An email lurched into my inbox.

Image of people management

Have you ever noticed that some emails slip in, some slide in, some explode in, some bounce in… and some… lurch in. If you have an image in your mind of a walker stumbling towards Darryl, then you are approaching my metaphor.

The email went something like this:

“A guy from Google called our client about their AdWords account and he had some concerns that he wanted to talk about. Can you deal with this?”

Let’s stop there.

To a non-tech savvy, SMB, Google is the equivalent of the Greek god, Zeus. I’m not really exaggerating that much. Google carries the flaming thunderbolts of denial, disapproval, and blacklisting. Google has phenomenal, cosmic power (said in the voice of Aladdin’s Genie) and if you get on their bad side, they will blast away at you willy nilly. I’m not arguing here the veracity of this claim, I’m just reporting how many small businesses feel where Google is concerned. They don’t understand how it works, but they fear the reaper (and there’s no Will Ferrell to explore the studio space).

So back to my situation. When Google talks to your client, they jump. When Google calls your existing client and says “I have concerns about your account,” your client freaks out.

As someone who strives to do well in my accounts, spends a lot of time in each, and attempts to stay up to date on the latest changes… I was not happy about this. I gave the rep who had contacted them a call and politely informed him that I didn’t appreciate him contacting my client directly. What if this had been a touchy client, or a new client where the trust level hadn’t quite grown yet? If that was the case, I could have had some serious explaining to do for why Google was calling them directly about “concerns” in their account. Thankfully I’ve had this client for a few years now, and we have a great relationship… though they were still alarmed by the initial contact.

no calls signTo his credit, the rep was so apologetic I actually kind of felt bad for him. He was in fact, quite alarmed to learn that he had alarmed my client. For Google, this was simply a call to check in on what they thought was a DIY client and they wanted to help him learn about new programs/opportunities/ad types/etc. I let him know that I know this task is part of his job, so I didn’t have a problem with him… but I did have a problem with the system (it seems really odd that there is still no hard system for identifying which agencies are with which clients so the agencies can be contacted first with account suggestions. For instance, I just received an email this morning for a new Adwords account coupon… for my AGENCY email address in which I am already advertising!).

We chatted a while longer (I had recently visited San Francisco for the first time where he lives) and actually hit it off. By the end of the call, this rep was insisting that he contact the client back to make the situation right, even though he had intended no harm. I agreed, and he wrote an email to the client.

This was when I had my epiphany.

His email went something like this: “I was able to discuss your account with Kirk and we covered a few things blah blah blah. BTW, I just want to let you know that I see many AdWords accounts as a rep, and I think you should know that Kirk is doing a great job in your account for a few reasons, blah blah blah.” He wasn’t really making anything up or saying anything ground-breaking, he just called my client’s attention to the fact that he thought I was doing a good job managing the account.

The client response was as positive this time as it had been negative before. Google had just told them that their PPC manager did a great job! Think about it, as a client (unless you have had multiple agencies work on your accounts), you always wonder what you are getting in terms of service. To have Google allay your fears and let you know that you are in a good place? Priceless! For me, the agency, to have a Google rep back me up personally to my client? Priceless! I couldn’t be happier with how the Google rep fixed the situation.

a happy ppc manager and happy clientWe ALL walked away as happy as this frolicking canine. The client was happy (their PPC pro wasn’t a neanderthal). The PPC pro was happy (I didn’t lose the client, and actually gained trust). Google was happy (we’re still spending money). …and isn’t that the goal?

Is It Time for a PPC Management Quality Score?

What if there was a process for measuring PPC management quality?

What if a client could actually know their in-house or agency was measuring up to certain quality standards?

What if a client seeking out an agency, or seeking out a new professional to bring in-house had some way of identifying the quality of that individual/agency because of previous experiences in which Google could give a measurement of quality?

The immensely positive response from my client in the above scenario alerted me to how strong this sort of search-engine-qualified system could be for clients and PPC Professionals (agency and in-house). Imagine a system like Google Partners, but that is controlled by stringent quality standards so the highest quality agencies or in-house professionals are recognized as such and rewarded as such? Currently, a Google Partner can include a multitude of options ranging from the highest quality, to the terrible.

