in Search Marketing

PPC Analytics: Transitioning Data from One Agency to Another

Switching from one pay per click (ppc) management firm to another should be seamless process, but that’s not always the case. This is doubly true for the ppc measurement portion of your business.

Chances are that you’re transitioning with hopes of better financial results, so it’s critical that you consider how to maintain (or improve) the integrity of your ppc analytics.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through some key considerations to make sure your new search marketing company can measure, analyze and optimize their way to better ROI.

Living With The Tyranny Of Historical PPC Data

Any ppc agency worth its salt is driven by results and passionate about squeezing the best performance out of your search spend. Both you and your new ppc agency are going to be keen to measure the improvement in results from your new relationship. There are a couple of challenges when it comes to a smooth measurement and analysis transition.

Resolve Different Sources of Data

Each vendor has its own particular way of gathering and reporting on performance. Some use proprietary tracking systems, while others will use the analytics provided by the engines or your analytics software to gather data.

The good news is that some of these data will always be available in the engine regardless of which vendor you use. These include front-end metrics like impressions, clicks and cost. The bad news is that the business outcomes data you want, like revenue, orders, and units, may be captured with any of the aforementioned tools.

If they were reporting on data from your own analytics tool or engine based conversion measurement, then the data is readily accessible to your new vendor. It’s still a good practice for you to gather all of your previous vendors reports to reference in the case some data do not line up.

In the event that your previous ppc firm used proprietary software to gather their analytics, then your new firm has no way of going back to review and gather these metrics on their own. As your relationship with your vendor winds down, make sure you clearly understand, and they clearly document, where the outcomes data was coming from.

Ask your new vendor what historical data they will need to trend performance over time, for what time period and in what format. If your old paid search agency doesn’t want to burn a bridge, they’ll at least provide a dump of the raw data.

Provide a copy of all past reports as part of the ramp up with your new ppc agency. Don’t neglect to make sure you receive reports that cover the time period just before your new agency took over. It’s not uncommon for these reports to go missing unless your specifically ask for them.

One last rule: insist that your former agency turn over destination urls free of proprietary tracking codes at least 5 business days before the transition to ensure uninterrupted measurement.

Unify Different Report Formats

For every difference in gathering the data there are 2 more for how the data is summarized, analyzed and reported. What metrics was your former agency gathering? What level of granularity were they applying (engine, ad group, keyword)? Do the time periods for which they reported allow you to drill down more finely?

Generally, most pay-per-click firms have a specific way they like present and analyze their data. Many clients are pretty amenable to changes in reporting and analysis. For those who are used to seeing the data a particular way, my suggestion is to give your new search marketing agency some time to sell you on their analytics format and why it makes sense. There’s a reason you switched, so let the new kid do his or her thing and judge on results. If you’re still struggling with the data, then provide some basic style guidance and preferences and let them adapt accordingly.

Make Your PPC Analytics More Actionable

To get the most out of your new agency’s reports, you have to be clear in your goals. Ideally, this conversation would happen during the sales process, but it’s not uncommon for specific targets and metrics to surface only during the kickoff. If you want your search marketing firm to succeed, come to the table with some key data:

  1. Revenue or lead targets by month
  2. Budgets
  3. Cost-per-conversion limits
  4. ROI thresholds

If you’re not sure about how to set reasonable goals, then ask your agency to work with you to set mutually agreeable goals. Then, each month’s progress can be charted against these goals and success (or failure) will be obvious.

Building A Better PPC Analytics Infrastructure

Building a better ppc analytics infrastructure is about improving the continuity, convenience and accuracy of your conversion data. There are a few basic ways you can address each.

  1. Enable Engine Level Conversion Tracking – Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing both offer conversion tracking code (Google here, Yahoo here). You only need to place it on the page that represents conversion, so there’s no onerous tagging. This allows your current ppc firm can see outcomes data right in the engine and helps aggregate results in one place for anyone who might need the data in the future, regardless of platform. As I mentioned in my post about utm_term and MSN AdCenter, MSN does offer conversion tracking code, but you can’t setup it up to gather a dynamic value for conversion. That means each conversion will be equal to a set value that you define. This is fine for many lead gen sites, but makes no sense for an ecommerce site.
  2. Watch Your Back-end Data – Whether you’re using Omniture, WebTrends, Google Analytics or one of the many other tools on the market, you must insist that your ppc campaigns be tagged for analytics tracking. In addition to the wealth of data you’ll get about post-click behavior, it’s another backup for the data in the event some other source is wrong or you switch vendors. If your only back-end system is your ecommerce platform’s built-in analytics, make sure you are distinguishing activity and results by engine at a minimum.
  3. My Data Is Better Than Yours – No ppc analytics data is ever going to be perfect and you shouldn’t get so hung up on the accuracy that you’re paralyzed into inaction. However, you should do a reality check among the various sources of data at a few key moments: when comparing historical trends, as the relationship ramps up, the first monthly analysis and the first quarterly analysis. Ferreting out ppc analytics issues is critical in the first 2 weeks with a new relationship so that they can be addressed in a timely manner. Without some reasonably reliable data, your new agency is going to be hamstrung when it’s time to analyze and optimize campaigns.

The most important things I’ve learned in the process of transitioning ppc analytics data from other agencies are to be patient, question the accuracy but don’t get hung up on it and remember that data comes from many different sources.

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