17 Questions to Ask When You Think it’s Time to Hire a New Paid Search Agency
Ever get a funny feeling that your brand’s Google Ads campaigns or other paid search campaigns could be better? Maybe you’ve been with the same paid search agency for a long time and performance has dropped as the agency has grown complacent. Or, maybe you’re regretting going with that agency who promised the same results and service as the other five agencies you vetted but at a much lower price point. Or, maybe your campaigns are doing just fine, chugging along with decent enough results to stay off the radar even though you know they could be performing better.
Whatever your reasons are, it’s a good idea to regularly review your search campaigns and the agency or agencies running them. To help pinpoint what to look for, we put together this list of 17 questions to ask yourself to find out if now is the time for that review.
The questions are broken down into four subjects – account management, campaign structure, partnerships and performance reporting – so feel free to skip ahead if you’ve had specific pain points.
Building successful paid search campaigns starts at the top with high-quality client service and communication. If you think your current agency’s account management is lacking, ask yourself the six questions below to know for sure.
No. 1: How big is the paid search or paid media team running your account?
It’s the agency’s responsibility to appropriately staff your account with the right number and blend of team members. Too few team members and you run the risk of things falling through the cracks and mistakes being made. Too many team members and you’ll end up paying a higher management fee (or your account will become unprofitable for the agency, which means the relationship is probably doomed anyway).
There are a variety of factors that determine how many people an agency will need to appropriately run an account. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to spit out the right number. The important thing is to make sure your agency has figured out that number for your account and is able to explain the logic behind it.
No. 2: Do you have one dedicated team member charged with the overall strategy of your campaigns?
Depending on the complexity of your account, it may be necessary to bring in multiple paid search specialists to handle day-to-day operations across campaigns. However, there should always be a senior team member directing the overall strategy to keep the team on the same page. Make sure you know who that person is at your agency and have your account manager bring them in for major strategy meetings and performance reviews.
No. 3: Do you have one dedicated team member in charge of strategies across your digital marketing campaigns?
If your paid search agency is also managing other marketing efforts like social media advertising, display campaigns, search engine optimization (SEO), etc., it’s important that they dedicate one person (usually an account executive/manager or digital strategist) to coordinate with each product team. It’s this person’s job to make sure strategies from across your campaigns align to provide maximum ROI for your brand.
No. 4: Are you in the account finding issues and telling your agency to fix things?
If you’re constantly having to audit your paid search account for basic issues and opportunities to optimize your campaigns, that’s a clear sign your agency isn’t performing as well as they should.
No. 5: Is your agency having constant performance issues and/or not taking responsibility for their mistakes?
To be fair, even the best agencies are bound to make the occasional error throughout the course of the campaign. But, if your agency is making too many mistakes, making a lot of big mistakes or not owning their mistakes when they do make them, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
No. 6: Is your agency prepared to scale into other channels?
This gets into a much larger debate about the value of hiring an agency that specializes in paid search vs. a full-service agency that can manage a variety of marketing campaigns. The argument for the specialty shop is since that’s their only focus, they know it better than most. However, full-service agencies typically have teams dedicated to specific marketing solutions with account/project management specialists to coordinate.
Going with a full-service agency allows you to scale efforts and align strategies across marketing channels. There’s significant value in having the person managing your Google Ads campaigns sitting a few desks away from the specialist managing your Facebook ads or programmatic display campaigns. (And, even if those team members are in separate offices, internal collaboration is still way smoother than trying to coordinate with other agencies.)
How your agency organizes your campaigns is a big factor in determining success. Here are some questions to help you determine if your campaigns are set up for success or haphazardly thrown together.
No. 7: Are branded and non-branded keywords segmented?
When consumers conduct searches that include your brand name, it’s fair to assume your ads will perform a lot better than when someone conducts a general search related to your products and services. To conduct a fair analysis of ad performance and optimize your campaigns accordingly, make sure your agency is segmenting branded and non-branded keywords.
No. 8: Are prospecting and retargeting efforts segmented?
You should also set up separate campaigns for different audience targeting strategies. If you’re targeting consumers based on demographics, geo-location and behaviors (i.e., prospecting) and retargeting visitors to your digital properties, make sure those two audiences are separated in your account.
No. 9: Overall, is your account structured in a way that makes sense?
