I knew it might be bad out there. I had no idea how bad it was.

My entire life as a paid search advertising account manager has been here at Virante Inc. This company trained me in state-of-the art paid search management, and then supported me in getting certified by the major paid search providers. I’m proud to say that all I’ve ever known is the “right” way to do paid search; that is, the way that maximizes opportunity for ROI to our clients.

Until recently, all the accounts I’d taken over were either brand new or situations where we did not have access to the former account, so we were effectively starting from scratch. But in the past few weeks I took over management of three different existing small business Google AdWords accounts, and when I looked under the hood I almost got sick. It didn’t take me but five minutes to determine and point out to the potential clients how badly their accounts were being mismanaged. Within a few days, all three had transferred their paid search to my company.

As I showed these business owners what was wrong with their accounts, it occurred to me that they had been easily ripped off by these other agencies or managers because most business people do not know what they should look for in a well-managed paid search account, and don’t have the time to learn it either.

So in this series of blog posts I’m going to lay out some easy-to-find signs that your paid search management agency might be ripping you off through neglect. If you see any of these in your account(s), it should raise a red flag that you ought to investigate further. I’m going to center my tips around Google AdWords, but the signs could be easily applied to any other provider.

But First: You Do Have Access, Right?

It should go without saying, but never enter into a management agreement for a paid search account where you do not have access to the account itself. Better yet, the account should be “owned” by you, with only revocable management access granted to the agency. If any agency or manager tells you you can’t have or don’t need access, be very, very suspicious.

Rip-Off Sign #1: Management Inactivity

AdWords keeps a log of all changes made to every AdWords account, and it is easily accessible from the AdWords online interface. Log in to your AdWords account and click on the Campaigns tab. Select “All Online Campaigns” in the left nav bar. Now click the “View Change History” link to the right of the graph.

You will see a chronological listing of every change made to ad spend budget, cost-per-click bids, keywords, ads, campaign and ad group creation or pausing, and several other major management actions. In a well-managed account you should see regular activity in this log. How much will depend on how large your ad spend and/or click volume is. But even small, local business accounts should be showing managed changes at least several times a month. In a very large account, it is not unreasonable to expect nearly daily changes. Paid search is something like the stock market; it is a volatile and ever-changing. Yesterday’s bid level or ad copy or keyword mix may not best fit today’s reality. A responsible account manager is constantly tweaking these variables based on the data accumulated from account history and research into the market.

Of course, the mere presence of a lot of activity in the account is no guarantee that the account is being properly managed, but a lack of activity is a sure sign that it is being neglected, which is just as bad, if not worse, than mistakes in management.

Next Post: Account Structure