Pros and Cons of Agencies for Pay-per-Click

AdWords: love it or hate it, there is no reason to go it alone when your business marketing performance is at stake

AdWords: love it or hate it, there is no reason to go it alone when your business marketing performance is at stake

Firstly, KnowledgePower is a digital marketing agency specializing in pay-per-click (PPC), so this article is going to be extremely biased. However, bear with us and see what you think: comments are welcome.

This article addresses the question:

"Should our business pay a marketing agency to set up and manage our PPC campaign?"

Or stated more to the point:

"Is paying a marketing agency for PPC management worth it?"

When Not To Use An Agency

Let's start by looking at the situations when it probably does not make sense to pay an agency... it makes sense to do it yourself:

  • You are a private person, a small non-profit or charity, or small-scale business. In these cases the cost of professional PCC consulting and management will be too high. The same would also apply to getting professional help with SEO, web design, etc. With very little or no budget, you will have to improvise.
  • If you are an independent freelancer probably the same comments apply. In not just PPC but your self-marketing generally, you are on your own and nobody knows how to present your brand better than you.
    (However, this does not apply if you are highly specialized expert such as a barrister, surgeon, financial analyst, author, public speaker etc... here the opportunity cost is just too high when you spend time on non-core work. So you should either budget your own-brand business to be able to afford professional marketing help, or work with a group where you can pool resources.)
  • Your advertising budget is too small - below a minimum threshold for professional management. Maybe PPC (primarily we are talking about Google AdWords) is a good idea for you. However the additional cost of professional PPC management would make it not a good idea! If you do PPC with too small a budget to merit paying for professional help with it, then you will have to accept you're on your own and do the best you can. Your results may be fine, especially if you have the time to invest in learning and maintenance. You can and should ask any PPC management agency for their recommended and minimum click budget figures, based on your business type.
  • You have a strong interest in learning pay-per-click. OK then go for it: just bear in mind it is only one specialism of digital marketing. If you are just curious -- and this applies to staff in your business that say they are interested -- you have to stick at it enough to get results in the context of the business. If you are just doing PPC for the learning aspect, probably you should do it on your own sites/projects and put more dependable resources on campaigns for the main business.
  • Your business is digital marketing. If your business is in digital marketing then the benefits of getting stuck in directly on your own PPC outweigh the learning curve and management resources required. I would argue that this also applies to primarily web-focused businesses like web design houses and copy writers.


Do PPC Work In-House?

If you wish to work on PPC, and the above "too small" kind of considerations don't apply, and you are assuming you are going to do it yourself (as a/the manager) or assign to staff in your team, then you are probably making all of the following assumptions:

  1. You or your team member have the requisite skills to make a start on live PPC campaigns that burn real cash of your business
  2. You have the motivation and capability to learn all the stuff you don't know*, on the fly
  3. You have the spare time to work on setup and maintenance of PPC
  4. The time you have spare to work on PPC cannot be spent more productively on any other part of your business
  5. You believe you will not make an enormous mess of it
  6. You are willing to accept extended trial-and-error while you figure things out that you don't know about yet*
  7. You have the peripheral knowledge of analytics and marketing concepts to make hypotheses about what is and isn't working in your campaigns and plan adjustments to see if you can perform better
  8. You have the capabilities involved in web content production and publishing in your team or 3rd party providers that you can seamlessly connect with the above requirements to get the adjustments and experiments implemented
  9. After all the above you are still going to be happy and motivated and stable to keep up the PPC management and optimization work indefinitely all by yourselves
  10. You believe so much in doing it yourself you are willing to take an unspecified amount of pain to prove you were right about all of the above 😀

(*The sign of a knowledgeable PPC professional is that they will tell you they know less than 20% of everything there is to know about doing PPC. Anyone who says more is bullshitting you. For example ask them how things work in Baidu and Yandex.)

So, OK that all got a bit sarcastic but...

...the above is hardly ever all true.

The only way to work through all the conditions above to justify working on PPC within your office is if you already have a marketing team with staff who are experienced at managing PPC, or you are really really motivated in investing in building that expertise from a strong starting point. You may also be lucky to hire an experienced PPC-er, and further may be lucky enough for them to continue working for you. That all probably means digital marketing is critical to your business model so you must have all the IP and skillsets in house, and you are investing a lot of money in advertising. At this point the close understanding of the daily details of the business, and the in-office connections with the rest of the team, indeed mean it makes sense to do the work in house.

Apart from that, please don't default to trying to do PPC by yourself just because you can. Actually you can't - not apart from the burning cash part of it. Anyone can burn cash.

It could be that you have a strong prejudice about "outsourcing" PPC, digital marketing, or indeed any part of your business operation. In other words doing the work in house, even if not that expert, and even if a headache to manage, and contending for time/resources with other possibly more important work... you would still rather choose all that pain than seek a more high-performance way of doing it.

This might be a rather sarcastic way of putting it though: certainly there are disadvantages to assigning work outside your office team. Read on...

Disadvantages Of Getting People Outside Your Office To Work On PPC

Here are some possible disadvantages and comments.