They already (kind of) do this for e-commerce with their Trusted Stores Program so there must be some way to identify and develop some level of quality with PPC management (yet, without releasing sensitive information of any kind)? Perhaps the “agency quality score” if you will, would be different for e-commerce and lead generation? Could they measure such things as general account structure, active ad A/B testing, conversion rate, CTR, account Quality Score, etc? Sure, there’s a lot of fluctuation in there, but taken all-together we ought to be able to have some level of knowledge as to see if an account is managed by first-timers or pros, right?

This “agency quality score” won’t allow us to measure the all-important and elusive “solid decision making abilities” inherent in the best PPC managers, but it will at least give us a starting place for measuring account quality trends rather than quantity at this point. After all, a consistently high trend in the various measurements of quality likely demonstrates a level of inherent management expertise.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t understand all that would go into this. I’m not saying we could do this tomorrow. I’m asking: can we work together as a professional PPC community to help Google move past their interest in increasing funds with quantity and rather begin emphasizing the long-term solution of creating a qualitative culture of trustworthy “expert” agencies and in-house individuals?

This strategy helps engender trust all around and as far as Google’s profit is concerned, the funny thing is that I’ve found a client who trusts me is more willing to trust when I suggest that they increase their budget because they’ve learned that I have their best interest at heart! We all win again.

An Objection

At this point, the astute among you may say “I don’t see the need for this, we believe in developing a good relationship with trust among clients so we don’t have to rely upon 3rd party verification of our work.”

My response would be: agreed! There is no substitute for a solid relationship of trust. However, I would pushback on this objection in three ways.

(1) Even in the tightest ongoing business relationships, it is helpful to have a trusted 3rd party source verify that the trust being placed in you is not misguided. It cannot hurt for your most loyal clients to hear that even Google thinks you are great. Even in the best clients, a lean month or two can quickly put a strain on what you thought was a deep relationship. I believe this can help eliminate the “grass is greener” mentality (“maybe we need to try a new agency/PPC employee”) if it is being communicated to them that you are a top notch agency/individual and there would be little to gain by dropping you. In fact, this may help reinforce your suggestions that the PPC professional is not the problem in this case, but rather the issue is the landing page, the checkout process, etc (as you have been communicating all along).

(2) Frankly, unless you are a mega well-known agency or PPC individual, sales (or getting a new PPC job) can be just plain difficult. The hardest part by far is the privacy issue in terms of demonstrating your value. A web designer can put examples of their work online for immediate verification. Are they good? Check out their work. This is a lot more difficult for a PPCer. Yes, you can do case studies and such, but the funny thing is that an agency or individual can be lying when they throw out numbers. There really is no verifiable evidence for the claims, and businesses are extremely hesitant to dive into a relationship with a smaller, lesser known agency/individual. My proposed 3rd party verification solution by Google, on the other hand, could legitimately begin to reward the truly great agencies/individuals, thus helping spur on the mundane to step up their game or leave it.

(3) Finally, I think this is still a great idea even if only thought of from the side of Google. We’ve all heard the frustrations from clients who have been burned by bad agencies. We’ve heard the media trumpeting eBay’s PPC-drop. Perhaps Google would be wise to begin shifting more of their attention and new business to qualified agencies/house individuals so the frustration with PPC becomes lessened as more SMBs are handled by more qualified professionals (in-house, or agency).

In conclusion, I believe that it will be in everyone’s best interest if there was some system in place to accurately identify qualities of PPC management, measure them, and then communicate that to the consumer.

If this is done, (1) more businesses can more easily find those agencies/individuals that are actually qualified (no, passing an open book test with a large number of “automated spend increase” questions doesn’t count as qualified),

AND (2) more businesses can rest assured that their current agency/in-house individual is actually qualified, thus, helping to increase their legitimacy and respect with the businesses.

This will make businesses happy (they no longer have to worry about this side of their business because their trust in you continues to increase), us PPC professionals happy (we get to keep our current clients because they trust us more, or it becomes easier for good agencies to get future clients), and Google happy (as demonstrated before, trust in agencies and in-house individuals helps to increase spend at the proper times… also, less damage will be done to the name of PPC when the frustrations should be more accurately applied to poor management).

Thoughts? Terrible idea? Great idea?