How and Why Your PPC Agency Should Fail

The word “failure” carries a pretty negative connotation these days. A failure means you didn’t succeed, had a poor outcome, or didn’t learn anything useful. But that’s a pretty negative way to view failure. Pay-per-click (PPC) agencies have a specific challenge when it comes to “failure.” If they’re not failing, one of three things is happening:

  1. They aren’t trying anything new.
  2. They aren’t telling you when their tests fail.
  3. Your account is a unicorn and everything always works.

Although we would all love it if the third option was the truth, it rarely is. If and when agencies fail, that doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job. In the world of PPC you will fail. There’s no question about it. But “failure” needs to be taken with a grain of salt. So don’t ask if your PPC agency if failing, ask how they’re failing. Failure can be a wonderful tool for progress. It can help you know what doesn’t work and why and prevent you from making the same choices moving forward. Below are the Why and the How of PPC agency failure, but first, let’s look at what I mean when I say “failure.”

Redefining Failure

First, let’s look at what I’m not talking about when I say failure:

  • Not hearing back from your agency over a long period of time.
  • Not putting letting you know about important strategic changes in your account.
  • Telling you they can achieve your goal metrics in two days and then not doing it.

These are all called “being a poor PPC agency,” for one or more different reasons, but that’s a topic for another post. What I’m referring to when I say failure is the following:

  • The newest round of ad copy testing didn’t yield a winner stronger than the previous winner.
  • A new beta in the account performed extremely poorly.
  • A channel that hadn’t been employed before was tested and resulted in increased spend and no conversions/revenue.

These are all examples of taking risks in an attempt to improve overall account performance. All too often, I hear of clients leaving an agency because the new tests they employed were failures. They say, “They kept doing things that didn’t work, so we left.” Although agencies should use discretion when testing, testing should still be taking place. When these tests fail, that’s the type of failure I’m referring to. Now let’s jump into the meat of this article, the why and the how of PPC failures.

The Why

There are two main reasons agencies should fail: content optimizations and industry changes.

Constant Optimization

Following the “Always Be Testing” catchphrase, regular tests are a constant in PPC. Ad copy tests, landing page tests, and testing individual keywords are constants for paid search pros. We’re always trying to move the needle by testing something new. But we’re not always going to be able to write more compelling ad copy. Our keyword bid changes aren’t always going to have the positive effects we want. These are minor tests and each time we “fail” it informs us of how to manage the account moving forward. But each failed test would be considered, well, a failure.

Constantly Changing Industry

Our industry is always changing. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others are constantly coming out with new targeting options, tools, automated features, or mandatory changes that could revolutionize any single account. Or they could cause the account performance to plummet. Either way, we have to keep up with these changes and find out if these new tools could improve accounts. If not, we’re not giving our best efforts.

The How

As I’ve hopefully convinced you by this point, failure isn’t always a bad thing. But not everyone fails properly. There are a few things your agency should be doing in conjunction with failures to make sure each failure isn’t wasted.

Group Buy-In

Everyone involved in a PPC accounts decision making (clients and account managers) should be informed and on board with testing strategies. If some people aren’t on board, that’s when we start playing the blame game. And the blame game isn’t healthy for anyone. Before launching a new test, all members of the group should agree that it’s worth testing and that no one is to blame if it doesn’t work. It’s simply a part of trying to advance the account. Without group buy in, you run the risk of giving one side or the other a reason to be upset when the test doesn’t go well.

Informed and Thorough Reporting

Once a test is complete, all members should be informed of the outcome. Was it a success, failure, or somewhere in the middle? Why? What can be done in the future to improve results?

Limiting Risks for Large Changes

If you or your agency proposes a change that could revolutionize your PPC account, that’s fantastic! But you probably shouldn’t roll changes out to all campaigns in all channels and hope it works. Prioritize a few select areas in your account, whether a certain keyword set, a geographic area, or similar, and test your groundbreaking idea there first. Then analyze your data and decide if and when you should roll out those changes to the rest of the account. Limiting risk is a great way to get everyone on board with testing and to achieve full team buy-in from above.

Informing Future Decisions

Past failures should stay where they are, in the past. But that doesn’t mean that your agency shouldn’t learn from them. Knowing that a certain type of ad copy messaging or landing page layout performed poorly in the past should help to design better tests for the future. In the same vein, if your previous remarketing strategy was a failure, you should look to restructure it and change your tactics if you want to relaunch in the future.

Failure shouldn’t be a bad word in the PPC industry. It should be used as a tool for growth and continual improvement, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. By following the steps above, you and your agency should be coming together to make progress on your accounts.

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