Agencies are a great route to go in driving maximum performance from your PPC, SEO, and other online campaigns. Having access to a wide range of teams can scale your efforts quickly. There are no messy personnel issues to deal with, and the time and focus needed to make a good campaign great often requires dedicated personnel that even large companies can find difficult to acquire.
This isn't to play down the strengths and upsides of an in-house team -- you'll get your props next time around, calm down -- but an agency brings unique offerings and strengths to the SEM process, along with challenges that are just as unique as its upsides.
Whether the ink is drying on your first annual contract or your fifth, working with an agency takes a constant effort to keep tabs on the external team, and to get the most value out of those monthly retainers and/or media fees.
Their internal teams should already be pushing them for performance. But what can you do from your side to drive top performance from your agency?
Pass On Information
Keep your agency up-to-date on where your company and site stands, your lofty ambitions and hard plans, and your goals and expectations. This is especially important for your SEO team, which needs to know of any site updates from the moment of conception, but also for your paid team so they can help you make the most of new budget opportunities, make up for shortfalls, and be prepared for changes.
Chances are only 25 percent of anything that actually happens at the site will make it to the ears of an outside agency. Communicate as much of the big picture and critical points as possible to try to make up for inevitable shortfalls.
Be very clear about your goals -- both official ("We need a 4:1 non-brand ROI to keep spending at this level...") and also unofficial ("...but the whole team gets a bonus if we can hit 5:1").
Any agency worth hiring will bring the same to you. You should get new information about the online world as a whole, your competitors, what's happening in the industry, and other information that you don't have the time or connections to get for yourself.
Good agency SEMs are steeped in this information all day, and may even have entire departments and teams dedicated to gathering and disseminating this information internally. Part of your engagement should include accessing their expertise. Take advantage of this tremendous resource.
At a bare minimum, schedule a weekly call with your agency team to make sure information is going both ways, and keep in touch throughout the week.
Get the Right Information
All reporting isn't good reporting. Too many details, or the wrong details, can distract you from more important trends. If you find you're never using a section of your reports, then let your agency know so that they can save their time (and yours) from compiling random stats, and spend it making your campaign even slicker.
For example, keeping an eye on your top brand keywords and non-brand terms is very useful. If a lot of traffic suddenly shows up (or disappears), then you can go right to the usual suspects for a quick diagnosis. However, reports and meetings that dwell on the precise conversion rate and ROI of hundreds of keywords distract from more important data.
How High, Sir?
Give them an impetus to spend more time maxing out your account. For example, ask about the number of keywords and ads per ad group, how the agency targets and tests creative, and what can be done to push them further. The agency may be able to tell you that they've got things streamlined and targeted in an extremely efficient way, but the mere act of being asked about it can make them go back and see if there's any way to take it to a new level.
The Right Mix
Push your agency team like you would your own, and expect nothing less than the best (while avoiding whipping them like galley slaves). Don't be afraid to ask how they're doing things and how they can do things even better. You'll find yourself with high performance and agency teammates eager to push it even higher.