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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

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The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
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The 5 PPC agency relationship problems that are major red flags

By Dan Baum

Dan Baum also recommends this free guide, The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.

The 5 PPC agency relationship problems that are major red flags

Have you ever had the weird “feeling” that something just isn’t right in a relationship?

Free Guide: The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Romantic or otherwise, we’ve all been there.

There's something you can’t quite put your finger on — an indescribable, insidious suspicion. A doubt seeping slowly around the edges of your previously unscathed (and seemingly impenetrable) happiness bubble.

There have been signs. Nothing significant of course, but still, you find you can’t shake that feeling.

"Something isn't right." 

I believe modern-day philosopher (and established "man about town") Ryan Howard put it best when he said:




Granted, those feelings aren't always warranted. (In some instances, you're creating a problem where there isn't one.) But sometimes it turns out to be something. And you weren't wrong.

Now, I want to ask you a question, and I promise I'm not trying to make you paranoid. But I do want you to be honest:

Have you ever had similar feelings of doubt about your relationship with your PPC or digital ads agency?

Working with a PPC agency to assist you and your marketing team is always a challenge. How do you really know the work they are doing? Can you trust everything they are telling you?

Why trust is so incredibly important in a PPC agency relationship

Like a romantic relationship, you have to have trust between you and your agency partner. Without it, there will always be questions, lingering doubts, and a growing unspoken resentment that will, ultimately, kill the relationship. Without fail.

Your agency team has to be an extension of your own team, working with you collaboratively to reach your goals. So, if you are having that “feeling” about your paid ads agency, then they are probably not being as transparent with you as they should be.

Or, more to the point, you need to admit to yourself that you don't trust them. To deliver. To be honest, even when it's tough. To be the strategic paid media agency partner you really need.

From being on dozens of sales calls and working with companies who have come to us after having worked with other dysfunctional PPC agency partners in the past, I‘ve found that there are still a lot of agencies out there who aren't operating with the best of intentions.

To be honest, I've hit my limit. 

With that in mind, here are the five most important warning signs you need to look for in your current or next PPC agency. In my experience, they are the most common and those agencies are guilty of them because they are either trying to save a client relationship or create a sense of success that is surface-level at best — and it's gone on long enough.

1. They 'own' your data and login credentials

Your company's website is just that — your website. Why should anyone else own anything having to do with the performance or results your website is pulling in?

This isn’t to say you can’t let them have access. In fact, it’s essential for your paid media team to be in those tools on a daily basis. But "the end all be all" ownership of your accounts needs to be in your name — never your agency's

🔎 Related: Should you trust your agency with the 'keys' to your website?

It can definitely seem a lot easier to just let them handle all the setups and connections required for proper reporting and tracking. However, I promise it is worth the time and effort to let them coach you through the process instead of letting them do it themselves. 

Yes, you are paying them a lot of money.

But if you ever part ways with your PPC agency, you want to maintain access (and, most of all, control) to all your historic data gathered throughout the partnership. 

As shady as a practice as it may sound, some agencies are guilty of holding that data hostage in order to keep the agreement going. And, as I'm sure you know, legal battle is far more time-consuming (and costly) than spending an extra hour at the beginning to get your own accounts set up. 

Your relationship with your PPC agency should be about trust and nothing more. When deciding whether or not to go with a particular agency, any talk of limited access to anything should be a major red flag.

2. They make specific, time-bound guarantees for leads or revenue returns on your ad spend

If an agency makes specific promises to you for "X leads" or "$X,000 in revenue returns" based on your budget, you should probably end that call immediately and run, do not walk to a different agency. 

I know some of you may not want to hear this, but the creator of Google Ads himself couldn’t guarantee anything once your ads go up. 

The truth is, no one really knows how a campaign is going to run, as there are way too many factors that can influence its success or failure. The only thing we can do is apply what we know has worked in the past and learn as we go, based on how the account performs. 

It still blows my mind how many ad agencies out there are still sticking to this pre-2006 style of promoting their services. It’s a sales tactic. Nothing more. 

Just look at this ad that showed up when I googled “ppc agencies”...


Guaranteed 25% more sales in two months? Tell me your secrets you wise and wonderful PPC wizards. (Yeah right.)

Of course, this agency has probably gotten their clients some great success in the past. But if they really could guarantee those kinds of results all the time, then they would have companies banging down their door trying to work with them — myself included!

