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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Why Agencies Get the Audit Wrong

Written by Michael Miller, Digital Consultant

My role at Hanapin offers me the opportunity to have a hand in diagnosing, understanding, and solving complex problems for prospective accounts of all shapes, sizes, and industries. As a result, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and most definitely the ugly in terms of account structures, implementation of “best practices”, and overall approach to strategy the account is taking.


Of course, it would be simple to present a list of everything wrong, or everything that could be better in the account (IE: ad messaging, appropriate bids, device specific strategies, etc.), but what does that demonstrate to a prospective client? Yes, we can identify these areas of opportunity, but so what? How do we connect that information to results? How can we transform this series of tactical optimizations into strategic insights that keep the big picture in mind? How can we be consultative in finding the best solution? The lattermost question is something our agency is consistently asking itself to help service clients better.



As the PPC landscape grows older, it’s only getting more and more complex. Gone are the days of focusing heavily on simple metrics like CPCs and click volume. Here are the days of understanding lead-to-enrollment rates, lowering cost per new patient,growing lifetime value of app users, and more! With this transformation, as well as the growing shift in marketing dollars away from TV and towards digital channels, in-house digital marketing teams have a bigger focus on their efforts and performance from the top down.


As such, businesses are no longer concerned with finding the cheapest PPC vendor, but instead look to find a true partner. It’s this partner mindset that sets agencies apart from one another, and it’s this mindset that forces us to be strategic in finding the best solution for a client’s account.


If you ask five agencies what their ‘best practice’ for account structure is, you’ll likely get five different answers. Consequently, if these agencies audited an account ahead of management you’ll likely see five different sets of recommendations based on their overarching philosophies. As a prospect, the most important question to keep in mind is “why?” Why is one approach better than another?


Surely the outcomes for the account differ, or else there would be one standard approach to account structure that every PPC professional follows. I caution restraint towards any agency whose answer is along the lines of “because it’s the way we like to do things.” If they can’t connect the recommendation to results, or provide how the recommendation they’re making benefits the bigger picture, then why should that agency win your business?


Account structure is just one aspect of an AdWords account that we assess in a prospective client audit. We know that the best accounts are ones that have a solid foundation that support growth and scalability from a performance and ease-of-management perspective. One of our general “best practices” is to segment keyword match types at the ad group level rather than have BMM, phrase, and exact keywords within the same ad group. Of course, this is our best practice and just like any there are exceptions, but in our experience this tends to be a piece of the account structure that drives bottom line performance well.


The principle is that when given the option, a search query will tend to match to a broad keyword over the same exact match version. We know broad match auctions are more competitive, resulting in higher average CPCs and that exact terms demonstrate high purchase intent.


So, what? By segmenting match types, embedding the appropriate negative terms, and implementing priorities & tiered bids we can funnel traffic to the most cost-effective and relevant keyword possible. Why? It affords us cost-efficient clicks and drives traffic towards terms that are more likely to convert, which (in a perfect world) brings down CPA, increases conversion volume (because your landing page should align more with the exact term and a user’s expectations), and provides more clarity to terms that are or are not working well.


Another example of this strategic approach comes with market expansion opportunities. Hanapin specializes in paid search, but we would be doing a disservice to our clients if we didn’t also bring other digital platforms to the table that help both improve PPC performance as well as bottom revenue lines. We know the more value we can bring to the table, the better the agency/client relationship.


When looking at expansion opportunities, it’s more than simply boosting volume by finding additional ad inventory to buy. It’s about understanding which audiences you score well with, understanding the roles different platforms play, and figuring out what we can do with this information.


One example of this came recently in a pitch to a company that sells various automotive and performance racing parts. I was looking through their website while working on the pitch and saw that certain products were almost essential to purchase together. For instance, if you’re purchasing a turbo charger for your car, you’ll almost certainly need boost gauges to go with it (for the non-car folks, think of it as buying peanut butter with jelly.) I saw this as an opportunity for cross-selling via social remarketing and Gmail Ads, as we could target customers who purchased turbo chargers with offers and reminders about the gauges, building their overall lifetime value.


I didn’t invent, or even reinvent the wheel; marketers have been cross-selling and up-selling for as long as marketing has been around. What I did do is show to the prospect that we are thinking forward about improving the businesses bottom line more than another agency who would only focus on what’s currently within the account, and that we also have the knowledge and ability to do so. This struck a chord with the prospect and got them thinking about all the other products they offer that go together and how they can use that information to increase sales and revenue, something they’ve not considered before. Signing for them was a no brainer and they’ve been a client ever since.


Businesses today want a true partnership when working with an agency. Simply being a vendor who changes bids and sends a report just doesn’t cut it anymore, there’s much more to this industry and it’s only growing more complex. Clients need help understanding the role digital plays in the entire marketing mix and how it can help pick up slack where other retail channels are failing, and lean on us to do so.



It’s our responsibility as agencies to provide more than just “our solution” and work to try and find the “best solution” that can connect to the best results for our clients, because when our clients are successful, we are successful and vice-versa.