Is Your PPC Agency Doing Their Job?!



Marketers frequently attend AdWords training simply to better manage the company that manages their PPC campaigns. That should not be surprising. Not only is the company paying a lot of money for the ads, they are also paying for an agency to make the most of it. When that doesn’t happen, and ad spend is used inefficiently, the marketer is losing ROI at both ends.

It is the level of trust, however, that I find most surprising.

“I know my agency isn’t doing their job,” says the marketing director at XYZ Corporation. “I’m here to learn enough to prove it.”

Whoa! I encourage people to train at every opportunity. Training leads to knowledge, awareness, perspective, career advancement, etc. But if your only goal is catching a lazy agency sleeping on the job, this post is for you.

Monitoring Account Activity

AdWords has a change history report that monitors account history. If your account is actively spending money, and the last change to your account ends with 2014, somebody might not be managing it to its fullest potential.


Wait! Before sending an angry email, give the manager the benefit of the doubt by answering these questions:

  • Is account spend so low that it takes months to accrue enough volume that the manager can make changes based statistically significant data?
  • Does the account have a long, long history of optimized performance? Fewer tweaks are required for old accounts.
  • Does your business or industry experience seasonality? Less is sometimes more depending on the time of year.

If the answer to all questions is no, you can proceed with your what’s-the-deal? Inquiry. But as an occasional recipient of those emails, give your project manager a chance to explain. There is often a strategic thought process behind most action and inaction.

Reviewing Match Types

Match types can tell a lot about a campaign and its goals. Using all broad-match keywords could be a clever awareness generating tactic or a sign of mismanagement and inefficient ad spend.

Let’s say the follow keywords appear in a campaign for a bicycle shop that sells mountain bikes. These seem like relevant keywords until we realize that they are broad match and serve ads for “mountain music festival” and “Yamaha 1900 cc bike.” Neither are bicycles, and neither are a good use of ad spend.


Wait! You know the drill:

  • Does the campaign or ad group have negative keywords that would eliminate wasteful spending?
  • Is the campaign used for display or remarketing? It is common to use broader match types for remarketing efforts.

Evaluating Search Terms

The search term report documents the words that people actually used before clicking your ads. It is a great place to verify the broad match targeting that we outlined in #2. The following shows that people are clicking on irrelevant ads for “motorcycles” and “yamaha bikes.”


Wait! One last time:

  • Is the date window set to the last 30 days? Larger date ranges may show data from before your relationship with the agency began.
  • Was a lot of money wasted? Sometimes agency managers will test tangential keywords, but total cost should never get out of control.

Final Thoughts

I have said it before but I must say it again: PLEASE GIVE YOUR AGENCY THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. They almost certainly know what they are doing, and manage your campaigns in a way that provides an incredible return on ad spend that would not be possible without them. But sometimes that’s not the case, and you deserve to know if they are doing their job. Hopefully this post helped answer that question.

Andrew Garberson is the Director of the Digital Marketing Strategy department. He has led digital marketing efforts in a variety of settings, including agency, entrepreneurial and nonprofit environments, and has master's degrees in business administration and mass communications. An Iowan at heart and Pittsburgher in spirit, Andrew commutes on his 10-speed most days between March and December -- after all, he's only human.

  • Nice article Andrew,

    Here i would like to add one more point; an agency should keep their eye on search term report and keep improving the negative keyword list. If you are a client keep checking negative keywords list as it is a good sign that your agency is closely monitoring the actual keywords and trying to reduce cost per conversion. Being a Google adwords partner agency, we have seen huge benefits of it.

  • Michelle Anderson

    Nice article. I also would caution against just looking at the “added/excluded” bar. Sometimes I see words here and instead of clicking that, I choose a different match type and add it there – which would be reflected in the change history and not here.

    • That’s a great point. I tend to do the same thing. Similarly, I always remind people to check the date range. “All time” vs “last 7 days” should be WAY different.

  • Great article for educating clients. I tell my clients to check Change History though I’m not sure how many do 🙂

    On agency side, it’s helpful to keep a list of tasks (I just keep mine in a spreadsheet & tell my clients they can ask any time for a list of tasks I have completed in a timeframe) to have some record not totally dependent on Change History if you ever get the “what’s the deal” question. That way you can also keep track of client communication, analysis, analytics adjustments, Tag Manager tweaks, etc that don’t necessarily show up in Adwords Change History.

    Helps educate the client that more work happens on agency side than the Adwords UI shows.

    • That’s an excellent point. There’s more to management than max CPC adjustments. Change history reports do not report analysis, reading Google documentation, or laying awake at night thinking about strategy!

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