Hiring an agency can make a lot sense when your organisation lacks experience or resources. However, there are companies who trade in “smoke and mirrors” rather than seeking to add true value and even the best agencies struggle to understand the nuances of customers and products in a B2B context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

1) You need more ads, each with fewer keywords (= higher specificity)

You have got a lot of competition on the page. More adverts allow you to match adverts more closely to the search terms.  A higher correlation between the text in your ad and the search terms (ideally EXACTLY the same) will lead to a higher click-thru rate and be kinder to your budget. Increasing the numbed of ads is a classic easy win for an agency.

2) Agencies struggle with B2B products and customers.

For a number of reasons, digital marketing agencies are heavy on digital and light on marketing. Agencies can relate to B2C because we are all consumers. However, B2B – which is 90% of the value chain – is a different story. The background of marketing agencies is usually web design or graphic design. Therefore typically they are not in a strong position to understand the nuances of B2B products, B2B customers and your value proposition. There are also plenty of PPC-only sharks that exist simply because they can see a fast buck to be made.

Agencies rely on keyword planning tools as their starting point, which can be very wasteful. For example, the difference between “silver widgets” and “high voltage silver widgets” could mean paying for a high volume of visitors that are never going to buy your product because they are looking for a lower cost, generic product. Taking responsibility for your keywords BEFORE you delegate your PPC activities will probably save you a LOT of money.

3) It isn’t that difficult to get rid unwanted traffic

Cutting out waste is such an easy win for agencies. They can appear to be miracle workers only because they apply negative keywords to filter out unwanted traffic. For example – a searcher using the phrase “silver widget jobs” is clearly not a potential customer – so clearly it makes sense to set “jobs”as a negative keyword. Companies often try to use as many keywords as possible to catch as many visitors as possible. With a limited budget this can be incredibly wasteful. You simply don’t want to pay for traffic that has no chance of converting to a customer.

I recall taking on an AdWords account for a company operating in a niche market. One of their objectives was to display their ad when a customer searched for a competitor. However, the way it was implemented led to a significant proportion of the ad budget being wasted:

  • The name of one of the competitors was a TLA (Three Letter Acronym). Consequently any searcher using those three letters in that order anywhere in their search phrase could lead to an impression – and that is an ENORMOUS amount of impressions. Even though the ad would clearly have a low relevance for almost all searches, the sheer volume of impressions meant that it still managed get lots of paid clicks for traffic that was never, EVER going to convert.
  • The company’s biggest competitor had a similar name to the #1 manufacturer of computer motherboard in the world and was set for “loose match”. You get the picture…

4) Once a PPC account is optimised it doesn’t need much work

The amount of work to set up and initial optimisation of a PPC account can be huge, but once this is done, the maintenance work is a lot lower. Beware of paying an agency to do very little except issue you an invoice. The change history in Google AdWords shows the level of activity within the account. A PPC specialist once told me this was his favourite tool for getting lazy competitor agencies fired.

5) Increasing the amount of visitors is easy

For any given budget this is simply about reducing the cost per click (CPC) to squeeze the maximum number of clicks from the budget. Beware of any company offering to increase your traffic by 20% (or similar).  More tyre-kickers isn’t what you are looking for.

6) You are aiming to increase sales not traffic

The commercial outcome is the most important metric. Who cares if your traffic increases by 50% if your enquiries or sales stay the same?

7) A high quality score will lead to Google being kinder to you.

Google is a search engine that is judged by users on providing the kind of results they are looking for. Relevancy and credibility are still a fundamental part of the equation – even on PPC. Consequently, the quality and relevance of the content on your landing pages needs to be good. But anyway, you need this to nurture your visitors to enquiries/sales – not much point paying for traffic if you can’t convert them, right? Beware of companies focussed on pay per click that may not be very strong at content marketing.

Using an agency CAN make a lot of sense

The relationship between a company and a contracted agency has to be considered on a case by case basis. The golden rule is that it must create value i.e. the improved profitability exceeds the cost of the agency and any additional work required by you.  If your company hasn’t got the resources and ultimately there is a net gain, then commissioning an agency has to be a good idea. Just be careful in selecting an agency that fits well with your objectives and that the effectiveness of your spend is measured regularly in a way that assesses its contribution to your business.