How To Choose the Best PPC Agency (And What to Ask Before You Sign)

Published on: 29/12/2020 Last Modified on: 29/12/2020

PPC stands for pay-per-click, which is a key part of digital marketing strategy.

In a nutshell, companies pay a fee each time someone clicks on one of their ads and a higher budget generally makes the end result both faster and superior.

The aim of PPC is to gain brand awareness whilst your SEO strategy works on organically raising your website ranking.

Chances are you already know this much, that’s why you’re here.

Year on year global ad spend across every major PPC channel is growing even higher. Why? Because more and more data and reporting are showing that PPC really works.

But do you know just how important it is to get your PPC strategy right? Here are some key facts to give you a better idea.

  • 50% of people arriving at a retailers site from paid ads are more likely to buy than those who came from an organic link.
  • 74% of brands say PPC is a huge driver for their business
  • Companies spent $106.5 billion on search advertising globally in 2019, with 2020 set to be much the same – despite Covid.
  • 89% of the traffic generated by Google Ads is not replaced by organic clicks when ads are paused.
  • Search ads increase brand awareness by as much as 80%.
  • It is predicted that Facebook’s US ad revenues will move ahead of the print industry this year.

Whether you want to just drive more people to your site, get your brand out there, receive more phone calls or add customers to your mailing list – PPC is the strategy for you.

PPC can even feed into the improvement of organic results as time goes on.

As they say, “you have to spend money to make money”, and PPC is the perfect example. From social media to paid search, results are almost tangible – particularly with the right agency on board.

As we collectively navigate the murky waters of Covid-19 and its impact on the budgets of companies big and small, getting the most out of marketing spend has never been more important.

Smaller teams in particular may find themselves needing specialist agency support.

The good thing about working with an agency is that they have the existing experience, tried and tested campaigns and can spend countless hours experimenting and learning everything there is to know so you don’t have to.

When purse strings are pulled tight, it’s important that each and every penny gets a return on investment.

So if you’re looking to hire an outstanding agency to create and manage your PPC campaigns but aren’t sure where to start, don’t panic.

In this article we’ll help you out by discussing:

  • things to consider before employing an agency
  • how to get the most out of your PPC agency relationship
  • getting started on the path to PPC super-stardom

65% of brands are planning to increase their PPC budget in the next 12 months, so don’t get left behind!

Invest a bit of time and effort in learning more about your various options and use the below advice to figure out which is likely to be the best fit for you.

Before You Start Your Agency Search

Know your goals and desired outcomes and set some targets to work towards.

What exactly are you looking to achieve? The clearer you are about your objectives, the higher your chances of PPC success.

Without this essential set of information, you’ll have a hard time making an educated decision.

Whether it’s building brand awareness, launching a new product or service, pushing leads further down the sales funnel or driving sales and revenue, you want to set some measurable targets.

At the same time, you’ll need to determine how much you can spend on your ads with an absolute maximum that you can’t go over. You might even want to start small and increase your spend once you’ve done some testing and reporting.

Once you have specific goals, you can figure out which agencies are in a position to help you achieve them and communicate your needs to them.

Consider different pricing structures

The smaller your business, the more important your budget is when outsourcing work. Your PPC spend needs to be cost effective and the pricing structure can impact on this.

Fee types are usually split into two categories:

  1. ad spend + a monthly management fee – separated out
  2. a fixed price plan

Most PPC management agencies charge a monthly fee aside from your ad spend. This way you know how much you’re spending on your ads themselves and then a flat rate for the campaign management.

A fixed price plan is often better for smaller businesses and individuals with reduced budgets.

You know that your costs won’t rise above a certain level but because the price incorporates the ad spend and a management fee, you won’t necessarily know how much you’re paying for each.

On the whole, PPC agencies shouldn’t increase their prices to compensate for increased ad spend unless other factors come into play.

