5 Signs That Your PPC Agency Is Dropping the Ball

February 7, 2023

ot all PPC agencies are created equal when it comes to delivering the full potential of your ad budget.

Your PPC (or paid search) strategy is a new customer pipeline that’s essential for sustaining your business growth. It’s the #1 late-journey channel to reach and convert high intent leads - so you can’t afford not to get it right.

The difference between a good and a poor PPC agency is night and day.

If you leave a poorly performing PPC agency in place, the best case scenario is poor budget ROI far below potential. The worst case scenario is business growth or even revenue declining over time. You could lose your job if you're the CMO or paid media owner.

If you’ve been considering a PPC audit to get to the bottom of your agency’s performance, read on for: 

5 Signs That Your PPC Agency Is Failing You

Any one of these 5 signs that your PPC agency isn’t performing should probably be a deal breaker. But if you’re seeing all 5 of these, it’s definitely time to break up!

Do bear in mind - you get what you pay for. 

An agency that hires the best talent and delivers results is worth the money. The higher ROI on your PPC budget should adequately cover their fee.

1. They Aren’t Proactive

  • They behave like “task rabbits” and “yes-men”, following instructions rather than performing like a true consulting PPC partner. 
  • You have to chase for communication or updates and responsiveness is slow.
  • Deadlines or key dates are missed.

What You Need - A great PPC agency will lead you as a consultant, proactively pointing out what your PPC strategy needs to be successful. A true PPC partner will challenge your preconceptions, guiding you through the process.

2. They Don’t Build a Holistic Strategy

  • They don’t ask about the objectives, targets and wider strategy your business is trying to achieve.
  • They don’t take time to understand your brand and your industry.
  • They don’t track how PPC activity is directly affecting the bottom line.

What You Need - A great PPC agency will take a wider and longer-term outlook on your brand’s objectives and positioning. They will have a view on your competitors, your TAM, key KPIs, and develop forecasting that ties back allocated campaign budgets to expected results. They will set and share clear PPC KPIs that layer into achieving your target business objectives.

3. The Team Is Junior Or Has High Turnover

  • You only ever communicate with junior account managers and can’t get any of the senior team’s time. 
  • Account managers are thinly spread - you have 1 person assigned to your account and you get the feeling they have too many accounts or are more focused on some other clients.
  • The turnover (or attrition) of the agency staff you work with is high, and knowledge of your campaign history and set-up suffers as a result.

What You Need - A great PPC agency looks after their talent and carefully manages staff to client ratio, resulting in a high quality service. You have regular access to senior PPC strategists and there is deep knowledge and consistent management of your PPC accounts.

4. Reporting Isn’t Great Or Results Are Unclear

  • You don’t proactively receive regular reporting on your PPC campaigns. 
  • Reporting accuracy is questionable, or tangible financial results and business outcomes are unclear.
  • They only report the on-platform metrics provided, or any reporting from outside the ad platform is limited to Google Analytics.

What You Need - A great PPC agency will use their own attribution tools (covering MTA, MMM, incrementality, etc.) to track which ad exposures are most effective for conversion. They’ll report direct business outcomes for the budget invested in your search campaigns and ad groups. They can offer additional support to improve closed-loop reporting so that bottom-line financial results are accurately tracked. Reporting will be clear, the cadence will be regular, and your questions will be answered as part of the process.

5. You Aren't Seeing The Results Promised

  • Poor ROI performance (after 2 quarters from activation) is the most important sign that you need a better PPC agency, ASAP.
  • The traffic generated by campaigns is low quality and doesn’t convert.
  • Brand awareness or vanity metrics are used as an excuse for poor conversion rates.
  • Ad budget allocation is misaligned for growth, often over-invested in late journey (bottom-funnel) and not feeding a pipeline at the top.

What You Need - The skillet of a great PPC agency will cover full journey planning and matching budget allocation, right through to conversion rate optimization (CRO). All ad touchpoints are designed to work together in a complete journey extending beyond just search. Budget ROI will be maximized in the short-term without sacrificing long-term growth using a full-funnel strategy.

