Has your relationship with your paid search agency soured? Are you in denial about bad service and performance, hoping that things will suddenly change for the better? 

To mark the release of Econsultancy’s new Paid Search Agencies Buyer’s Guide, here are some warning signs that it might be time to take your paid search accounts to a more deserving agency. 

If you’re working with an agency – or if you are an agency – this article is by no means trying to stir up bad feeling and cause problems. I’m well aware that for the most part, agency-client relationships are built on trust and respect, with everyone getting along just great.

There are also certain factors that both parties need to consider: new campaigns can take a bit of time to find their feet, agencies generally work ridiculously long hours to go above and beyond the expectations of their clients, and clients can sometimes be over-demanding and poorly informed.

So if one or two scenarios vaguely apply, don’t worry too much. It’s more likely just to be the legendary agency culture at work and you may just need to raise concerns in a professional manner with the senior staff you know.

But if most of these pain points are more than a little bit familiar, then it’s probably time to jump ship. 

So, ask yourself whether your agency…

…Fails to understand even the simplest of requests

It’s not rocket science. If you request your agency to do something – maybe to phone you at a certain time or answer a specific question – you expect them to do it. After all, you’re paying them to deliver a service. Once or twice might be mildly annoying, but likely be a genuine miscommunication or something’s happened to prevent your request being met. But if this kind of thing is happening regularly, then alarm bells should be ringing. 

…Makes minimal effort to stay in contact

Did your agency apologise for not calling you or answering that specific question? Do they communicate on a regular basis with no prompting from you? It’s all very well sending you a card and the obligatory bottle of wine at Christmas, but if that’s the only time they contact you, then you might have a problem to deal with. 

You need to ask yourself if your agency maintains the sort of professional contact you would expect from their paid services. You also need to figure out who is the person who has the most contact with you – is it client services, business development or someone who looks after your account directly?  More to the point, can you talk to all of these guys openly and honestly? Weigh up what’s reality against what you would reasonably expect. 

…Never lets you see your results

This is unbelievably bad practice. If this is happening, get a new agency right now. 

…Waves memberships and awards around 

You’ve raised concerns that promises to deliver campaign-specific objectives aren’t being met… and you’ve had an account with them for six months. Suddenly, awards and industry bodies are reeled off in an attempt to pacify you. Firstly, how old are those awards and what are they for? Winning regional web-designers of the year back in 2001 doesn’t prove anything about managing paid search in 2009. 

You’re certainly not the sort who’s going to be distracted by shiny things and fancy words, so start asking tough questions as to why your objectives aren’t being met. 

… Is very unresponsive

You: “Morning, can you email me a list of the ad-groups and keywords before our board meeting next week?” 

You: “Hi, it’s me again, I’m a little concerned, as the meeting starts in two minutes and I haven’t received anything yet.”

Sound familiar? It’s surprising the number of clients who continuously put up with this kind of service, without making a noise about how unacceptable it is. It could well be that you’re a small client to them, so you’re overlooked as they give preferential service to bigger, more profitable clients.

Equally, it could be the other way round, you could be a big client with great account managers, but these guys have moved on to new accounts, so you end up losing out. Either way, you should perhaps consider changing to an agency that would best suit your needs.

Are you able to get directly in touch with senior staff if there’s a problem? If you have any questions or concerns, will they be addressed immediately? This returns back to the issue of your agency staying in contact. 

… Is creating costs that far outweigh the value

We’re in recession. Even if we weren’t, why the hell should you be throwing your money down the drain because of someone else’s ineptitude? If your agency prides itself on delivering ROI to its clients, how come you haven’t seen any yet? It seems more than fair to suggest that the key strength of PPC is its ability to drive a return. Campaigns can take a little while to find their feet, but if your objective was to gain revenue through search marketing and this isn’t happening three or four months down the line, question why this may be occurring.

…Gives bad advice

Get the feeling that you understand what’s going on more than your agency does? Have changes in strategy been recommended, only to fail horribly? Does this happen with worrying regularity? If the answer to these is yes, then you should probably consider a move. 

…Really cares

If you get the distinct impression your agency doesn’t really care about you as a client, then start looking to move straightaway. You’re not just a number or a source of income, you’re a client – and it has to work as a two-way professional relationship. 

The better agencies will understand your objectives and demonstrate a very real sense of disappointment when campaign objectives aren’t met, but will always make proactive suggestions as to how to fix the issues. They’ll also make a conscious effort to understand how your business functions and what your own culture is about. 

It’s worrying when an agency shows no signs of wanting to push your business forward or understand how you work. If that’s the case, then it’s probably time to not care about them and find a new supplier.

…Doesn’t allow you to meet your Account Handler

It never fails to surprise me that some organisations don’t question why their only agency contact is a senior member of staff. There’s nothing wrong with talking to the people at the top – often it’s quite benefical – but to have never even spoken to the individual responsible for running their budgets and campaigns baffles me. I want to know who’s in charge, who I can speak to, who’s on the very front-line of making sure my money is making me more money. 

One company I spoke to recently for our Winning New Work Business Development Guide told me that following an agency pitch, they make a surprise visit the next day to meet the guys who’ll be directly responsible for the day-to-day running of their accounts. That way they can make a decision based upon the aptitude and attitude of the agency’s PPC handlers. Now THAT’S getting off on the right foot!

Photo credit: psd via Flickr.