Other pricing types or terms you may stumble across include:

  • Performance-based pricing – which sounds like a win-win situation but often leads to higher numbers of low-quality leads.
  • Percentage of monthly ad spend.
  • Flat monthly rates – as referred to above where you pay a retainer fee alongside your ad spend
  • Hybrid pricing – where you pay a base fee plus a percentage of ad spend, with the idea that if you’re paying more for a certain month, it’s because the agency is doing more for you.

Be realistic with your expectations around what PPC agencies can and cannot do or achieve

Before we dive in, we think it’s worth remembering that whilst PPC is an effective tool to reaching your awareness and revenue goals, it’s no silver bullet.

PPC agencies cannot be held accountable for achieving unrealistic marketing targets or reviving a weak digital strategy, acquiring hundreds of new customers within weeks, getting you rich quick or delivering the perfect campaign every time (particularly not at the beginning).

It can take time before campaigns start yielding results. Testing is important and will continue to fortify your campaigns.

Much like SEO and other digital strategies, PPC can be a slow-burner and you may even see a slight decrease as the changes take effect and you re-rank for better searches.

You should also consider your level of participation in the campaigns – i.e. will your team be hands-on or do you need the agency to completely take over?

To find out more about how to get the most out of your agency relationship, read the segment further below.

Things to Consider Before Employing an Agency

Although finding the best PPC management company can be a time-consuming task, the below pointers and guide will help get things underway.

  • Are they are data-driven?
  • What kind of strategy will they implement?
  • Do they have demonstrable experience?
  • Are they experts in your niche?
  • Will they utilise strategic partnerships?
  • Are they local search savvy?
  • Have they got the right certifications?
  • Can they provide evidence of their mobile optimisation capabilities?
  • Do they know their various PPC channels inside out?
  • Will they employ impeccable keyword research?
  • Does their knowledge encompass all things digital marketing?
  • Does their working style match your requirements?

Not all PPC agencies were created equal. Some excel in certain areas but may lack in others.

One won’t necessarily be better than the other, but their suitability depends on your requirements.

So let’s take a closer look at agency characteristics and their importance to you.

Are they are data-driven?

Good PPC agencies value data, analytics and results.

They start by using what they already know about your target market to develop high-yield campaigns from the outset.

From there, they use numbers from your own ongoing campaigns to strategise new ideas and tweak their approach.

If you can’t get proper reporting from campaign performance then you can’t directly tie revenue generated to ad spend.

And in such uncertain times, every penny from your marketing budget needs to be justifiable.

If an agency’s main metric to measure success is clicks, then it’s time to cut and run.

You pay for clicks but they don’t necessarily earn you any money or win any customers.

The focus should instead be on converting clicks at the highest rate possible. Further action after the first click from search is where clicks turn into clients.

The agency might secure conversions using engaging landing pages, customised pop ups or other creative assets.

In a nutshell, clicks cost you money, conversions make you money.

The agency will then need the analytics in place to analyse and report on different sections of your campaigns, all the way back to the keyword level.

As well as clicks/click-through rates and average cost-per-click (CPC), reporting should cover the number of impressions, leads/ cost-per-lead, keyword and ad performance, and conversions/cost-per-conversion.

And these are just the fundamentals. Many agencies will go above and beyond this to provide total transparency on every aspect of your campaign.

When you’re first starting out with the agency they should provide as standard:

  • Suggested PPC channels to target and why they’re important for your company/industry
  • Competitor analysis
  • Keyword research, with input from you when required
  • PPC monitoring
  • Ongoing campaign optimisation (based on their analysis)
  • Split testing (A/B) to figure out what works best
  • Ad scheduling

Depending on your digital knowledge and team size it is worth asking to maintain complete administrative ownership over your account, so you can access all of this information with ease and without going via third parties.

In your preliminary discussions you could ask what tools they use to measure PPC metrics (like those listed above), how often and in what format they’ll share data with you, and even whether you can have independent access to reporting dashboards.

