Marketing leaders and hiring managers

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Did you know the average PPC agency charges $136.85 per hour? 

Whether you are looking to hire your first e-commerce PPC agency or looking to switch agency partners, the process of hiring and vetting a new agency can be time-consuming and stressful.

There are many ways a promising agency relationship can go south: poor communications, not getting the expected ROI, or overpromising and underdelivering. 

Fortunately, there are many strategies you can take to prevent this costly mistake. 

In this guide, we’re sharing a detailed process you can use to hire the right e-commerce PPC agency for your needs, including: 

  • Identify your business goals and expectations first
  • Determine your budget
  • Should you hire an agency or an in-house full-time employee?
  • General digital marketing agency vs. a niche e-commerce agency: Pros and Cons
  • Understanding different PPC agency pricing models
  • Finding the right agency fit
  • Potential red flags to watch out for
  • Top 11 e-commerce PPC and paid social agencies

1. Identify your business goals and expectations first 

Whether you are looking to hire your first e-commerce PPC agency or you are looking for a new agency partner, the first thing you need to do is be clear about your goals.

The biggest mistake we see clients make is not clearly defining their goals (based on where your e-commerce business is currently) and what a successful outcome looks like to convey those expectations to the agency.

The other common challenge we see is that some e-commerce businesses are overly reliant on paid ads in their digital marketing strategy. As Andrew Chen wrote, paid ads are addicting. Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) is one of the few digital marketing campaigns you can turn on and get new traffic from your target audience almost instantly. However, because of that, it is easy to be too dependent on online advertising. 

When you haven’t diversified your online marketing strategy, your e-commerce PPC campaign results and Google Analytics reports will become more depressing over time, especially once you hit market saturation.

Simply put, your ad costs will be higher, lower ROAS, and an increasingly sad-looking CAC: LTV chart over time. This is why investing in SEO, content marketing, and other digital and offline marketing channels is such a good idea.

2. Determine your budget 

Once you’ve identified your goals and expectations, it is time to set a budget.

Your budget will likely vary based on your mindset around PPC advertising and marketing in general:

  • Do you have an expense or an investment mindset
  • Do you know and are you comfortable with the numbers for your business? Do you know how much you are spending and how much you are making from each ad and marketing channel? 

Pro Tip: As you set your budget, you want to make sure to give your agency enough time to be successful. In our experience, that’s usually about 6 months.

Between your goals, expectations, mindset, and actual budget, this will inform the type of hire you need to make, instead of blindly assuming you need an agency. 

For instance, should you hire a freelancer, a consultant, a niche PPC agency, a full-service marketing agency, or even a full-time in-house employee? Your budget and goals will determine which one is best for you. If you’re not sure which is right for you right now, we’re happy to help you put together a strategic hiring plan.

3. Should you hire an agency or an in-house full-time employee? 

The reality is you’ll likely need to hire both. However, when to hire an agency vs. a freelancer vs. an in-house employee is something that most e-commerce marketing leaders and founders don’t think about enough proactively. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

As your company starts, it is likely you have the founder(s) and maybe one marketer in-house. You’ll work with some freelancers and consultants to get the strategy in place and then execute on it. Then, at some point, you may switch to an agency or bring on an agency to increase the marketing team’s output. 

One day, you realize you have a full, outsourced digital marketing team, and it is a lot to manage. So, you’ll hire an in-house marketer to manage all of the agencies and freelancers. That person naturally wants to put their stamp on the business, and they get the green light to bring more of the work in internally. All of the in-house marketers get too busy, and you hire another agency to help out. 

In addition to thinking about what makes sense for where your business is currently at, you also want to think about the impact on your company culture. 

  • Do you prefer to hire in-house, or do you prefer to hire agencies? 
  • Do you want regular check-ins and more control over the day-to-day responsibilities of the person you work with? 
  • Or, are you okay managing results and output over “butt in seat time?” 

Different companies work in different ways. For instance, some people love working with agencies because they don’t have all of the overhead of a full-time employee (i.e., payroll, benefits, people management, etc.), which is something that a lot of people miss when they’re hiring an agency.

