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How to keep your search marketing agency accountable


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Dave Karellen
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It’s a very big thing, accountability, because ultimately whenever you take on any search marketing agency, you trust them with a huge amount of money. You need to be able to hold those agencies accountable to make sure they aren’t taking the piss.

Set clear targets for your Search Marketing agency

The way you go about that is with targets. You need to be very clear with your search marketing agency from the start. State the targets you want to set, and what you expect them to hit. These need to align with your business goals. That could be, for example, the number of leads or increased revenue. Ideally it should be as close to a bottom line as possible.

Rather than traffic you’re better thinking about leads and, building on that, rather than thinking about leads you’re even better thinking about conversions, and perhaps the bottom-line revenue.

Find a balance between revenue, profit and volume


Often the two kinds of targets that you get, and that a search marketing agency will look at, are profitability based metrics and volume centric metrics. Trying to strike this right balance is often key.

Questions to consider here are: 

  • Do you want to focus a lot on a high amount of revenue? 
  • Or do you want to focus more on being as profitable as possible and getting high Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)? 

You might not be exactly sure which targets are best, in the sense that you don’t know how to weigh up where to tip the scales on volume versus profitability. For example, if you want a 5 x ROAS with a significant amount of volume, or to go for a 7 x ROAS and sacrifice volume a bit. A good search marketing agency should be able to guide you in this, and you should be able to work together to set targets that will hold them accountable.

In that specific example, digging into profit margins is often the best way to determine exactly where to set those ROAS targets. Then you can start to shift the focus from revenue to profit. And to reiterate, make sure that you go as close to the bottom line as possible.

Profit tends to be as close as you can get. If they’re worth their account management fee, an astute search marketing agency should always be proactively asking for this even if you’re not providing it willingly.

If you’re on the Lead Gen side of things, agencies can sometimes only see the leads coming in. A worthy agency will want to find out about that lead-to-conversion at the back end so that they know that they’re bringing good quality conversions.

Make good use of data


One of the problems that can arise is having minimal data, or if you’re just starting out in PPC or, indeed, if your whole business is new.

In these cases a proactive search marketing agency will help you to set a reasonable benchmark to start off with. It’s there as a guide, but still, you want to be accountable from day one to make your metrics matter. That doesn’t mean that it has to be set in stone – it can be firmed up later once you actually have some data. Then you can get accurate targets that reflect the performance.

It is absolutely fine for a search marketing agency to talk about what we call “vanity metrics”. These are things like:

  • Quality score
  • Cost-per-click (CPC) 
  • Click-through rates (CTR)

Don’t get me wrong, these are absolutely crucial to managing PPC. However, all that you should be interested in, in terms of holding the agency accountable, is the bottom line. A decent search marketing agency will always understand that and not try to hide behind those metrics. They should know that those ones, the bottom line performance targets, they’re the ones that they should be living or dying by. 

One other thing to take into consideration when looking at targets and setting them, is that you may think you need one overarching target. In general, it’s good to think about having different targets, and then to segment them out as much as possible for different product lines or, indeed, different services. 

Also, if you’re a very seasonal business then you’ll want different targets month-to-month too. A PPC audit could help you understand when and where you should focus your efforts.

Understanding aspirational verses required targets


You’re going to want to consider the difference between aspirational and minimum requirement targets. A minimum requirement target could be, for example, that you absolutely can’t go below a 3x ROAS, because at that point you wouldn’t be making any money.

However, a more aspirational target could be 6x or 7x ROAS in that particular instance, because that’s what you want them to achieve. It’s very good practice to make sure that you’re clear on what is an aspirational target and what is a minimum requirement target with your search marketing agency.

Targets should evolve over time


The final point is that targets should evolve over time.

Ideally, if you’ve got a very good search marketing agency they’ll be improving performance continuously. They should want to stretch themselves and get to a point where they’re no longer happy with what the targets were previously. They should want to go further and both parties should be pushing towards that.

What he said

To summarise, when you’re clocking up how good or bad your search marketing agency is, these are the things to scratch off your list:

  • Set clear targets
  • Strike a balance between core measurables
  • Rely on data
  • Distinguish between required and aspirational targets
  • Check that targets are evolving

If your search marketing agency isn’t doing any of those things, then you might want a mooch at our PPC services. Talk to Dark Horse.

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