This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2019.
Working with a winning PPC agency can help increase your search results visibility, boost your ROI, and more.
Here, you’ll find:
- Steps for partnering with a PPC agency
- What questions to ask during the vetting process
- Red flags to watch for from agencies
- What qualities make up a good agency
Paid search is an ever-changing field. For marketing professionals whose time is already at a premium, finding the time to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and nuances can be challenging.
New to the SEM field, feel under-experienced to be running campaigns, or just not seeing the results you want? Hiring a PPC agency may be the best way to boost ROI and free up your time for other channels.
Agencies understand that to remain effective, their teams must stay on top of the latest trends and tactics. Account representatives are experts in their field, and they typically have access to systems that help them increase effectiveness for clients.
In the same way that no single marketing strategy fits all companies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for PPC management. These tips will help you choose the right PPC service agency for your business and what to expect if this is your first time working with a PPC agency.
1. Have a list of goals and objectives
Before you begin your agency search, make sure you know what you want to achieve, whether it’s building brand awareness, fueling your pipeline, launching a new product or service, increasing conversions, or improving online revenue.
The more specific you can be about your objectives, the better chance you have of partnering with a PPC service agency successfully. Goals are crucial for ensuring the strategies developed and tactics used are in line with your business needs.
2. Identify which PPC services you need
Perhaps you want to run paid search ads or add content to boost your SEO ranking. When making the list of agencies to contact, make sure they have experience with the services you need.
You may want to screen out any that only focus on one area, such as SEO. A PPC company that integrates paid search with other online marketing services can work with you to a higher degree and help you understand customer behavior across various digital channels. Over time this can improve campaign results and increase ROI.
Services that paid search agencies typically offer, include the following:
- Paid search (SEM, PPC)
- Content marketing
- Conversion rate optimization
- Social media advertising/paid social
- Shopping feeds
- Display advertising
3. Establish a budget
Whether it’s a percentage of your overall marketing budget or based on past ad spend, you should have a ballpark in mind for what you can spend with a PPC service agency.
Questions you can ask a potential agency regarding budget to determine if they’re a fit include:
- Is the budget adequate to obtain our objectives?
- Is PPC the best solution for our goals?
- Will our funds be better spent on different channels?
- Are there more effective solutions that align with our budget while increasing ROI?
If they don’t think you’re budgeting enough to achieve your goals, make sure they fully explain their reasoning.
4. Know the PPC agency’s fee structure
When it comes to pricing, the terms should meet your budgetary requirements. There are several options to consider, such as:
- Flat monthly fee
- Percentage of the advertising spend
- Hybrid approach
There are pros and cons to each. But what deliverables are included in the services you’re signing up for? Are there any hidden fees? Will you need to hire additional resources to get the job done? Discussing questions like this with each PPC agency you interview can help you decide which will work best for your business.
5. Identify the qualities you want in a PPC service agency
No two PPC agencies are exactly alike. And while you can’t predict how a partnership will turn out, your intuition should be able to help you discern which agency reps you will and won’t mesh well with.
Knowing what qualities to look for when you’re vetting PPC agencies will help you more easily weed out who’s not a good fit. Some qualities to look for include:
- A history of meeting (and exceeding) expectations
- Frequent communication
- Industry expertise
- Proactive ideas and vision
- A long-term focus rather than buzzwords and numbers without context
6. Determine if an agency will be a good culture fit for your team
Finding the right culture fit is essential for the success of your relationship with an agency. This is because not only will they work with you or your in-house team on some aspects of the campaigns, but a shared perspective enables effective collaboration.
Even if it looks good on paper, if you don’t share similar values, the teams may not mesh and work well together, which can affect productivity. You want a firm that is motivated and passionate about what they do and takes pride in the quality of work they provide.
7. Research the PPC agencies and ask for proof points
Any PPC agency will work to put their best face forward when meeting with you. However, doing your own research before the meeting can save you time. Aim to get an idea of their online reputation. Check out review sites to read what other customers have to say. (Just remember to take reviews with a grain of salt, since you don’t know the full story behind each client experience).
