Finding the Right Search Agency

Finding the right agency for your search marketing needs is not only a challenge but can be critical to your website's success. What questions should you ask yourself? What questions should you ask a potential agency, and what questions should the agency ask of you? Brian Lewis, VP of Marketing for search marketing agency Engine Ready developed a 57-point checklist to help Web professionals find the right agency. Website Magazine has selected seven of these important questions from the broader white paper that we feel every Web professional should know.

Download the Entire "Pursuit of the Right Agency" Whitepaper at

Questions To Ask Yourself:

What are the goals of my paid search marketing initiatives?

While most advertisers are looking to directly acquire new leads or sales, there are also important branding aspects inherent in search marketing. Also, be sure to understand the primary action you want your visitor to take upon reaching your site. Do you want them to request a quote, download a white paper, call you, order any of your products or order a specific product?

For goal setting, remember the acronym SMART-your goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.

How will I evaluate the success of the agency's efforts?

Campaign success needs to be tied to quantifiable metrics. For most lead generation companies, cost per lead will be the key metric. Cost per lead is calculated as: Advertising cost/Number of leads generated. Ecommerce companies sometimes also use CPA (cost per acquisition), however a more accurate measure may be return on ad spend (ROAS), defined as: Sales generated/Cost of advertising.

Questions To Ask The Agency:

What kind of testing does the agency perform and how frequently?

Your agency should always be testing your ad creative and have a scheduled plan in place for landing page testing. At a minimum, you should request that each ad group contain an A/B split test on ad creative, and at least one landing page test every two months. If your traffic numbers are large, be sure to ask about their experience running multivariate tests. Additionally, the agency should be able to demonstrate a track record in developing high-converting landing pages and be adept at using A/B and multivariate testing tools. Some agencies might charge for landing page development and testing. Be sure to negotiate those fees up front.

What happens to your accounts when you terminate?

It's important to find out who owns your account setup if you terminate. Some agencies may charge an extra fee for you to take over your campaigns in the optimized setup. Some agencies will refuse to allow you to take over your campaigns. Not only do you lose the setup, but you lose historical data.

Do you get visibility into your accounts?

Even if you think you may not want to log into your Google AdWords account, it's important that contractually, the agency gives you that option. Having access to your account is a great way to independently review keywords and creative, and review the activity log to see how much work is being put into your account. This will also give you the ability to pause your account in an emergency if the agency is closed.

Questions Agencies Should ask:

How much can you afford to pay for a lead/sale, what is your average order value and gross margin?

Assuming your goals are tied to generating leads or sales from your paid search campaigns, you'll need to arrive at a break even estimate of how much you can pay for that lead or sale. If you don't hear this question with the first two minutes, move on.

What has worked/ not worked well in the past? What could have been improved?

Prior successes and failures will help the agency plan out their testing strategies. It's important to alert the agency of the specific areas in your campaign management that did not live up to your expectations.

Armed with this checklist you are likely to catch some agencies off-guard. When that happens, listen carefully to the response. You can learn just as much (or more) from what an agency doesn't say as their answer. In any case, if you experience any resistance to any of these questions, seek out another agency.