of your accounts, somebody here is going to know that exact scenario and be able to help you diagnose it, or help you work through it. The collective brainpower here is just insane.

I always feel like I can discuss an issue or something with anybody here, and I can walk away knowing that I got an expert’s opinion versus somebody who may have saw something once before but it didn’t exactly apply to my problem.

Chris: Yeah. I would echo that sentiment, where you mentioned even going back to the previous point of you’re not going to have 100% success rate on stuff, and you have to try stuff new. There are times when I’ll field the question from one of my clients and they’ll say, “What’s going on with this?” And that’s where the all the experts come in, of, “You know what? This isn’t something I’ve had experience with before. Let me go back to the greater team and ask them.” And that’s 99% of the time. Every now and then you’re going to get one of those questions that’s like, this is one of those weird things that no one’s heard of. But the overwhelming majority of the time, someone is going to have had some experience in one way or another with at least a very similar problem.

Mike:  Right. Yeah, that’s … You really nailed it there. Not only are they going to know it. They’re going to be happy to help you with it, because everybody’s excited about knowing how to do things. Everybody’s … It’s really not a pride thing either. People here are just genuinely excited to help others with issues and understanding that it’s a collective good here, and everybody is willing to help in that

Chris: For sure. Aside from the professional side of working here, what is it that you would say culturally, within the company culture, is your … Among the reasons you enjoy working here?

Mike:  It’s just a top down approach to … There’s this top down feeling of you’re allowed to find what drives you and explore that to whatever end that means. That feeling really extends outside of work too, just with we’re encouraged to take vacations, and we all have an understanding that somebody is going to be out for some extended period of time, and that’s normal. I’ve been at company cultures now, over the jobs that I’ve had, where it’s just like yeah, you do have vacation, but somebody’s going to be picking up the slack and you’re going to know it and feel bad about taking those days off. Whereas here, it’s just like you are expected to go pursue a life out of here. It’s almost like there’s just this collective understanding that we’re not tied to our jobs and we’re human beings and we need to go out and do the things that make us happy.

Yeah, we do a lot of great things here and do great work, but at the end of the day, the job isn’t what makes us a good person and we need to explore things outside of a job. I’ve never really experienced that before and it’s kind of like a nice breakdown of that overbearing work culture that’s now just permeated through society that’s just breaking people down. I never feel like my job is overbearing or causing me to not be myself. Granular has really opened that up for me and has really made me thrive, I guess.

Chris: I have no contradictions there for you.

Mike:  I’m being 100% honest here that when I say making the switch here has really been a huge mental health boost for me. It’s really refreshing and I feel energized being here.

Chris: That’s awesome. We talked about a little bit of the past when you first started. What things looked like, how you got into it. We talked about the present, how you … Let me try that again. We talked about the present, what you like about working here, how you actively manage your client management and your client workload communication. Let’s look a little bit into the future now.

What … Looking at the future of PBC, what are you most excited about?

Mike:  I’m always excited about what the next platform is. There will always be something new in that regard. We don’t know what that is yet. I guess that’s what’s exciting to me, is that no matter how much our interaction in the digital space changes, the advertising component of it will always be there, and there will always be a need for somebody to analyze that and to explore those new trends. TikTok has been the greatest wave now, and people are finding new ways to advertise on there. What’s going to be the next TikTok? We don’t know that, and the anticipation and excitement of something new coming along to disrupt the industry is … That’s what gets me going, is figuring out what that next thing is.

I don’t have to invent that or know what’s coming, but I know something in the future is going to be changing the industry, and the way we advertise and interact with our customers is going to change in some way in the next five to 10 years. That doesn’t scare me. That really just excites me knowing that there’s going to be something new to try and test out and conquer.

Chris: You mentioned five to 10 years things are going to come along. Like you said with the rapidly changing technologies, that could be two months from now, two weeks from now.

Mike:  Sure. Yeah. That’s a very good point. Maybe it’s foolish of me to say five to 10 years. You never know. But that’s what’s great about this industry, is that it’s constantly evolving and there will always be a new way to try and connect with our end user.

Maybe that’s a different platform. Maybe it’s an entirely different technology. We don’t know. But I find that thrilling more than I do terrifying, because some people are kind of stuck within these boxes of having to just advertise on Google or just on Facebook. I think that kind of just sets you up for failure almost if you pigeon hole yourself that way. I’m always excited by the opportunity of something new coming along.

Chris: Definitely. Obviously, that excites you a lot. Is there anything about that, that concerns you?

Mike:  I think the concerning thing is always when is automation going to take over. I’m not frightened that my job is going to be obsolete in some form, but it always makes you wonder with things like smart shopping or these new performance max campaigns are coming along, it’s like when does my role stop and automation take over? I don’t think our jobs are going to be 100% defined by Google’s algorithms or whatever algorithm comes along next, but it does stick out in the back of my mind, where it’s like at what point is it going to be … I upload my images or I just plug in my website and Google does the rest, you know? That always concerns me.

But I think like I said before, I think there’s always going to be a new platform that comes around, that won’t be 100% automated or anything like that. There’s always going to be something new to try out, and so I’m still hopeful and still excited about what comes along next, that the automation part of it doesn’t concern me too much, I guess.

Chris: Sure. I guess I would definitely agree with that as well, where there’s going to be automation and the automation continues to evolve. It’s just a matter of how are we going to work with the automation to make sure that everyone’s getting the best results possible?

Mike:  Yeah, definitely. I have come to fully embrace automation, when I used to be one of the biggest haters of it. That’s just the facts of life now, I guess, is just learning to embrace automation and what it offers. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can move on to other things and improve your campaigns by using it.

Chris: I think we’ve all been there.

Mike:  Yeah.

Chris: That’s great. Thanks for joining us today, Mike. I guess before we wrap things up and close things out, is there any sort of … I like to ask people if they have any words of wisdom for anybody who’s listening.

Mike:  Yeah. I guess if you’re an analyst like us, I guess just never assume that you’re the expert on any subject matter. Always just go into things fresh and know that there’s going to be someone out there that might know more than you in a certain subject area. Always stay sharp by reading blogs, watching tutorials of things, listening to podcasts. Always continue to soak in as much information as possible and never assume that you can stop learning at some point. Because that’ll just lead to stagnation and then at that point you’ll just become bored with what you’re doing. There’s always tests to be run, there’s always things that can be tested. There’s always new strategies of … And different ways of thinking about things, so just never assume that you have reached the end or that you know all that there is to know.

Chris: All right. That’s great. Thanks for joining us, Mike. Glad to … Hopefully have you back sometime soon.

Mike:  Absolutely. Can’t wait.

Chris: All right. Thank you everybody else for listening to the Getting Granular podcast. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any PBC tips, tricks, or news in the PPC world. Feel free to leave us a review as well or reach out with any feedback you may have. [inaudible] topics you’d like us to cover and discuss, we’d be more than happy to do that as well. As always, I’ve been your host, Chris Cesar. Thanks for getting granular with us today.