Most eCommerce founders and management teams aren’t PPC experts. As a result, eCommerce PPC management often gets delegated to a 3rd party.
The question is, who should that 3rd party eCommerce PPC consultant be?
- A freelance consultant
- An agency
- Or in-house employee?
As an 11-year eCommerce marketing agency of 30 employees from varying backgrounds, some of us have worked as or hired freelance PPC consultants. Others of us have run our own agencies or hired out work to agencies prior to becoming experts at Inflow. Some have worked as or hired for all three roles.
Because of this combined personal and professional experience working in PPC advertising, we are very familiar with what the best hiring fit is depending on the particulars of your business. We’ve written this post as the definitive guide for choosing your best PPC hiring option.
Continue reading to see which PPC role may be the best for your business (or go here to learn more about hiring us for your PPC).
When to Hire an eCommerce PPC Consultant
When should you hire out PPC campaigns to a freelance consultant?
Consultants can typically be a good hire when:
- The scope of work is relatively small (such as a product launch, audit, or short term project)
- Testing the waters of a new ad type or PPC channel
- You have a smaller budget
When it will take more than just a relatively small amount of work to reach your goals, or if you have a larger business with more complex needs, it may be time to seek out an agency or full-time employee.
Pros to Hiring an eCommerce PPC Consultant:
- Flexibility: Being able to hire someone quickly to take care of small projects or tasks is one of the main advantages of a freelancer. Freelancer websites like Upwork allow you to hire a consultant within a few days, while hiring an employee usually takes multiple weeks.
- Lower Rates: Agencies have a larger overhead and typically mark up their services as a result of their resource investments. Consultants may offer more competitive rates by comparison. When your budget doesn’t allow for the expense of an agency or employee, a freelancer is likely the best option (and many freelancers position their name businesses as “mini-agencies”).
- Potential for Personal Dedication: Freelance consultants are also their own business owners. Since they have skin in the game, a dedicated freelancer may go above and beyond to do a great job…or else risk their reputation. An employee or agency may be more limited in their ability to devote extra time toward an account outside of the agreement by comparison, but it certainly happens.
Cons to Hiring a Freelance PPC Consultant
- There are Bad Consultants: There is some additional vetting needed on your part if you are considering a consultant. Unfortunately, some people sell pay-per-click who may not actually be very good at it. Most businesses cannot afford to waste time and money on a consultant who oversells themselves like this.
- Fewer Resources: Compared to an agency that is able to manage subscription costs for multiple enterprise-level tool platforms, consultants may have access to fewer or less sophisticated tools. Also, as individuals juggling multiple clients, they may not be able to devote as much time to your campaign as you would like. This could mean a longer waiting period for them to complete important tasks.
- Limited Skillset: Many consultants specialize in a single field of paid media such as Google Ads OR Facebook Ads. They often have “go-to” strategies and when those strategies run out, they may struggle to develop a new solution. If you need your hires to excel in a variety of tasks, a team of consultants with different skills and knowledge at an agency is more likely to fit this need.
Cost of a PPC Freelancer: Are They Worth It?
Generally, freelancers charge an hourly rate and this rate could vary widely. You can hire someone from overseas to do PPC for $10/hr, or you can seek out former agency executives or former Google employees who have struck out on their own and charge a percentage of spend or a monthly retainer.
Are They Worth It?
We’re admittedly biased as an agency, but in our view: an agency will hire people who meet a certain benchmark of consistently getting results and giving their clients a pleasant experience. Not every individual freelancer or consultant will meet this standard.
Agencies have training, oversight, and feedback built in for their employees. Employees learn from each other and can share knowledge from a variety of different clients.
Agency employees usually need to excel in a variety of tasks including sales, customer service, reporting, and the actual work of running PPC as an employee and consultant. A freelancer may be able to do good work, but there could be more risk involved and less of a guarantee that they’ll take steps to correct their mistakes (if something goes wrong).
To protect against hiring a freelancer who is not independent by choice, take time to vet them carefully. A good way to do this is to start with a small job like an audit or short term project.
Good consultants will often provide somewhat recent case studies or other proof of results to demonstrate their experience and track record.
Bottom Line: If your PPC task or project has a relatively smaller scope that would make it impractical to hire an agency or employee, a freelance eCommerce PPC consultant can be worth it.
When to Hire an eCommerce PPC Agency
Agencies can have some overwhelming competitive advantages and high quality service, but at a higher cost, which is why larger businesses tend to turn to them.
Delegate to Agencies When:
- A larger scope of work is involved that an individual couldn’t handle.
