I would imagine most people are expecting a pretty sweet Hanapin sales pitch right now. While I hate to disappoint, that will just not be the case. Here’s why: any agency that says they’re the best choice for any/all client(s) is just wrong. Sure, there are common best practices in the industry that most agencies likely follow and similarities between agencies from all over. However, when choosing the right partner to represent your paid search, your brand needs to find the best account team structure, agency size, and even personalities to fit for the long term.

That being said, of course we do have a basic 5-step process that we believe will serve any brand well as they frame an agency search. The steps are simple, it’s the filling in the details throughout that takes a bit of work, but it will be worth it!

  1. Make a list – The first step in starting your agency search is to put together your list of agencies before you begin initial calls. Reach out to your professional network for referrals; conduct your own research online using various databases (Google Certified Partner Search, TopSEOs, etc.) and get a list together. A good list is probably 10 or so agencies, depending on how much you know up front about the kind of agency you’re looking for. You can get a pretty good idea about each agency’s style and methodology from their websites, so check those out extensively to get familiar.
  2. Compare/eliminate – Determine some basic criteria around what you want in an agency based on your initial research. You can look at an agency’s particular budget expectations, areas of expertise, specialties, and other similar qualities to complete this comparison. Reach out to some of your potential agencies and ask for an overview of their services to make sure you’re comparing what you get under management with that firm equally. I would also strongly encourage you to use this step to find additional agencies to check out in case you need more candidates. If you look in to an agency and they aren’t going to be a fit, still reach out and let them know what you’re looking for; they may have other agency references they can steer you towards to shorten your search! Whittle your list down to a handful or so to move to the next/more in-depth round of interviews.
  3. Time for some Q&A – Compile a list of the questions that you need answers to from your prospective agencies. Think about goal setting, reporting, team certifications, budget/bid methods, competitive strategy, team structure, industry specialties, etc.  Here’s the trick to this step: also compile a list of what you perceive to be the ideal answer to those questions. Does that mean the right agency will replicate your ideal responses exactly? Not necessarily. If an agency has a different take on the question, ask for more detail and determine if it’s a deal breaker or just a method or strategy you hadn’t thought of.
  4. Score & rank – Based on your interviews with the potential agencies, score and rank the prospects according to what you found out. This is another area where we recommend using an objective form of some kind to be sure you are effectively comparing and scoring the agencies against one another. Also try to include a couple of your peers in the search with you, if possible and efficient, to get a well-rounded set of scores. After scores are totaled, rank the agencies highest to lowest and choose the top 2 or 3 to analyze further. It’s likely at this point that you’ll need to open up to the potential vendors a bit for possible account audits or similar practices so that both you and the agency are sure to be the right fit for one another. Once you feel all questions have been asked and answered for both sides…
  5. Go for it! – You’ve probably heard some exciting things from the agency you’re about to choose, and you’re likely really looking forward to getting started. This is a good thing! Go with it! Too many times, the small anxieties of being sure you made the perfectly right decision can kill all the hard work you did to get to this point. Build a solid rating system, follow it, ask all the questions you need to and then when you find the right agency, trust your methods. Get an agreement in place, meet your entire account team if you haven’t already and start working toward your PPC goals. The more time you spend now wondering “what if,” the less time is going in to proactive communication for the better of your accounts.

Of course the list of questions to ask while interviewing potential agency partners can vary from one brand to the next, depending on what’s important or most needed by the brand from a management standpoint. That being said, we’ve got a more complete and thorough explanation of what we perceive to be the best agency search method in one of our white papers. You can download that entire paper over on the Hanapin site.

How many of our readers are looking for an agency now or have handled that search in the past? Let us know about your experiences! Did you learn your brand needed something you didn’t realize you needed? Did you come up empty handed in the search? If so, what kept you from making a decision? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences in the comments section below!