Upset Face

If you’re like most small companies, you assume that all prospective ad agencies are clamoring for your business. In most cases, you’d be right, but for a number of reasons, you may also be dead wrong. Today I’m going to explain some reasons why you may be finding it difficult to attract and keep good agencies/consultants. The list of “red flags” come from our own experience as well as feedback from other consultants/agencies on the Reddit PPC channel.

If any of this sounds like you, use the information as constructive criticism. Work on your issues and you’ll end up having a much more successful client/agency relationship.

Red Flags Before Engagement

There are a number of warning signs that agencies look for when evaluating a prospective client. If there are too many potential pitfalls, most good agencies will decline to submit a proposal.

Management Budget Misaligned with Ad Budget

If you plan to spend $10K/month for online ads, setting a budget of $250/month for campaign management is woefully insufficient. Whether you pay hourly, % of ad spend, or fixed monthly fees, expect to pay 10-25% of ad spend for PPC management fees. If somebody is offering campaign management for far less, you are not getting a comprehensive service. True professionals know their worth and won’t settle for doing a halfway job for low pay. Also, while some agencies will negotiate fees, be careful about beating somebody down too much on price. When agencies work for less, they are going to find a way to give you less. We don’t have this problem at our agency since we don’t negotiate our fees.

Negative Experience with Other Agencies

When you tell a consultant that you’ve worked with several others over the past couple of years and that they “didn’t understand your product” or were “running the wrong kind of campaigns” you are throwing up a huge red flag. You are essentially saying that either (a) you have unrealistic expectations, (b) you don’t work well with agencies, or (c) you did not use appropriate criteria to evaluate previous ad agencies. No matter how you add it up, your potential new agency is going to expect they are being set up for failure. Keep in mind also, that even if you don’t disclose your previous agency experience, any good AdWords consultant will check your change history to look for campaign manager churn.

Unrealistic Performance Expectations

Say your shopping campaign currently has an ROI of 1.5 and you ask us to increase the ROI to 5 in one month through general campaign optimization. Unless there is an obviously fixable reason for the low ROI, we are not up for an impossible challenge.

Cumbersome or Overly Complicated Campaign Structures

Campaigns and ad groups need to be right-sized given your budget and average CPC.

If you have a $2500/month budget and 25 active campaigns, your account is severely bloated. When you have 1 campaign with 1 ad group, and in that ad group you have 500 keywords, that ad group is severely bloated. If you have 1 campaign and 40 ad groups – of which only 3 ad groups have received impressions in the past month, your campaign needs to be cleaned up. Getting the picture? We often work with clients that have bloated accounts, and our first order of business is to right-size your campaigns. If you refuse the “clean up” or ask us to build your campaigns this way we simply won’t work with you.

Dictating Workflow or Interfering with Agency Processes

This one applies for a small budget client when an agency is working on your account for say <10 hours per month on average. The issue is particularly problematic for agencies that work based on fixed fees or percentage of ad spend. Agencies that work for many hours on your account, especially those that work on an hourly basis, may be perfectly fine working however it suits your business.

If an agency has 50 small clients, they have (hopefully) developed efficient processes for campaign development, optimization, and reporting. Telling an agency how often to update ads, specifying timing for optimization, or which tools to use won’t fly. Likewise, most consultants don’t want clients to make direct changes to campaigns. If you start talking about splitting up the hands-on management responsibilities with us, we will walk away. Learning multiple processes and tools to accomplish the same task makes us terribly inefficient. And, trying to figure out why a client suddenly made 75 changes to their campaigns is a management nightmare.

This is not to say that agencies and clients should not collaborate. Collaboration and communication are key to running successful campaigns. Just please leave the day to day management activities to your agency.

Your Ad Budget is Too Small

Many prospects fall into this category and don’t know it. When I started out I would take on clients with budgets as low as $300, which was just slightly more than my original minimum fees. These projects never panned out. There are basically three reasons for this. First, you are artificially increasing your cost/conversion with a huge amount of overhead. That makes it much harder to run a profitable campaign. Compounding the issue, that tiny budget doesn’t drive much data. This slows down optimization to a crawl, devaluing the management services. Third, small budget clients tend to be overly anxious about campaign performance. While I do empathize, this can cause a client to jump to conclusions based on unsubstantiated KPIs, i.e. they want to make big campaign changes based on non-existent data trends.

If you are in the “small budget” zone consider hiring somebody by the hour. Many independent consultants work this way and can optimize “on demand.” Be prepared to pay a fairly substantial sum up front for campaign research & development, but you should see your management costs drop off after a few months providing you don’t frequently change your strategy/offer.

We Don’t Like Your Market Niche

There are a number of industries that agencies steer clear of. The “list” tends to be unique to each agency and for a variety of reasons. It could be due to several bad experiences, because of a generally bad reputation for the service, because it may be difficult to get your ads approved, or just because the agency isn’t organized to service your type of account.

