In 2018 I spent $18,000 on PPC management. I’m guessing that will garner one of two reactions from people: “meh,” or “holy freaking cheeseballs!”

For me, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Technically, the company I co-founded spent it. But still, that’s a lot of my money going not-in-my-pocket!

It was worth it. But also not.

PPC management is tricky. So, it’s no surprise that finding the right solution is tough!

Quick Overview

Before I get too far into this, let me knock out the “full disclosure” part so you have all the information. When I began writing this in July of 2018, I had no idea what I would do with it. It was just an in-the-trenches article about how PPC agencies help and hurt PPC from a customer’s perspective. A rant, of sorts.

Then in late 2018 I stumbled onto an idea. In retrospect, I can see this post is the genesis of Ad•o•matic.

Now? Well, honestly it’s a little self-serving. As you can see, it’s on my site where I intend to argue not every company needs a PPC management agency.

To be 100% clear: Every company needs PPC management. Some of us could do without the agency. Ad•o•matic offers a software solution designed specifically for eCommerce PPC.

Quick Background

I own a small e-commerce company, have done PPC consulting, and before that I was the Director of e-Commerce for a regional furniture company. As a result, I learned PPC and Google AdWords out of necessity.

After managing AdWords accounts for nearly 20 years, I’ve overseen monthly budgets as small as $500 and as large as $60,000. And my experience is almost exclusively in e-commerce. However, I have also consulted numerous local companies with very small accounts.

I believe almost every single company can benefit from Google AdWords and PPC more generally.

Let’s get into the weeds a bit to start!

So… What Does a PPC Management Company Do?

In the most general sense, a PPC management company is responsible for continually building and improving upon your PPC account(s). First, they structure your accounts based on best practices. Then they add, adjust and remove campaigns, ad groups, ad variations, and keywords. Finally, they adjust match types and bids, and then optimize settings across your account to improve ROI.

The larger your business, the more sophisticated the services available. For example, you can get into landing page optimization, integration with CRM’s, etc.

As you can see, what an agency does for you can vary drastically from account to account. Listing what a good PPC management company does is like describing what a good parent does. It’s complicated, tedious, and sometimes messy.

Quick Run Down on PPC Management Pricing

PPC management is usually priced as two separate line items. First, you have a set-up or start up fee. Then you have a recurring monthly fee. Typically, here’s how they break down:

  • The start up fee: Usually the fee is between $300 and $1,500 depending on how complex your account is. The agency builds out your campaigns based on their experience. Generally, they use tools they’ve created or bought that enable your account to run with their programming.
  • Monthly fee: The monthly fee is as little as $300, but goes up considerably from there. If you estimate roughly 10-20% of your ad spend, you’re in the right ballpark.

The Pros of Working with a PPC Agency

Depending on the size of your business, there’s a number of great reasons to outsource your PPC management.

For example, access to the technology that can automate portions of your account could be invaluable. Especially if you’re in e-commerce. Since it’s unlikely you have someone on your team that loves coding, technology is hard to replicate.

Another major pro for any business is experience. Let’s face it – PPC agencies manage accounts all day long. And they usually manage accounts of all types, across a spectrum of industries. Obviously, that’s another skillset you’re unlikely to replicate in-house.

In short, the best reasons to hire an agency are access to specialized technology and experience.

The Problem With PPC Management Agencies

Okay… So here’s where I go a little John Oliver #LongRants. I’ll try to be concise, and not harp on the cold calls. So. Many. Cold calls.

In short, I don’t trust PPC agencies. There… I said it. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

I’ve hired four PPC agencies over the years. In the end, one was “worth it,” but my experience was mixed.

To be fair, I don’t think the entire industry is shady. Nevertheless, I also don’t believe the industry is well represented on the “front lines.” Let me explain.

Here’s how I picture it: There’s a bunch of widget salesmen selling really complex widgets to a small group of people who don’t understand widgets.

Let’s Break That Down

Of the 28,000,000 businesses in the US, a vast majority of them are small. Like, really small. Furthermore, these company’s properly structured AdWords accounts would cost maybe a hundred bucks per month. Hence, they’re not prime targets for agencies looking for fees. (That market is completely underserved!)

Just 0.04% of businesses are actively seeking PPC management!

About 22% of US businesses are the right size for PPC management, but only a teeny tiny fraction of them are actively searching for PPC management. Just 0.04% to be (not-quite) exact.

So that’s the small market.

And Then There’s the “Product”

I won’t bore you with the simplicity of AdWords and Overture of the ‘aughts. Suffice it to say, PPC marketing today has gotten extremely complex. Shopping, feeds, promotions, audiences, retargeting, negative keyword contouring, bid modifiers, rules, day parting, geo-targeting… Yeesh.