4. General digital marketing agency vs. a niche e-commerce agency: Pros and Cons 

If you think an agency is a right fit, the next question you need to ask yourself is if you want a generalist full-service agency or a niche e-commerce PPC agency

The advantage to working with a niche e-commerce PPC agency is they have deep industry expertise running Google Ads and Google Shopping campaigns. They’ve probably worked with dozens—if not hundreds—of businesses just like yours. They have the experience and assuming your working styles match up well, the chances of getting great results are high. 

Of course, the downside of working with a niche agency is you may have more people and agencies to manage. For instance, you may have an in-house PPC specialist, a PPC agency, a content marketing agency, a Facebook Ads agency, and potentially more to manage. 

There are lots of pros to hiring a specialized agency, but you do need to put in the right communication and management systems and processes for it to work well.

The alternative approach is to hire a full-service marketing agency.

A full-service agency can be great because you can just toss them work, and they’re able to get it done (or they have partners that they work with that are able to get it done). So, over time, they can manage your PPC campaigns, your SEO strategy, organic social media marketing, social media advertising campaigns, and more. 

This means you only have one relationship to manage. That’s with the full-service agency you hire.

This can come with some significant drawbacks: 

  • You risk hiring a jack-of-all-trades agency – A full-service agency that ends up being just mediocre at everything. 
  • The agency overpromises and under delivers – This usually happens when sales or the agency founder promises they can do all of the things. Only to discover three months in, all of the key strategies and tactics are being handled by inexperienced, junior agency employees or overworked account managers juggling too many clients. 

Full-service agencies also generally have account managers who are not marketers themselves. A great account manager is worth their weight in gold, while a bad one can be anchored around your results. Just remember that if you are shying away from a full-service firm because of “account manager overhead,” you are making yourself the account manager by not paying for one.

Do you have the bandwidth to properly manage the agency and the projects? If not, you should be willing to pay for one.

5. Understanding different PPC agency pricing models 

Understanding the different PPC agency pricing models and the pros and cons of each one is essential since there are so many.

However, here are the main pricing models that we see:

  • Hourly rate 
  • Percentage of ad spend 
  • Percentage of ad spend plus a management fee 
  • Performance-based pricing 

Hourly rate 

This is the most straightforward PPC pricing model. You’ll generally pay for a block of hours each month. The agency allocates a certain number of those hours each week to manage your ad campaigns. 

With this pricing model, an agency is incentivized to keep your account more or less at the status quo. This can work well if you have an established PPC strategy and want to keep the expected results more or less the same. However, if you are new to PPC or looking to proactively grow, an hourly rate might not work well since the agency isn’t incentivized to run experiments. 

An added thing to beware of is that if your hourly rate also includes landing page creation, conversion rate optimization, or other add-on services, this can add up and leave little time for actual ad account management. 

Percentage of ad spend 

Some PPC agencies charge based on the percentage of ad spend. This usually requires a hefty ad spend minimum (around $5,000-10,000 monthly), or else you’ll find yourself paying hefty fees to work with the agency. For this reason, this model isn’t favorable for smaller businesses who don’t have large PPC budgets. 

The biggest drawback of this model is that the agency’s motives and your motives aren’t aligned. They are going to want to find ways to increase ad spend, which over time can dilute both ROI and ROAS, especially as market saturation increases. 

Percentage of ad spend plus a management fee

This is becoming the most common pricing model where an agency charges a monthly flat-management fee plus a percentage of ad spend. 

Similar to the percentage of ad spend model, there is usually an ad spend minimum of $10,000 per month, though you can find agencies who will manage smaller spends. In that case, you must recognize that you will pay higher than 15% of ad spend for their management. 

Performance-based pricing 

This is a less common model, but you’ll still see some e-commerce PPC agencies working on this model. Agencies who use this model get paid on the results generated—typically in the form of new leads or revenue generated. 

At first glance, this model might seem the most friendly for clients.

However, there are two big issues that can happen with this model. The first is that new, inexperienced PPC agencies might be drawn to this model, which may lead to fewer results or more mistakes.

