Running a business in the digital age is not easy; when things turned digital, a whole slew of variables and moving parts suddenly appeared that had to be accounted for if you wanted people to find you.
For example, instead of relying on newspaper ads, billboards, radio spots or word of mouth, search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM) became the new norm.
In other words, a whole new way of doing business emerged.
Thankfully, along with this change came agencies ready to help businesses adapt and acclimate to this new atmosphere; SEO agencies help businesses rank higher on search engines’ results pages (SERPs) through unpaid means whilst SEM agencies help them get found through paid media, i.e. online advertisements.
And thus we arrive at today’s topic: questions you need to ask a paid search agency before hiring them.
Before we get to that, let’s quickly cover some PPC basics.
What is pay-per-click advertising?
Pay-per-click (PPC) is an advertising model in which brands pay a fee only when their ad is clicked.
For example, if someone Googles dress shoes and your ad appears, you’ll only pay if they click on your ad, not if they see it.
Side note: Cost per impression (CPI or CPM) is another SEM model in which you pay when your ad is seen, regardless of whether it is clicked on or not.
When you boil it down, PPC is essentially a way of buying site visits in the hope that some of them will convert.
More often than not, brands will use Google Ads, Google’s advertising platform that lets them appear on Google’s search engine and properties like YouTube, to uphold their PPC strategies.
As to how it works, think of a bidding system. Whenever a search is initiated, Google takes a look at all the advertisers bidding for the particular keyword used in the search, and then chooses the winners based on a couple of factors, such as the quality and relevance of their keywords, as well as their bid amount.
With that in mind, let’s begin our list of top questions to ask a PPC agency before hiring them.
1. Can you explain what SEM/PPC is?
You’ve made the decision to outsource and get in touch with a PPC agency—wonderful, that’s a good start.
But, how much do they actually know about PPC, or SEM as a whole?
For example, Google LOVES changing their algorithms; can they explain how their strategies change with each update? What about the bidding process; can they explain why your competitor’s ads are appearing instead of yours?
At the end of the day, you’re going to be paying this agency to help you out with PPC, and going with someone who touts knowledge but ends up falling short is definitely not what you want.
2. How long have you been in business?
Like making sure they know what they’re talking about, you also want to make sure they’ve been working with PPC long enough to understand all its intricacies and nuances.
Keep in mind that more experience doesn’t actually mean more experience — you can definitely find many newcomers who are much more knowledgeable than seasoned veteran — but you do want someone who has not only worked with incoming trends, but also knows how to react to them.
For example, we’re currently in the middle of a mobile revolution spurring voice search as the go-to search method. If they know what they’re doing, and have been doing it long enough, they should know to have a mobile PPC strategy with a voice search component that ensures you’ll capture any voice search traffic coming your way.
3. What services do you offer?
Not all PPC agencies offer the same services. Similarly, depending on your specific industry, business and situation, you may benefit from one service more so than another.
In other words, because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will suit all businesses equally, each agency usually specializes on specific services they have the most experience with.
It’s up to you to ask what those services are, and whether you’ll benefit most from them or others.
4. What do you need from my end?
No matter your reason for going to them, going to an agency, any agency, is a team effort.
Sure, you can tell them what you want, give them your money, and then hope for the best, but that’s not conducive to positive results.
For example, what if your audience loves your ads—they’re always clicking on them and landing on your site—but you’re not actually seeing any conversions? In this instance, your ads and keywords are probably convincing, but the landing page they’re taking your audience to just isn’t doing the trick.
In other words, you need to make some on-site changes to bolster the effects of your PPC campaign.
Likewise, you may be making change after change on your website with little to no word to the PPC team, which is leading to low performing ads. In this second instance, you’re probably stepping on their toes because you’re doing too much.
Putting it together, there are some things you need to do and some things you don’t need to do, and you should always ask beforehand to know what exactly each is.
5. How do you approach keyword research?
One of the biggest aspects of a PPC campaign is choosing keywords. After all, they’re the biggest contributing factor to when, or even if, your ads will be displayed.
When choosing a PPC agency, you want one with a comprehensive keyword research strategy that includes competitor research, negative keywords, benchmarking, and a whole lot of other things that all contribute to more relevant keywords.
6. What tools do you use?
One of the best things about marketing in a digital world is the abundance of tools at your disposal that vary by use and function.
As a PPC agency, they should be familiar with most of these, and use the ones that make the most sense at any given time.
For example, here are some popular tools and their function:
- Ahrefs helps you to learn why your competitors are ranking so high and what you need to do to outrank them.
- BuzzSumo helps you analyze what content performs best for any topic or competitor.
- SEMrush is an all-in-one marketing toolkit that provides ad strategy analysis, keyword grouping and management, competitive analysis, and much more.
- SimilarWeb helps you benchmark against your competitors and industry to learn the most profitable strategy.
- SpyFu lets you download your competitors’ most profitable keywords and ads for paid and organic search.
7. What metrics do you use?
Like an abundance of tools, there are also an abundance of metrics you or the PPC agency of your choice can use to improve your PPC campaign, all of which tell you something about how it’s going.
For example, here are a couple metrics you should know about:
Click-through rate (CTR)
Your ad’s CTR is measured by dividing the total number of clicks it received by the total number of impressions it received (e.g. a 15% CTR means that, out of 1000 impressions, your ad was clicked 150 times). The higher your CTR, the more relevant your ads.
Cost per-click (CPC)
CPC represents how much you’re paying for each click your ads receive, and is measured by dividing the total cost of a campaign by the total number of clicks.
Your CPA is the price you pay for acquiring a customer, and is calculated by dividing the total cost of conversions by the number of conversions.
Your conversion rate is measured by dividing the total number of conversions by the total number of clicks, and tells you exactly how successful your PPC campaign is going.
8. What’s this going to cost me?
You never want to agree to something without knowing how much you’ll end up paying.
PPC is no different.
Apart from the budget you’ll be spending (more on that on the next point), you should always ask the breakdown of the PPC agency’s fees.
9. How will my budget be used?
Different from the fees you’ll be paying the PPC agency, your budget is how much money you’re actually allotting for the campaign(s) they’ll be running.
Transparency is key here; because it’s your money, you have the right to know how it’s going to be spent.
For example, how much are they planning on spending on each channel (e.g. Facebook, Google Search, Bing Search, etc.)? What about each campaign? Keyword?
Additionally, sometimes money is left over after the ads have been placed. Are they going to refund it, or are they going to roll it over to the next month?
10. When will I start seeing results?
Finally, it’s always beneficial to ask when you’ll start seeing results.
Keep in mind that everything takes time, and saying that they’ll provide near-instantaneous results is most likely a fib.
Similarly, ask what happens if things aren’t going right, i.e. if the results you’re getting are not the ones you want. In this case, they should have a backup plan that takes care of this and other negative outcomes.
As you go through your list of potential PPC agencies, make sure to ask the questions we covered today to narrow your list on those that will work best for you.
Once that list is narrowed, make sure they offer some of the following PPC activities, which are all important to a successful campaign:
- Keyword discovery and selection
- Text and display ad creation
- Landing page optimization
- Conversion and call tracking
- PPC monitoring
- PPC cost management
- Existing AdWords account auditing
- Shopping Ad management
Best of luck!