Regardless of the line of work you are in, you have the right and the obligation to keep reassessing your investments and expenditures. When it comes to the budget you are putting aside for digital marketing, things are rarely black and white as it’s not always easy to determine exact returns from particular actions or strategies. However, while it might be difficult to, for instance, specify how much did creating a connection with a particular influencer cost you, or how much revenue it will bring over time; PPC is different in that it allows you to easily and accurately track investments and unambiguously correlate profits with different segments of your paid search campaign.
This transparency gives you plenty of opportunities to, independently from them, evaluate the work your PPC agency is doing for you. Some of the proposed methods that we’ll mention here demand at least some experience with digital marketing, but others can be employed by anyone, regardless of their level of expertise in the subject.
Before you begin your research, be advised that there is such a thing as being too involved in your own projects. Even though your agency owes you honest and detailed feedback and should be able to account for every cent of your investment, constantly inundating them with questions, critiques, suggestions, etc. can make them think you are distrustful, limiting their willingness to take chances and experiment; or can simply act as a distraction and potential distortion of the strategy they have set out for you.
So, how do you check if your PPC campaigns are all they could be, or if you should consider changing your strategy, agency or your approach to communicating with them?
Take another look at their history
While you probably didn’t hire your PPC agency without finding out all you could about them, looking at the same reviews and testimonies with fresh eyes, after you’ve been working with them for a while, might lead you to different conclusions than it initially did.
For instance, while at first you didn’t have a solid basis for judging the credibility and truthfulness of some of the reviews you were coming across, now you’ve had first-hand experience with the agency, you can recognize details which will indicate whether a particular reviewer is being realistic and impartial, or whether they are someone purposefully and deceptively maligning or praising the agency.
Likewise, these reviews can help you recognize the true motives behind some of the decisions your agency has been making. In other words, if they are constantly being accused of a certain type of behavior, and you’ve been noticing and ignoring or misinterpreting signs indicative of said behavior, these reviews just might prompt you to examine the issue more closely.
Assess if they are forthcoming with information
Defining the line between being interested in your campaign and trying to micromanage it is not always easy, and the “customer is always right” attitude won’t help you one bit if you are not actually right. While on one hand, it is your prerogative to inquire about how your money is being spent; on the other, you did hire experts to do a job that they are presumably more proficient in than you are, so you should allow them to actually do it. So, while it is fine to ask about your campaign, trying to take it over, or expecting to have every minutest detail explained will only compromise your relationship with the agency or interfere with their work.
So here are some of the things that you should expect.
- Access to your AdWords account – This is one of only a few items in this post that you don’t have to think twice about. If your PPC agency is denying you access to your account, there’s either something fishy going on, or they are simply extremely uncooperative. While any agency will, and should, retain the right to protect trade secrets, their partners’ data etc. your account is not something they can take this kind of control over. If they do try to do something of the sort, make sure they have a great explanation for that decision.
- Reporting transparency – There are several ways to hide the truth. Your agency can keep you in the dark either by sending incomplete, sparse reports that don’t even come close to providing a comprehensive overview of your campaign; or they can send a flood of information your way, hoping that you won’t have the time, expertise or patience to sift through the sludge in search of nuggets of truth. In short, if they are reporting only on what they have done for you, and not on how this benefited you (or how much did it cost you, which is always a risk with PPC); you might want to re-examine the way you are communicating with them.
- Setting Goals – Relating to the previous item, when outlining the goals for your campaign, the agency you’re working with can do quite a bit to misdirect you. For instance, they might focus on metrics they know they can improve, but which don’t actually show real progress, so called, vanity metrics; or they can focus on important metrics, but fail to present them in the appropriate context. To give an example – while it’s great to learn that the traffic to your site has increased, on its own this won’t matter one bit if it failed to bring in new conversions.
- Forecasting – While PPC does allow for somewhat more reliable predictions than most of the other digital marketing channels, those predictions are anything but completely reliable and exact. Agencies claiming that they know exactly where you’ll be in a couple of months are either outright lying or are dangerously optimistic. Take a moment to compare their forecasting for the period that you’ve been together with the actual results they have provided, and if the discrepancies are too drastic, don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation.
Their performance so far
In the end, it all comes down to the bottom line – are they making you money. Well, you wish it was that simple. Even if they did manage to keep you in the green, a different agency might have been able to make you rich if they’ve been in charge of your paid search campaign. That’s why you should take a look at the following items, even if your collaboration has been profitable so far.
- Campaign setup – While it does require some expertise on your part, this is by far the best way to examine your PPC manager’s performance. Checking which audiences and locations you are targeting; which keywords are being pursued, and which have been added to the list of negative keywords; which metrics are being tracked, and how has your budget been allocated can tell you a lot about how much effort has been placed into campaign setup, and how committed your agency is to making the most out of your investment.
- Account change history log – Your PPC campaigns have to be constantly modified if you are to keep up with the competitors and the changes in the market, demand or consumer habits. While some low-budget, long game campaigns can be left to run in the background without constant monitoring and optimizing, most of the time, this approach will cost you quite a bit. Naturally, you don’t want your agency to make changes just for the sake of changes, but if you notice a serious lack of activity in your account history, at least ask for an explanation.
- Testing – we’ve already mentioned how, in PPC, while you can’t be sure if something will work, you can say with a fair bit of confidence whether something has worked. That’s why testing is an essential part of the process, if at times, costly. Basically, before your agency comes up with a perfect ad copy, target demographics, ad display times, etc. they have to rely on their research and best guesses until they have a chance to test those guesses. So, aside from optimizing your existing campaign elements, testing also helps you come up with new solutions and approaches. Again, while it may imply laziness or incompetence on the agency’s side, infrequent testing might actually be your fault. Since it relies on a trial and error method, testing can seem to be a waste of money, and if you’ve been too tight with the budget so far, the agency might have been conditioned by you to only spend money when absolutely necessary.
- The cold, hard numbers – Did the agency deliver what they’ve promised? Did you see the actual benefit of your collaboration? Basically, are you doing significantly better than before, and can you attribute the difference to their actions? If your Analytics has been set up properly, you should be able to tell which portions of your traffic and conversion are coming from paid search. Compare this to how much you’ve invested, and you’ll have your answer.
Making the cut
Even after taking a closer look at your agency’s past performance, reporting, amount and type of activity, campaign setup and results, you might still be unclear about whether you could do better. If that is the case, your best option might be hiring an independent PPC consultant or agency to perform a detailed campaign audit. While they might be able to provide you with insights that you couldn’t reach on your own, remember to take their judgment with a grain of salt as well, after all, no one got rich by praising their competitors.