The other problem is that it incentivizes agencies to go after a quantity of leads instead of quality of leads. So, if you and your agency aren’t very clear on the technical definition of a lead, you could wind up paying money for a bunch of garbage leads that will never convert. 

6. Finding the right agency fit 

Getting a PPC agency that meshes with your company culture and team’s working style is crucial. You can find the best PPC agency on paper. However, if their communication approach is the polar opposite of yours, it is not going to end well. 

<embed this video on hiring a PPC agency – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Jl_miqXxJo

That’s where using a service like Credo can be beneficial. 

Here is how our process works.

Every agency in the Credo network is fully vetted with our 3-step, 28-point checkout that we run every client through. This ultimately boils down to three main things: 

  1. Results: Can the agency show us that they get results for clients? We review project examples (including ad creative, copy, and metrics) and figure out what they actually did in each one. We also run cross-checks to make sure they actually did the work they were claiming to using tools like SEMrush. 
  2. Professionalism: Are their PPC ad reports branded and typo-free? We don’t want someone just sending a spreadsheet of data. Let’s make sure there is some analysis and insights.
  3. Culture: We do a phone call with each agency. We’re looking for things like: Do we like them? Are they a good fit for us? How do they work? Are they good people?

Because of our rigorous process, we only end up accepting about 60% of the agencies that apply to our network. 

When a client comes to us looking for a new PPC agency, this is how our matching process works:

  1. We talk to every client that comes through, ask them more about their needs, what they’re looking for, and make sure that they’re set up for success. We also inquire about their current marketing team and previous PPC experiences. Some agencies are very good at launching a PPC strategy from the ground up. Other agencies are great at growing and scaling. Knowing where your company’s metrics stand helps Credo find the right agency matches.
  2. From there, we use our custom-built software to do the actual matching process. We have all of the agencies that we work with directly within the system. We input your project and all of the criteria. This spits out a list of the best agencies in our network, along with a weighted match score.
  3. Our secret sauce that leads to our high success rates is investing the time to get to know both the client as well as our agency partners in our network extremely well.

Vetting agencies and the due-diligence process 

Once you have your top agency picks, it is time to do the due-diligence process. This may vary based on your company, internal processes, and budget, but the typical approach generally looks something like this: 

  1. Jump on agency discovery call(s): This is where you get to know each other and learn about the agency’s processes and PPC campaigns they worked on. Credo books these for you
  2. Send an RFP: If everything shakes out, you should then ask for a proposal from the agencies you like.
  3. Review agency proposals: You’ll want to read the top proposals and/or schedule follow-up calls to get additional information.
  4. Make a decision: Some companies may do an initial pilot project before committing to a full contract. Others will do more vetting at the call stage, and skip any sort of pilot project.

7. Potential red flags to watch out for 

At Credo, we check all our pre-vetted agencies for potential red flags, so you don’t have to worry about it. But, if you’re looking for agencies on your own, here are some red flags to watch out for. 

No clear systems and processes 

One of the biggest red flags is an agency that doesn’t have defined systems and processes. Processes are essential to delivering quality work at scale.

Lack of a defined new client onboarding process or an inability to articulate their general approach are huge red flags. 

Asking generic questions 

Are they naturally curious about not just your ad account but also wanting to learn more about your team, the way your business works, what’s worked in the past, what sign-offs are needed, etc.? 

If they don’t know to ask those questions, they’re probably not the right provider for you. If they do ask those questions, then that’s a green light that they’re bare-minimum qualified.

No experience with businesses of your size 

Another red flag is that they don’t have experience working with businesses of your size or getting the types of results you are looking to achieve. 

They should be able to tell you what’s going to be needed, and then you can make that judgment call about whether you’re actually able to put that in there, or if you need to adjust your results or your own expectations. 

You should prefer a consultative partner, not an order taker. 

Their case studies look too good to be true 

Both case studies and testimonials are great social proof. However, in this day and age, it is easy for a shady agency to manipulate or spin a case study. Or worse, buy fake testimonials from sites, like Fiverr. 

