Working with a search marketing agency is a little bit like a marriage. There are ups and downs, and sometimes it doesn't work out.
How do you know if you have a good search marriage or one that is headed for the rocks? And what can you do to help ensure your search agency relationship starts solid and stays strong?
Big Accounts, Small Accounts
Before we dive in, a quick word about the sad lot of the small business. It turns out that it's almost the same amount of work to manage a small business account as it is to manage GE's search marketing. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but the fact of the matter is few if any search agencies have been able to do a profitable business serving small business.
The headaches are the same, but the budgets are tiny. Hence the sprouting of companies like ReachLocal and Yodle, which rely on marketing automation. And have lots of unhappy customers.
If you're a small business I urge you to familiarize yourself with search marketing and do it yourself, or use the Google products tailored to small business. At least this way, the mistakes are your own and your budget goes into marketing and not to a vendor.
With that aside… aside, let's continue with a bias toward larger businesses. As someone who has been on both sides of the client/agency relationship, I've noticed a few simple but essential elements that seem to determine success.
Let's look at each in turn and how they work together. And remember, some of the things rely on the client doing some work as well.
1. Set Clear Goals and Expectations
One big thing that drives agencies bonkers and hurts performance is dealing with constantly changing objectives. If the goal is a certain cost per conversion or return on ad spend within a given time period, make that crystal clear, and don't change goals mid-course.
SEM is an incredibly complex endeavor nowadays. Campaign structure, settings, copy, and landing pages need to be tuned from the start to clear objectives. If the initial objectives were wrong or need to change, the agency needs time to modify things.
2. Have Patience
SEM is performance marketing – meaning it is data-driven – and there is a look-back window involved. This refers to the given period of time (varying by industry or category) that must pass before enough data is in to give accurate insights.
In other words, it may take two weeks to see the impact of a given change in a campaign. Harassing your agency on a daily basis doesn't change the fact that campaigns need time to run to amass conversion, query, click, and quality score information.
If you're Amazon.com and spending thousands of dollars an hour, maybe you can get insights quickly. If you aren't, the agency needs to run the campaign for a while to amass performance data.
Furthermore, pushing the search agency to make too many changes at once makes it impossible to isolate which change led to which effect, making their job nearly hopeless. It's one thing to expect an agency to be adaptive, but it's another thing to randomize their work. Understanding the difference requires communication on both parties.
3. Keep the Agency in the Loop
Since your business is changing all the time, your agency will need to keep up. Products go in and out of stock. Promotions happen. Competitors do things.
If you don't keep your agency informed of these things, then they can't take advantage of them. Keeping the agency in the loop is more than just keeping the abreast of business changes. It also means hard data.
4. Share Data
Send your agency your organic query conversion data. Share your profitability by category. Share your overall business performance goals, reports, and strategy. If they are worth their weight in salt they will feed this insight into their efforts.
When you share data, ask the agency what they will do with it. Check to make sure they actually do what they said.
5. Keep Them Honest
A melancholy fact in the search business is that agencies will often spend a lot of time building well-structured campaigns and then start sitting back, tweaking bids, and making margin on the account.
Most agencies are paid by a percentage of media spend, so they get paid regardless of whether they are booking tons of hours on your account. It is a lot of work to create a good performance marketing campaign, so it's tempting for agencies to lose margin on the upfront work and then rotate resources off the account to boost profit during the long maintenance and optimization period.
Expect your agency to continually improve your campaigns. Ask for a list of actions taken each week. You can even go into AdWords and check the logs to see if there has been activity other than the usual bid modifications.
The point is to have visibility into what they are actually doing. But keep in mind as you're pushing for effort to not alienate the agency or key players on your account.
6. Be Nice
Good marketing agencies have their pick of clients. And good people have their pick of jobs.
If you want the best agencies and the best people working on your account, don't be mean to them. If you are, they will leave and work for someone who respects their contributions and treats them well.
So concludes my humble bit of advice on how to create a happy, profitable, and pleasant agency/client relationship. Having spent many years on both sides of this little equation, I can tell you that following these simple tips will show big results. And maybe you won't have to fire, or be fired, by your search agency and have to start all over again.
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