  • It is hard to communicate with people who are not sitting inside your office.
    - Agreed, a good agency or freelancer should be easy to communicate with.
  • Service providers are hard to manage.
    - This is a management question 🙂
    - Agreed you should avoid working with people who prove unmanageable
    - On the other hand it may be good to find solutions which require little management overhead
  • It is hard to trust people not in our office/team
    - Consider the worst that could happen and protect yourself against the eventualities which are risky
    - If your business is so highly sensitive that having outsiders work on PPC for you is highly risky... then you should definitely be looking for a professional ad agency 😀
  • We don't outsource anything and therefore there is not a predefined decision-making and budget process for paying for external services
    - This is more an issue with your business setup than an objection about seeking specialist expertise outside your team
    - Anyway the chances are that you do go outside to professionals for legal and accounting things; marketing agencies are usually cheaper than that and more fun
  • External companies unnecessarily increase costs
    - This is something you can measure: firstly, can you get PPC work done competently at all within your team? Secondly what are the actual costs of working on it in house, including opportunity cost? Thirdly, if you know how much internal staff resources would cost to cover the work including office costs and payroll costs, you can readily compare that to an agency or freelancer bid.
    - If you don't know how much time or what kind of expertise is needed for PPC, then you can't measure the cost accurately and by definition you should seek at least advice from external PPC professionals.

As you can see, the question of whether getting outside people to work on your PPC (or indeed support any part of your business operation) is not a black-and-white issue, but more about how badly or how well the service provider performs.

If you are making assumptions about the disadvantages and difficulties of getting PPC work done outside your office, then question whether your assumptions are based on actual research or experience, or just a guess. It is easy to research basics like pricing and service provision: just go and ask for pitches from one or a dozen agencies or freelancers. It is also easy to get experience since, if you are intending to work on PPC, you can easily set finite and non-risky test projects for your prospective provider to work on for you. As with any business product or service you just want to define the trial in a way that diminishes your risk.

If the service provider doesn't offer the arrangement you want, keep looking around. For example KnowledgePower's PPC management services are probably not the cheapest or most flexible: every digital marketing provider will have their strengths. It is rational to shop around and quite easy once you have determined what you are asking for.*

(*You're asking for PPC campaign setup and management. Not web design. Not SEO. Not programming or website hosting. Not billboards on bus stops or radio ads. Not PR or social media. Once you focus your question you will be able to assess possible service providers.)


Freelancers for PPC Management

  • Freelancers, Good:
    Could be lower cost; specific named expert to work with; flexible to assign work; may help you with other kinds of work; pay by the hour.
  • Freelancers, Bad (and these are the flip side of the above good points):
    Could be poorly qualified; could be a difficult person to work with; they may be "flexible" with their attention to clients and thus may have unpredictable availability or simply disappear; once you start a mixture of different kinds of work you may find it hard to track how much is done, as well as increased overheads for work assignment and supervision; paying by the hour means your freelancers may stretch work out, add hours, or simply create a burden of administration to track work and billing.

In summary working with freelancers can be an excellent way of accessing talented individuals in a flexible way with lower costs. However you have to accept you are increasing your own management overheads and at high risk of instability without many guarantees about getting what you want.

If you don't know what I am referring to, please go ahead with the freelancers and see you in a few months 😉


Digital Marketing Agency for PPC Management

Here is where the bias really kicks in 😀

But seriously, here are some of the things we set out to solve for business clients when we started KnowledgePower:

  1. Not all digital marketing companies are knowledgeable or experienced in PPC* - finding one that is, will solve most of your requirements.
    - PPC is a specialism: it is not rocket science but it is something where there is a difference between a beginner and a professional
    - You don't have to use one digital marketing agency to do all the parts of digital marketing
  2. Businesses need sane expectations and professional communications.
    - It is hard to get this from freelancers
    - A good marketing company should have good communications and make everything clean and clear about what you are paying for and what work you can expect to get done
  3. Experience in PPC campaigns is useful in getting to good results faster
    - If you are working on your own PPC you have experience of precisely one business's keywords, bids, ads, targeting, landing page ideas etc - an experienced agency brings in all sorts of readymade solutions based on testing from years of other comparable campaigns
    - Even if you don't believe anyone could be smarter at PPC than you, at least you can say you get results faster in the sense that you did not have to expend your own valuable time doing work that you have implicitly just said "anyone could do" 😉
  4. Established AdWords agencies are backed up by Google
    - Google's business model is about making money from AdWords: they offer guidance on campaigns for businesses above a certain click spend threshold -- obviously it is quite useful to have this kind of input, which you would not if you were doing everything in-house [until quite a lot bigger spends]
  5. There is more to PPC campaigns than just ad management
    - Graphic ad creative can benefit from serious expert/art work, while landing pages, video, and the design and text of sales pages should be done as awesomely as you can afford: therefore working with an agency can get you access to the content creative expertise, if you don't already have all or some of these skills in your team
    - Getting creative done with/through your PPC agency will mean the requirements are clearer: contrast this with trying to pull things together from 5 different freelancers or staff members

*Just a footnote that we are definitely not the most knowledgeable and experienced PPC management agency in existence. Some of the experts are insanely specialized and also there are agencies dealing with very huge advertising budgets for large corporate accounts. So we are not claiming to be that.


  • Even if you are really interested in PPC, and you have enough knowledge and skills to do it well enough for your business, and you have the time to work on it, and there is not anything else you should be doing with that time... you still ought to consider getting professional input instead. Firstly you will learn faster just by watching experienced marketers work on your campaigns. Secondly it is impossible that you don't have anything more productive to do with your time. Thirdly, experts will get the job done so much better, it is really the only rational thing to do to get bang for your advertising buck.
  • PPC is definitely one of those things - "if you think it's expensive to do it with the professionals, try doing it without them". Bear in mind that AdWords is set up to suck in unnecessary click expenditure by unwary hands-on business owners.
  • Online advertising is expensive and quite hard to make work well (sales growth or sustainable ROI). But it may still be worth tackling. If you are not sure about it, a PPC consultant at least can help you put some numbers and difficulty ratings on it. After all it, might be expensive and difficult, but the least expensive and difficult of your online marketing options. It sure beats SEO if you ask us.

Contact KnowledgePower for proposals or general advice about pay-per-click management.

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