Many of the PPC Management Companies have worked with the biggest global brands showcased the most innovative case studies with outstanding results, and most of their previous clients swear by their work. Many even have verifiable references, so what separates the best ones from the rest?

Hiring the right PPC Management Company out there is a critical decision every marketing manager, CMO, or key stakeholders need to make.

While agencies may have had success in the past, s agencies grow, they begin to hire not so skilled PPC specialists. To make matters worse, they begin to assign more accounts than the specialists could handle.. This obviously results in less attention given on PPC accounts, therefore poorer results.

Of course, not every big ticket PPC agency works like this. However, having worked on both the agency and client side for years, I have seen it happen quite often.

We put together a 10 point checklist to help you evaluate your PPC agency as you go through the hiring process:

1. Will You Get Full Access To Your Adwords Account?

Best PPC Management companies would like to keep you up to date with everything along the way.  Therefore they would not mind providing full access to the Adwords account, whether or not you are familiar with Adwords.

There are a few common reasons agencies may give you so they don’t have to give you access:

  • Let the experts manage it for you.
  • You should focus on results rather than getting into the details.
  • You can access all of our clients’ data if we give you an account (completely untrue)
  • We have a proprietary process that doesn’t let you access the account
  • We have a customer portal where you can see the metrics that matter to you

There could be a number of reasons why an agency might not want you to have access to an account, however since you are investing in the advertising dollars, you should have access to your own data.

2. Do They Provide Real Time Transparent Reports?

One of the key questions to ask while hiring a PPC agency is what kind of reports they provide to their clients. Do they use Data Studio by Google which populates real time data from adwords? Or do they provide a custom template where they populate data manually from adwords?

The Best PPC Management Companies that have nothing to hide are most likely to recommend using data studio or Adwords API based reports in real time.

The rest of them might insist on manually populating fancy reports which may not have real time and transparent data. What could be worse, their reports may even have doctored numbers.

3. Do They Report Key Activities Being Done On Your Campaigns?

Like I said in the beginning that the best PPC management companies would like to keep you up to date with process of setting up and managing your PPC campaigns.

They may even go to the extent of educating you a little to ensure you know what they are doing on your campaigns. A a solid agency knows that educating their clients fosters an appreciation for their work. Since their focus is on delivering positive ROI, it’s in their best interest to report key activities on your campaigns to receive  feedback and make improvements accordingly.

The rest of them are likely to suggest that those activities may be way too technical for you to understand. The reality is that the adwords systems is designed for non-technical users like you.

Pro Tip: There is a “Change History” report in adwords that keeps tracks of all activities being done on your campaigns. Most of them do not ever want you to know about this report, because this report is as transparent as it gets. It gives you time stamps and the actual activities in the account itself.

4. Will You Get Account Ownership If You Split Ways?

A rich performance history on your adwords account is incredibly important to the success of your campaigns. Google tends to favor Adwords accounts that have been actively advertising for a longer period of time.

All the PPC Management companies out there understand this critical fact and this is where you can decisively separate the best from the rest. If you probe a little into contract terms and ask if you will receive the account ownership in the event to part ways? You should throw up a red flag if your answer is not a clear yes.

I learned this lesson the hard way during the early days of my digital marketing career while working on the client side for an entertainment startup. Our PPC agency (part of a large media house) simply refused to transfer the ownership of the adwords account when we had to part ways.

Our adwords account had rich performance history of over a year of running advertising campaigns at massive scale. Even Google could not intervene given their agency relationships.

Our new Adwords account didn’t start anywhere close to the performance level (average CPC, CPA, conversions and ROI) of our old account.

5. Are The Adwords Specialists On Your Account Skilled and Experienced Enough?

While it may seem ideal to go with a company with impressive credentials, there are some likely scenarios you should be concerned with:

  1. What if your advertising budget is too small for them to divert their best resources on it?
  2. What if they are way too overloaded with work and their PPC specialists are managing more accounts than they can handle?
  3. What if they have been hiring some inexperienced and unskilled staff members to increase their margins?

Any of these scenarios could lead in poor results or even complete failure of your PPC campaign.

6. Do They Charge A Percentage Of Your Advertising Spends Or A Monthly Retainer?

You are likely to come across two models of engagement with a PPC agency:

  1. Those charging a percentage of your advertising spend (15% or 20% of media spend)
  2. Those asking for a fixed monthly retainer depending on the scale of your campaigns and spend

There is technically nothing wrong with either of these models. However what separates the best from the rest is the intent behind these models. You should probe further and toy with the possibility of going the either way. The reaction you get should give you an indication of who you are dealing with. The best of the lot would have logical reasons why a percentage of media spends could work better instead of fixed monthly retainer or vice-a-versa.

However the rest may insist on going the percentage on media spend way. This should definitely trigger the red alert. A PPC agency that insists on charging you a percentage of media spend is most likely aiming to spend more so they could earn more, regardless of the results or ROI.

If you are going to go with percentage of spend, it’s important to stay on top of the metrics week over week and make sure you are seeing the ROI you need to justify the budget.

7. How Often Will They Be Optimizing Your Campaigns?

Those result-focused PPC management companies would optimize your campaigns almost on a daily basis, watching out for every single keyword, placement, ad, and their quality score, CTR, CPC and CPC or various other dimensions resulting in any sort of wastage.

