After a dozen years in PPC management, I know there is a legitimate difference between great and mediocre PPC campaigns. I know, I know, deep stuff, right? We may often roll our eyes when Captain Obvious shows up, but he’s constantly wagging his head at us when we make talent decisions that betray this simple logic. While every agency or specialist runs into accounts that are simply underwhelming no matter what hail mary you throw at them, there is a way to consistently deliver outstanding results worth billing for. And if you are interested in producing strong results, you should be interested in hiring strong talent. Otherwise, I suppose you could start a consulting business around mitigating bad PR because you may become an expert soon.
As the CEO of a white-label PPC agency focusing strictly on pay-per-click advertising, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a few things about hiring great PPC specialists. I’ve taken some time to share tips from my experience to make your recruiting efforts more fruitful, focusing on specific areas and questions you can adopt to ensure you onboard the right people onto your team. Ready? Set? Let’s go!
The word talent has lost its sting over the years (thanks a lot Simon), which means we need to be more discerning. First, I strongly recommend integrating an assessment test into your recruiting process that emphasizes attention to detail. I won’t hire anyone with a score lower than four on a scale from 1 – 5 unless there are unusual circumstances. Secondly, you’ll want to keep your radar on for manifestations of confidence in an interview. Confidence should not be confused with arrogance of course, which is an immediate disqualifier. I trust we can discern the difference. I’ve expanded on both of these suggestions—attention to detail and confidence—below.
Attention to detail
If I could only perform one assessment test during the entire hiring process, it would be attention to detail. And no, I’m not trying to be dramatic; rather, I speak from years of recruiting experience. Nearly everyone (I say “nearly” to be safe, but it may be everyone) we’ve hired who has turned out to be worth their weight in gold scores well in this area. I believe there are many people who have high IQs and limited attention to detail; however, I don’t think you will find people with great attention to detail and low IQs. I have also observed a positive correlation between attention to detail and organizational skills. In short, this type of assessment is valuable toward identifying intelligence and managerial skills.
As for exuding confidence, I am aware this is somewhat self-explanatory. Without even knowing it, you probably gravitate toward prospects displaying composure, speaking authoritatively, and exercising concision, etc. So the goal here is to make sure you do this intentionally vs. subconsciously. You should only advance candidates who are engaged in your conversation / undistracted, clear and audible in their tones, quick with responses with limited to no hemming and hawing. Advertisers are entrusting you with large sums of money, and their campaign performance will be less than desirable at times. You want to ensure your clients can leave each meeting with an assurance that they’ve chosen the right agency, much of which will depend upon delivery.
I’m not suggesting that hiring great PPC specialists is as simple as finding folks with experience, great attention to detail and a confident disposition. See additional characteristics below. I’m suggesting that if you hire candidates that possess these characteristics, you will have a high success rate. You will find that these people tend to be intelligent, organized, and motivated, which goes a long way in this role.
Did you know that SEM was originally a designation for both SEO and PPC? Of course nowadays it typically refers to paid search specifically. Anyone who has been in digital marketing for the last decade can testify to this industry’s trend toward specialization such that a claim to be a jack of all trades is now immediately suspect. This channel-specific compartmentalization has gone much deeper than divisions between SEO & PPC, penetrating sub-disciplines. PPC is probably the most guilty culprit. There may be some exceptional cases where one person can be an expert in paid search and paid social; however, that is typically the exception to the rule.
Publishers like Google and Facebook demand their respective adeptness. While there are overlapping characteristics, search and social are two very different channels requiring unique experience, strategy, and tactics. The bottom line here is that if you do not hire PPC managers with specialization specific to paid search and paid social, you will be limited in the caliber of PPC management you can offer. I understand this may not be realistic if you choose to manage both paid search and paid social in-house. If that is the case, save yourself some time and file bankruptcy today. Kidding… just know that if resources permit, you do well to make this a priority.
“To ensure you and your team are operating from a formalized and coordinated process not only increases productivity but reduces the risk of errors.” – Oliver Pearce.
Increasing productivity is probably the favorite flavor when it comes to operations. And while much could be said about that vital discipline, I want to speak to neutralizing liabilities. Paid media is one place you want to minimize risk. This channel involves managing substantial amounts of money across multiple advertisers; thus mistakes can be costly. In addition to the amount of money you’re responsible for, you deal with robust, multi-faceted interfaces with many nooks and crannies. Errors will compound without a process.