PPC Audit Metrics That Will Tell You The Truth

Ideally, you can use selected KPI benchmarks to tell you how well your current PPC agency is performing.

And if your agency isn’t reporting these, it’s definitely a red flag!

To run a quick and simple PPC audit on your agency, here are the top KPIs that every brand should have visibility on. 

(Please note: the guideline benchmarks we have provided below are high-level and can vary widely by industry. Contact us if you’d like benchmarking and KPI support).

1. Impression Share (IS)

IS for chosen keywords is a great indicator of how effective your bidding strategy is, and also indicates the search algorithm’s quality score for your ad copy and landing pages. 

If your IS is <20% for all non-branded keywords, there’s definitely a problem. However look for >80% IS for branded keywords, with ~95% being really good.

2. Branded vs. Non-Branded % of Total Spend

Unless you are an extremely well-known brand in a highly competitive environment, you should not be spending >10% of your total search budget on branded terms. 

If you are, it’s typically a case that whoever is managing the account is trying to inflate performance. Branded terms will outperform all other terms given that searchers are putting in queries to find your brand specifically. They already have brand awareness and the highest intent.

As long as your brand appears on the first SERP organically, your ad budget is more effectively spent getting in front of users who are:

  • Searching for your products or solutions but without being brand specific.
  • Searching branded keywords for your competitors.

3. Click-Through Rate (CTR)

CTR will tell you if your search ad copy is giving the right message to a relevant audience. 

If CTR is below 1% then one of these elements is way out of alignment. You want a CTR of at least 3% for your paid results, but ideally 5%+.

4. Conversion Rate (CVR)

Whatever your business model, your PPC agency should help you set up conversion goals on all your search ad landing pages, such as completed visitor actions. 

What qualifies as a good CVR varies a lot by industry, however good CVRs for B2B brands is 6% on average, while DTC should look for at least ~3-5%. 

In addition to those:

5. For B2B brands - Cost Per MQL

By nature of most B2B conversion processes, you’ll have a longer period between ad click, sales conversion and accounts receivable payments. Closed-loop reporting will have a couple of extra steps, perhaps relying on some manual inputs from the sales team. That’s why B2B brands with offline sales conversion processes need to lean more heavily on MQL generation rather than conversions or revenue for immediate traffic quality and ROI feedback. You’ll need to develop measurable MQL criteria for this metric.

Cost per MQL does vary dramatically by industry vertical. Around $200 to $300 per MQL would be low, and for some can be ~$1,500. Industry benchmarks are an important data source here. 

Your agency should consistently monitor first-step and next-step conversion rates for MQLs through the entire pipeline, optimizing for higher quality leads and faster sales cycles through closed-won.  

6. For DTC brands - ROAS

As an ecommerce operator, you have the luxury of precisely tracking immediate ad conversions and order values to determine ROAS by revenue results. Just watch out for double attribution across your active ad platforms, especially if your current PPC agency only uses on-platform reporting!

Around $2 in revenue to $1 in ad costs is average. However a 4:1 ratio — $4 in revenue to $1 in ad costs — is a better target that a great agency will aim for.

Summing Up

At Half Past Nine, we work with brands who want more than the standard marketing agency service and are ready to invest in paid customer acquisition more strategically.

We don’t see ourselves as merely an “agency". As our clients will tell you (just check out our Clutch reviews), we continually go beyond what is expected. Our proactive consultancy service: 

  • Brings stronger strategic direction.
  • Builds complete customer journeys with precisely timed targeting built on intent signals.
  • Delivers above average paid media results, extracting the full growth potential of your budget.

Learn more about how we help brands scale quickly and sustainably, delivering holistic strategy support as a true agency partner.

Or get in touch for a free scoping call - we’d be interested to hear your objectives and discuss making them a reality.

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