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Here’s What To Expect When You Hire A Paid Search Agency
You've found a great partner to manage your paid search advertising campaigns. What now? Columnist Pauline Jakober explains how to get off on the right foot with your PPC agency.
You’re a B2B company, and just you hired a paid search agency. What should you expect next? If you’re not prepared to answer that question, there’s probably already something missing.
A good PPC agency will take you through multiple steps leading up to the big launch of a new online advertising program. You should know what to expect each step of the way.
In this post, we’ll look at some ways you can vet a PPC agency by understanding the process that goes into a well-organized paid search engagement, from ink to launch.
Kick-Off Meeting(s) & Onboarding
Every PPC agency will have its own onboarding process for new clients, so how it plays out is custom to the agency itself. However, ensuring a process exists is crucial. If your paid search service provider doesn’t do anything discussed in this section, you may be in for a rocky ride.
The kick-off meeting or meetings, is a crucial time for the agency to get to know the business in depth (beyond the initial sales calls), and for the client to understand how the agency works.
Think of the PPC agency almost as new hires internally, where you get them up to speed on the ins and outs of the business. An agency cannot effectively create a paid search strategy without first understanding the business intimately.
In this stage, the agency should take the lead by sharpening its listening skills, and effectively taking the client through a systematic interview. The result of this discussion should be documentation of the client’s sales process, the services or products, preferred customers and so on.
We use a questionnaire as a guide to this process that asks questions like:
- What are the key selling points of your business?
- Describe your primary target market. Do you have a secondary target market? If so, please describe.
- What is the average cost of your services, programs or products?
- What, if any, are your primary geographic targets?
- What, if any, are the peak times of doing business?
- What current challenges do you have in terms of marketing and advertising?
- What sets you apart from other businesses in the same space?
- Who do you consider to be your primary competitors?
Of course, this is just a sample of the information that would be useful to an agency to get started on paid search strategy.
If you have complex services, products or markets, you may expect to go a little deeper in this phase. In those instances, we’ll often have follow-up interviews once we dig into the client’s website and resource materials after the first meeting.
The onboarding process is also a time where the agency should explain next steps and how the launch process is going to go down. The client will get to know who is on the agency team, and the agency will be introduced to everyone who will be collaborating on paid search internally.
Aside from discussions about roles and responsibilities, points of contact should be established (usually one on each side to keep it streamlined), and expectations set about how you will communicate and how often. If you ink a deal with a paid search agency and hardly ever hear from them, that’s a red flag.
You can probably sense how important it can be to have this type of initiation, so as a last note, if you’re the client, put in the effort upfront during onboarding so you can set your agency up for success. It will directly impact your ROI.
Sometime before the launch, you’ll need to determine how you’re going to measure the effectiveness of the paid search program as a whole, and then each of its campaign parts.
As a client, you can’t be expected to know this, though, so your agency should take the helm and explain how to approach it. It would be a major red flag if this topic never came up for discussion.
There are a lot of ways you can gauge the effectiveness of your online advertising program, and it starts with establishing the purpose of the program in the first place. Some companies simply want real estate on the search engine results pages so that they can dominate both paid and organic. Others just want clicks to their site.
While we believe it’s important to offer strategy on what happens after the click, keep in mind that at the fundamental level, PPC’s job is to drive traffic through clicks. What happens next is ultimately the website’s responsibility.
With that in mind, a strategic paid search partner will consult on the strategy beyond the click, like coaching clients on choosing and creating relevant landing pages, and on tracking conversions and sales through their Web analytics (like Google Analytics, for example).
In fact, one of the first things we do when onboarding a new client is to ensure they at least have Google Analytics installed, and that the tracking is implemented properly. You can’t imagine how many businesses don’t have any tracking at all, or do but it’s not set up correctly.
Again, every agency and client need is different, but metrics are the marker for how you know your advertising dollars are working for you.
As an aside, understanding all the roles that will be involved in the paid search program is key to setting up and maintaining tracking — all the way down to the website developers who can help set it up and can even help break it, unbeknownst to them, as they are working on the site.
Building The Paid Search Program
Now it’s time for the PPC agency to roll up their sleeves and build the account from the ground up. This includes the overall account architecture down to the individual campaigns and their PPC ads, including sitelinks and messaging.
An agency will almost always start from scratch when building a program and use their methodology mixed with best practices from the advertising platform itself. So whether it’s your first rodeo with PPC or the account is changing hands, this phase will occur.
As the client, your agency should recommend the right mix of networks to build the ads for, and get those going in both text and image formats for the search network and display network as needed. If a designer is brought in to build the graphics for the ads, this will be part of the process, too.
Next comes the approval process. You should expect to be able to sign off on the ads before they go live. This is most efficient when there is an approvals meeting, where the agency and client can discuss the options openly over a screen share or in person.
We like to present several versions of each ad, its sitelinks and callouts to the client so they have choices, and at that point, they either pick their top selections or ask us to do it for them. Then we fine tune as needed.
Depending on the scope of the project, the build phase can take days or weeks. In some instances, more learning occurs during the approval process where new information is uncovered that will make the program or ads stronger, so factor in some time for that.
This is the moment the business and agency have been waiting for, where all the research and upfront work comes to fruition.
The agency should prep clients on when the launch will happen, and what to expect during the first few days or weeks in terms of the process. After it goes live, the agency should watch the account diligently, and make any adjustments necessary, all the while communicating as often as needed.
Sometimes, launches can go very smoothly – the tracking is working great, the campaigns are going along as expected – but more often than not, small tweaks are needed as the agency starts to collect data on program performance, like search query data, trends and conversions.
Remember that it’s definitely never a set-it-and-forget-it service. A good agency will be able to make sound judgment calls on what they need to loop you in on in terms of approvals, and when they can make executive decisions to get the best results.
And as a final note, keep in mind that an agency that has taken a client through this type of process will typically do it again for each new service, product or campaign that a business is intending to launch via paid search.
With a little effort on both ends, and a clear understanding of what to expect, the relationship between a business and its paid search service provider can impact the bottom line for years to come.
I hope this post helps guide you through making the most out of your next PPC engagement. Of course, every agency is different, but you can use this as a guiding light to ask the right questions along the way, and to prepare for what should be a rewarding working relationship.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.