What kind of strategy will they implement?

Identifying an agency’s strategic abilities is near impossible from their website alone.

As such you’ll need to ask the right questions. After all, the PPC campaign will only be as successful as the strategy behind it.

PPC management has become a commodity and you need to make sure you’re not just ending up with a half-qualified account manager who has been stretched too thin.

Apollo, for example, ensure that any account manager is by nature also an account strategist and will take the time to learn your business and goals inside out.

Strategy is what sustains performance and leads to continued improvement and efficiency within your campaigns.

Ask the agency which platforms would be most likely to drive the results based on your vertical and target audience.

If you’ve already done some PPC work on your own or with a previous agency, ask them why it hasn’t achieved the results you hoped and what changes they can make.

Check that they will also be able to intertwine your PPC and SEO strategies rather than running them in parallel.

Choosing an agency that is familiar with your existing digital marketing strategy or at least your niche can enhance your PPC efforts and make sure your budget goes as far as possible.

Do they have demonstrable experience?

This is usually an easy one to find online.

Search the agency’s website for information that proves they have knowledge and historical experience in your industry.

One way of surveying their subject knowledge is to have a read of their blog. It should be extensive and include everything from how-to guides, comments on latest trends or digital news, to original research and agency awards.

If they’ve got all of this, chances are they’re authoritative enough to help you climb up the SERPs and reach maximum customer numbers.

Another important thing to look out for is PPC case studies.

If you find that the best case studies, or those with cold hard facts on them, are trapped behind paywalls or require a sign up, then just get in touch with the agency’s business development team.

The more closely that the case study client profile matches your own, the better. It will serve as an indication that the agency has expertise in your area and previous campaigns can serve as a foundation to build your own.

Make sure that case studies demonstrate clear end results, but also how the campaigns were originally set up, the timeline of ROI and how PPC campaigns were optimised along the way.

Are they experts in your niche?

Finding an agency that has hundreds of case studies is well and good, but if all of their existing clients are from a sector far-removed from your own then you may be no better off.

Although setting up and monitoring PPC campaigns is somewhat uniform across sectors, each vertical has its own nuances.

For example, if you’re a travel company and the agency focusses primarily on tech or FMCG, they won’t have the subject knowledge to get the most out of your spend.

Instead, opting for a travel-marketing specialist will improve the setting up and outcomes of the campaign process.

Choosing an agency with experience in your niche, allows them to be more effective and efficient in their keywords, copy creation, targeting, etc.

In 2020 an impressive 61% of millennials purchased something due to an online or social media ad.

Working on a travel-based PPC strategy now for campaigns over the next six to 12 months is the perfect use of budget, as borders start to open and people start to move around freely once more.

With a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding travel safety and contradictory information rife online, travellers will look towards experts when it comes to planning their trips in 2021 more than ever before.

Travel will become increasingly complex, meaning that customers need to engage with agents and tour operators to help them manage complicated arrangements.

Having an industry-savvy agency will help you to accrue brand awareness, align your travel brand as a trustworthy thought leader and put you in good stead to attract customers when travel resumes.

As such, be on the lookout for case studies and testimonials from other businesses in your space.

Will they utilise strategic partnerships?

Smart agencies that have been around for a while will have strategic partnerships with various search and social media platforms.

From Twitter and Instagram, right through to Google or Amazon, they’ll get the inside scoop and be the first to know about new changes and updates.

The reason this is so important is because in digital marketing, things are constantly changing.

We’re referring to product and service tweaks, pricing changes and biggest of all – those pesky algorithms. To give you an idea – Google’s search algorithm changes around 600 times a year. Hard to keep up with? We agree.

They’ll also use first-party data gathered from previous campaigns about your specific audience and how they behave.

If they’ve got good working relationships with other first-party data sources, they can connect with them regularly to seek additional info that will help them to predict buying behaviours in your space.

Are they local search savvy?