Generally Bad Behavior

Here’s a grocery list of things you might do that will turn off a potential agency partner.

If you’ve asked for a free audit and we notice you’ve added 4 other AdWords users (from other agencies) in the past week, we will immediately withdrawal our proposal. Audits are time-consuming. Be respectful to prospective agencies; don’t ask them to do a bunch of work for free unless you are serious about working with them. Don’t be like the guy at the ice-cream store trying out 10 free samples and then not buying anything.

If you ask us to advertise your product or service when your offer isn’t clear, your pricing doesn’t make sense, or you simply have a terrible landing page – we are not interested. Ad agencies, including ours, are usually pretty happy to engage with clients that are struggling because they haven’t quite mastered the 4 Ps. But by refusing to take our advice you are not presenting us with a challenge, you are hurting your chances for success and the opportunity to work with us.

If you approach us because your AdWords account has been suspended and say you “don’t know why” we are going to be suspicious. Likewise, if you ask us to use deceptive advertising or to go against best practices we are not interested! If I had a nickel for every time a prospect asked me to advertise their 1-day sale, every day, I’d be on a yacht instead of sitting at my computer right now.

Have you walked away from suppliers without paying them? We’ll find out! It is pretty easy and inexpensive to pull a credit history these days, believe me.

Red Flags During Engagement

Once we engage with a client some problems may arise that could lead to problems with your account, and even possibly termination of services.

Being Focused on the Wrong KPIs

If we’re running a lead generation campaign, the most important KPIs are the number of conversions and cost/conversion. As long as these numbers are trending in the right direction there should be no question that performance is improving. While there are some exceptions, such as if your lead quality is decreasing, please don’t complain about a lower CTR, higher CPC, or drop in pages per visit. Your CTR might be going down because we are driving more clicks with lower ad position targeting (a strategic decision). Your CPC may be higher because we paused cheap keywords that never converted. And your pages per visit may have gone down because more people are converting immediately on your landing page. All of these are positives. That said, please do be inquisitive, and we’ll answer all your questions about why KPIs are going in a given direction.

Making Website Changes without Telling Us

This one drives every ad agency mad. If you make changes to your landing pages please tell us. When you suddenly change your headline from “Save 50%” to “Save 25%” and your ads say the former, your conversions are bound to plummet. If you change the destination for your thank-you page please tell us. Otherwise, we will only find out when we realize there have been no conversions for a while and start to investigate. Making small changes that seem harmless can throw everything out of whack if messaging isn’t properly aligned. This stuff is important… just send us an email to tell us what you did, it’s fast and easy.

Excessive Reporting

If you are going to pay us $300/month don’t expect a 1-hour weekly call to review performance. Likewise, please don’t ask for a 20-page report, unless you can justify needing a 20-page report. During the first few weeks to months, there are going to be a lot of check-ins to ensure things are moving in the right direction. But beyond that, reporting/discussion should make up a small percentage of the total time spent working on your account.

“Tell Me Everything You’re Doing”

As a consultant/agency, our job is to manage your advertising. Our job is not to explain and justify every change to the nth degree or to train you how to manage your own campaigns. If you want to have control over everything you should take some PPC management courses and do it yourself.

Poor Payment Habits

If you’re constantly late with payments we won’t be happy about it and may pre-emptively suspend or terminate your services. Ad agencies have little leverage with clients so getting paid on time, every time is extremely important. Some agencies, like ours, combat this by asking for payment in advance. But no matter the terms, just pay your bills on time. Making an excuse such as “cash flow issues” is difficult for us to swallow when you’re still paying Google or Facebook on time (often 10x our agency fees).

Adding Other Agencies to Your Ads Accounts

We understand you may want internal people or marketing consultants to have a look at your accounts, makes perfect sense. But when we see that another PPC agency has suddenly been added without notifying us we wonder how long it’ll be before you are going to terminate our services. Before taking steps to evaluate other options, why not talk to us about where you see deficiencies? Or at least be honest about looking into other options. If we believe you are no longer interested in working with us, we won’t be so interested in working with you either. We understand that we will never meet every single client’s needs; disengage gracefully and we’ll help facilitate a smooth transition to your new agency.

Being Non Responsive

If we send you a report and recommendations that need approval, please review them ASAP. There have been countless times when a client has held our feet to the fire about performance while at the same time ignoring (for weeks or months) our request to optimize x, y, and z! It seems to make no sense but happens frequently with some clients. This is a partnership, we are here to help you achieve your business goals; if you aren’t going to take us seriously why did you hire us?


In any business, there are great clients, okay clients, and clients that are on the verge of being fired. As a business person, you know you go through this yourself. When you are checking out an ad agency, remember, that agency is also checking you out. Work with us in good faith and we’ll be successful together. Are you the kind of client we love to work with? Great, let’s talk about your business goals.