Not all search engine marketing (SEM) agencies are created equal.

Unfortunately, this industry has a few bad apples. And that’s why business owners looking for help with their AdWords campaigns need to be diligent when interviewing and hiring a SEM agency.

To make the process a little easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of 8 dodgy SEM agency practices you need to be aware of. Some are more common than others, but all can have disastrous effects on your campaigns, wallet, and on your business as a whole.

8 Dodgy SEM Agency Practices

1. Invisible billing.

This is a pretty common one in the industry.

When it comes billing time, many agencies send one bill which includes both your advertising fees from Google, as well as the agency’s management fees. In many cases, these two fees will not be separated on the invoice, meaning you have no idea how much you’re spending on clicks versus how much you’re paying the agency.

For example: you may think you’re spending $3000 per month on SEM, but are really paying $1500 to Google and $1500 to the SEM agency. This fact may or may not be reported to you, the client.

Let me be clear in saying that just because an agency bills in this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to get away with something. However, for the sake of transparency, SEM agencies should make it clear what you’re paying Google versus what you’re paying the agency.

2. The old bait and switch.

Everybody likes to make a good first impression. But some agencies take this a step too far by pulling the old bait and switch.

Here’s how it works: at your initial meeting, the agency will send an experienced, senior staff member to meet with you and to answer your questions. They’ll likely make a very good first impression, and based on your meeting, you decide to hire the agency.

Once you’ve signed on, however, you find yourself stuck with a young, inexperienced employee (or even intern) who will manage your account. Alternately, you may even find the agency offshoring your account to another agency (usually a less experienced, and thus cheaper one).

When you meet with a prospective agency, it’s important to ask who will be handling your account, and what kind of experience they have in business and SEM.

3. Won’t customize your reports.

A reputable SEM agency will discuss your reporting needs with you, and will work with you to get you the information you need. At a minimum, you should expect a detailed monthly report of basic information like CTR, impressions, and conversions.

In addition, the agency should be interpreting this data for you, and making recommendations based on the month’s performance.

If an agency isn’t willing to include certain metrics or reporting items that you’ve requested, it may be possible that they’re simply producing automated, generic reports.

4. Aren’t actually certified through Google.

AdWords certification, offered through Google Partners, is a must-have requirement for any reputable SEM agency. The training gives agencies access to the latest tools and best practices in SEM, and helps ensure a certain level of proficiency in SEM.

5. Not working for their fees.

Unfortunately, you will find that some agencies will take your money, but do very little work on your behalf. They may produce fancy and impressive reports at month-end, but do as little work as possible the rest of the month.

There’s a lot of work that needs to happen during the month to make sure your campaigns are producing positive results. Things like:

  • Bid changes, depending on results
  • Ad copy split testing
  • Adding new and negative keywords
  • Budget adjustments
  • Structural changes
  • Changing match types

6. Charging extra if you go over a set number of campaigns, keywords or ad groups.

A reputable SEM agency will constantly be researching and testing new keywords, and creating new ad groups. This is just part of the job.

However some agencies will build a clause into their contract that your current management fees will only cover a set number of campaigns, keywords or ad groups. And this means you have no way of knowing what you’re going to be charged for on a month-to-month basis.

Additionally, since the agency has the power to make your account more complex anytime they want, they also have the power to increase your fees at any time.

7. Not giving you access to your account.

We strongly believe that your AdWords and Analytics accounts belong to you.

However some agencies restrict your access to your accounts, meaning you don’t have a clue what’s happening until you receive their reports at month-end.

A reputable agency will give you full access to all your accounts, so you can check on your campaigns and analytics at any time. This will give you the peace of mind that work is actually being done on your behalf, and you’ll always know exactly how your campaigns are performing.

8. Keeping your account info when you leave.

As mentioned above, your account info belongs to you. However, unfortunately, some agencies get stingy with your account data when you part ways.

When you decide to leave an agency – for whatever reason – you should receive full access to all of your account info. It was yours before you met them, while you were with them, and should remain yours now that you’re leaving.

When talking with a potential SEM agency, I’d strongly encourage you to ask them about their standard agency practices, and to make it clear what your expectations and requirements are for them.

In short, some questions you can ask to avoid the above scenarios are:

1. In terms of billing, will there a clear distinction between what I’ll be paying Google versus what I’ll be paying you?
2. Do you charge a % of my total advertising spend, or a flat monthly fee?
3. Do you guarantee I’ll achieve certain results?
4. Who exactly will be managing my account, and what is their experience with SEM?
5. Can I specify what types of reports I’ll receive, and how often I’ll receive them?
6. Are you a Google Certified Partner? (Remember, if something feels fishy, go ahead and ask to see their badge!)
7. What types of tasks will you be performing on our behalf in a typical month?
8. Do you charge extra if we go over a certain number of keywords, ad groups or campaigns?
9. Will I retain access to my AdWords and Analytics accounts?
10. What happens to my information if we decide to part ways?

Images courtesy of mrpuen & jscreationzs

By Philip Shaw


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