Recent research found that 76% of people who search for something nearby on a smartphone will visit the business within one day.

As such, you need to ensure your agency know how to run locally targeted ads as well as nationwide campaigns. This will be of heightened importance if you have a physical store or run tours or activities in specific locations.

Over the last two years, searches for local places with the qualifier “near me” have grown 150% faster than comparable searches without such terms.

Finding out whether your agency of choice has a strong knowledge of local search (both paid and organic) may not be that easy from their website or sales pack alone.

So give them a call and ask how they approach local paid search objectives and how they can help you engage with your local community.

Do they measure the success of location-based keywords or use bid modifiers for location-specific queries?

Remember, it’s better to ask now than to find out halfway into your first campaign.

Do they have the right certifications?

There are all sorts of certifications that agencies might have but the key ones are

  • Google Ads Certification (formerly Google AdWords)
  • Facebook Blueprint Certification
  • Bing Ads Accreditation
  • Amazon Advertising Accreditation
  • YouTube Ads Certification

Although the last few may not be relevant to your business right now, Google Ads is a must and you may find that the others come in useful down the line.

If they’re Google Ads/ AdWords certified then you are assured that they’ve taken the time to understand PPC advertising and are willing to prove it by passing Google’s unique programme.

Going above and beyond your standard certifications, some PPC agencies work to secure strategic platform partnerships (like those that we mentioned above).

For example, a Facebook Marketing Partner will have experience providing custom-tailored Facebook marketing strategies and know how to leverage Facebook advertising to drive results.

You can either ask the agency which of the above they’ve got under their belt or look for the corresponding badges on their website.

Certifications from industry giants prove that they take keeping up with digital advertising trends seriously.

PPC agencies are required to update their certificates every year due to regular industry updates, meaning that they’re more likely to be on top of changes than you will be.

However, don’t let accreditation in all of these platforms be the make or break of your agency partnership decision. PPC specialists have to take exams and accreditation can cost a lot of money depending on ad spend.

You can always ask why they don’t yet have these certifications and other ways they upskill or stay on top of trends

Can they provide evidence of their mobile optimisation capabilities?

In an age where people are short on time and always on the move, on-the-go browsing is a trend that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Search advertising on mobile is expected to reach $22.8 billion by the end of 2020 and mobile devices account for over half of all clicks on search ads. Desktop is still important but it’s no longer king.

As such, PPC ads need to be easily accessible on devices of all sizes or your money is going to waste.

People may often see a travel advert in print whilst on public transport or flicking through a magazine, so you need to make sure your paid ads are coming up once they revert to online search.

As with so many of the above requirements, you may not be able to glean the information from an agency’s website so be sure to ask.

Of all the PPC agency characteristics, this is up there as one of the most important.

Ask to see mobile-specific results from previous campaigns alongside desktop reports, as well as reviewing mobile-optimised copy and display ads before your campaign gets underway.

Do they know their various PPC channels inside out?

There’s no right or wrong marketing channel and the decision will centre around your end goal.

Some of the most popular networks are:

  • Google Ads
  • Microsoft Ads (Bing Ads)
  • Facebook Ads
  • Instagram Ads
  • Linkedin Ads
  • AdRoll
  • Taboola/Outbrain
  • Twitter

We would always recommend selecting a few PPC platforms and running some tests to see works best for you.

Whilst there is no blueprint that can be applied to all businesses, we know what works well for travel and tour agencies from experience and ongoing research.

Some agencies may only manage search campaigns while others may design and manage multi-channel search and social media campaigns.

Once again, defining clear goals and required outcomes (as well as sharing as much information around your target audience as possible) will help your agency make the best decisions around which PPC networks should be employed.

Will they employ impeccable keyword research?

Keyword research involces finding words and phrases that users are searching for on Google and other search engines.

These terms are related to the products and services on your site and the most popular ones are typically the most expensive.

