Hiring for PPC Talent

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For many professionals in the digital marketing world, knowing how to best manage a PPC campaign isn’t their biggest concern. Hiring someone who will effectively manage campaigns is the stress that keeps too many of us awake at night. Because at some point, you need to scale. And you eventually must embark on a recruiting crusade that could likely determine the fate of your company’s success for the next year. If you’re on the advertiser side, you’re risking revenue. If you’re on the agency side, you’re risking clients. Hire the right person, and everything is rosy. Hire the wrong person, and your company loses money until you are forced to start the recruiting process all over again. I’ve had the benefit of years of campaign management and PPC hiring experience, and I still find it difficult to predict a candidate’s future performance during the interview process. I truly feel sympathy for the Directors, VPs and CMOs that do not consider themselves a PPC expert, but must identify and recruit professionals that are.

For these reasons, I feel it is important that I share a few things I have learned about hiring PPC talent with others facing this challenge. There isn’t any 100% guaranteed successful way to ensure you hire the right candidate. But there are a number of lessons I’ve learned that should improve your success rate.

Experience Is Deceiving

I have interviewed dozens of candidates for PPC analyst positions that have many years’ experience working with large, complex campaigns at highly reputable companies. Their resumes look c-1impressive, and they frequently show great communication skills during the interview process. But when I eventually move past the general discussion of where they’ve worked and what they worked on, I’m amazed at how little many of these candidates actually know about critical campaign management strategies. This mismatch of experience and skill is most often found in PPC professionals coming from large brand agencies. These are the types of organizations that have larger teams supporting client campaigns and can afford to allow individuals to specialize on portions of the campaign management process. All too often, the person leading the team is in that position because of their ability to maintain a positive client relationship rather than because of their skill in optimizing campaigns. . . there are other team members to focus on tactics and execution. If your goal is to hire someone who will improve the performance of campaigns, these highly experienced professionals will likely fail.

The only way to determine if a candidate’s experience will translate to performance is to ask detailed questions about strategy and process. One obvious area of questioning that I like to start with is bid management. There should be no hesitation, ambiguity, or uncertainty in a good candidate’s response to “How do you approach bid management?” If the response includes an explanation of someone else handling that portion of campaign management at previous positions, you’ve uncovered a big red flag. The same goes for over-reliance on automated bid management platforms. While I’m a huge advocate of automated bidding, good campaign managers should have a solid strategy to optimize bids regardless of the tools they have at their disposal.

PPC & Data Management

Anyone who has worked with me for over a week or two has heard me say, “PPC is a data management game!” I can be a bit of a broken record at times. The more complex a campaign is, the more important data management skills become. A PPC campaign manager must have a strong, comprehensive set of data management skills to be successful. Yes, advanced Excel skills are essential. But it shouldn’t end there. I often find Excel too limiting and must switch to writing SQL queries across multiple data sets. Analysts with database skills always score extra points with me.

A solid understanding of tracking is also an essential skill. Do they understand how all those parameters they’re tagging on URLs are moving through the conversion process? Do they know how to use tools such as FireBug to inspect tracking script implementations? And are they familiar with incorporating offline conversion data to consider lead quality, lifetime value, and the increasing demand for call tracking? If the candidate you’re interviewing prefers to focus on creative messaging strategies and audience analysis, you may have found a good person to handle your direct display buys. But you will want someone far more technical to run your PPC campaigns.

The Personality of Talent

This is the big one! All of the truly great PPC analysts I have known have some very specific personality traits. There is an eagerness and curiosity that drives their optimization efforts. These personality traits are likely apparent in other areas of their life as well. They might be addicted to crossword puzzles, like to maximize the yield of their vegetable garden, or have a musical interest in jazz chord progressions. These people are exceptionally inquisitive and want to understand relationships and solve problems. They always check performance numbers on the weekend. Not because they find it necessary, but because they just can’t wait until Monday to see what effect their adjustments have made. They are data scientists, not data engineers. Constantly developing hypotheses and crafting experiments. They prefer to create a recipe over following one. Because following the same strategy recipe in PPC is a surefire guarantee of getting the same results.

How can you uncover such personality traits in the interview process? It’s not easy. A good start is to move away from the traditional line of questioning. . . What is your best/worst skill? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? These questions only show how well they can regurgitate a canned response. Ultimately, you have to stop interviewing and start having a real conversation. The real question you want answered is “Who are you?” And this can only be uncovered by getting to know them.

Results of a Successful Hire

I recently went through the interview process and hired two new analysts. One had almost a decade of experience, the other just a couple years. During the interview process, I grilled them on process details and challenged them with fictional performance scenarios. But most importantly, I got to know them. Now that I’ve worked with them for a while, I can confirm that they are both PPC rock stars. They hit the ground running and had a game plan in place before anyone had time to review their new accounts with them. Their most frequent question during their first couple weeks was “can I go ahead and make these changes?” We’re already seeing the performance gains from their efforts. They’ve only disappointed me in one way. . . I now feel sadly unneeded.

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