How to Choose a PPC Agency: 7 Critical Questions

Finding someone to manage your company’s PPC is a daunting task. You’re apt to encounter slick sales pitches, a wide range of pricing and fees, or an endless sea of online taskers who say they can do the job. How do you navigate it all? In this article, I include seven questions you should ask companies or consultants you are considering for paid search management. I hope it helps you figure out how to choose a PPC agency for your business.

Q1. What successes have you had?

To ensure that a PPC consultant or agency has a proven track record, ask for specific examples of success. In this case, however, “specific” does NOT mean in your vertical. An insurance company, for example, does not need to find an agency with insurance experience.

What matters more is your company’s goals and online business model. If you’re a software-as-a-service, ask for subscription examples. E-commerce sites should seek online sales successes. Brick-and-mortar businesses should look for local business case studies. Content and video channels should ask for traffic growth reports.

Knowledge about your specific vertical is nice to have, but it can be learned over time. What’s more important is that your PPC agency brings the right experience for the online goal. I had a client that sells collectible gold coins. Do I know anything about gold coins? Not at the outset, no. But I do know how to market an e-commerce store. When you’re choosing a PPC agency, that’s more important. The client can teach me about gold coins over the course of the partnership (and he did), and I can bring my experience in e-commerce to him and his business.

Q2. How long have you been working with your clients? May I speak with them?

Longevity in client relationships speaks volumes about trust, reliability, and communication.

For high-volume PPC agencies, customer churn is built into the system. In a smaller company like mine, I prefer to build long-term partnerships, even if it means a shorter client roster. I’m proud to say that some of my clients have been with Charles Ave Marketing even before it was formally incorporated in 2013.

That being said, every relationship has to start somewhere. It’s okay if, for example, you ask for a customer success story (as in Question 1 above), and you hear that the client is a newer one. Value the agency’s honesty.

Definitely ask for customer references, and take the time to contact them. Any PPC agency that is hesitant to share references should be viewed with some suspicion. If no one will attest to how happy they are with the agency’s performance, you likely won’t be able to, either.

Q3. How do you determine your pricing?

Agencies rely on different pricing models. Some agencies charge a percentage of your advertising fees. Some charge hourly rates or monthly retainer fees. Others might consider performance-based payments. Sometimes it’s a combination.

There’s no right or wrong answer, but the agency should be able to tell you how it arrives at its pricing.

For instance, at Charles Ave Marketing, I have never charged a percentage of fees. My reason is simple: I don’t work for Google — I work for you. Spending more isn’t always the best advice I can give. When I find savings, it doesn’t impact what I make. I can save you money so that optimizing your marketing budget becomes a win for both of us.

Even if an agency doesn’t charge a percentage of ad spend, hourly and monthly rates vary widely. Like any professional service, you’ll need to use your judgment to figure out what works best for your business. While I would like to use the trope about getting what you pay for, it only applies at the low end of the pricing spectrum. Higher fees don’t always translate to better service. The best way to know is to talk to the company’s references. See if they think whether the agency’s fees are worth it.

Q4. Who will be managing my account?

Buyer beware: some agencies lie.

I know this first-hand. Agencies will ask me to run campaigns for their clients in a freelance capacity. Sometimes I have client interaction, sometimes I have none.

Without client interaction, an agency’s account manager liaises between you and the person creating and optimizing your campaigns. The client-facing manager acts more like a salesperson or administrative assistant. He might only have a cursory grasp of PPC and can’t answer specific questions. This causes communication to break down between the client, account manager, and freelancer.

But direct freelancer-to-client communication has its perils, too. One agency owner told the client I was a full-time employee who joined the company several months ago. He issued me a company email address and asked me to go along with the lie. I protested. Any Google search of my name would reveal it wasn’t true. He brushed off my concerns.

During my first phone call with the client, she asked, “How do you like the company? What were you doing before this? What’s your title?” All reasonable questions to which I gave truthful answers.

She didn’t like the agency’s dishonesty. I didn’t like having to expose it.

Look, using freelance talent is fine. But the agency shouldn’t need to hide it. Sometimes a freelancer is a seasoned professional, like me. More often, a freelancer is someone the agency found a few days ago on Upwork or Fiverr. Whoever it may be, interview that person. Understand what you’re getting into.

