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Guide to Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

on June 3, 2019

Guide to Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency
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If you’re reading this guide, you’re probably considering a partnership with a digital marketing agency. It might be because you need to lighten your workload, or maybe you’re not entirely satisfied with the results you’re getting with your current firm.  Whatever your reason may be, you’re entering into an exciting period in the evolution of your company. Here, you’ll learn how to find a digital marketing agency by asking the right questions.

Ask About Previous Clients

If you’re reviewing an agency’s portfolio and see that all of its past clients are in industries that are vastly different from yours, take note. While it’s possible for an agency to be versatile, it’s important to see results from past clients in the same field. Conversely, you should be wary of agencies that only work in your field. This may create a conflict of interest with your competitors. Look for blog posts and case studies featuring recent clients, and find out how well the firm understands your company. If they haven’t dabbled in your field recently, ask how they’ll acquire pertinent knowledge about your company’s revenue, goals, and industry.

Learn How Success is Measured

Marketing agencies, regardless of their accomplishments, aren’t a cure-all for struggling businesses. Digital marketing is an ongoing process, and success, however it is defined, comes only after hard work and sacrifice. It may take months or even years to find what works (and what doesn’t). However, your agency should:

  • Work with you to create a unique definition of success
  • Demonstrate results along the way

If the agency you’re considering doesn’t know how they’ll track your success (or they avoid the question entirely), take your business elsewhere.

how success is measured

Determine How Much Outsourcing Takes Place

Many marketing firms also offer web development and design services, but not all handle them in-house. When choosing a digital marketing agency, it’s crucial to find out how much of its effort is outsourced. Though some outsourcing is okay, if you’re rebranding the company or reworking the website, it’s reassuring to know that there’s an experienced developer and designer on staff.

Meet Your Team

From your own career, you probably already know that co-workers have a tremendous effect on your success and happiness. When hiring a digital marketing firm, you’re basically gaining a new team. The average retainer is from eight months to one year. It’s important to choose a team with whom you can collaborate. The firm’s website is a great place to start, but in-person visits are often necessary. When visiting, be sure to meet some of the staff members who will work on your project.

meet your team

Choose a Team That Fits the Corporate Culture

For the sake of success, you’ll want to work with a marketing firm with values similar to your own. Is the team friendly and fun, or are they analytical and distant? You’re the only one who can make this decision. Choosing an agency with a similar corporate culture will likely result in a successful marketing effort.

Ensure Availability

Though the software and tools an agency uses will play a significant role in account management and progress reporting, face time is still important. Will you need someone on call to answer questions, or are you comfortable with the idea of allowing the team to implement its strategy and check in with you every few days? Whether you need once-weekly or once-monthly meetings with your marketing team, availability is a key consideration.

ensure availability

Select the Proper Contract Length

In most cases, inbound marketing efforts don’t produce returns for up to six months. For an impatient business owner, it may not seem fast enough. However, marketing and trust go hand in hand, as both take time to nurture and grow. The marketing agency you choose should understand your company and use that knowledge to kick-start your marketing campaign. It’s important to keep in mind that results take time, though. To provide ROI-focused solutions, the agency must get a big-picture view of the market, and both sides must be committed to your company’s long-range goals.

Consider How SEO Has Evolved

SEO or search engine optimization is a common topic of conversation in the digital marketing field. Google and the other search engines are always adjusting their algorithms to minimize loopholes. This forces online marketers to continually change their tactics so clients always have the biggest possible advantage. If a potential partner is promoting tactics that were once successful (but now result in penalties), take it as a huge red flag—and move on to the next name on the list.

consider how seo is involved

Ask When Results Will Appear

Digital marketing is more like a cruise around the world than a walk around the block. We’re not saying that to dissuade you from starting a campaign, but we want you to know that it’s important to set realistic expectations. Even the most well-written and informative content will take time to get to the top of the search engine results, and that applies to all aspects of digital marketing. Like you’d have to learn how to trust a new co-worker, your online audience will have to gain trust in your company. And, as we all know, trust is the cornerstone of any good marketing strategy. When evaluating digital marketing agencies, consider how long it will take to get results, but remember that patience is a virtue.