Google pretty much always gets it right – serving up ads for things we want, when we want them. 33% of people click on a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query.

But if you choose the wrong keyword, you’ll be paying a lot of money advertising to someone who wants something like your product/service, but not quite.

The fastest way to see a return on your investment is by targeting keywords based on intent, for example “buy cheap flights to France” or “package trip to India 2021”. This indicates they’re ready (or almost ready) to get their wallet out.

PPC visitors are 50% more likely to purchase something than organic visitors. But if you’re not using the right keywords, then those visitors will bounce right off the landing page without taking any further actions.

Even if your goal is brand awareness rather than sales, getting the right keywords will help you to connect with your customers and show them relevant messaging that matches their level of intent.

Ask the agency which keyword research tools they use, keyword strategies and metrics, and various testing they can run throughout the campaign (for example A/B testing).

Does their knowledge encompass all things digital marketing?

PPC advertising (when done well) is a truly outstanding tool, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

If the rest of your digital marketing strategy is flawed then you can’t expect to achieve your goals. Strong keywords and superior algorithm knowledge simply won’t be enough to prop up your business.

As such, great agencies can look at the bigger picture and pinpoint some things that aren’t working, along with making suggestions for things that you can tweak.

That’s why going for an integrated agency is your best bet – one that can work across a combined SEO and PPC strategy, social media, website, content marketing and more.

Does their working style match your requirements?

A PPC agency can have all the technical know-how in the world but if they’re a nightmare to work with then it’s going to be a trying journey.

Ask the agency about their communication process, including whether you’ll have an account manager, director or entire team. On top of that you need to establish how they work and what level of involvement from you they need or encourage.

To minimise any miscommunication down the line, you should set expectations in your very first meeting and check that everyone is on the same page.

If they’re a bigger agency with lots of clients on board, find out how long it will take for them to implement requested changes.

Make sure you’ve met the team you’ll be working with before locking things in to see how well you get along. Are they able to explain things at the right level and do they make you feel comfortable with the potential plan of action?

It’s not unusual for agencies and clients (you) to work together for several years, so it’s important that the collaboration goes well from day one.

If your agency is not fun to work with, don’t work with them. If they’re switched on, easy to get hold of and put you at ease, great. If they’ve got a jazzy office with a ping pong table and beer fridge to boot? Even better!

How to Get the Most Our of Your PPC Agency, Relationship and Campaigns

Set clear goals and communicate your expectations


Like we mentioned at the start, you can’t undertake this journey until you know what you want to get out of it.

Once you have measurable goals and objectives, you can communicate them clearly to your agency of choice.

If you’re unsure of what exactly it is that you’re after, sit down with your own company’s marketing, sales and management team to seek clarity. After that you can sit down with the agency to communicate what you want.

It will be helpful to give them as much information as possible including data from previous campaigns you’ve run and digital marketing reports.

Hard data is the fastest way for them to build a complete picture about your target audience’s behaviours, as well as what has or hasn’t worked in the past.

Ensure that the ownership of content, collateral and creative assets is 100% yours.

From ad copy and landing pages, to keywords lists and and AdWords accounts, it’s important that it belongs to you in case you should ever need to change agency. That way you can take it with you rather than starting from scratch again.

On top of that, if you maintain ownership of your AdWords account, the information accumulated can’t be handed off to, or used to on the account of, a competitor – now or in the future.

Have one main point of contact, regardless of your dedicated team size

It’s important to have one primary point-of-contact with whom you can discuss any questions, concerns and strategic changes.

Having a whole team is great but being bounced around between individuals can really slow decisions down.

If your main contact is a senior team member, check that you will be able to reach them with ease rather than your questions getting lost in a daily barrage of emails.

Have regular check ins (but don’t micromanage)

PPC strategies need to be continuously tweaked, based on changes from the online platforms and networks and also ongoing reporting.

Set up regular meetings for the agency to share data from campaigns and discuss changes they’d like to make.