No agency should have a reason to hide the people they’re trusting to manage your business and your money.

Q5. What budget do you recommend?

Before choosing a PPC agency, you might already have an estimate of what you can spend on paid search. Or you might have an amount in mind that you’ve spent in the past. Even so, you should ask the agency for its thoughts on your budget: whether the ad spend is adequate, too low, or might be more effectively spent on another channel.

Use this question as a gauge for how the agency might answer your questions in the future. It demonstrates the agency’s knowledge of PPC and how well they are able to explain it in terms that you can understand and believe. If they say you’re not spending enough, listen to the explanation and see if it makes sense to you. Ask for recommendations on alternate channels where you might get more bang for the buck. If they say the budget looks good, ask what you might expect in terms of traffic or sales (be wary, however: anyone who promises you hard numbers without saying, “we’ll have to run some live tests first” is probably bull-shitting you).

Some agencies have a minimum budget before they will engage with a client’s business. In my opinion, that’s fine, but a minimum spend isn’t a good justification for a proposed budget. The proposed budget needs to have reasoning behind it, and you should feel comfortable with those reasons.

For my tips on budgeting, read How Much Should I Spend on AdWords?

Q6. What’s your communication style?

Finding a PPC management company is, in essence, searching for a business partner. You should understand what your interaction with the agency and its team members will be, and vice versa. A useful parameter to judge how to choose a PPC agency is whether your communication styles mesh well.

The agency should recommend a regular schedule for meetings and notifications. For example, with one of my local clients, I check in weekly by email to report the latest spend and revenue numbers and share status updates. We then meet in person on a monthly basis to go over the previous month’s performance, look at year-to-date numbers, and discuss ideas on a big-picture level.

Explain what your own communication expectations are. For example, are you okay with email, or would you prefer the ability to call or text your manager’s cell phone? Are you comfortable with video chat, or would you like someone to come to your office?

Having open lines of communication is important on both sides. Express your point of view and find a partner who can accommodate your preferences.

Q7. What percentage of time and resources goes to PPC vs other marketing channels?

This question is an off-shoot of Question 1, but here’s why it merits its own explanation:

Many agencies tout themselves as full-service, one-stop shops. This sounds wonderful in theory, but not always in practice.

Too often, SEO agencies try to manage PPC accounts unsuccessfully. While SEO and PPC are related, they are two different disciplines. You might be a masterful SEO mind, but that doesn’t mean you know the ins and outs of PPC. In my own case, I have advanced knowledge of PPC, but only a basic understanding of SEO. I’m not qualified to manage SEO campaigns myself.

SEO agencies sometimes approach me for an AdWords account audit because they don’t understand what they’re doing wrong in PPC. Once that happens, however, client money has already been wasted.

As you’re figuring out how to choose a PPC agency for your business, understand how the prospective agency’s expertise is divided between SEO, PPC, social, email, and any other channels. Some agencies really do have dedicated and knowledgeable teams in all aspects of online marketing. Most, however, rely on freelance and contract help in the less-represented areas. This is entirely fine, but again, transparency is everything. You should know if PPC is a core part of their business or if it’s just growing, and how.

After all, if your business is going to be another company’s experimental foray into the wide world of PPC, aren’t you entitled to know?

How to choose a PPC agency

When PPC is not your expertise, it can be intimidating. There are technical terms and jargon that you may not understand, and I’m sorry to say, but the industry is full of dishonest and/or incompetent players.

Therefore, it’s worth it to do some homework before making a commitment. Read information online about PPC so that you have some familiarity. Review the questions above. Talk to several agencies. Follow up with the references they provide. Kick the tires.

Yes, it’s a lot. But if you do it right, you’ll only need to do it once because the PPC agency you decide on will be a partner for months and years to come.

Looking for more advice?

Read my book 3 Expensive Google AdWords Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) to identify wasteful spending in your campaigns today.

Four Writing Apps to Improve Your Copy

Originally published at charlesavemktg.com on June 12, 2018.

I'm the founder of Charles Ave Marketing - Madison Ave for Small Businesses and Startups. I love SEM, business, writing, presidential history, and pandas.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store