As a result, paying for management is no longer just paying for an expert’s time to whittle away at improving your account. Nowadays, most agencies want to plug you in to their “system” – technology that can keep up with mundane tasks in your account.

Agencies have various ways of convincing you their AdWords automation system is the best. This one specializes in Shopping. This one bids to ROI. The list goes on.

Unless you really know PPC, how can you tell if the tech at [insert agency name here] is the best?

Sorry, you just can’t. And, odds are, there are different “bests” for different businesses. (Let’s ignore the fact that if you knew PPC you wouldn’t need the stinkin’ agency!)

And To Top It Off?

As I mentioned above, good management requires upfront work and then continuing oversight. And there’s usually a “learning curve” in the technology used by agencies. Therefore, most agencies structure their initial contracts to give themselves a few months to prove their performance to you.

It’s sort of a perfect storm, with an unintended outcome.

Combine a relatively small and under-educated market, a sophisticated product, and an industry standard that includes guaranteed upfront revenue, and what do you get? You get snake-oil salesmen. Which explains why your first contact with an agency was probably a cold call!

All of that puts small businesses like mine (and maybe yours) in a tough spot. The only way to really know if an agency can help is to sign up. Basically, PPC management costs thousands of dollars and several months just to find out if it works. And your first encounter with an agency probably wasn’t the best fit for your business.

So, let’s start with scoping out the options…

How To Find a Good PPC Agency

How on earth are regular people supposed to find the “best ppc management company”?

I hate to say it… I know a decent amount about AdWords, and I’ve been snookered. It happens.

There’s already a few good guides out there, but I agree with Loren Baker at Search Engine Journal on the goal:

“Get the experts to do the expert’s work. An agency should allow you to achieve exceptional results which you can then leverage to be the best at what you do.”

Elisa Gabbert at Wordstream also makes some good points. I especially agree with her on point #2: any agency you choose should focus on PPC.

One of the best recommendations I can make is to ask around. Network and get the names of agencies your colleagues use. A word-of-mouth referral is golden when you need to find an agency.

Additionally, referrals or not, I would strongly recommend talking to at least three companies. That will give you a basis for comparison to see which one fits your needs.

In other words, treat hiring an agency like you would hiring an employee.

18 Best Questions to Ask a PPC Management Agency

A vast majority of the guides I found online are written by agencies. That seems a little fox-in-the-henhouse to me! I culled through them as an outsider to create this comprehensive list.

To begin, the following points should be non-negotiable:

  • First, you should have complete ownership and access to any account(s) created and/or managed. End of story.
  • Second, you should pay Google, Bing, etc. directly, and pay your agency separately.
Basic Management Questions

These questions should be pretty run-of-the-mill:

  • How long has your agency been handling pay-per-click marketing?
  • Is the agency a Google Certified Partner?
  • Are your PPC analysts AdWords certified?
  • How much experience will my analyst and account manager have?
  • Does anyone at your agency have experience doing PPC in my particular business niche?
  • How many accounts do each of your analysts manage?

The first few questions are pretty boilerplate. From there, the idea is to gather more information about the agency, and keep an eye out for red flags.

Questions About Contract Terms

Most importantly, there’s only one question you need answered here:

  • Do I need to sign a long-term contract?

Personally, I’d be suspect of any contract longer than two months. I’d also question rolling renewals longer than one month.

Questions About Management Fees
  • How are the management fees structured?
  • What type of management is included with the management fee?

As you can see, these are open ended questions intended to start a dialogue about how your relationship would look. Therefore, follow up questions from you are crucial.

For example, make sure to understand what happens if you want to increase or reduce your ad spend. Are they covering all of the services you need? Or, do they have partners they recommend?

Questions About Goals

Now that you understand the costs, you need to understand if paying this agency will be profitable.

  • How does your agency measure success?
  • How do you plan to work with me to refine and ultimately reach our goals?

The primary metric I consider here is ROI. Your business goals might be different. What are they going to contribute to your bottom line? In sum, make sure their responses match your needs.

Reporting & Communication Questions

Truth be told, I was surprised how many questions agencies focused on reporting. My vision must be skewed (I can’t imagine not logging into my Google Ads account every workday).

Regardless, there’s really only two questions you need answered:

  • How frequently will I receive reporting, and what sort of information will I be provided?
  • What kind of communication will I have with my account manager?

You should expect monthly detailed reports on any metrics you need, along with a call from your account manager to discuss. Furthermore, you should expect responses from your account manager within 24 hours.

Questions About Strategy

Talking to an agency about strategy can be tough, particularly if you’re not into the nitty gritty of PPC management. I really like this set of questions (the last two from PPC Hero).

First, they’re open ended and create opportunity for conversation. Second, they should give you an understanding how the agency thinks about your account:

  • What’s your process?
  • How Do You Usually Reduce Excess Spend?
  • How Will You Work To Get Me Ahead Of My Competitors?