Here you’ll be able to ask any questions about what the reports are showing. Be sure to analyse everything before making any changes to your spending.

Don’t forget that they’ll need your input too, so don’t skip out on scheduled check-ins.

It might even be worth occasionally bringing along someone from your management team to get the occasional update on how well things are going or if your goals have shifted.

On the flipside, don’t bombard your agency with emails or constantly request updates. Let them do their thing and trust the process.

Be prepared to take on their advice and suggestions

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Whilst it’s great to be hands on and have regular check-ins, try to remember that you’ve hired a PPC agency for a reason.

They’re the professionals and once they’ve got all of the key information and targets from you, you should trust them to make the right decisions for you brand.

After all, there’s no point going through this painstaking process to find the perfect agency if you don’t intend to loosen up on the reins.

Getting Started

Now you’ve got all the information you need to make the best choices for your brand or company, it’s time to get started.

Make a list of your expectations and requirements.

We know we’ve covered this one numerous times above but we can’t emphasise it enough. Clearly laying our your goals and requirements is the building block for this entire process.

It will also make it much easier to start the search process. There are literally hundreds of PPC agencies to choose from.

Each will have their own nuances and specialise in certain industries or campaigns.

Come up with a list of agency options

Now comes the time to start researching. You can either google PPC agency and your locale or your industry type (e.g PPC agency London or PPC agency travel).

Alternatively you could use an agency directory or look specifically for those who are Google partners, use Google Marketing Platform Partners’ search tool instead.

Your final option is to talk to people in your professional network and ask for referrals. Whether that’s ex-marketing colleagues, previous employers or other businesses in your industry/vertical.

Once you’ve built a sizeable list, make sure they meet all of your key requirements listed above or scratch them off and you’ll soon find yourself with a shortlist.

Take a deeper dive

This is the part that takes a bit of time. So roll up your sleeves, open up your laptop and head online.

Check out each agency’s case studies and how they work. Do they have any customer testimonials from businesses like yours?

Peruse their specifications, how long they’ve been around, team size and structures, etc.

If you’ve got offices abroad then see if the agency also has a global presence. Never underestimate how useful it is to have teams in all the right time zones.

Learn about each agency’s methodology and ask questions

Get in touch with your shortlisted agencies and set up a meeting.

They will likely pitch you with a presentation around their bidding strategies, keyword research, data collection, reporting and campaign management.

They’ll also put together a personalised proposal or quote.

There are plenty of agencies that offer free consultations to give you an insight into their level of expertise or will show you example dashboards for previous/existing campaigns and clients.

Sign on the dotted line

You’ve made it all the way to the finish line and this is the scary/exciting part. Just be sure to carefully read the terms and conditions before you sign the contract.

Some things you want to hone in on will be definitions of services they’re providing you, who will have ownership of which assets, what is expected from both parties, pricing structure and retainer fees, confidentiality agreements, length of contract and terms of termination.

When looking at how long to sign yourself in for bear a couple of things in mind.

With the rise of AI technology it could be argued that PPC management companies may eventually become obsolete. Google has improved its automation technology with features like smart bidding.

As such, you may not want to lock yourself in for years to come as technology coninutes to develop as rapidly as a runaway train.

However, there’s a reason that most agencies require some degree of commitment.

Building your PPC strategy and campaigns from scratch takes a real investment of time and money from them, with a lot of hands-on work to tweak and refine campaigns until they are working well. In fact, most agencies don’t actually make any money on an account until they are several months in.

This is why it’s important to look at case studies and testimonials to check the agency is a forward-thinking enterprise with their finger on the digital pulse. If you’re signing up for a year or two, you want to continue getting great results.

Agencies can prove their commitment by offering minimal contracts and discussing what they do to make sure they’re always on top of changing trends.

So all we’d say is take the time to review the stipulations and make sure you’re comfortable with the T’s and C’s before you sign on the dotted line.

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