Is Your Agency a Paid Search Vendor or Partner?

Just like any marriage, the Client – Agent relationship for paid search can be wonderful and fulfilling or disappointing and frustrating. When this relationship works, the client feels as if they have an in-house digital marketing team, lines of communication are clear and, most importantly, revenue and profits grow. In other words, the client has a partner, a teammate that truly understands the power of paid search.

When the relationship is not working right, often communication is not great. There is mistrust. The agency can start to feel like an order-taker while the client begins to question the value and the expertise of the agency. The parting of ways is generally not far behind. In this scenario, the agency typically feels more like a vendor.

The struggle for every client is discovering how to pick a digital agency that will act like a partner by leading them towards revenue growth and helping them avoid the pitfalls of the chaotic digital marketing world. How do you find a digital agency that truly understands how to use paid search to grow your business?

Here are some key behaviors that will lead a client to deliver their digital agency flowers on their anniversary, rather than divorce papers.

Communication is the Key

Clients are seldom experts in digital marketing. Otherwise, there would be no need for an agency. However, every client wants to know what’s going on with their marketing dollars. More than simply delivering a bulky spreadsheet report once a week, clients want insights. They want to know where we’ve been, where we are now and where we are going. This reporting doesn’t need to be perfect, just clear and insightful.

If possible, it’s important to leverage data tools to build reporting dashboards for communicating insights. At Fathom, we use Tableau as our primary reporting tool in Paid Search. We can build customizable dashboards for each client that can join client data and search engine data. This allows the paid search analyst to focus less time on building a report and more time focusing on providing strategic insights to the client. Simplified reporting can make communication easier and more useful.


Going along with the need for strong communication, speed of information can be just as important. For example, when Google decided to remove the text ads on the right side of the results page, keeping clients updated on these changes was a top priority. While an agency can come up with a clear hypothesis about what to expect going forward, a full report can be sent later when there is sufficient data to draw conclusions. In short, don’t wait around until you have all the answers. Make sure you share what you know when you know it.

In addition, clients often find it more important to get the data quickly rather than waiting until it is pretty and well designed. Agencies can get too wrapped up in style over substance when just some solid, timely information will suffice.


Ultimately, an agency is hired for expertise. When an agency gets into the habit of just providing information on “what” is being done in the account, they ignore the most important component—the “why”. Clients are generally very concerned with the “why”. The best way to think about this concept is the “what” are the tactics of pulling off a paid search account. The “why” is more about strategy and how you plan to accomplish long term marketing goals.

Accordingly, it is important to learn the client’s business. Yes, we are in the paid search business, but we are also in our client’s business. The goal of any agency should be to serve not simply as an expert in paid search, but also as a digital consultant for the client’s business. This entails getting a full grasp of business goals and a clear picture of who the competition is. A true partner agency will bring innovative ideas for how to get the client where they want to go and how to get a leg up on the competition.

Trust, Trust, and More Trust

Last, but certainly not least, building trust is the key to creating a partnership between client and agency. The best way to build trust is by fulfilling all of the tasks listed above, especially delivering timely communication and providing expert insights.

However, another key to building trust is to be willing to share bad news. If a test fails, if a mistake is made or if the environment suddenly changes, share this insight openly and honestly. The best thing about paid search is problems can be fixed quickly, but the client will be more forgiving if these problems are shared when they occur.

Mistakes and problems are also an opportunity to “fail up”. Some of the best learnings in paid search accounts often arise when something goes incredibly wrong. Seize these opportunities to improve not only your paid search account, but also trust between client and agency.

One final note on trust… the client and agency should get to know each other personally. Invariably, when you get to know each other, there is an increase in not only trust but a willingness to go the extra mile. Frankly, it’s also a lot more fun as well. So, next time the client is in town, go get a drink or dinner or both. Learn about each other and you’ll find everything will go better in the partnership.

Being a Partner

Partnership is the key to success for both the agency and the client. When the agent and the client communicate well, when the agent is willing and able to offer expertise and when trust is at the forefront of the relationship, both businesses will grow into a profitable and happy marriage.


Did you like this post?  Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Maximizing Reach: Get the Most from Bing Shopping to discover how to profitably capture demand by diversifying your Bing and Google shopping strategies.

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