Managing Your Paid Search Agency

PPC Article
8 mins

Paid search is one of the most commonly outsourced tasks in digital marketing – and for good reason. Competition amongst advertisers on platforms like Google AdWords and Bing Ads is high, which means that full-time focus on paid search may be required to achieve success.  Many of us can’t provide that level of dedication in-house – which is where paid search agencies come into play.

In this article, we’ll be sharing some of our top tips on how best to work with your paid search agency, taking both the agency’s and the client’s perspective into account. We hope you’ll be able to take away some insights that will enable you to enhance your relationship with your agency, and get better results in your paid search campaigns. Let’s start from the start:

Get Your Paid Search Contract Right

We won’t dwell on this point for long, but we think it’s important to kick off this article by emphasising the importance of paying very close attention to your contract at the outset of your relationship with a paid search agency.

A minority of agencies charge considerable fees for things like handing over control of your AdWords campaigns to another agency – which may result in an awkward situation down the line. Please read your contract carefully before you sign, and take legal advice if possible.

How to Choose which Paid Search Agency to work with

Choosing which paid search agency to work with can be a bit of a teaser – there’s a good chance you won’t have even encountered a paid search agency at all until you need one, so how could you possibly know which is best for you?
If you’re choosing an agency to work with for the first time, you might consider the following points:

  • Can you get a recommendation from someone in your network? There’s no better indicator of suitability than a tip from a trusted source
  • Experienced in your market – can you find an agency with proven success selling products in your industry/market niche?
  • Conveniently located – you won’t need to meet your paid search agency in person particularly often, but you might count “conveniently located” as a plus point
    Start by fostering a deep understanding of your business

The better the agency knows your business, the better their work will be. For this reason, every collaboration should begin with a comprehensive on-boarding process, led by the agency. This might involve:

  • Interviews about target demographics, strategic position, etc.
  • ID-ing competitors
  • Agreeing shared online tools, points of contact, regular meeting times and other mechanics of how you will work together
  • Sharing any other info that will help the agency tailor its work to your business

It’s essential to go through a thorough onboarding process, both to improve your campaigns’ chances of success and to ensure accurate representation of your brand.
How you work together going forward will strongly affect the agency’s understanding of your brand. If you agree to treat your account manager from the agency as a member of your team whenever they’re working on your campaigns, they’ll be in a position to develop a deep and thorough understanding.

Bring your agency contact(s) into your project management system

We would always advise bringing your agency contacts into your project management system, not the other way around.

We reason that it’s more valuable for them to gain an inside perspective on your team than vice versa: anything they learn about you could improve campaign performance, whereas there’s not much you could learn about them that would be anything more than a distraction.

Another benefit of managing your paid search agency’s work within your project management system is that it will give you a concise view of the work you need to know about, in a format you’re used to reviewing.

If you don’t use a project management system, you may have to make do with managing your paid search agency’s work within their system. However, you might also consider adopting one of the following platforms:

Most teams find using project management software to be beneficial – so there’s a wider benefit to be gained here than just expediting management of your paid search agency.

Create accessible brand guidelines to achieve better ad copy

How well your agency understands your brand will strongly affect their ability to write appropriate copy for your paid search ads. Without proper guidance, there’s a risk that an agency copywriter would write their ads based on their impression of your brand, rather than the brand as you wish to convey it.

To ensure the ad copy your agency writes is in-step with your brand, you need to provide clear and comprehensive brand guidelines, including notes on the language to be included in your ads.

We recommend covering the following points:

  • Give an overview of the brand and its ethos
  • List some linguistic DOs and DON’Ts, e.g. no acronyms, use simple language, use resonant language
  • Note any linguistic quirks associated with the brand, e.g. We call our target audience “Beliebers” (these shouldn’t be overused in paid search advertising, but may come up occasionally)

Another step you might consider is listing the adjectives you want to have associated with your brand, products and ads, as this is the aspect of your ad copy that will be most open to interpretation. Create a long list of adjectives that are appropriate to your brand and include them in your guidelines.

