How to Hire a Digital Marketing Agency: Red Flags and Key Questions
Let’s face it, even the savviest marketing teams sometimes don’t have the bandwidth to take on digital marketing, which is a strategy in itself. Digital marketing agencies help businesses by creating comprehensive online strategies and optimizing their digital presence through paid search, display advertising, SEO, content creation, and social media.
There are many reasons to consider hiring a digital marketing agency. Some organizations need to completely outsource their digital marketing, while others might just be looking to augment their in-house team. No matter what the reason is, the digital landscape is in such a constant state of flux that you’ll need to partner with an agency that will keep you ahead of the curve.
A few fast moving areas you might need expert guidance on include:
- Social media: Social platforms are continually updating feed algorithms, adding (and retiring) advertising features, reformatting displays, etc.
- Content marketing: Best practices are constantly evolving as users adapt to new devices and features, and update their expectations accordingly.
- Search engines: They are the most notorious for consistently changing the rules of the game, making optimization an ever-moving target. (I’m looking at you, Google.)
At its core, digital marketing is a series of trial and error tasks. The advantage of hiring a digital marketing agency is that they’ve already figured the basics, as well as advanced marketing strategies that can take you years to figure out alone. Digital marketing agencies are uniquely focused on the fast-paced digital marketplace and are equipped to stay up-to-date on the latest strategies and tactics while you run the rest of your business.
If you’re thinking about hiring a digital marketing agency, here are a few things you should look for before you take the plunge and some questions you definitely need to ask:
3 Digital Marketing Agency Red Flags
Your search for the right agency will be easier if you can rule out the ones that probably won’t be a good fit right off the bat. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but here are some serious red flags to watch out for:
- No track record: Everyone has to start somewhere—as a businessperson, you know that more than most. Still, it’s important to know that the agency has proven itself with successful campaigns to minimize the risk of errors and bad judgment calls. Your brand doesn’t need to be the guinea pig.
- Unappealing websites and little social media activity: Plumbers with ugly websites are fine. Digital marketing agencies? No. If they can’t impress you when it comes their own digital marketing, how will they do better with yours?
- Poor communication: You need an agency that communicates well, and that includes communication with you. Any agency that you are considering should respond to your emails and phone calls in a timely manner, provide clear project guidelines, and have a standard structure for regular meetings with clients.
9 Questions to Ask a Digital Marketing Agency
During the selection process, you will need to interview potential agencies. This can be done in person, by phone, Skype, or email, but it must be done. Make it easy for yourself by making a list of key questions to ask:
- What KPIs do they measure? Measuring KPIs is vital to successful digital marketing campaigns. Make sure the candidate agency has a proven system in place for measuring a flexible set of KPIs. Most importantly, see if they ask what your marketing goal are. A good agency will learn your business objectives and help you reach your KPIs.
- Do they have experience? How long have they been in business? What is the educational and/or professional background of the people who will be working with you? Study the agency’s “About” page, and ask questions if their content doesn’t assure you. Connect with your sales rep on LinkedIn and ask to see case studies that prove their abilities.
- How do they handle reporting? How often do they report their progress (monthly, quarterly, etc.)? What do those reports look like? Can they provide samples? How customizable are those reports? You want an agency that can report on progress as often as you want. The reports they provide should track the progress of your unique KPIs and provide actionable insights based on the data.
- What ROI can you expect? What is the expected return on investment (ROI), and what is the timeline in which you can expect to see a return? Ask for projections based on your business goals, etc., but also ask to see case studies (again). Predictions are good, proof is better.
- Do they have a client portfolio and success stories? Can they show you past campaigns that were successful? Do they have customer feedback? Are they willing to provide names and phone numbers for references?
- Do they outsource? Do they outsource work, or do they do it all in-house? If they outsource, do they have a strong and reliable team of contractors? If an agency keeps all their work in-house, they’ve definitely vetted the people they have hired. But that doesn’t mean agencies who outsource necessarily provide inferior work; just make sure they work with a consistent team of freelancers and contractors who have been successful in the past.
- What is their specialization? What areas of digital marketing do they specialize in? Some agencies focus on SEO, while others specialize in PPC, social media marketing, or content. How focused are they in those areas? It can be tempting to hire one agency to do all your digital marketing, but you might see better results from working with two or three specialists who can collaborate.
- How do they handle meetings? How do they prefer to conduct meetings with clients? How often, who generally attends, and why? How flexible is their schedule?
- What are the contractual terms? How long is the contract term? How does payment work? What are they going to deliver to you? What are renewal and/or cancellation options?
Interview as many digital marketing agencies as you reasonably can. Take note of each agency’s “personality” and how it aligns with your company’s brand.
Find the Right Digital Marketing Agency
Digital marketing isn’t easy. It’s multi-pronged, continually evolving, and complex. As digital marketing becomes more and more vital for a business’ growth and success, the need for people with proven, up-to-the-minute expertise becomes more and more of a necessity.
As you begin your search, go in with your eyes open, keeping in mind your specific needs. Once you’ve established that the agency is compatible with your brand and has the track record and customer satisfaction you’re looking for, you’re on your way to building one of the most important relationships your business can have.