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Evaluating PPC talent, part 1: Where to begin
How can you hire a paid search (or social) specialist that fits your business's needs if you don't know much about the channel yourself? Columnist Brett Middleton shares some practical tips for those looking to hire strong PPC talent.
The simple truth is that anyone working in any paid media field (like search or social) is incredibly hard to evaluate from the outside. Apart from looking at their current employment status, where do you even start? Finding strong PPC talent is challenging, especially if your business is new to paid advertising and has nobody in-house with the technical expertise to validate a candidate’s knowledge.
In this article, I am going to discuss where to begin when looking for PPC talent. It’s simply not enough to hire someone who has a certain number of years of experience — unfortunately, there isn’t a direct correlation between years and expertise when it comes to paid media. So what should you be thinking about (and doing) to make sure you hire the right person for you?
First, does it even make sense to hire?
This should really be your first question. If you’re not able to invest a minimum of $20,000 per month in advertising, it likely doesn’t make sense to have a full-time PPC manager. You’re better off working with a freelancer, an agency or someone in your office who can spending some of their time working on PPC and learning it.
In my opinion, it’s very feasible to take someone who has no experience, but is highly interested, and pay to train them on AdWords management. I’d even go so far as to say that this may be the best way to get started in advertising.
What you’re doing is ensuring that your campaign manager hasn’t developed bad habits. Yes, you’re investing in someone who may eventually leave you for a new job; but when this happens, your advertising will have grown to a level of sophistication where you can sensibly hire someone with experience.
PPC talent is highly sought after, and there is a tendency to change jobs frequently. Don’t let that stop you from taking the steps necessary to be successful.
Writing the job posting
I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve seen hundreds of job postings for PPC jobs. I’m about to tell you the things I’ve been frustrated by. This is for you, recruiters and marketing managers. If you’re not directly stating the following elements of your position/requirements, you are getting applicants who aren’t a good fit, and you’re wasting everyone’s time:
- Years of strategic experience
- Size of budgets managed
- Direct reports
- Channels managed
- Experience with your particular phase of paid
The reality is that although there are some general ranges where any PPC manager with X years of experience will reside, compensation can vary wildly between practitioners. As a result, when I see a position asking for three to five years of experience, I would assume the salary range is somewhere between $70,000 and $115,000 (depending on the location). That’s a wide range, and it very likely doesn’t align with how much you may have expected to pay someone with that experience level.
Begin by talking with local recruiters or companies and doing some market research to get an understanding of the salary range by years of experience in your area. Don’t strictly live by these numbers — there are too many variables.
Finally, just write your salary range in the job posting. This creates a much smoother and more transparent process, and it ensures you aren’t having great applicants get far into your process only to fall off when they hear the compensation doesn’t match their needs.
When you’re evaluating mid-level talent (three to five years’ experience), it is very likely that this person has had at least one direct report, is starting to get access to larger budgets and is strategic. However, how many years of strategy experience do they have? Did they spend two years as an entry-level bid manager? No two people are exactly alike in PPC; your compensation should reflect this and not be set in stone.
It’s a fact that with more time making strategic decisions and being responsible for the results, it becomes second nature to know which optimization tactics to pursue for any situation you’ve run into before. At a certain point, someone who has been strategic for years just develops this. I’m one of the least decisive people in the world (average time to choose a movie in Netflix is roughly 15 minutes), yet when it comes to a choice impacting a campaign, there is no hesitation.
Size of budgets managed
Years of experience doesn’t directly correlate to expertise or fit with your advertising needs. However, budget size likely does. Someone who is very good at their job has found a way to get their hands on a large, enterprise-level budget and is succeeding with it.
When evaluating PPC candidates, it is crucial that they have managed a budget in the past that is at least comparable to yours, but ideally, they have managed more than your current spend and can help you scale.
Not everyone is a good manager; managing people is very different from managing PPC campaigns. If you’re hiring for a manager-level PPC position, it’s crucial that this person has recent experience being hands-on with ad campaigns and is able to clearly articulate how they have taught and led a team in the past.
The reason that recent hands-on experience is so important is that building a successful PPC team doesn’t involve simply delegating ad copy writing, bid management, optimization tasks and so on. A manager needs to get in a room with junior paid managers and be able to talk through the strategic decision-making process with them; leaving junior PPC people out of the strategic process ultimately leaves them less capable and does a disservice to all those involved.
This one feels pretty straightforward. However, I would encourage you to consider all of the potential channels your business should be investing ad spend in instead of only where you currently (or plan to) advertise. You will find a mix of candidates, some of whom only have experience in one channel and others who have already diversified. Each is interesting:
- One-channel manager: Typically has deeper knowledge of this channel and likely has expertise that can transfer to other channels.
- Multi-channel manager: Understands how each channel can fit into an overall strategy that is multitouch but may not be as deep in any single channel.
Another aspect to consider: Do the candidates have the right type of experience in each channel? If your business is based on lead generation instead of e-commerce, be sure to specify that.
Are you just getting started? Not everyone has built a campaign strategy from scratch — conducting competitive analysis, performing keyword research, defining bid strategies, writing ad copy and so on.
Are you at max budget and need to optimize? The skill set here is different and focuses on finding small wins and consistently gaining ground.
Are you underspending and trying to scale? This ability is often hardest to find, as balancing the need to spend more money with efficiency is difficult. You’ll be asking for more from a potential candidate here, and you should understand that it’s a harder ask than the other two.
Hiring someone who has already been through the particular phase your business is currently in will speed up their onboarding and success — ultimately making you look smarter.
Find your ideal candidate!
You’ve written a job description now and should have developed a better understanding of who to hire at this point. We PPC people are notoriously hard to pin down — we have a skill that isn’t exactly transparent, and we often love to talk in sentences comprised entirely of buzzwords.
Coming up in Part II, I’ll discuss how to create an assignment or project to evaluate technical expertise. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.