- Marketing for enterprise-level businesses that need to protect heavier business investments.
- A wealth of experience and knowledge is needed to compete in a particular industry.
Who Will Benefit from an Agency?
A mature business that wants to grow with minimal financial risk—and one that has the finances to invest in that growth. An independent contractor or employee may struggle to handle the work and effectively delegate it.
If building an in-house marketing team seems like a great idea, but you don’t have solid plans to build that team, it will be faster, easier, and more cost-effective to hire an agency instead.
Pros to Hiring an eCommerce PPC Agency
- More Experience: While smaller agencies may have a flat team structure, we’re fortunate to have grown toward a structure where we have tiers of Entry-Level, Junior, and Senior-Level PPC consultants (this is the structure in our other departments like SEO and CRO as well). This structure allows everyone to focus on their specialty and level of experience.
In fact, we put our team at the top of our strategy for building one of the best eCommerce agencies. They’re the ones who drive the world-class results and service for our clients. That, in turn, drives more talented employees and clients to us, which helps us become even better.
We represent this model as our Inflow “Harmonic Triangle”:
Tapping into the combined experience of a team like this means there is far less of a likelihood that there will be a single point of failure. While an employee or consultant is more likely to specialize in a single ad platform, we have multiple specialists who keep up with their individual eCommerce PPC specializations (such as Google Shopping and Facebook ads).
At our agency, everyone at a senior level is an expert at what they do, and our clients can tap into multiple areas for a more holistic and valuable marketing strategy.
- More Resources: Additionally, as PPC is an evolving practice, many agencies train their PPC managers as a habit to remain effective. Our agency is big into training and we provide all employees annually with a $2,000 stipend to spend on training (many agencies invest in employee training, but most don’t to this degree). We also do a fair amount of in-house training with our team members and receive periodic training from ad platforms like Google and Facebook.
Outside of the incredible resource that a team structure provides, agencies also have access to advanced technology and marketing tools that they can afford from pooling resources back into the agency. The combination of a great team and great tools means agencies are fully equipped to help businesses scale (and we have case studies to show it).
- Exclusive Partnership Advantages: As an 11-year agency with a proven track record of helping hundreds of clients with their eCommerce, we have managed to qualify for and develop partnerships directly with the advertising platforms we use.
We have exclusive partnerships with Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, for example, because they’ve recognized our effective and extensive use of their platforms.
We don’t expect clients to be aware of some of these partnership benefits. While Google grants “Partner” certifications to many agencies, fewer agencies reach the benchmark needed to be certified as a Google Premier Partner. To illustrate, here’s how our clients get an advantage from our status as a Google Premier Partner:
- When Google rolls out new products and ad types, we’re among the first to get access. This early access allows us to run campaigns that can get an astoundingly high return on investment because few or no other businesses are doing them yet. During this period of beta testing by Google Ads, we have a huge competitive advantage.
- There are teams at Google dedicated to agencies like ours. For example, one of our clients had been banned from their YouTube ad account for over a year and asked us if we could help them regain access. Our Paid team called Google and got our client access to their YouTube just a few hours later. In the past, we have also called our dedicated team at Google and asked them to provide a competitive analysis for a potential client.
- Our team receives free training throughout the year directly from Google and Microsoft. They have come to our office and sometimes we travel to them. It’s not just training for ads products: our CEO has attended Google seminars for improving as a search engine marketing agency as well.
The advantages of an agency seem overwhelming. So, what are the cons?
Cons to Hiring an eCommerce PPC Agency
- The Cost for Agencies Is Usually Higher: But that cost can be in scale with the results if your budget allows for it. Most agencies (ourselves included) would argue that the higher cost is worth the price for the unique advantages of agencies. Which come down to: more experience for less expense, more speed, and potential for greater results.
- There are Bad Agencies: Agency quality varies quite a bit in any industry, but definitely in the digital marketing industry.
Certain characteristics of “bad agencies” to watch out for include:
- A lack of transparency with clients (including limited or no access to ad platform accounts)
- An unstructured scope of work
- A lack of internal team structure
- Putting inexperienced junior people on accounts that require more expertise (as a result of that lack of structure)
- A lot of frequent employee turnover / lack of commitment (a potential mark of the company’s instability)
- Consultants spread out across too many accounts
Additionally, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some agencies will use a 3rd-party ad automation software like Albert or Wordstream and then just read you what the software prints out (which is pretty pointless).
- You may not meet the agency’s benchmarks as a client: A smaller business will often get turned away by agencies like ours that prefer to cater to enterprise-level eCommerce businesses. It’s simply a matter of fit: agencies like ours are positioned to help larger companies.
