Your Complete Guide to Vetting a Digital Marketing Agency
Deciding what digital marketing model is right for your business can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming. It’s hard enough for me to pick out an outfit in the morning when I’m half–asleep, so I get it. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so what may be right for your buddy’s goat rental business may not be right for your prank candle company. (Both real businesses, I swear.)
But if you’ve decided that a digital marketing agency is the way to go, it’s important to do your due diligence and properly vet various agencies. (And if you haven’t decided yet on whether you want to work with an agency, read our CEO’s blog post here to help you determine the model that’s best for your business.)
Do your research
Before even reaching out to agencies, there’s one important step you need to do. Research! A little bit of time spent looking into agencies at the beginning will go a long way in the end.
Here are some things you should always look for on a digital marketing agency’s website.
Current service offerings
Do they offer some services that you think may be especially important to your business? For example, you think your prank candle company could really benefit from some quality banner ads. You don’t have an in-house designer so you’re looking for an agency that offers designs services. If not, or if they seem like afterthoughts, that agency might not be right for you.
What kind of clients do they work with? Does it appear that they verticalize in an industry completely separate from your own? Make sure you can picture your business fitting into the picture their client list paints.
It’s always good to see that an agency’s clients are happy with the work they’re doing. Be on the lookout for any keywords that are specifically relevant to your needs, like “custom reporting,” “strong and frequent communication,” or “they all love ice cream.” You know, the stuff that really matters. (For more reasons why testimonials matter for any site, check this post out.)
While it’s not totally necessary for every agency to have a blog, it does help position them as experts in their field. A blog can help you learn about the knowledge base of the employees, what they’re most passionate about, and even get an idea of their company culture.
Six questions to ask a digital marketing agency
Once you’ve created a solid list of agencies to vet, the most telling part of the process is reaching out to and speaking with their business development reps. I suggest going into any preliminary calls with a solid list of questions in hand to make the most of your time.
Here are some questions you should be asking and the kinds of answers you should be looking for:
1) What’s your process like?
An open-ended question like this is a great way to start. While they might have a prepared answer in place (which is fine), this will give you a good idea of how flexible they are with engagements. Certain processes put in place are expected, like bi-weekly reporting calls.
But if their engagements are so processed out that there leaves no wiggle room, it could be difficult for them to work with your unique needs. Again, there is no one right solution for all, and a rigid agency process could be ideal for some companies – just know what type of process will work best for your company.
2) What kind of guarantees can you give me?
If an agency offers you guarantees like “we’ll get you to the first page of Google for all of your top keywords within one month” or “we’ll get you x amount of conversions within your first week,” it’s time to run. This is a huge red flag.
Absolute guarantees with digital marketing are nearly impossible, as search engines can be incredibly fickle. Additionally, if they’re offering you these kinds of guarantees, it’s likely that they’re engaging in some black hat practices that will hurt you big time in the long run.
Instead, an agency should speak towards past client successes, their short-term versus long-term strategies, and how they’ll work with you to help meet your goals.
3) Do you outsource?
You’re not necessarily looking for a yes or no here. While it’s great if agencies keep everything in-house, there are plenty that outsource and do it well.
What’s telling here is how they describe their relationship with any employees or partners. If they maintain constant and open communication with outsourcers, this could be an adequate solution.
4) Do you charge hourly?
Again, this question doesn’t require a yes or no answer; it’s more about what their pricing model means for your engagement. If they charge a minimum retainer that only includes a set amount of hours, it’s possible that they may not go above and beyond to help you during busy months.
Make sure that you understand how the engagement would be structured and how they handle any immediate or emergency needs from their clients.
5) Who owns the accounts?
Many agencies contractually own your cookie pools or AdWords accounts. This is done to keep you from leaving their agency.
Here at Perfect Search, all accounts are technically owned by our clients, which helps establish a strong, trustworthy relationship right from the get-go. We care about your business and its success, and wouldn’t want to impede that if you decided to go in another direction at any point.
6) What is your company culture like?
I personally like this question as a way to give the person on the other end of the phone an opportunity to really speak towards the company; you can tell when someone’s feeding you a line about their culture versus really enjoys working there.
A place that people truly enjoy going into work every day is a place that’s going to be enjoyable to work with.
While there are plenty of other important questions that you can and should ask an agency, I’ve found that the above questions can be the most telling of what a relationship might be like, and will easily point out any red flags.
Are there other questions that you think are especially important to ask when vetting digital marketing agencies? Do you also seriously struggle with picking out your clothes in the morning?
Tweet us @Perfect_Search or shoot us an email at email@example.com – we want to hear your thoughts!
Laura Cain is a University of Chicago alum who hails from Mandeville, Louisiana. If she could have her own store, she would sell sandwiches on really fancy bread, and the one thing she can’t live without is ice cream (seriously).