I decided to cover this topic because increasingly I hear about prospective clients fretting over their AdWords accounts because their previous agency is the only party with access to the account and its data.
Some (less scrupulous) agencies will use lack of account access as a way to tie you into a contract – if you know there is likely to be a dip in performance or a painful process to gain access to your account when you leave, then you may well be reluctant to do so meaning the agency retains your business longer!
In scenarios where a business doesn’t have access to their account and decide to leave that agency, they are very much at the mercy of the third party. The approach to transferring this account may differ, but it’s certainly worsened when a dispute or any ill-feeling arises between the two parties.
I am still astonished by how many companies allow agencies to take full control. As an in-house marketer myself, it seems absolutely clear – you MUST retain ownership of your AdWords account even if an agency is employed to manage it for you day-to-day.
There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case:
1. Your AdWords account and its data is a huge asset, one you should fundamentally protect.
Starting from scratch will inevitably mean your AdWords performance will suffer. Account history has an impact on numerous areas of account performance and ultimately will impact on your ROI from paid search. AdWords accounts benefit from being run over a number of years. If you have to start a new account for any reason this will be a disadvantage.
Peter Whitmarsh, our Head of PPC explains the benefits of having long-standing AdWords accounts:
a) You have more data to work with. You can assess the trends taking place in the market and see how your keywords, ads and landing pages have performed over a number of years. Even though conversion rates are likely to change over the course of time, the relative performance between different elements of the account may well stay the same. This kind of data can be used for more detailed analysis such as how conversion rates vary by hour of day, by different locations or in different weather conditions. You will typically need a lot of data to work with in order to prove any trends and statistical significance with this kind of analysis so by having a long-standing account you will be better-equipped to deal with this kind of insight.
b) It allows you to not to make the same mistake twice. If you can see that certain ad copy had been tried in the past and not worked, you will know not to run it again. Similarly if you have tried a particular feature such as conversion optimiser, remarketing or competitor bidding and have proof that they don’t work, it would be wise to not invest in another test.
c) Google rewards you with better quality scores on long-established accounts. This means that all new keywords and ads which are introduced to these accounts will see an initial quality score better than that of a brand new account. This can lead to cheaper clicks, better positions, richer ad formats and more eligibility to have your ads displayed.
2. Without access you have very limited control.
Should you want to switch agency, particularly if the relationship with your current agency deteriorates, then you are in a pickle. This situation can be awkward and the company with ownership has all the cards. It will slow down the process and given you have chosen to leave it may well be because the account is not performing as you need it to. Usually this means time is of the essence.
3. What if there is a problem?
If only your agency has access, how would you pause campaigns or restrict budgets if you noticed a serious issue out of normal office hours? There are instances where perhaps your website will go down unexpectedly, and while many agencies have campaign monitoring tools in place to prevent any budget being wasted in such scenarios, if they don’t then you may, on rare occasion, need to be able to personally pause and edit campaigns when your account manager is not available. Glaring errors should not occur often, if at all but sometimes extraneous factors outside of you or your agency’s control do arise.
4. Reporting needs to be completely transparent.
Only by accessing your account can you tell that the reported figures are completely correct. Without access to your account you have no idea how genuine the performance reports you receive really are.
5. Having to start from scratch on a PPC account is a huge pain!
Building the foundations of a new PPC account is a time-consuming process. There needs to be a lot of time spent researching the company, site, products and USPs; building out the detailed structure; creating the appropriate keywords to go into this structure; writing the ad copy; creating all ad extensions; setting up conversion tracking and all of the other little jobs that need to go into the creation of a new account. This isn’t the kind of thing that can happen overnight so you’ll need to plan out the resources carefully in order to ensure a smooth transition from the old account. This costs you time and money, which technically you have already invested in previously (i.e. it’s a waste).
Keeping control and admin rights is important. Such access means you can grant and restrict users as necessary. I have come across numerous stories online of businesses looking to leave an agency either being refused access to the account, or worse still (and rare) being asked to pay for a release fee. This is terrible practice and should be avoided in my opinion.
While you may pay an agency to build the campaigns for you, you should open the account in the first instance to protect yourself. Any reputable agency will expect their client to keep ownership of their account anyway.
My advice is –
- Pick a Google Accredited Certified Partner (GACP) – this way you have better routes to obtain Googles support should any problems occur with your chosen supplier in future. They will hold their partners highly accountable for providing good service and abiding by ethical best practices.
- Have the account ownership discussion at the outset – get it in writing if you are at all concerned that you, the client retain ownership of the account and all of its data. Any reputable agency would probably specify this as their way of working anyway.
- Set up your own account and access to the agency you wish to employ by linking to their MCC. This means in future you could lock them out if needs be or provide access to other agencies to audit and provide quotes for your businesses if you decide to switch.
- Check that the contracts you sign with any agency doesn’t stipulate they have ownership of any of the data or account that you haven’t agreed to.
- Keep checking regularly your own account access and performance, it’s your company’s money being spent, it makes sense to check they are delivering what they promise.
- Take a backup of your account regularly just in case. This is an overly cautious approach but if you have any doubts at all it might be worth considering.
Its perfectly acceptable and common practice for an agency to create a new account for you if you didn’t previously have one. They’ll do this inside their MCC but give you access to log in – this access permits you to see your data and account performance but not the other accounts (belonging to their other clients in their MCC) and you retain ownership. This doesn’t necessarily mean they own the account nor does it restrict transfer back to you should you change agencies or decide to take it in-house.
If any agency says to you that they cannot physically transfer your account from their MCC because they have set it up for you – they are lying. This is totally possible and perfectly reasonable (unless you signed a contract which explicitly said otherwise of course).
At worst an agency could export all your data in AdWords Editor and give it to you to upload into a wholly new AdWords account. No matter what, they should be creating you a personal account, specific to you and that sits within their MCC but not their own account – this is often cited as a good excuse when refusing to transfer ownership (i.e. the campaign is set up under a wider account that houses other clients also). This however is strictly against Google’s third party policy which clearly states (section 7):
You may not improperly use AdWords accounts, or AdWords marketing or sales material, including:
– Using an AdWords account for more than one advertiser. A different Google AdWords account is required for each client that is being serviced by the third party. You may not mix clients in an account, for example, by setting up different campaigns for clients in one account.
– Erasing or destroying AdWords accounts of advertisers that you are about to lose.
While Google has little documentation specifically on account ownership in third party relationships, and they remain relatively mute on it given it could be legally complex from case to case, the evidence I have seen is that Googles favour tends to fall on the brand doing the advertising, not the agency. This could however be different had a formal contract been in place that said otherwise as long as it wasn’t infringing on Googles policies at the same time.
Paying the clicks is a good way to ensure Google deems you the owner but ultimately its not essential. Being interested, savvy and aware of the ownership debate when employing an agency is really the most important factor. Ask the questions and read the contract thoroughly. It really is a concerning sign if the ownership sits anywhere other than with you the client.