Additionally, if your business is not meeting certain marketing benchmarks — such as a very low conversion rate — the agency may decide they are unable to fix larger problems in your business and avoid taking on a client they don’t think they can get results for.
Cost of an eCommerce PPC Agency: Are They Worth It?
As we mentioned, agencies are a good fit for larger businesses. Their cost is worth it if you need growth on a large scale.
That cost will depend on your business and the strategies the agency executes on for it. There are different charging models agencies use. Some use % of spend, but we believe that this is an outdated model invented for more antiquated forms of media advertising such as radio and television.
Instead, we feel that a value-based retainer (or hourly rate) that doesn’t have anything to do with the spend makes the most sense, and it’s what we charge to estimate the time involved and necessary effort.
For the best agencies: efficiency and experience means the higher cost is correlated with faster and better potential results.
When to Hire an eCommerce PPC Employee
Now that we’ve outlined the advantages and disadvantages of freelance consultants and agencies, what about hiring a full-time employee?
When your business has a larger goal — to build an internal digital marketing department — it absolutely makes sense to hire a PPC manager for that department. Beyond this, it can be really hard to make the case for hiring a single PPC manager to aid in marketing because a lot of things can go wrong if they are not a stellar employee.
Pros to Hiring an eCommerce PPC Employee
- Lower Cost: You get an in-house PPC manager for 40 hours a week. Their monthly salary cost may very well be what you’d pay an agency for a week of work. If you can bring on a skilled consultant full-time as part of an internal marketing department, great!
- Long-Term: An employee can work on PPC initiatives over an extended period of time thanks to their lower cost. If your business has relatively small but very consistent needs for its PPC, a full-time employee could make sense.
- Enables an Employee + Freelancer Hybrid Option: The right employee could delegate tasks to freelancers. A dedicated in-house employee may be managing PPC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to run all of the campaign management.
Instead, they can run the campaigns they may specialize in, such as Google Ads, and manage freelancers who specialize in campaigns for other paid media channels (such as Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, Amazon Ads, and other social media channels) to fill in the gaps.
Cons to Hiring an eCommerce PPC Employee
- Larger Commitment: They do become an employee. Which means that in addition to human resources requirements, your business needs to personally interest and reward them in order to retain them on the team.
- Less Experience and Knowledge: Compared to an agency team, a single employee will not have as much experience or knowledge for your business to tap into. If the PPC strategy runs badly, it’s up to that same person to fix the strategy. At Inflow, our team challenges each other during regular meetings to find the best strategy for our clients and if they don’t work, we come up with a different solution that does.
- Difficult to Vet and Hire: In our experience, many businesses lack expert-level knowledge in PPC. This raises the question: how will they effectively hire a PPC expert when they don’t know what questions to ask?
Cost of an eCommerce PPC Employee: Are They Worth It?
The cost of a PPC manager salary varies by location and by level of expertise, but the average seems to be around $5,000 per month (according to salary and job data from Glassdoor). That said, typically you’ll be paying a lot more for an expert. Sure, you could hire a PPC Manager who recently graduated college for $40,000 a year, but will they be able to do the job?
It’s also important to consider the cost of hiring and if things don’t work out, firing and severance. If they are a talented worker, they’ll need to be replaced by someone at least equally as skilled.
When hiring an employee, it’s crucial to define the scope of work including goals. Additionally, we recommend vetting potential hires with an analytical skills test to get a demonstration of their expertise.
For example, we may have them do an account audit and create a strategy for that account. In the interview itself, we may create a test analogy for them to solve and make sure they are well-versed.
If they are skilled: it can be worth it.
- Hire a freelance eCommerce PPC consultant for small projects or when budgets are limited
- Hire an eCommerce PPC agency when you need to get results at a large scale for a larger business
- Hire an employee when your goal is to develop a full in-house marketing team
When compared to hiring a single PPC manager at around $5,000 per month, hiring an agency can give you access to a similarly experienced professional with more resources (or a team of them).
By hiring an eCommerce-focused agency, you get access to PPC experts who are experienced in optimizing campaigns specifically for eCommerce.
For example, in our audits & research we will review:
- Account structure
- Keyword research and search terms reports
- Competitor research
- Tracking and attribution
- Product Feed Optimization
- Ad group organization
- Ad types and settings that may be adding to cost
- And more
Then, we provide our recommendations and discuss what we found and an action plan to implement them.
Are you currently running PPC ads and not getting the results you want?
Over the past 11 years, we have helped hundreds of our clients to drop their customer acquisition costs and drive more sales for their business.