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What does it take to make a great PPC account manager?

At our agency, we’re lucky enough to be gearing up to hire a new PPC account manager. As part of the exercise, I thought it would be worth exploring what I think makes a great account manager in paid search.

In my positions in agencies and in-house environments, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and hiring a number of PPC account managers.

Some have thrived and gone on to have long and rewarding careers in paid search and SEM.  Others have not.  Looking back on my experience with candidates and employees, here is an overview of what kind of people, I think, make the best paid search account managers.

This isn’t so much a job description as an overview of the kind of personalities – the kind of brains – that our agency looks for when we hire for paid search.

You need to be tech savvy with a deep understanding of the web

It should go without saying, but I’ve seen a surprisingly large number of candidates (even people with an AdWords certification) who could barely find Excel on a desktop, let alone use it.

Not that you need to be a programmer to be an Account Manager – far from it. However, terminology like "Import CSV" or "URL rejected due to incorrect header" should be easily understandable to you. Even more importantly, you should also be able to communicate what they mean to non-techy clients.

The most successful people I’ve worked with have not only been people who grew up using computers (Commodore 64 users represent!), they’re people who fundamentally "get" the web. They understand how powerful (and fun!) it is, and what options are open to them.

If you’re the kind of person who spends your leisure time on the web as well as your working day, you’re probably on the right track. Are you plugged into Reddit? Metafilter? Have you ever gone out to a meetup from These are all good signs.

To really thrive in a paid search agency, you need to live and breathe the web.

Numerate and data driven with no fear of maths

Paid search is a stats game, and that mean maths. Numeracy and a comfort with maths is key to success. If you’re not intimidated by the words "Excel Pivot Table" and you can easily grasp what effect a rising conversion rate might have on profit margins, and why, then you have the beginnings of a great account manager.

You don’t have to be an MIT theoretical maths grad. Most of what we do is logic, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction. (My dirty little secret is that I failed grade 11 math.) But, you do need to be willing to up-skill yourself on the basics until maths become part of how you think, and you should be able to run sums in your head and in Excel relatively quickly.

Creative and able to stand up to authority

What search engines say and what is actually the case in the real world are sometimes at odds. (I’m looking at your direction, AdWords Agency Support). The best account managers I’ve worked with aren’t afraid to press through if they think they’re right about something, even if an authority says they shouldn’t.

Great account managers are lateral thinkers. They can synthesize knowledge from combinations of past experience, common sense, research and feedback from others and then come to a solid conclusion.

Have you been called a lateral thinker? If so, you have the makings of an account manager in you.

Able to speak a client’s language

Agencies and account managers don’t exist without clients, and account managers have a client-facing roll. That means you have to talk to people.

What we do is essentially techy. We have industry-specific jargon like “CTR” and “ROAS” and landing-page load time”. The best account managers are ones who are conscious that very often those terms don’t mean anything to clients.

Clients care about money out versus money in. To be effective, you need to be able to get client buy-in for projects and tasks by explaining how your actions will impact those factors. “Split-testing site links will increase your CTR” means something to other account managers. To a client, it’s nonsense. They want to know what effect your actions will have on the bottom line.

If you can plan to communicate how your actions will impact what the client actually cares about, you’re much more likely to get client buy-in and be effective.

Money focused with a bit of a mercenary streak

The best account managers I’ve seen are a little bit salesy and just a little bit mercenary. They’re respectful that they’re spending a client’s money, but at the same time, they really aren’t afraid to chase a profit opportunity when they find one. Even more importantly, they learn from their mistakes when those opportunities don’t pan out, and aren’t afraid to chase and chase again.

At the end of the day, we’re marketers. We may have particular skills, but by and large customers don’t pay us for knowledge, they pay us to make them money.

If you’re hungry to make money, genuinely ambitious, and a growing return on investment makes you smile, you’re probably our kind of person.

Just like stock traders, if there’s money to be made, great account mangers go out and make it.


These are the kinds of overarching skills and characteristics that all the successful account managers I’ve worked with have in common.

If you want to thrive in a PPC agency environment:

  • You’ll need to be tech and web savvy – that means living and breathing web culture.
  • You’ll need to be numerate, and know your way around excel just as well as any accountant or financial analyst.
  • You’ll need to be a lateral thinker, and not blindly obedient to what industry authorities say.
  • You need to be able to speak to clients in their own language. Explain why something will help their bottom line, not just explain what you’re doing.
  • You’ll need to be ambitious and profit oriented. Go out there and chase the money!
This is a guest post by Fraser Birt, the Business Development Director at Maple Forest, a UK PPC Agency with expertise in Pay-on-Results billing for ecommerce. Fraser has been working in various flavours of SEM since 2002.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

No Comments

  1. calinsandici
    September 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm · Reply

    So true, Fraser. As Tal Raviv put it (, the best marketers thing like engineers (and developers, actually). They research, measure, iterate and approximate when necessary. And consider multiple data points, not just what they see in the PPC management interface.

    • fraserbirt
      September 21, 2012 at 3:51 am · Reply

      Bang on. We have an internal mantra that we stole from a shampoo bottle: Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

      It’s an engineer’s and developer’s mantra… if it worked, do it again. Iterate on it, then do it again.

  2. adviceinteractive
    October 28, 2012 at 11:24 am · Reply

    Proficient in finance, math, excel and marketing. But actually communicating with clients and brainstorming long-tail keywords that will bring in clients for a low cost is imperative too, don’t you think? It is the creativity blended with the ROI understanding that makes a great PPC analyst.

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