When getting started with Amazon PPC, one of the first questions that will come up is the benefits of automatic vs manual campaigns.

It’s definitely not an either/or situation and both campaign types have their own strengths, weaknesses, and specific use cases in a successful Amazon advertising strategy

But in order to make the most of their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses it’s important to understand how each works.

In this article, we’ll compare the key differences between automatic and manual campaigns so you know exactly when to use each option.

We’ll also share best practices for making both campaign types a key part of your overall Amazon PPC strategy.

Let’s get started!

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Automatic vs manual campaigns: The key differences

For a quick rundown on the key differences between the two campaign types, here’s a quick comparison guide:

Use Case


Automatic

  • Keyword & ASIN research
  • Trending topic coverage

Manual

  • Product launches
  • Drive keyword ranking
  • Long-term growth

Targeting


Automatic

  • Broad

Manual

  • Broad
  • Phrase
  • Exact

Strengths


Automatic

  • Easy to setup
  • Saves time on research
  • Wide reach to capture missed/trending keywords

Manual

  • More control over keywords
  • More efficient ad spend
  • More scalable

Weaknesses


Automatic

  • Lack of keyword control
  • Risk of wasted ad spend
  • Limited bidding options

Manual

  • Steeper learning curve
  • Potential for missed keywords & ASINs

Want to dive deeper into the differences between automatic and manual campaigns, and learn how to get the most out of each?

Coming right up!

What is an automatic campaign?

An automatic campaign is a type of advertising campaign you can run with Amazon’s Sponsored Product Ads.

It’s called “automatic” because Amazon uses its own technology and data to choose where and when to show your ads.

Here’s how it works: You set a daily budget for how much you want to spend on ads.

Then, Amazon uses information about your product, like the title, description, and category, to match your ads with relevant customer searches and products.

For instance, if you’re selling a coffee maker, Amazon might show your ad when someone searches for “coffee makers” or views a similar product.

The strengths of automatic campaigns

Auto campaigns are the go-to option for many new Amazon sellers, but they have strengths that will appeal to seasoned advertisers too.

Easy setup

The obvious first pro of an automatic campaign is that it’s very straightforward to get started.

All you have to do is select the product you want to advertise, set your bid level and budget then publish the campaign.

There are some finer details of targeting you can play around with (more on those in a minute), but for the most part, it’s a matter of a few short clicks.

Time-saving

Another benefit is that you don’t need to do the hard work of figuring out what keywords to target or which products to show your ads next to; Amazon does that for you.

Given keyword research can be a time-consuming task, this saves valuable hours.

Wide reach

Automatic campaigns have a broad reach as they aren’t restricted by any keywords or product ASINs you give to Amazon.

This means they can be very effective at finding new longtail keywords that you may not have discovered.

Plus, they will also research new product ASINs that can then be targeted with manual campaigns for more focus.

For this reason, automatic campaigns do still play a key role in a long-term Amazon advertising strategy and shouldn’t only be seen as an option for new, inexperienced Amazon sellers.

PRO TIP

Always have at least one auto campaign running to ensure you capitalize on new and trending opportunities.

For example, trending news stories, evolving terminology, cultural events and new products entering your category are all opportunities that may go unnoticed at first. In contrast, an auto campaign can quickly pick them up.

The weaknesses of automatic campaigns

As you get more experienced with Amazon PPC, you’ll quickly begin to notice the limitations that come with automatic campaigns.

Here are key ones to watch out for.

Lack of keyword control

The nature of automatic campaigns means you have less control over where your ads show.

Amazon will show your ads to a wide audience based on what its algorithm deems relevant.

However, as the targeting is so broad this can often lead to your ads being displayed on keyword searches or products with a very low relevance to your product.

You can combat this by adding negative keywords to your campaigns, but you’ll need to wait for data to come through in order to do so.

Risk of wasted spend

A result of the lack of control is a risk of wasting ad money that could otherwise be spent on profitable keywords and ASINs.

The only way to be sure a keyword won’t convert is to test it which of course costs money. By the time a keyword has been tested, it may have spent a few dollars or more.

If a number of these irrelevant keywords go unnoticed and don’t get dealt with the costs can quickly build up.

Limited bidding options

Whereas manual campaigns allow you to set a bid for each individual target, automatic campaigns only give four bidding options: close match, loose match, complements, and substitutes.

Rather than being able to adjust bids for poor-performing keywords, you instead have to adjust bids for an entire category.

Best practices for automatic campaigns

While there are some definite limitations to automatic campaigns, they do play a key role in a healthy campaign structure.

In order to make them a successful part of your strategy, here are a few guiding principles to consider.

Avoid automatic campaigns for product launches

When launching new products on Amazon, your primary objective is establishing organic ranking for as many relevant keywords as possible.

Given relevancy plays such a big part in Amazon’s ranking algorithm, going too hard with an auto campaign at the start of your launch can do more harm than good.

Instead, use manual campaigns for your launch, then add auto campaigns to your long-term campaign structure once you start to see some good organic ranking.

Set low bids

Amazon PPC works on an auction system whereby sellers set bids for different campaigns and keywords.

Given the limitations already covered, the best strategy is to use auto campaigns as a low-bid, low-cost research platform.

