6 Questions to Ask [Yourself] Before Hiring a PPC Agency

Mike Fitterer Sep 27 2016

If there’s one thing most marketers dread, it’s hiring vendors. Signing on the dotted line with a new partner offers high risks and potentially catastrophic outcomes if you make a poor decision.

But hiring a PPC agency doesn’t have to be a fingernails-dragged-slowly-across-a-blackboard event. I swear! If you have a few fundamental business questions answered before you start your search you will put yourself and your firm in excellent position to hire the right partner.

If you can answer the following questions you’re in good shape to begin working with an agency. If you can’t, you should strongly consider taking the steps to find an answer before your agency search begins.

Tell us About Your Business

1. What problem are you looking to solve?

Why are you interested in hiring a PPC agency to support you in the first place? The most common answer to this question is that you want to grow revenue while saving money and an in-house solution isn’t an option.

However, there are plenty of other legitimate reasons for needing support. Perhaps you feel woefully under-qualified and experienced in all things PPC. Maybe you simply don’t have the time to effectively run a paid digital presence and also cover your other 3,453 job responsibilities. You may even be an absolute PPC rock star, but need someone to review your work and help with new strategies and pushes.

The point is, knowing WHY you want to hire someone is a must so prospective agencies can present coverage based on your specific needs.

2. What’s your company’s purpose?

The basic question at the heart of every company’s existence is ‘Why are you in business?’ In other words, what product or service do you provide? Even more fundamentally, how does your offering appeal to your target market–meaning how do you save others money, time, or otherwise provide value that results in business for your company?

Once the “what” has been established the logical next question is the “who”. More specifically, who is your target audience? Assuming you’ve identified a primary audience, how are they currently interacting with your website and your brand’s other digital presences such as social media accounts, Amazon, Yelp, etc.?

3. Why are you great?

Having a target audience is a start, but you’d better be da** sure you actually appeal to said audience. Taking it further, you need to understand why clients or customers choose you over competitors. Are there unique properties to your goods or services such as better reliability, efficiency, higher success rates, or some other swaying factor?
Helping you stand out from the rest of the field is one of the pillars of PPC and any other direct-response marketing, so being able to effectively communicate why you’re better than the rest is a necessity. If you can’t tell your prospective agency, you (and they) sure as heck won’t be able to tell your customers compellingly.

The PPC Questions

After the overarching business questions are solidly answered there are a few crucial PPC questions that should be addressed pre-engagement.

4. What are your growth goals?

Setting improvement goals is a natural business practice. Still, many businesses don’t have specific goals in mind. The old, generic “increase revenue at a lower cost” mentality runs rampant among businesses big and small.

If you’re unsure of what your goals should be, start with a simple figure and work from there. One example could be “10% year-over-year revenue growth each month.” Thereafter, factor in current and future costs and chat with colleagues or superiors in order to get their feedback.

Setting monthly, quarterly, or even annual goals (or all of these) will help the agency you select create a strategic plan focused on achieving said goals.

When in doubt, get back to S.M.A.R.T. goal setting fundamentals. Here’s a great primer on this kind of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting from HubSpot if you’re unfamiliar.

5. What is your starting paid search budget?

When it comes to budget flexibility there are two types of firms: Those that have a set budget that MUST not be surpassed in a given month and those that have a flexible budget based on results.

First, figure out on which end of this spectrum your company sits. Next, after the flexibility question is answered you’ll need to figure out a starting monthly budget.

If you have a set budget to work with that’s perfectly fine. Prospective agency partners should always be able to tailor a solution that works with your budget. However, if the agency’s projected outcome in leads, revenue, etc. isn’t what you need, that’s a great forcing function to reexamine your budget and goals with stakeholders and management.

Perhaps you don’t know where to begin. Here’s a great resource from a few months back on the Portent blog, all about how to set a PPC budget.

In short, start by examining your goals and your current average cost per acquisition. Determine how many sales or leads you would need to attract from paid search at current cost levels and that should leave you with a rough starting budget. This is by no means an exact science, and costs as well as external and internal factors can fluctuate over time, but it gives you a place to start from and iterate.

6. What additional services do you need?

It’s not uncommon to need additional services that will support your PPC efforts. Perhaps you need landing pages created, or you don’t have anyone in-house who can create banner ads for retargeting on Google’s Display Network or others. Maybe you don’t have anyone familiar with the nuances of Google Analytics, and how that integrates with AdWords, Bing Ads, or smaller PPC platforms.

Being honest with yourself and your stakeholders about what your internal capabilities are vs. what must be outsourced is another important step in the pre-hiring process.

“Captain Obvious” moment: not all PPC agencies are created equal as far as services offered, and that should factor in to your evaluation criteria. Some have dedicated in-house analytics specialists, designers, paid social experts, or platform partnership relationships (e.g. Google Partner status), while others do not. That’s not always a knock, since many agencies simply know their niche and that their core customers don’t need ancillary or complementary services.

Know what you need and ask about a given firm’s capabilities for the specific things that your business needs help with, both now and down the road.

The good news is that once you select an agency, developing and actually implementing a winning PPC strategy is on their shoulders, at which point you become their support and stakeholder.

By having clearly-articulated answers for the questions in this post before starting your search you’ve got a much better chance of selecting the agency that’s right for your specific needs, while also reducing the likelihood of missteps and misunderstandings once everyone is off to the races.