You should definitely probe into this aspect and gauge how often will they be optimizing them. The best PPC management companies would rather boast on this fact to suggest this is something that makes them different.

Pro Tip: Talk about looking at the “Change History” report and see if it makes them uncomfortable.

8. Do They Outsource Work To Other Agencies/Freelancers? Why?

Regardless of the size and reputation many PPC Management Companies outsource/subcontract PPC Management work to other agencies or independent freelancers. While outsourcing or subcontracting is not necessarily a bad thing to do, you must ensure its being done to your advantage. The best PPC Management companies in business would not prefer to outsource this work. Even if they do so then it would for very obvious reasons, e.g:

      1. Cost savings and part of this is being passed on to you (the client)
      2. Industry specific expertise and you’re being told upfront about this
      3. Solid work relationship and a proven track record with third party vendors (smaller/boutique agencies or independent freelancers)

Only the top PPC management companies will outsource work explicitly and this could very well be a win-win for both agency and the clients.

The rest may just do it for their own advantage, without letting you know and it might just turn out to be a nightmare.

9. How Much Industry Specific Experience Do They Have?

A PPC Agency with experience in setting up and managing PPC campaigns for your industry or business domain would be a huge advantage hands down. This significantly reduces the learning curve required to understand your competition, service offerings and core competencies. Besides, they would also come up with specific PPC strategies that work for your industry/business domain. If you are a mortgage or insurance company, we at 99Robots could already tell you that:

  1. Search network works better than GDN for lead generation
  2. Cost per lead could look in the range of $20-$100, depending on the volumes required
  3. Question oriented search terms are perform poorly as there is longer conversion funnel involved
  4. There is so much business to capitalize upon by just targeting your brand name related search terms
  5. Competitor brand search terms can result in wastage of advertising $$ as they bring plenty of unintentional calls/leads where the existing customers of your competition just searched for an insurance or mortgage provider, saw your ad with phone number and just called your number for help, without realizing they were calling a different service provider/brand/company.
  6. And a lot more…

10. Do They Prepare The Campaigns With Efficient and Effective Structure?

The secret to success with Adwords PPC advertising lies in the structure of your campaigns. While auditing PPC campaigns managed by other agencies we often come across campaigns setup with poor structure that results in waste of advertising dollars. Here are some examples:

a. Multiple keywords in a single ad group: This results in poor ad relevance and therefore poor quality and more cost for clicks on your ads. This is the most deadly sin an agency can do your PPC campaign.

b. Separate Campaign For Each Keyword Match Type: There are four different keyword match types available in Adwords (Broad, Broad Modifier, Phrase and Exact Match) to reach your prospects. We often come across separate campaigns created for 3 or even 4 of these match types. In order to help you understand the mess, here is a quick overview of these four keyword match types:

i. Broad Match: Shows ads when your one or more words in user’s search query matches your keyword, including synonyms and misspellings. Ideal match type when you are a Disney or a Cartoon Network and wish to show your ads to every kid on this planet.

ii. Broad Modifier: Adding a “+” before words in your keyword term ensures your ads are shown only when these word(s) with modifiers appear in user search query. This ensures a broader reach to your prospects with a certain degree of targeting.

iii. Phrase Match: Shows ads when when you keyword matches as it or appears in user’s search query in the same order. A more targeted way to reach your prospects.

iv. Exact Match: Shows your ads only user’s search query exactly matches your keyword. The most targeted approach but limits your reach because you can’t always read user’s mind and lose out on relevant traffic.

Imagine the amount of overlap that could happen if there were separate campaigns created for each of these match types. Often your campaigns with different match types on same keywords would be competing against each other when a user’s search query matches your keywords.

This structure also creates unnecessary mess when it comes to measuring effectiveness of which keywords were working best. While Google offers these keyword match types to allow greater control on who and how you wish to reach with your PPC ads, the lack of experience or knowledge on the part of your PPC agency could end up in a clear disadvantages.  

c. SKAG Structure Without Relevant Ads: Its fancy for PPC agencies to say that they use SKAG (single keyword ad group) structure to build campaigns. However, during Adwords account audits we often come across single keyword ad groups with same ads across all of them.

This totally defeats the purpose of creating campaigns with SKAG structure because the very idea of SKAG is to dominate each keyword and try to get best possible quality score, search impression share and therefore best results.

However, when you have same ads across of these ad groups then your ads are definitely not going to be relevant to each of these keywords and therefore it doesn’t really make a difference. Again a sign of inexperience and knowledge on the part of the PPC agencies that create SKAG based campaigns without realizing why exactly the idea came in practice and how to make best use of it.

d. Inefficient Use of Bidding Methods: Ask PPC Agencies what bidding methods they prefer to use and 999 out of 1000 times you would hear them say they say “Manual CPC” bidding method. Why? Because they believe it offers control over bid for each keyword.

This is a great idea in principle. However, in reality they would set bids for the keywords in beginning but never revisit it later. There are 100s of factors affecting the keyword performance and managing bids for each keyword is a very time consuming activity and most of the PPC agencies, specially the big ticket ones, seldom dedicate in managing PPC accounts.

The best they do is create automated rules through APIs or Adwords interface to manage bids, without looking closely into how these might be affecting performance, often in negative ways.

Have you come across some of these inefficiencies from your PPC Agency? How can you tell? How about a Free Audit of your PPC Campaigns? Contact us!

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