5 Ways Your Search Agency Is Screwing You Over

I think we can all agree that finding the right search agency to fit your business can be a real challenge.

When you were picking whom to partner with, you probably spoke to a half a dozen different companies who all promised that they were the best of the best.  But do you really know if they’re any good at what they do? After all, you’re not a search engine marketing expert – that’s why you’re hiring an outside firm in the first place!

Before I started Amplitude Digital, I was a client, just like you. When I started a new position at various companies as head of digital advertising, I was shocked by how many times these agencies were taking advantage of my employers.  Which is why, when I started my agency, I decided to be as transparent as possible with my clients, so they never felt like they were getting screwed.

This is one of many reasons we’ve held on to our clients for years, instead of just a few months.

Not long ago, I was reminded just how a search engine marketing agency can really screw over their client while speaking with a prospective client. The prospect is a medium-sized business that operates a chain of home heating and cooling installation and repair shops throughout Canada. The company has been working with an agency for a couple of years, but felt that they just weren’t getting their money’s worth each month.


Access Denied!

As part of any new client discussion, we ask for access to their Google AdWords account so we can perform a short audit to determine the health and efficiency of their campaigns. However, the owner of the company told us that he didn’t have access to his Google AdWords account! This turned out to be the first of many ways this poor company was getting screwed over by their search agency.

Folks, even if your search agency created your Google AdWords campaign for you from scratch, it is still your account, not theirs. Far too many times, we’ve seen agencies deny access to their clients’ AdWords accounts for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes, it’s because they don’t want the clients messing things up (this can happen), but most of the time, it’s to cover up just how much money is being spent or how little work is being done.


Tip #1: Always insist that you get full “admin” access to your advertising accounts.


Set It and Forget It

After the client wrangled access to his own AdWords campaign from his current search agency, I could finally audit the campaigns. It didn’t take long for me to find a few issues that made my blood boil.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I checked the account history section of the account.  This area is usually used by search managers to determine who has made certain changes to the campaign, or sometimes just to remind them of when certain changes took place.

For this client however, the account history was a ghost town.  No one had accessed the account for MONTHS and when they did, it was clearly just to change the creative for the occasional sale.

No changes in bids, no new keywords… no optimization whatsoever! The agency had simply created the campaign months ago and then let it sit.


Tip #2: Any agency worth their pay will check in on your account at least once a week, if not more.


Can’t Track This

As I mentioned, this business was a small chain of HVAC installation and service shops.  This means that their website and any advertising campaigns should have had the goal of generating more leads for their business.  The company’s website utilized a simple online form that would automatically email leads to the various shops so their sales team could follow up quickly.  The site also featured the company’s toll-free number.

During our audit, we wanted to determine how much the company was paying for each lead that came in via their AdWords campaign.

You probably know where this is going already, right?  The agency hadn’t bothered to set up the proper tracking at all!  So, they had no idea what part of the campaign was generating leads or how much each lead cost them.  We could almost understand if they weren’t using call tracking, as it’s a bit more complex, but this company wasn’t even tracking people filling out the form on the website.


Tip #3: Your agency should help you establish the goal of your campaign and set up the proper tracking so you can determine how best to optimize the campaign to get you the most conversions at the right price.


Robot Attack

During our early conversations with the prospective client, the owner had mentioned that all their business seemed to be coming from paid search.  How did they know this? Their agency told them of course.  How the agency knew, I’m not sure (see above).

The owner was very frustrated by this.  The prior year, his agency had talked him into redoing his entire website and he was sure that all that work would pay off in more leads from organic listings on Google and other search engines.

While I was still on the phone with him, I used a fun little trick on Google (“site:URL”) to see how many pages from his site were indexed on the directory.  Google only returned a single result, and it was the home page.  If this wasn’t bad enough, there was a little notice where the home page’s description should be that stated the description was not available because of the site’s “robots.txt file.”

The robots.txt file is a little file that lives hidden on your website and controls which bots and crawlers can access your site.  If this file is set up incorrectly, then you can end up blocking Google and the other search engines from looking at your site.  And that’s exactly what was happening here.

Now, I couldn’t be 100% sure if his current agency had just screwed up when they were building his fancy new site, or if they were doing it on purpose, but, I did know that because of this, none of his leads were coming from organic search results.


TIP #4: Your robots.txt file should be set up properly to allow in good bots and crawlers, or you’ll be completely invisible.


Low Monthly Fee, High CPC

After pointing out these and a few other issues with the account, the owner was ready for me to send him a proposal.  

Shortly afterwards, I received a call from the owner stating the proposal looked good, but seemed kind of expensive compared to his existing agency.  The owner was nice enough to tell me how much he was paying each month and the rate seemed almost too good to be true.

I then asked him, since he had never had access to his account until just recently, how was he paying for the media charges from Google?  He quickly replied that the media cost was a line item on his monthly bill.  It then dawned on me how this agency was keeping their prices so low – they were marking up the cost per click charges!

That’s right – each month, the agency was taking the amount of money that Google was charging for the advertising, and adding an extra percentage to the total, but without telling the client.


TIP #5: Your Google AdWords charges should be paid directly by you via credit card or invoicing and never by your agency.


Happy Ending

As you can imagine, after this last bit of unethical behavior was revealed, the owner of the company gave his agency their official notice and sent the business our way.  

We’re happy to report, that the leads for the business have never been higher, from both paid and organic search and the client is much happier now.

When’s the last time you had someone take a look at your SEM campaigns? Make a Booking and get on our calendar today!