The conversation around strategy might be the most crucial part of your questioning. Therefore, it’s imperative you understand exactly what the sales rep is talking about. So, follow-ups like “how would you do that,” or “can you clarify” should be common throughout this discussion.

Technical Questions

The more you know about PPC management, the less likely it is you need a list of tech-y questions from me. But here are the basics for every one else:

  • How much of your management is automated?
  • If I were to switch agencies or move management in-house, what would happen to my campaigns and the processes you’ve put in place?

The goal here is to determine how “in bed” with the agency you’ll be.

For example, I recently spoke to Logical Position regarding my Google Ads account. The sales rep pitched a really sophisticated “next level” bidding system for Google Shopping.

When I explained we’d probably keep management in-house, he offered a 1-month trial period. We’d pay one month, and they would automatically build out really in-depth Shopping campaigns.

That sounds nice. But it’s actually not great… Because I don’t have their “next level” bidding system, I probably couldn’t manage their new campaigns. In the end, a car isn’t much good without the gasoline!

While You’re Talking to Agencies

Here are some red flags to watch out for during your interview process:

Aggressive Sales Calls

“Hi. My name is Kevin, and I have a hard time saying no.” I’m from the South. That’s my excuse anyway. It’s not a problem for me now (-cough- over the phone -cough- don’t knock on my door). I just tell aggressive salespeople to email me their web site, and I’ll contact them if I’m interested. If they call me back, they’re out. And sometimes I do see things that interest me.

Obscure Answers

An agency should be able to give you a ballpark estimate on how many hours they’ll spend in your account per month. In addition, they should be able to answer how they found you to begin with. What’s their customer retention rate? Can they provide you active client references? How do they acquire new customers? (How did they find you, or vice versa? This is only a little harsh: The good agencies grow and gain new customers the same way you do – through PPC, SEO and word of mouth. Others prospect.)

Tons of Tech Speak

Most agencies use some form of automation to handle basic tasks in your account. Bad news… There’s no way you’re going to be able to tell the difference between their “tech” and anybody else’s. However, their salespeople should be able to explain what it does in terms you understand. To wit, what portions of the account are automated (bidding, keyword insertion, ad creation)? To sum up: If they pretend like it’s too complex to explain, move on.

Long Contract Terms

Guilty. I’ve definitely fallen for this. The start-up fee is for work they’re going to do… like right then. Therefore, it makes sense to commit to that. But a long contract does not. Unless you consider your current account performance “good,” an agency should prove their value the first month. I would argue against any term longer than two months.

How Do They Measure Success

What if I told you I could get you hundreds or thousands of clicks every day starting tomorrow? That’s only good if you convert a reasonable number of them to sales. What are your goals with your PPC spend? Again, as a general rule, focus on agencies that focus on your ROI.

Offering Tons of Services

Here’s where I disagree with a lot of people… It definitely sounds convenient for an agency to handle more than just PPC. But tread carefully.

In my opinion, unless it comes with a hefty fee, your PPC agency shouldn’t also be handling your SEO, Facebook and gardening. In sum, I’m a believer in specialization. If your prospective PPC agency isn’t, odds are they’re only okay at everything. (Seriously, how many tasks are you an expert at?)

Once You’re Working With An Agency

Once you’re “plugged in,” it’s actually pretty easy to tell if you’re getting your money’s worth. For example: are they doing what they said they’d do? Are you hitting the ROI numbers you outlined at the start of the relationship? If not, what’s their plan to correct course?

Some agencies can right the ship, and some can’t. Either way, remember: The agency has an incentive to keep you around as long as possible. In other words, make sure they’re earning their fee.

Alternatives to PPC Management Agencies

Now that I’ve covered PPC management and agencies, there’s just one question left: What are your alternatives to hiring an agency?

First, you could check out tools that agencies use like WordStream and Optymyzr. As you can see, both companies offer a broad range of services that can improve the performance of your accounts. In fact, there’s a good chance those tools could be useful to you without an agency.

Both of those options are going to require ongoing monthly fees. Therefore, they may or may not be right for everyone.

The final option is a solution like Ad•o•matic’s PPC software. It’s designed for small to medium e-commerce companies that want an automated system that bids for the most profitable traffic!

Conclusion

PPC management is a vital process for every business, one that’s most often neglected or outsourced to an agency. There’s two strong arguments for hiring an agency: First, they offer experience. Second, agencies introduce technology to your account.

However, agencies can have their shortcomings. Once you know what to look for, it’s definitely possible to find one that will improve your business.

Alternatively, you can find PPC software that meets your needs. Ad•o•matic is designed specifically to automate the core components of successful e-commerce Shopping and Search campaigns!

What have your experiences with PPC management been? Let me know in the comments!

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