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Five Tips for Hiring a Paid Search Agency

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I mentioned in last week’s column that we have been inundated with new business. While some of these clients are new to the whole paid search game, others come to us bruised and battered from an experience that went sour with another agency.

Throughout my career, I have watched clients come in after a bad agency experience, and frankly, it makes my job a lot harder. It’s harder to gain the client’s trust, and it’s harder to get things done because the client questions every move.

There are always a number of people looking for a good agency; therefore, I’m going to give you my list of the five most important questions to ask vendors when you outsource the management of your paid search campaigns. And to give equal time to the other side, next week I’ll provide the five most important qualities to look for in a PPC specialist when hiring an in-house team or agency.

Outsourcing Your Paid Search Campaign

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your pay-per-click advertising (PPC) campaigns, it is wise to do a little research and consider several sources. In doing this, you might ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Who will you be working with? – Many agencies have very slick sales presentations and bring their “A-listers” to the initial meeting in order to close the deal. In larger agencies, you can almost rest assured that after you sign the contract, you won’t see those folks again. The key to a successful PPC campaign is communication with the actual people working on the campaign. Ask to meet them and talk to them. But be prepared – some of the best PPC specialists aren’t necessarily gifted communicators (no, I’m not talking about anyone at my agency). They won’t “wow” you like the sales guy will, but they can provide valuable insights into how your campaign will be run.
  2. Who owns the data? – This is the biggest problem we have with clients coming in from other agencies. Agencies sometimes sell proprietary tracking technologies. The data used to track your campaign is very valuable to you and anyone who is working on the campaign. One of the first things we ask for in a new engagement is historical data. This helps us to discover what has worked in the past and what hasn’t. This doesn’t mean we’ll automatically dismiss things that didn’t work, but it will give us an idea of how to avoid past mistakes. If your past agency owns you data, then you pretty much have to start from scratch.
  3. Will I have access to my paid search accounts? – First, a disclaimer – the worst type of client is the one who goes in and fiddles around with creatives and bids without talking to their agency first. That being said, I believe it is important that clients have access to their own search accounts. A client should be able to go in and see what is going on, ask questions, and provide business insight when appropriate. However, clients should not make bid or creative changes themselves, that’s what they pay the agency to do.
  4. Do you have a bid management tool? – I know I’m in the minority when I say that not all clients require a bid management tool. All clients require tracking, but if you aren’t running thousands of keywords, its more likely that your campaign can be managed effectively without the extra cost incurred by bid management tools. But that doesn’t mean that bid management tools shouldn’t be used. As a client, you need understand what rules are being used in a rules-based bidding system, or if a portfolio approach is used, what exactly is being done to optimize your account.
  5. Do you offer conversion consulting? – Paid search is not an island. Your agency can drive all the qualified traffic available to your site, and if the site doesn’t convert them, you’ve just wasted all your money. Your PPC agency needs to be adept at identifying roadblocks to conversion as well as adjusting bids.

Of course, there are other questions you should ask, but many of those will be relevant to your business and not to anyone else. These five questions are universal and should be asked by businesses of any size looking to hire a paid search management firm.


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