It’s also worth checking out the agency’s own site to see what kind of testimonials or case studies they’ve published that could be relevant to your industry or goals. If they don’t have anything published, you can request to speak to a referral or past client for more information.
8. Get to know their communication style
Before partnering with a PPC service agency, you should discuss what your expectations are in terms of communication. Is receiving a weekly email with updates enough, or do you prefer a phone call? Do you want specific information in the reports?
The firm should also make their preferences regarding communication clear. Do they recommend regularly scheduled meetings and updates? Is the whole team involved, or just the account manager?
You should also discuss what the agency needs from you and their expectations. Will they be partnering with you to strategize and execute, or simply providing recommendations for your team to carry out? When both sides communicate clearly, the partnership can proceed more smoothly.
9. Prepare strategic questions to ask potential PPC agencies
When you schedule a virtual or in-person interview with a PPC service agency, make the best use of time by having a handful of specific questions ready. The more pointed your questions, the less opportunity they’ll have to be vague or broad.
Questions you can consider asking include:
- How would you make sure our leads are resulting in revenue for the company?
- On what level is the structure and experience of the team we’d be assigned?
- What successes have you had in our industry before?
- What is your long-term plan to drive value for us?
- How would you report on monthly or quarterly results?
While this is a good general list, it’s wise to also include questions focusing on your company’s specific goals.
10. Understand their experience and expertise
When discussing the possibility of retaining an SEM agency, find out who will connect with you regularly and learn more about who will be working directly on your account. The agency you hire must be able to navigate today’s complex landscape and have the chops to make your PPC campaigns successful.
Some agencies will have senior managers who own several roles, while others may use junior talent. It’s important to understand the level of expertise you’re getting so you can determine whether it’s commensurate with the fee.
Another factor to consider when choosing an agency is whether they’re Google Ad certified or a Google Premier Partner. This accreditation is earned by those who attend training and demonstrate proficiency in a broad range of Google Ads features.
11. Ensure you own your data
In the future, you may decide to find a new agency or build an in-house team to work alongside or in place of your agency. Prepare for that in advance by ensuring that things like the Google Ads accounts, landing pages, and creative assets are all yours.
A PPC service agency will not only bring experienced PPC management to the table, but your creative assets should also build. Because of that, you want to make sure the account is set up using your email account. You should also have full access to any paid ad accounts, but grant the agency full access so they can create and manage campaigns as needed.
Having historical data is crucial to optimizing your campaigns. If the Google Ads information isn’t yours, you’ll have to start over again, which wastes valuable resources. When the partnership with the firm ends, you should be able to take everything with you.
12. Watch for any red flags
While you should feel like an agency’s No. 1 client, you should understand that they’re likely juggling dozens (or even hundreds) more. While no business is perfect, there are certain red flags that you should pay attention to during your search. Let these serve as warning signs that you may not want to continue discussions with this particular service agency.
- Lack of communication: Barring holidays, it’s not a great sign if you go days without receiving a response to a voicemail or email when you’re trying to find out more about working with the agency.
- Making vague claims: If an agency isn’t forthcoming about backing up its claim with facts or numbers, you may have trouble establishing trust.
- Overpromising results: Especially if they don’t have the data or sourcing to back up their estimations.
- History of unhappy clients: If you find tons of reviews from unhappy clients, it may be a warning sign that there are underlying issues at the company.
Other red flags to look out for? Poor retention, a sub-par or disjointed online presence, and any results or rates that sound too good to be true, given the company’s size and bandwidth.
13. Look for transparency
Reporting results can be subject to interpretation. The paid search agency you hire should be willing to share the complete, unaltered information related to your KPIs.
In addition, the reports they design should match your internal metrics so that you can get a consistent view of performance. The data they contain should be detailed and up-to-date, not weeks old.
Deciding to work with a PPC service agency could do wonders to enhance your paid search efforts.
For best results, don’t pick an agency swiftly or in a panic to fix your ad accounts. Rather, treat your agency as an ally. Sometimes new clients treat agency managers adversarially like they have something to prove.
Go into your new venture with an open mind, defined goals, and a clear communication plan to help ensure the relationship is successful and lasting.