Three specific questions
What I’m not suggesting here is that you ask your candidates to submit SOPs along with their resumes, though it isn’t a terrible idea. I am encouraging you, however, to inquire into their processes, keeping your radar on for a sense of regimentation. What you don’t need is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants PPC manager with a lack of protocol. Ask them what their process is for onboarding a new account as well as optimizing existing accounts. I would also ask them to outline their approach to troubleshooting/diagnostics. These are questions that cannot be satisfied by a quick Google search. Asking will give you immediate insight into the caliber of specialist you are interviewing.
Peter Drucker is arguably one of the greatest minds in business management philosophy. He penned the well-known mantra, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Here’s something to consider: You could have impressive PPC talent with channel-specific specialization and formidable standard operating procedures; however, if you are not able to measure your results, then you will struggle to justify your existence, let alone your recurring invoices.
Admittedly this is one of the more challenging areas to assess in the recruiting process. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many unique, case-by-case scenarios; however, the ultimate cause is that attribution is one of the most technical aspects of paid media. Case in point: if our white-label PPC agency was to hire an onboarding specialist, it could take us a year before we were able to train them on all of the unique scenarios of conversion tracking implementation and troubleshooting. Don’t worry though, you won’t need that level of technical aptitude to gauge a candidate’s competency. A few simple questions should do the trick.
Three simple questions
You are not likely to meet a candidate matching the qualifications above who’s interested in owning conversion tracking if they lack the expertise. That’s why a few questions should suffice. Ask them how comfortable they are with setting up conversion tracking on a scale from 1 – 5. Have them share some of the keys to executing it well. You may be hesitant to address this based on your limited knowledge; however, you are merely looking for signs of familiarity and confidence. A third question I highly recommend is asking them how comfortable they are with Google Tag Manager. If you want clients who are not going to think twice about paying your invoices, make sure you hire PPC specialists that possess the technical prowess to produce meaningful attribution.
Are you tempted to skip this section because you have the most bestest (lousy grammar intended) reporting software? I get it. If I saw a subtitle called “reporting,” I would probably visualize a page from Google Data Studio. That is not the intention of this section. Yes, you must present your clients with real-time dashboards that leverage user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing KPIs, charts, and graphs. More importantly, though, is the ability to deliver that data to your clients strategically and confidently. Anybody can display stats during a monthly call. Only a skilled account manager can ensure that an advertiser leaves each meeting confident they are investing their marketing dollars wisely. To produce strategic reporting, you need PPC strategists who are privy, productive and preemptive.
An account may be producing a decent ROAS, which can be easily forget amidst normal fluctuations. So before you even launch an account, you need to have clear goals in place such that every month you are simply hitting the target or you are not. A seasoned PPC manager will have enough sense to anchor every monthly call to an advertiser’s KPIs. This data includes metrics like average LTV, closing rate, and cost of goods sold. Be sure to ask applicants to share their process of creating performance targets and do not let them get away with vague answers about creating milestones based on business goals. They should be mentioning some of the KPIs above as well as related formulas.
Put the pro in productive
Productivity might go without saying, but I think I would be remiss to be silent on this topic. Every intern or certified “specialist” can get lucky, but it takes expertise to produce great results consistently. Meaningful performance demands, 1. intelligently nuanced campaigns, 2. advanced tactics, and 3. out-of-the-box thinking. Do yourself a favor when recruiting for a PPC management position and inquire into those three specific areas. If you are dealing with a PPC manager who possesses genuine expertise, they will not have any trouble providing clear and concise answers.
The preemptive strike
What about when an account is not executing on its goals and underwhelming in its productivity? Such inevitable seasons call for preemptive countermeasures e.g. mission-critical tactics that make the difference between a disillusioned advertiser and one who is reassured and committed. A talented PPC strategist will come to a monthly meeting prepared to answer why the account is underperforming and what you are currently or will be doing to rectify it. If you can’t show results, you need to demonstrate work. This way, it is clear to your client that you are in tune, taking the initiative, and committed to their success. Ask your candidates to identify some essential steps in maintaining healthy client relationships when their accounts are underperforming.
The bottom line
If you choose to shop at the dollar store instead of Bed Bath and Beyond, you probably won’t have any regrets… if you’re buying drinking straws. On the contrary, as your object of purchase increases in value, you are less likely to prioritize cost over quality. The same holds in pay-per-click advertising—you get what you pay for. If you’re willing to trade quality for cost, you will pay for it in the end.
White-label PPC services like oxbird exist because it is often unrealistic for smaller agencies to acquire the talent described above. Nevertheless, you may have concluded that managing paid search and paid social in-house is the right choice for you. If so, I am confident you will consistently win strong PPC talent if you aim for genuine, specialized individuals who possess an SOP mindset, conversion tracking capabilities, and reporting competency.