At Credo, we do a lot of this legwork upfront when vetting agencies to join our network. If anything looks fishy, they are part of the 40% of agencies that are rejected. 

However, it doesn’t hurt to do your own homework too. You want to ask questions about their approach and what they did instead of assuming it at first value. 

“The biggest tip is to take case studies as a grain of salt,”

says Kimberly Herrington.

“Charts and metrics are extremely easy to manipulate and may be a non-replicable situation that only happened for one client’s unique situation. Instead, look at the agency’s communication skills. There are thousands of agencies that can get great performance, but good communication and accountability aren’t as easy to find.

Being able to understand what your agency is doing, how it’s affecting your business, and what steps your business should be taking based on that information is essential when you’re trying to increase performance. If an agency can’t communicate well in the proposal stage or fully explain and answer questions, they’re definitely not going to be able to as your provider.” 

Beware of over-promising and under-delivering 

This usually happens when the agency promises a bunch of things during the sales process.

Here are the two most common ways this happens.

First, the agency means well, but they are in growth mode. They are focusing the majority of their resources on closing deals. Once a deal closes, it is passed off to an overworked and often underpaid account manager. Your account is simply number 15, 25, or 40 on their list of ad accounts to manage each month. The odds of a successful outcome go way down because there is simply not enough time in the day to make sure your ad account is being properly managed. 

The other way this can happen is if your account is being handled by a team of junior agency employees who don’t have a lot of experience working on accounts like yours. Now, your team has to mentor and train them. 

The way to avoid either of these potential traps is to ask a lot of questions upfront about the agency’s training processes and team structure. 

You want to make sure each account manager is juggling a reasonable number of accounts and that the agency has a certain amount of redundancy or overflow measures in place in case a key staffer gets sick, takes a vacation, or quits. 

However, having junior staffers on the account can work as long as there are also senior strategists or account managers supervising the account. 

8. Top 11 e-commerce PPC and paid social agencies 

Here are some e-commerce PPC agencies in our network. 

Avalaunch Media
Agency Full Service Digital Agency Salt Lake City UT
★★★★★
★★★★★
9 verified reviews

Avalaunch Media headquarters is nestled at the base of Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range. Our agency features a wall emblazoned with a mural of the yeti, symbolizing the mission and purpose of our team — we’re on a quest to “create believers” in digital marketing through measurable results. And we’re scary good at it. Borne out of unprecedented success in search engine optimization, Avalaunch has become a full-service industry leader in what we call our “8 Pillars of Marketing”. These include,…

Search Nurture
Agency Growth for eCommerce and B2B Saas
★★★★★
★★★★★
6 verified reviews

Search Nurture is a full-stack digital marketing agency offering expertise across all digital channels, including organic search, content development, paid search, and social ads, as well as retail marketing with various prominent retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and Instacart. We specialize in driving growth for B2B SaaS and eCommerce companies. This sub-specialization allows us to offer marketing services hand-tailored to meet the specific needs of these industries rather than a more generic paint-by-numbers approach. This means your marketing dollars go further,…

Taikun Digital
Agency Google Ads & Facebook Ads
★★★★★
★★★★★
1 verified reviews

Taikun Digital is a boutique PPC Agency located in New York City. Since 2014, we have generated more than $25mm in net profit for clients across a wide range of verticals. We are a Google Partner Agency, and we create profitable campaigns across Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Bing, and other paid advertising platforms. Our Team Each team member specializes in an individual area, meaning our clients enjoy world class expertise at every level. From campaign management and data analysis to pixel…

Elevato Digital
Agency All Things Web
★★★★★
★★★★★
7 verified reviews

Founded in 1986, Elevato is an industry leader in digital-first solutions. What started as a web development company, evolved into a team of digital marketing and engineering experts on a mission to create premium solutions for the client’s digital presence. Through the combination of talented individuals, abundant resources, and in-depth knowledge, we are able to handle any web-based project. From backend development to paid media ads, design, multimedia, and everything in between, Elevato excels at ALL THINGS WEB. At Elevato,…