It’s also important to establish the product features and selling points you want to emphasise in your ads. List these, too.Encourage dynamic focus on emerging bestsellers

Encourage dynamic focus on emerging bestsellers

Finding a highly profitable paid search niche with an individual product is highly challenging. As such, we recommend helping your paid search agency to recognise the ads and products that are selling well as quickly as possible.

This is a relatively straightforward matter of ensuring the agency has set up intelligence events (on Google AdWords; other platforms vary) to ensure they are notified whenever there’s a spike in goal completions. When a profitable best-seller emerges, budget and attention should be diverted towards it immediately – which means it’s crucial that you give your agency the necessary free reign to divert a certain percentage of your budget without your say-so.

Measure success with KPIs

Setting mutually agreed targets and KPIs is an essential part of working with your paid search agency.

The most important objective in the long-term is surely the long-term profitability of your campaigns, which can be measured in various ways, including:

  • Profit from paid search sales vs paid search platform budget plus agency fees
  • Average value per acquisition vs paid search platform budget plus agency fees
  • Establishing paid search success is an iterative process that often takes time to bear fruit.

Therefore, you might look at paid search profitability growth as your most important KPI during the early stages of your campaign.

Your business will probably have lots of shorter-term goals to hit (sell more of this product, sell more in this region, etc.) These short-term goals should also be established as success criteria for your paid search agency.

Don’t just call – plan your catch-ups

Speaking from agency-side experience, the last thing the people at your paid search agency want is to get an out-of-the-blue phone call about a non-urgent matter. If something pressing crops up, of course, you should call, but we advise you think carefully before you pick up the phone.

A far better way to do business with your paid search agency is to discuss your campaigns at set times, by phone, video conferencing or in-person. This should ensure that your contact at the agency has given thorough consideration to your campaign before you talk, which will usually enable better decision-making.

If you’ve brought your agency contact into your project management system, you should be able to plan your meetings into the team calendar. Alternatively, consider fixing up your meetings using shared events on Google Calendar or similar.

Perks and gifts

Everyone loves a freebie. Giving your agency occasional gifts and employee perks associated with your brand is a nice thing to do – and it can also be highly strategic.
Through receiving and then using your products or services, your paid search agency contacts will get to know your brand from the perspective of consumers or clients, which will likely enhance their understanding, and therefore yield improvements in their work.
One of Target Internet’s staff used to work for a paid search agency that managed AdWords campaigns for a paintball gun company (have you ever tried selling a product with ‘gun’ in its name on AdWords? It’s not easy.) The company took the whole agency out for a day’s paintballing. The team tried out all the products and could, therefore, bring an enhanced level of knowledge and enthusiasm to the campaign.

You don’t need to sell something as vibrant as paintball guns to enrich and educate your agency. If your product is an app, give them access; if you sell training courses, give your agency contacts access; if you’re in haulage, throw a barbecue at your depot and invite your agency along. At the very least this will earn some favour; at best, it will significantly improve their understanding of your brand.

Incentivise Exceptional Agency Performance With Commission

This is just an extra idea to throw into the mix, and you shouldn’t necessarily think of it as a textbook approach – but you might consider paying a commission on all sales over a certain threshold to incentivise exceptional performance from your paid search agency.
Most agencies get paid on a monthly retainer basis, which should be ample to get the work done well. They know they must do a satisfactory job to keep getting paid their monthly fee in the long term.

However, if an agency that’s on retainer is already hitting the KPIs you’ve set, your campaign is likely to go straight to the bottom of their to-do list at busy times. Offering commission on all conversions over your agreed targets is a good way to combat this effect.

All the tips we’ve discussed in this article have proven helpful to members of our team in the past – and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you in future. Regardless of whether you take our points on board, if you keep these two things in mind your relationship with your agency should have every chance of success: communicate well and organise thoroughly.

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