Is It Time to Fire Your SEM Agency?

Paid search is a complex art—plenty of digital marketing agencies offer it as a service, but not all of them can continually improve their offerings and grow your revenue. 

As an experienced search engine marketing agency, we hear from (and audit) plenty of companies that are struggling with their current marketing partners. We hear the complaints all the time:

  • “My agency is not being strategic enough, I feel like I’m bringing all of the strategy ideas.”
  • “It seems like we are leaving money or conversions on the table.” 
  • “Our current agency doesn’t seem to have a deep understanding of our business and sector.” 
  • “Our agency continually delivers reports that contain errors or mistakes.” 
  • “It feels like a junior team is working on our account, we need more senior leadership to pay attention to our account,” or, sometimes, “It feels like we’re considered a small fish compared to the agency’s other clients.”
  • “Our agency seems inflexible with its tactics. We need an agency that has a testing mindset.” 
  • “My agency’s rates were too high and I couldn’t validate their value” 

If any of those thoughts have crossed your mind after a reporting call or a disappointing performance quarter, this blog is intended for you. We’ll dive into where these complaints originate from and run through some of the telltale signs that it’s time to fire your SEM agency. 

What are the telltale signs that it’s time for a new agency?

Brands may choose to leave an agency for any number of reasons. But there are a few core areas of the agency-client relationship that can cause serious problems if the two parties aren’t on the same page. Those are:

  • Communication
  • Strategy
  • Reporting

Breakdowns in any of those aspects can lead to suboptimal performance and dissatisfaction. Here are the telltale signs, sorted by each category, that it may be time to find a new SEM agency.

Communication Problems You May Have with Your Search Engine Marketing Agency

Communication is the most important component of any type of relationship, including professional ones. If you are underwhelmed with how your agency partner is communicating it may be time to part ways. 

Signs you have good communication with your agency:

  • You have productive conversations that lead to actionable next steps 
  • Your questions are being understood and answered appropriately 
  • There is a feeling of mutual respect 
  • Both sides feel comfortable stating their opinions, even if they’re conflicting
  • You develop a genuine rapport that evolves as the relationship ages 
  • You have complementary communication styles that help you stay on the same page
  • You are satisfied with response times to your questions or requests
  • There are little to no communication barriers linguistically and technically 

To that final point: in tech conversations, it’s vital to understand your partner linguistically, as these conversations are often complex in nature—and missing the finer points can lead to big problems. Additionally, if there are consistent tech issues that prevent smooth communication in this remote relationship, those could turn into a barrier for the partnership. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of signs you that can tell you communication with your SEM agency isn’t going well.

Signs that your agency communication is lacking 

  • You suffer poor response times to requests over email or messaging system (Slack, etc.) 
  • Calls frequently become tense, with one or both sides shutting down, with awkward interactions or silences 
  • The agency doesn’t answer your questions directly, or beats around the bush with their answers
  • You don’t feel as if your agency explains performance thoughtfully and in a digestible manner 
  • No rapport and a super transactional exchange (unless this is your preference as the client) 

These are all red flags. Often, these problems contribute to a sense that your account is on the backburner or isn’t the biggest priority to your agency partner—demonstrated by shallow or sporadic communication. Because communication is the bedrock of a good agency-client partnership, any of these issues are indicators that it’s time to find a new SEM agency.

Strategic Breakdowns in Agency Relationships

While the expectation is that your search engine marketing agency will use its expertise to lead strategy (that’s why you hired them, after all), a true partnership should give you the opportunity to shape the direction of your advertising efforts. Digital marketing strategy is meant to be challenged, tested, and expanded upon, and both parties should prioritize flexibility and adaptation in pursuit of success.

Signs that your agency is a good strategic partner: 

  • They’re proactive about recommending tests and roadmapping a path for tests 
  • They’re consistently making strategic recommendations based on performance and coming to your calls with new thoughts on how to improve existing performance
  • They are willing to try out and validate your ideas/recommendations with data and next steps 
  • They can explain their point of view on certain strategies and collaborate in real time 
  • They’re thoughtful in how they’re deploying new strategies and attempting to be thought leaders in the SEM space 

Signs that your strategy is stale include: 

  • They don’t offer any testing roadmap and are unwilling to entertain your ideas and suggestions
  • They are not contributing new ideas during strategy calls
  • They’re constantly in “maintenance mode,” meaning they are consistently bringing up maintenance but not going into detail on what that entails and how it’s impactful to the account. 
  • Ad performance has remained stagnant for a long period of time or, even worse, is slipping. If your account is not evolving strategically, it’s easy for an SEM program to fall behind your competitors.
  • You, as the client, feel like you’re feeding your agency ideas and their contribution is minimal 

If you don’t feel as if you’re involved in a dynamic, strategic relationship, and your agency seems to be checking boxes rather than seeking out every incremental opportunity, then it is time to fire your paid search agency. 

Poor SEM Reporting

Paid search is mostly about data: How you understand data and optimize from it. Because of that, how your agency generates reports on it and shares it with you is highly important. And because every company has different business needs, they shouldn’t be making cookie-cutter reports for all of their clients. 

Ultimately, you need an agency partner that has the right tools to make your partnership successful, including strong reporting deliverables that reflect what matters to your brand’s growth. If your agency isn’t able to create detailed custom reports that help you optimize your account towards your goals, it may be time to find a new agency. 

Finding the Right SEM Agency Partner

It’s important to have a strong working relationship with your agency partner—they should operate as an extension of your marketing team. Vetting potential agencies is not only understanding their technical capabilities, but how they communicate and operate internally as well. 

It’s a lot like dating: not everyone will be a match, and that doesn’t mean a bad fit is a bad agency. But when you find the right one you’ll know—and you’ll keep them around. If you’re finding that you’re not happy with your current agency partner for any of the reasons listed above, it might be time to break up and move on. And if you’re looking to see if ADM’s performance marketing team is the right fit for your business, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a consultation whenever you are ready.