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If you’re considering using an agency, it’s important to prepare a list of questions during your initial discussions, and to focus on your business’ goals and objectives

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Online advertising methods such as pay-per-click (PPC) have quickly become an effective tool for small businesses to get their messages in front of target audiences, drive traffic, and increase ROI. However, putting together a PPC campaign can be perceived as a daunting task for those who may not be savvy or experienced in the industry. T

There are a number of digital agencies out there to support business owners that are unable to do it themselves or need assistance to wade into this online space. If you're considering using an agency, it's important to prepare a list of questions during your initial discussions, and to focus on your business' goals and objectives.

Here are 10 questions that you should be asking about your PPC campaign at the outset or during the implementation.

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1. How much should I expect to budget per month? This is dependent on your goals – the agency should get an understanding of your current situation in order to set a budget. You should be prepared to pay what it takes to see results, but not too much that you don't see a return on investment. If you encounter an agency that gives you a pricing package before discussing your objectives, that's a red flag.

2. What is the best tactic to reach my audience? There are a number of options such as search, display or shopping ads, but this is again dependent on your company and its goals. For example, if you own a company that sells products, you may want to use display ads that show the product, or shopping ads in which consumers can click and buy.

3. How many leads can I expect to generate? During your preliminary discussions, it's important to determine the number of leads your business can handle. There isn't a way to cap leads, but you can adjust your budget so that you can effectively manage leads, whether that means slowing or accelerating the pace.

4. How soon can I expect a conversion? Usually this depends on the type of conversion, but as soon as your ads get into the market, it is realistic to see an immediate increase in traffic. Though it's hard to guarantee anything, and it may take three months to see traction, your agency should be able to give you an estimate on the volume of conversions.

5. What metrics should I look for? There are many metrics available, but your agency should consider the ones that meet your objectives and drive business. Take the cost per conversion and calculate your return to determine if that is profitable.

6. What are my competitors doing? Do a search of your business' main keywords and see how and what your competition is advertising. You can see the types of ad copy they are using and you can look at their landing pages if you click on their ads (watch out for click fraud though). Tools such as SEMRush and Keyword Spy can help you determine the keywords that competitors are bidding on and the ad copy being used.

7. What indicates bad ad performance? A click through rate (CTR) and conversion rate are two metrics that can measure bad performance. A CTR indicates the level of audience engagement and clicks on the ad. Google suggests a rate under one per cent is not good. However, an agency's threshold may be anything under two per cent. A conversion rate is calculated by taking the total number of conversions and dividing it by the total number of ad clicks. It's hard to give an average conversion rate as it depends on the type of industry. A high CTR and conversion rate means that users find your ad to be valuable.

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8. What if my ad doesn't get any clicks? Ads should get clicks because the agency should always be testing. At the launch of your campaign, you should have at least two ad copy variations running, which is known as A/B testing. The experiment is low-risk and allows you to determine which ad is the most effective at increasing conversions by manipulating variables such as keywords, ad groups and bids.

9. How competitive are the keywords and what does it mean for my ad? Your keyword strategy depends on what you are willing to spend per click. You can use Google's free Keyword Tool to estimate the bidding cost for a given keyword, its search volume and how competitive it is. This tool will help you understand how aggressive you need to be when bidding on keywords, or whether you should bid on other keywords that are less competitive and expensive.

10. What kind of ad extensions should be included in the campaign? Your agency should recommend taking advantage of ad extensions if it's relevant to your campaign. For example, Sitelinks is an extension that appears below your ad and allows you to link specific website pages with custom options. This can include hours of operation, careers, or specials that customers can click and land on an exact page rather than browsing the website for a specific page.

Jennifer Osborne is a digital marketing expert. She is the president of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years. She was also named one of Canada's top women entrepreneurs.

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