Recently I’ve had a front row seat to a seemingly good PPC firm ripping off a client. It is a vivid case within the all too prevalent trend of bad PPC firms that hurt the reputation of the whole search marketing industry and drain cash and opportunity from clients.

In this case the perpetrator is a Google Partner who broke Google’s Partner rules, and engaged in egregious disrespect for the client. The client (now with DISC) is a substantial organization employing hundreds–and perhaps soon to employ a few less thanks to funds drained fruitlessly by the dishonest PPC agency.

I often tell prospects that the greatest danger is not the robo-called or spam-emailed promises of “page one in Google” and the like, which are obvious scams, but rather the firms that have good websites, stellar sales people, even Google Adwords Partner status, yet mercilessly exploit business people’s lack of knowledge of what good PPC and SEO require.

Case in point:

  • The offending PPC firm, which is a Google “Premier Partner” (their website claims one of only 21 in the US) set-up a PPC campaign for a regional service where 75% of the spend was triggered by any searches containing a single, very general word nationwide, for about $7 per click. 95%+ of searches triggering ads were almost totally irrelevant and drained the monthly budget within days.
  • Similarly absurd PPC ads were dumped into an AdWords account that was not optimized in the least for well over a year.
  • The bounce rate was over 8 times that of organic traffic, and PPC done right almost always has much lower bounce rates and higher conversions.
  • No conversion goals were set-up in Google Analytics.
  • The agency denied the client access to their AdWords account, claiming that such access would show the client all of the PPC firm’s client accounts. The agency presumed the client does not know that Google enables agency client centers to give single-client access. In fact, Google strongly encourages its partners to give this access to clients.

I will report this firm to Google. Google wants businesses to trust Google Partners, so Google encourages use of their complaint form at .

You might be inclined to accuse the client of mismanagement in allowing this to happen, but marketing managers dealing with all marketing often don’t have the time to learn how to evaluate PPC performance and firms–that’s why they seek a professional that is Google certified!

Here’s the truth about PPC (and SEO) that you won’t hear from salespeople at the PPC factory firms: it takes a lot of training and time to do well. Good PPC requires more training than lawyers get in law school and the first two years on the job. Done right, though, most businesses will earn better returns than from any other marketing channel. If a business can’t afford the most cost-effective marketing available, well, what does that say about the business model? Many managers desperately want to believe that good PPC costs less than it does, and even a mediocre salesperson can turn that desperation into big sales commissions.

Because PPC is so complicated now, it is indeed difficult to assess an agency or freelancer. Still, it is possible, and here’s a list of criteria with cautions about the fallibility of the criteria.

  1. Is the firm a Google Partner? I hope the case above is a rare exception to the rule that Google Partner status indicates competence and honesty. However, passing the partner certification test used to be brutally difficult, and now the test can be passed by practically anyone willing to do a few hours of prep reading. Moreover, while the firm may have certified employees, none of them may manage your PPC. Ascertain exactly who in the firm will work on your campaign, speak with him or her, and speak with his or her current or very recent clients.
  2. Does the firm have a good track record? It may, but that could be by the leaders of the firm who are now managing the firm towards big profits and no longer managing PPC for clients. Even terrible firms with a few years experience can have at least a few success stories to tout. After getting a list of references, perhaps in the proposal, ask for the complete client list and choose ones to speak with who are not on the first list.
  3. Will the firm give you actual reports for current or recent clients? Good PPC reports reveal to non-experts the ROI performance. Though such reports don’t indicate how much better the PPC could have performed, they at least show if the PPC is profitable for the client.
  4. Does the firm offer predictive analytics? PPC ROI can usually be ascertained accurately enough before launching a campaign. It takes excellent skills to produce such projections, so you assess the firm and get ROI projections without a large cash commitment.

Pretty much everything else is not a good criteria:

  • Publishing history: This means little now that anyone can publish somewhere. It is worth reading what the person who will do all or most of your PPC has published, but great PPC pros may do little or no publishing because their results and word of mouth accomplish all the promotion they need.
  • Impressive website: While a terrible website is a warning, a good one can be the equivalent of a great snake oil salesman–high art in sales, scoundrel in results.
  • Membership in or certifications by trade associations: though better than being in none, this is the firm marketing itself, not its clients. Search marketing has no associations like the AMA or ABA. That is, anyone who pays to get into the association is in, and there are no rigorous admission tests like there are throughout the process of becoming a lawyer. The Google Partner program is the best, but as the above example shows, it’s no guarantee.

I could debunk other qualifications, and I bet you could too if you think critically.

In the end, what really matters is what the person who will do all or most of your PPC has done for other clients, as shown by monthly reports actually sent to past clients, and as confirmed by your speaking with those clients.

Categories: PPC