By setting a low starting bid (e.g. $0.50c) it means you can afford more clicks and therefore mitigate some of the impact of the irrelevant keywords and ASINs that can creep in.

You won’t win the bid auction on more competitive keywords, but this is what your manual campaigns are for.

Regularly promote converting keywords

By using your automatic campaigns in a research function you can continually mine for new keywords and ASINs to add to your manual ad campaigns.

The key is to then take these high-converting keywords and put them into manual campaigns that will bid higher, allocate more budget, and drive more results.

This is a process known as keyword harvesting. To learn more, check out the video below:

Regularly negate poor-performing keywords

Similarly, you’ll want to conduct regular optimization checks to locate poor-performing keywords & ASINs.

Then, when you locate them, be sure to add them as negative keywords to make sure your ads don’t show for them again and you cut out wasted ad spend.

Make use of all targeting options

While automatic campaigns don’t give you the diverse range of targeting options manual campaigns do, Amazon has introduced four match types:

  • Close match: Search terms closely related to your product. e.g. for a coffee maker, terms like “coffee machine”.
  • Loose match: Search terms loosely related to your product. e.g. for a coffee maker, terms like “coffee gift ideas”.
  • Substitutes: Products that are similar to your product. e.g. for a coffee maker, your ad may show on listings for coffee makers from other brands.
  • Complements: Products that are similar to those often bought alongside products like yours. e.g. for a coffee maker, your ad may show on listings for coffee.

You can – and should – set unique bids for each of these match types and optimize them according to performance.

PRO TIP

One strategy we’ve found to be effective with auto campaigns is testing multiple campaigns at different bid levels.

Different bids will access different ‘tiers’ of traffic and some may perform better than others. We learn this tip from the team at Scale Insights and it has been handy!

By implementing these best practices, you can make sure auto campaigns aren’t just for new advertisers, but become a strong part of your overall Amazon PPC strategy.

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What is a manual campaign?

A manual targeting campaign is another type of advertising campaign you can run.

Unlike automatic campaigns, a manual campaign will give you more control over where and when your ads show up.

Here’s how it works: You still set a daily budget for your ads, but instead of letting Amazon decide where to show your ads, you pick specific keywords, products, or product categories to target.

For example, if you’re selling a coffee maker, you might choose to target keywords like “stainless steel coffee maker” or “coffee maker with grinder”, or you might choose to show your ads next to specific brands of coffee makers.

When targeting keywords, you’ve got three different match types to choose between:

  • Broad match: Search terms that include your keyword in any order. e.g. using the keyword “coffee maker”, your ad could show on search terms like “best coffee espresso maker“.
  • Phrase match: Search terms that include your keyword in phrase form. e.g using the keyword “coffee maker”, your ad could show on search terms like ” best coffee maker“.
  • Exact match: Search terms exactly matching your keyword or its plural. e.g. when using the keyword “coffee maker” the ad would only show for searches “coffee maker” and “coffee makers“.

These options create a lot of new possibilities in comparison to automatic campaigns.

The strengths of manual campaigns

Many of the strengths of manual campaigns are essentially the reverse of the weaknesses of auto campaigns.

However, understanding them in the context of manual campaigns will help you get the most out of your advertising budget.

Greater control

The nature of manual ad campaigns means that you are defining the specific scenarios in which you want your ad to be shown.

This gives you far more control and means you can expect to achieve a much better ACOS far quicker than with automatic campaigns.

More efficient ad spend

With greater control comes greater opportunity for improved ROAS (Return On Ad Spend).

This improved efficiency means you can scale up manual campaigns much quicker.

The weaknesses of manual campaigns

Again, the weaknesses of manual campaigns are somewhat mirrored by the strengths of automatic campaigns.

More complex setup

To get manual ad campaigns set up you need to carry out dedicated Amazon PPC keyword research, choose the most relevant targets, and set up more detailed campaigns.

Once you’ve got used to setting these up it will become second nature, but it is certainly a steeper learning curve for new sellers.

Potential for missed opportunities

Due to the fact that you are providing Amazon with a definitive list of targets, it means you can miss out on trending search terms or newly launched products.

These scenarios are rare, and not overly significant in the grand scheme of things, but they are reason enough to make sure you always have some form of automatic campaign running.

Best practices for manual campaigns

Maintaining healthy manual campaign performance starts with carrying out detailed keyword research to ensure your targeting is effective.

Next, it’s important to structure your campaigns effectively to enable you to test keywords and promote winning keywords.

Finally, it’s essential you implement a regular schedule of campaign optimization to weed out poor-performing keywords and identify further growth opportunities.

Amazon PPC automatic vs manual: Which is better?

When it comes to automatic and manual campaigns, there isn’t a “winner”.

Neither is better per sè, it all comes down to implementing each campaign type with a clear strategy.

To get the most out of automatic targeting campaigns and manual PPC campaigns you should recognize both their strengths and weaknesses.

An automatic campaign is easy to set up and catches search terms or product ASINs you may not have considered, but the lack of control can make them less efficient.

Whereas a manual campaign takes more work to get started but once set up has a lot more focus and, therefore, often generates a higher return on ad spending.

Both Amazon ad campaigns are a vital part of a successful overarching strategy and should be used by PPC beginners and pros alike.

Want to learn more about this topic? Explore our Amazon PPC course with 11 modules of in-depth training today!

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