RankHammer
Agency Full Suite Digital Marketing
★★★★★
★★★★★
3 verified reviews

RankHammer was founded by a pair of long time digital marketing professionals who met working in one of the most challenging verticals for SEO. Steve came from a background of engineering and big brand marketing, while Nathan had experience in programming and big advertising agencies. The unique combination of the leadership team has allowed them to bring strategic solutions to businesses of all sizes as well as implement them. We specialize in challenging problems with a technical component, particularly where…

Canal Digital Studio
Agency eCommerce Growth Marketing
★★★★★
★★★★★
1 verified reviews

Canal Digital Studio is a boutique Digital Marketing agency based in New York City. We alleviate the anxiety of digital growth by delivering more traffic, more conversions, better rankings and faster results. We work primarily with DTC, SaaS, Consumer Product and eCommerce brands. Our small team has previously worked at large and small agencies, corporate strategy consultancies and in-house marketing teams … we’ve worn all the hats and can attack your project from any angle. We are marketing insiders who are…

Go Fish Digital
Agency Full Service Digital Marketing with a focus on Search
★★★★★
★★★★★
10 verified reviews

Go Fish Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency that helps clients across the globe improve their bottom line by increasing their online visibility, generating more leads, and converting more customers. Founded in 2005, the team at Go Fish has deep experience in identifying and optimizing every phase of the customer journey. Using strong technical SEO, on-page optimization, digital PR link building, web design and development, and conversion rate optimization, the team is able to turn your website into a…

SimpleTiger
Agency SEO for SaaS
★★★★★
★★★★★
6 verified reviews

We’re an SEO agency for SaaS (software as a service) companies with over 12 years of experience helping companies and tech startups succeed with Search Engine Optimization. Our ethos is based around being simple and effective. We take the 80/20 approach to everything we do, focusing our efforts first on the 20% of optimization that will yield 80% of your results. We live by our integrity, which is regrettably hard to come by in this industry. We provide SEO for…

Kogneta
Agency SEO for local businesses and franchises
★★★★★
★★★★★
3 verified reviews

Are you looking for an ROI focused digital marketing agency to help take your company to the next level? For the past 10 years, our team has been working in the digital marketing industry helping companies small and large develop and execute SEO, content marketing and pay per click advertising strategies that have helped them grow by double digits. Our managing partner, Jordan, started his career at the age of 15 when he launched his first online business selling ebooks….

Stryde
Agency eCommerce marketing
★★★★★
★★★★★
10 verified reviews

Stryde is a specialized eCommerce digital marketing agency. We specialize in building customized, scalable digital marketing campaigns for small to medium-size ecommerce businesses. Business owners and marketing managers look to Stryde to help: Reduce customer acquisition costs on Facebook, Instagram and Google by improving marketing funnels, audience targeting and incorporating compelling copy and creative. Increase search engine rankings by improving technical SEO, keyword relevance and working with third-party websites & bloggers to get links back to their websites. Improve website…

Envigo
Agency "SEO"

We are a full-service ROI-led digital marketing agency with over 13 years of experience. With a strong team of over 90 people, we provide an array of digital marketing services such as Digital Marketing Strategy, B2B Lead Gen, Search Engine Optimization, UI and Design, Web and App Development, Paid Marketing, Social Media Management, Content Strategy, and Content Development. We are a strong team of digital marketers, strategists, designers and technologists with a passion to build digital experiences spanning through the…

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In sum, finding the right PPC agency partner starts with getting clear on your goals, expectations, and budget. Then, invest the time upfront in finding the right agency fit for your company’s needs. 

Want help with finding and vetting the right e-commerce PPC agency? Our team at Credo can help. Get started today. 

 

This page last updated on July 26, 2022 by Jessica Malnik


Jessica Malnik

I’m an experienced copywriter, content strategist and community builder. My writing has been published on various websites including The Next Web, CMX, Ragan’s PR Daily, SXSW, Feverbee, Convince & Convert, Help Scout, SpinSucks.com, and MSN UK. I also speak to groups about community management, content marketing, and social media.

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