I was telling you last time about some of my early Google Ads clients, and the challenges I faced.
Let me tell you about one particular nightmare client…
Nightmare clients are rarely bad people, otherwise they would never become clients in the first place. But they come with little warning bells that jingle away, just audible if you know what you’re listening for. Those warning bells are desperately easy to ignore, especially when you need the money. Sometimes you only hear them in retrospect.
This particular client had sat on my email list for a while. Which is a good sign – not a warning bell! One day he contacted me, and asked how my services worked. We’ll call him ‘George’ (not his real name, obviously).
George’s company was using AdWords to generate leads for an offline sales process. The company was spending £25,000 a month on AdWords (about $30,000). Which for me was a large account.
George mentioned on the phone they had ‘been through’ quite a few AdWords agencies. But he’d like to ‘see what I could do’.
(Ding ding ding! Can you hear the warning bells jangling?)
On the eve of the project George sent me an email in badly-formatted English. (Clients who can’t spell is another warning bell.) ‘I’d like a daily report please Rob’, the email said. ‘The report should show yesterday’s spend by campaign, click through rate, conversions and cost per conversion.’
I never send daily reports to clients because daily fluctuations are misleading, and clients who obsess about them often fly too close to the sun financially. Weekly numbers are more meaningful. And monthly numbers hardly ever lie. Still, I ignored the screaming messages from my gut, and agreed.
I would always know if conversions were down for the day, because at 3PM George would email me. ‘URGENT Leads down Rob. Please action ASAP.’
I would rage internally at this. Please action what, exactly? I’m not a magician. Most of the time I would ignore it and rely on a natural upturn in leads the following day.
I’ve also since learnt that clients who routinely send emails with URGENT in the subject line, signed off with ‘ASAP’ are not great clients to work with. It’s a small clue that they see you as a vendor to be used, not an expert to be consulted.
Not long after the project had started I made a bunch of changes to the website, and George blew his lid. “We make changes on a month by month basis,” he informed me. “That way we compare apples to apples.”
Apples to apples – yeah right. You can’t have it all ways up. You can’t scream and shout about your AdWords results, but also refuse to make any changes to the website.
The project fizzled out after a few months. I was glad, too. The hassle wasn’t worth the management fee they paid me. Or so I thought.
One year later George got back in touch. His last business had tanked, and now he had a new business in another highly competitive market.
George asked if I would consider managing the account again, since I had ‘done such a good job last time’. I wavered for a moment. The warning jangles were all there. I knew George was a well-meaning but troublesome client. But I also needed the revenue.
So we went again. This time George wasn’t my main point of contact; he had a marketing manager, Jane*. Jane was nice enough, but clearly under huge pressure to perform. Once again I failed to set the boundaries on when I could and could not be contacted.
At 9.50 every morning my phone would go (Jane started work at 10). Despite my repeated warnings about daily statistics, she would want to discuss yesterday’s numbers and know ‘what I was doing for them today’.
“Nothing,” was the response I should have given, “because I’m not on payroll.”
I didn’t have the gall to say that at the time.
One week we had a spat about ad creation. I had created some new ads in the account, and some hadn’t performed as well as the control ads. “No more duds please Rob,” was the message I got.
No more duds. If you never write an ad that fails, you’re not really writing any ads. The longer I’ve done this, the more I’ve realised how hopeless it is to predict a winner.
A few weeks later Linzi and I went to Italy for a week. I tried to reassure Jane that her AdWords results were unlikely to tank for a few days without my daily hand-holding. I had no phone signal in Italy, and no computer.
Two days into our holiday I logged on to Wi-Fi in my hotel, and my phone buzzed to life. WhatsApp. It was Jane. “URGENT: NO conversions yesterday. George won’t stand for it. Please look at this ASAP.”
Really Jane? You’re going to harass me on holiday… by WhatsApp?
After three months of conflict our second project came to an end. George finally discovered that I had been ruining his monthly ‘apples to apples’ comparison by sending traffic to pages other than the homepage.
The big problem however wasn’t with George. The big problem was with me, because I hadn’t been clear enough about exactly who I was trying to work with. I hadn’t set the boundaries. I had heard the warning bells – twice – and I had ignored them.
There are numerous lessons here. George wasn’t getting the results he wanted because he was agency hopping and trying to dictate the solution. He was also deeply reliant on Google Search for leads. If leads dropped off one day – for whatever reason – everyone got it in the neck.
I truly believe that Google Ads is an unbelievable system, but there has to be some room to fail. Fail small and fail often, but improve overall.
*Also not Jane’s real name, for obvious reasons.