Sometimes, a successful creative shop changes course because, frankly, a full-service model is incredibly difficult to scale. While it certainly allows you to provide a ton of value across the board for a small handful of clients, it can inhibit an agency’s ability to impact more businesses in more measurable ways.
Specialization, on the other hand, offers an agency the best of both worlds: they can simultaneously help clients grow and grow faster themselves.
That’s exactly what Zack Hanebrink (pictured on the right!) and his team at Charleston-based marketing agency HookLead did when they began to pivot away from the large marketing projects that had been their bread and butter since their inception.
Since then, this agency has managed to pair existing landing page optimization expertise with enhanced skills in paid search and social to scale their client base, improve performance across the board, and ensure their whole team makes it home in time for dinner (most nights, at least).
The HookLead Model: Growth-Driven Design + PPC
Like many of our agency clients, HookLead specializes in both digital marketing and web design. “We help businesses generate quality leads that convert (and want to look good doing it),” says Zack, one of the shop’s co-founders.
When they opened for business, HookLead was a design-centric agency working with small, local businesses to design WordPress websites. They were (and still are!) staunch believers in the principles of Growth-Driven Design, an iterative approach to launching and optimizing sites that allows clients to stop worrying about months-long development timelines and instead focus on what matters most: helping their clients grow.
After a few years of cranking out killer websites for clients across many different industries (though most operate in the investment, real estate, and software verticals), HookLead began to offer CRO services (leveraging tools like Unbounce to create effective landing pages) and eventually ventured into paid search and paid social.
It was here that HookLead ran into an all too common problem: when you’re selling services, not projects, scaling efficiently is hard.
Maximizing Client Budget with Cross-Platform Strategy
It’s no secret that CPCs in many industries are nothing to sneeze at. While this isn’t necessarily an issue for advertisers with fat bankrolls and large internal teams, it can be a major hurdle when you rep the little guy.
“We have clients with good budgets, but their competitors have budgets three times that size. That’s a challenge right there,” says Zack. “Trying to figure out how to compete without having deep pockets is difficult, particularly when the client operates in an industry with a longer sales cycle.”
Fortunately, Zack and his team have developed a sound optimization process, using WordStream Advisor to conduct weekly routine account maintenance and more robust monthly deep-dives.
“For each of our SEM clients, we have a checklist of sorts in our project management software. It includes using the 20-Minute Work Week and then completing several tasks from the manage section, such as checking the QueryStream, adjusting bids, and pausing low performing keywords,” says Zack. “With WordStream’s tools as part of our optimization process, we can do an excellent job of managing and improving client campaigns without spending hours each week on manual optimizations.”
While efficient account management is great, the real secret to HookLead’s success (when it comes to clients in pricier industries, at least) is the development of customized cross-platform advertising strategies that address every point in the sales process. Let’s take a closer look at one of their clients to exemplify HookLead’s full-funnel approach.
Deep Dive: Software Client
According to Zack, one of HookLead’s software-industry clients has their Google Ads search campaigns broken out based on different keyword themes, some of which are astonishingly expensive.
“The CPCs are crazy, man. For one keyword, their CPA was well over $1,000.”
As a result, the client was totally priced out of the paid search market. What did they do?
“We got a little bit creative. Instead of blowing the client’s budget on a few clicks, we started using in-market audiences and keyword targeting the same terms on the Google Display Network. We used static images, html5 ads, and responsive ads to make sure we maximized impressions.”
And how’d that work out?
“We're CRUSHING IT,” says Zack. “The CPL is lower than the client’s top-performing search campaign. Good lead volume at a fraction of the cost, what’s not to love?”
And the best part? Those big competitors (with even bigger budgets) haven’t caught on yet. They’re still inflating costs on the SERP while Zack and his team shift budget to the GDN and make out like bandits.
Improved account management through the development of cross-platform strategies is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three other key strategies that the team at HookLead has used to better serve their clients (and grow their agency in the process).
#1: End Client Confusion with Intuitive Cross-Platform Reporting
Success is one thing, but communicating it to clients can be a challenge unto itself. Relying on multiple tools for search, social, display, and remarketing often means wasting time collating data for clients or, worse, sending them multiple reports, which can lead to confusion.
There's value in presenting a single source of truth, which is exactly what agency clients get with WordStream’s customizable cross-platform Success Reports.
“Right before you rolled out cross-platform reporting, we literally had a client email us, confused, because they were getting so many different email updates,” says Zack. “It’s really nice for us to have everything in one place. It saves us time and the clients love it because all their paid ad performance from search and social can be rolled up into one report. Having cohesive reporting across SEM channels for our clients is a game changer.”
#2: When in Doubt, Leverage an Expert
A huge part of HookLead’s SEM success (particularly when it comes to their most challenging accounts) has been their relationship with Navah Hopkins, their Premier Consultant.
“In the early days,” says Navah, “we worked on restructuring and driving conversions with one of HookLead’s most challenging accounts. This client was caught between a rock and a hard place: they wanted high-value leads but also wanted the volume that came from getting leads for their lower cost offering. A big part of our partnership was crafting soundbites and pulling data to help Zack’s client understand that if they wanted those high-value leads, they’d need to increase their investment.”
And, boy, did those soundbites pay off in a big way. Pairing Navah’s tutelage with WordStream Advisor, HookLead was able to prove to their client that they were driving more success. As a result, the client increased their monthly ad spend by more than $10,000, leading to almost 2,000 more conversions in 2018 vs. the same period in 2017.
“It’s a great way for us to have another pair of eyes on our campaigns,” says Zack. “Navah is one of the brightest in the industry so having her work with us gives us an added layer of confidence.”
#3: Grow Your Agency at Scale with More Efficient Prospecting
You’re killing it for your existing clients: now what?
HookLead gets a fair number of inbound leads (about 1-3 calls a day) thanks to the SEO work they’ve done on their own website and word of mouth from satisfied customers. That being said, they still devote 20-30 hours to prospecting each month.“We avoid the shotgun approach,” says Zack. “We try to identify a handful of qualified prospects each week”. And they’ve got their unique client-acquisition cadence down to a science.
According to Zack, HookLead’s prospecting looks a little something like this:
- Identify industries of interest.
- Conduct seed searches on Google to see which businesses are advertising on SERPs for keywords related to those industries.
- Use SEMRush and other keyword research tools to determine the approximate advertising budgets of those advertisers.
- Conduct a brief audit to discover low-hanging fruit.
- Create a custom landing page with a custom video in which the HookLead team shares observations from their research and invites the prospect to continue the conversation.
- Email a link to the landing page to a decision maker.
At that point, it’s time to leverage WordStream’s New Business Center. The suite of business development tools allows the HookLead team to audit prospect accounts at scale, arming them with data they need to pitch (and win) new clients.
“We just landed a deal where the previous agency wasn’t even frequently optimizing their client’s campaign,” said Zack. “The white labeled Performance Grader highlighted that and made our job of closing the sale pretty easy."
A Partnership for the Ages
“WordStream has helped us create better processes from sales to fulfillment, giving us more efficient systems for audits, optimization and reporting,” says Zack. “We’re able to handle more clients in-house and keep campaign performance high without taxing our team too much.”
So, what’s next for HookLead?
In a word: data.
“For a small percentage of our clients, we’re starting to track keyword performance all the way back to the CRM. This has given us the ability to make optimizations that we’d never have been able to make using the data in Google and Facebook alone. Instead of putting all of our clients’ eggs into the lead volume basket, we can focus on quality, on which leads actually turn into revenue.”
“We’re moving towards getting more of our clients to implement this level of granularity,” says Zack, “so we can have a greater impact on their businesses.”