Structure and hierarchy are crucial for Google Ads accounts. While there’s no single perfect way to structure a Google Ads account, there are a lot of wrong ways. If the answer to either of the questions above is no, or you see any other red flags, then it might be time for a more in-depth audit. If you’re not a paid search expert and you’d like to do additional research on campaign structure, Google provides plenty of resources on Ads best practices for you to double check your agency’s work.
Cheatsheet – here are a few basic Google Ads best practices your agency should be leveraging:
- The account should be split into separate campaigns anytime different settings are needed (e.g., different budget or location targeting).
- Campaigns should be organized into ad groups by distinct themes, products, services, etc.
- Each ad group should include relevant search terms and at least three or four related ads.
Part of the reason top paid search agencies consistently execute successful campaigns is they work with industry-leading partners and leverage the most sophisticated tools available. Ask yourself or your agency the following questions to make sure they work with the best.
No. 10: Is your agency a Google Premier Partner?
Google’s partner program helps connect brands with agencies that have passed Google Ads product certification exams and are up to date with the latest product knowledge. Google has two levels of partners – standard and premier – and partners can specialize in a variety of product areas.
On the Google partner page, you can search for either type of partner and check out each agency’s specializations. For example, if you go to Mindstream Media Group’s partner page, you’ll see agency specializations for Search, Mobile, Shopping and Display Advertising, plus all of our individual certifications.
No. 11: Does your agency use bid management software or do they manage budgets manually?
For more complex paid search accounts like those for decentralized multi-location brands, bidding tools are an absolute must. If you have a large or complicated account, make sure your agency is using bid management software to automate routine tasks, optimize campaigns based on the elements that are driving the most value and scale campaigns strategies across locations.
Related – Automated vs. Manual Ads Bidding
No. 12: Does your agency use a call tracking solution?
Call tracking solutions enable advertisers to record and analyze phone calls from paid search campaigns and other marketing efforts. If one of your business goals is to drive calls, make sure your agency has set up call tracking for your campaigns.
No. 13: Can your paid search agency integrate call tracking with other campaign management tools?
But just having a call tracking solution isn’t enough. To make sure you’re getting the right calls, find out if your agency is using a call tracking solution that integrates with other campaign tools. This integration will allow you to identify the campaigns, ad groups and keywords that are generating the most valuable calls (i.e., the ones that produce sales), along with which efforts aren’t providing value.
Campaign performance reporting
It’s important that paid search agencies take the time to explain campaign performance and have the ability to provide you 24/7 access to reporting. Ask yourself these questions to make sure your agency’s reporting is up to par.
No. 14: Does your reporting show a holistic picture of all your marketing campaigns?
Whether your current agency just manages your paid search campaigns or multiple marketing efforts, it’s important that they’re able to provide comprehensive performance reporting. If they do manage multiple efforts, their reporting should show the relationship between each to paint a holistic picture of how those campaigns work together to improve performance, increase conversions and drive ROI for your brand.
No. 15: Does your agency’s reporting focus on accurately tracking leads and conversions?
Top-of-the-funnel metrics like impressions and clicks can be a valuable indicator of performance but they don’t really tell you whether a marketing campaign is doing what it’s designed to do – increase conversions and drive sales. If your agency’s performance reporting focuses too much on these types of metrics and not enough on high-intent actions like calls, form submissions and visits, it may be time to ask why.
Accurately reporting bottom-of-the-funnel metrics can be difficult and no agency has a perfect system. But as tracking systems become more sophisticated, it’s important that your paid search agency is dedicated to measuring the key performance indicators that provide the most value to your brand.
No. 16: Does your agency use an attribution model that’s customized to meet the specific needs of your brand and accounts for the entire customer journey?
It’s important that your agency attributes performance to the right marketing effort, campaign, ad group, etc., and is able to understand the unique journey consumers take to become your customers. Rarely do consumers view, engage and interact with a single message from a brand. Often, it’s a multi-step process that helps consumers move through a complex buying journey. It’s important that your agency understands that and is able to deploy customized attribution models that match your business model.
No. 17: How do you feel about your current paid search agency and campaign performance?
If the answers to many of the questions above seemed like a big swing and a miss, it might be time to review your agency partners. Switching can be complicated, but if you’re having reservations about your current agency, don’t let that stop you from finding out what another agency could do to drive better results for your brand.
See also: Signs Your Agency is Slacking
This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated with new information to help your brand analyze the performance of your paid search campaigns.
If you noticed too many red flags, contact Mindstream Media Group today and one of our paid search experts can work with you to take a deep dive into your Google Ads account and identify ways to amplify your campaigns.
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