Beautiful lady and a concept of a browsing in the Internet. Searching line are drawn on the concrete wall above the lady.

Winning the game at search takes work.  And money.  And experience.  Finding someone you can trust to help guide you to make the right decisions along the way is critical.  Many businesses realize great results from a PPC (pay-per-click) search campaign… or suffer if they’re either not playing the game or choose the wrong partners (or try to do it themselves).  Before you rush into a deal with someone, here are the things you need to know and questions you need to ask.

HOT TIP:  If you get one of those unsolicited calls from someone out-of-town trying to sell you their services by phone, tell them you have a list of questions you need answered and see if they’ll actually spend the time and go down the list with you. Likely, they’ll try but not be able to answer things like “Who is the account manager and can I meet them?” Ask to see everything in writing, including the responses to your questions.  Once they make that sale, you’ll never hear from them again… and the people handling your account won’t know what’s been promised.

  • Who owns the account? 

    This sounds simple, but it’s not.  Is everything being done on your behalf in your name and transferable to DIY or another agency in the future or is it in some proprietary system that you won’t have access to?  It depends on how much control you want, or need, but you need to weigh the pros and cons of each.It’s kind of like the hole some businesses found them in when they did websites with vendors like YP.  Instead of having business own their own URL, YP “took care of it for them” and put it in their own name.  That meant if you left YP, you lost your URL.

  • Who owns the content?If the answer is anything else, but YOU, you should consider going elsewhere. While the agency certainly will do the work, the content is something you are paying for.  It’s yours and you should be able to use it anyway you want in the future unless you’ve agreed on something else in writing.
  • What level of access do I have to the data and reporting?Some places will provide a portal where you can check in 24/7. Others will give you access on-demand or prepare reports for you.  It depends on what you want to do.  Transparency is best.  Some agencies will “mark up” what they’re paying for PPC and they won’t want you to see that.  It’s not wrong to mark up the costs – after all, there is a cost to the agency and they’re allowed to make a profit – but you should know exactly what that markup is up front.
  • How am I charged?This is really one of the central questions. Is it a flat rate?  Is it a percentage?  Is it based on volume?  Whether it’s a good deal is up to you, but agree on the fees up front so there are no surprises.  Make sure you know how you’re being billed, whether you will receive invoices, whether there will be multiple invoices (vendors and agency), and how quickly you have to make payment.  Do they offer credit and if so, is there a charge?
  • Who will manage my campaign and how often will someone touch it? What is the account manager’s background and experience?Often after the “sale,” the account is handed off to someone else to manage.  So, who is this person?  Have you met them?  Can I meet them?  What level of access will I have to that person and how often will they be working on my campaign?  In most cases, teams of people may be working on a campaign so it’s important to know who will be your point person.
  • Do you do the work yourself or outsource it to a third-party? What technology partners do you work with? 

    Nearly every agency is using third-parties to fulfill certain portions of their marketing campaigns.  If they’re not, I’d think twice.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but there are tons of options out there.  I want to work with the best-of-the-breed with the most current insight into how search works.  That’s likely not somebody sitting in an agency office in your local town.  The best blend seems to be someone in your local town (who can know your business) working with the best-of-breed technology provider to optimize your efforts.

    THINK ABOUT THIS:  Who they don’t work with is just as important as who they work with.  For example, one vendor we interviewed had a great engine for optimizing campaigns for Google and Yahoo, but they weren’t set up to handle Bing yet.  With Google dominating search (64% market share) and Yahoo with a 12% market share, it may not matter to you.  It did to us.  We wanted to be able to dominate search across all platforms, including Microsoft Bing (21% market share).

  • How will you measure success?Set up very clear goals right from the start so you can measure success. Is it conversions and ROI?  Is it visits to your site or your store? Is it branding?
  • What reporting do you do and how often?We touched on this above. What’s most important is to have an understanding of what’s provided and measure against your expectations.
  • What do you do to optimize and make sure I’m getting best bang for the buck?How often is someone taking a look at my campaigns and making sure they are working at peak efficiency? Is someone checking keyword response?  Are they A/B testing different creative or ad combinations?
  • Do you comply with IAB guidelines? What certifications do you have?The Interactive Advertising Bureau is an independent organization that helps set guidelines for the industry and published best practices that are accepted and embraced by the top agencies and advertisers.  Make sure your agency follows the protocol.

    Are you Google Ad Words certified and/or IAB certified?

  • What other marketing solutions do you offer?First, you want to know the breadth of knowledge and services they provide, but you also want to understand how else they might be able to help you if you need it… or not. If they don’t offer some services, they won’t likely recommend them or see if they are a fit.  Again, it comes down to establish clear goals, transparent pricing, and expectations.
  • What do you do differently from everybody else?Not only does it give them a chance to brag a little bit, but you need to understand why you should work with them versus anybody else. Much of the price you pay for search is a commodity.  The difference in success or failure is often the people working on your account and doing the work, so you need to be confident they’re the right fit.

This may look like a lot of work.  It is.  But make sure you establish the ground rules up front and make the right decision.

It’s not just picking an agency.  You can always pick a new one, right? 

It’s about YOUR BUSINESS success and nobody will take it as seriously as you will.