When speaking with a potential PPC agency, go into that call on guard for any sort of bold claims that sound too good to be true. At the end of the day, it is your money that they are spending, so make sure you are comfortable with the potential results they expect.

3. They're trying to wow you with outdated case studies that wouldn't work today

This is another warning sign during the sales process. You should always ask what year their astounding case studies are from.

The paid media industry is one of the fastest moving segments of digital marketing. Policies are constantly updated, new features are added, and so on — and you need to know that your agency is able to keep up.

What I mean is, what worked in 2017 (tactics, strategies, etc.) is likely not going to perform as well in 2020. 

So, don't be afraid to dig in a little deeper during your sales calls. Ask them how they tripled that client’s return on ad spend and when it happened, so that you have a better gauge of how that agency keeps up. (If they do at all.)

Also, ask about the results they've achieved (if any) for clients in your specific industry. If an agency has never worked with a company in your space before, that’s not a deal-breaker.

However, you’ll need to be ready to educate your PPC manager about the ins and outs of your specific company and competitors. The warning sign here would be if they have worked in your space in the past but are withholding lackluster results.

4. They're always telling you their story, when they should be telling you your story

This is especially true when it comes time for them to report to you on how your campaigns performed for a given month.

And when I say, "they're telling you their story," what I mean by that is that they are strategically highlighting certain aspects of a campaign or certain metrics — areas where they look like rockstars — and why they are the best decision you ever made for your business.

They also won’t talk about what didn’t go well, what went wrong, and the lessons that were learned to make the campaign or your account more successful moving forward.

While highlighting the good stuff is, well, a good thing, those "what didn't work" points are often way more important than the wins themselves. 

Only knowing half of what’s going on within your accounts is harmful to your business and your own education. Transparency is key, and it allows you to learn a lot more about how your target  audiences behave online. This can help your marketing far beyond your efforts in the paid space. 

A lot of PPC managers that are operating in this mindset are afraid to tell you exactly what they are doing because they don’t want you to be able to replicate it on your own. They don’t want to give you their “magic sauce” and have you try and manage your accounts on your own. 

The truth is that this “magic sauce” usually involves a lot of tests and experiments that got your account to the place where it is. Which is super valuable information that everyone involved should know.

Long story short, you need to hear about what’s not working, as well as what is working — that's how you'll really know your agency is being open and honest with you.

Because, just like in a romantic relationship, you have to know that you and your partner can speak honestly and candidly about what isn't working. You have to be able to have those tough conversations, where you learn something and grow together.

Otherwise, it's just not going to work out over the long haul.

5. Finally, they feel like a transactional vendor, not a strategic paid ads agency partner

This goes back to whether or not you hired a partner or a vendor.

Partners will want to help you will tell you that they want to help you. They will discuss your business goals, come up with a realistic game plan, and work with you on how to reach those goals. Vendors, on the other hand, will hem and haw over cost and talk about how many meetings you’ll get over the course of a week or month.

Your PPC agency should feel like an extension of your team. They will dig in deep when things are a little tight and celebrate with you when you hit your goals. 

Of course, there will always be talk of invoicing and payments — or the occasional “I can’t get to that until next week.” (Those administrative topics are inescapable.) But if the relationship is a true and genuine partnership — not just transactional — then you won’t mind as much. 

It's time to put on your detective cap

OK, let's put all of our cards on the table.

You stumbled across this article because you’re either in the market for an agency to manage your Google Ads account or you are falling victim to that sinking “what if” feeling we all get when we suspect something just isn’t right.

Whatever it is, you need to be on the lookout for these tell-tale signs.

Making the decision on a partner to manage your PPC accounts doesn’t have to be some sort of "whodunit?!" Agatha Christie mystery. But knowing that your agency has your business’ most aggressive digital sales and marketing goals at the top of their priority list is imperative if you want to see the same results as the countless case studies that are thrown your way.

By making sure your digital ad agency is well equipped to work with a company in your industry, they aren’t making incredulous claims, and they feel like a true extension of your marketing team, you can be confident that the agency partner you choose is the best option for you and your company.

The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Free Guide:

The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
Read the Guide
The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Free Guide:

The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Generate more traffic, leads, and sales with search engine optimization

In this free guide, you will learn:

  • What search engines are and who uses them.
  • What search engine optimization is and how it works.
  • Best practices for search engine optimization.


Search Engine Optimization
Working With Marketing Agencies
Paid Media
Published on January 24, 2020

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