This is a topic that’s been covered in many other blogs over the years, but I thought I’d add my own perspective, especially since it has somewhat changed over the years as PPC Marketing, particularly Google Adwords, has developed. The initial approach a potential PPC firm should take to managing your campaign would vary quite a bit depending on several factors such as type of site/industry, whether there’s an existing campaign, etc. So, there isn’t really a set list of questions that would suit every case. Whatever the situation, there are certain skills you should be sure a potential PPC firm posesses before it is trusted with managing your campaign.
Not nearly enough can be said about this. There is a certain understanding of PPC advertising, and how it fits in and influences other types of traffic, that can only come with years of experience in managing campaigns and interpreting statistics. If your potential firm doesn’t have adequate experience, they are likely to make a lot of trial and error mistakes that a more experienced firm would foresee, causing your campaigns to deliver lower ROI than they should, especially in the beginning. The ads are also the “face” of your company, and if the ad copy is poor, or the landing pages are not intuitive based on the search query, your image and reputation could be damaged for good. Ask how many years your campaign manager has been doing PPC professionally. A manager should have years of experience with all sorts of different sites and all sorts of different budgets. Also, find out how much this person will actually be managing your campaign, or if the majority of the work will be passed on to a less-experienced underling.
Experience without progression is pretty much useless. New features in Adwords are being added all the time, and advertisers who are early adopters can gain a huge edge over the competition, or at least remain competitive if the competition is also using the latest tools and techniques. Evaluating the degree to which the potential firm is progressive, and just their overall level of skill, can be tough without being a professional yourself. However, you can get an idea of how up-to-date the firm is by asking about some new Adwords developments and seeing how well they can explain them to you. It would be very worthwhile for the person evaluating a potential PPC firm to do a little reading on the Google Adwords Blog, particularly posts like this: http://adwords.blogspot.com/2010/12/10-of-our-favorite-adwords-innovations.html. Put the potential firm on the spot; pick a few of those new Adwords features and ask them to explain them to you in plain terms verbally, and whether or not they think any of these features would be useful for your campaign. Or, just ask them, what are some of the latest features in Adwords and how can we utilize them? If the manager doesn’t know about this stuff by now they’re pretty much in the dust, as will be your campaign.
Reporting should be totally transparent, and you should get some sort of regular, standardized report that clearly shows the current and historical ROI of the campaign. The report should factor in all costs, including click costs and whatever fees are paid to the managing firm. You need to make sure you can easily verify the figures being reported to you, particularly conversions. When dealing with a large amount of data, the figures can easily be presented in a way that really slants things to give more credit to the PPC campaign than it really deserves. Have the firm explain how they will be measuring performance i.e. what analytics package will they use. Whatever they do, you should at least have something of your own that you control, like Google Analytics, set up on your site with conversion tracking. You need to make sure the managing firm will evaluate PPC performance within the context of overall site performance. Sometimes PPC done wrong can not only provide negative ROI itself, but also negatively affect other forms of traffic. When done right, PPC should not only provide positive ROI, but also provide a synergetic boost to other forms of traffic, particularly organic and direct. Make sure the potential firm will be monitoring these sorts of effects, and spend as much time as you can on your own looking at and trying to understand your own stats.