Learn About the Role of Backlinks

It’s difficult to form a solid backlink strategy, mainly because it’s time-consuming and labor-intensive to build them. Backlinks are almost completely out of your control. That’s because you can’t force other sites to link to your content unless it’s relevant and of high quality. For these and other reasons, most digital marketers put backlinks near the bottom of the list of priorities, allowing other, more important ranking factors to make up the deficit.

Consider Your Role in the Content Creation Process

In some cases, marketing agencies defer some of their content creation duties to clients. This scenario is quite common, as some industries are just too specialized for an outsider to cover. The best content entertains, informs, and entices the audience. If the audience believes that it’s in any way inauthentic, it will look elsewhere. If a potential digital marketing partner asks you to share in the content creation duties, don’t take it as a warning sign; appreciate the fact that they’re looking to you as an industry expert.

Ask About the Agency’s Brand-Building Experience

The line between marketing and branding is a blurry one indeed, and your agency’s branding knowledge should be every bit as strong as its marketing expertise. After all, how could an agency ever infuse a client’s marketing effort with a unique brand voice if it lacks branding experience? Simple, they couldn’t! A marketing agency with an on-site branding expert will be better equipped to help you connect with your target market.

Delve Into The Agency’s Content Philosophy

A successful, high-ranking, and high-converting piece of web content is just the sum of its parts. Content should be thought-provoking, helpful, original, and have a strong headline. That’s not an exhaustive list, but for the purpose of finding a digital marketing partner, it’s a great place to start. By understanding the way an agency supercharges content, you’ll learn about its strengths and weaknesses without having to ask outright.

End the Short-Form vs. Long-Form Content Debate

One of the longest running inbound marketing controversies is whether short- or long-form content is more effective. Short-form content is typically between 300-1000 words, while long-form pieces are usually 1000-3000 words in length. While short-form pieces allow you to post often enough to stay fresh in customers’ minds, long-form content has been shown to help companies get to the first page of Google’s search results. Remember, one article that ranks well for a highly-trafficked keyword has more staying power than five shorter posts that are buried deep in your blog archives. Be wary of short fluff pieces, as they may show that an agency is more concerned with its to-do list than creating relevant, readable, and engaging content

See How New Ideas are Generated

At first, this question might seem obvious, but it’s worth asking. The well of creativity will eventually run dry, especially if it’s a long-term partnership. Any digital marketing agency that’s worth its price should have a collaborative strategy that’s implemented when ideas are scarce.

see how new ideas are generated

Set a Monthly Content Production Goal

This step is closely related to the long- vs. short-form content debate mentioned above. As you already know, short-form content allows for more frequent posting, while long-form pieces may only come once or twice per month. However, these longer pieces are more likely to become resources upon which people rely. When choosing a digital marketing agency, select one that’s willing to produce and post content on your schedule.

Learn How Audience Personas are Built

A marketing strategy is only as effective as its ability to connect with the audience in inspiring and meaningful ways. Here’s where audience personas become useful. Though there are numerous ways to create these personas, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The most important thing to remember is that you know your customers better than almost anyone else, and you may not even realize it. Choose a marketing agency that makes it easy to collaboratively build an audience persona.

See How the Agency Uses the Audience Persona to Customize Content

There’s only one reason to ask for this information when selecting a digital marketing partner. Using buyer personas is the only real way to create content that will solve the audience’s problems, satisfy their curiosity, and encourage them to keep coming back to see what’s new.

Ask Which Metrics are Monitored and Reported On

It’s impossible to manage what’s not measured. To take the point a bit further, not everything that’s measured is of the same importance. Take email open rates for an example. Although this metric was at first thought to be one of the most important, it’s since been revealed as a “vanity” statistic with no real bearing on the health of a digital marketing strategy. The best digital marketing agencies will keep unimportant metrics out of your reports, so you’re getting the best information every time.

Request a Sample Buyer Journey

The buyer journey is the focus of any good marketing strategy. This blueprint allows you to keep your strategy in line with your audience’s changing needs, and it’s a great way to build trust. Instead of forcing your brand upon an unsuspecting audience, the buyer journey lets you target the audience’s needs as they appear. With that in mind, it’s crucial to remember that no two journeys are the same, even if they follow similar protocols. This question gives you the chance to learn about the agency’s successes and failures with all their details still intact.

Explore the Differences Between Tone and Voice

The differences between tone and voice may seem elementary, and they should easily be explained by your potential digital marketing partner. Though you might not need a lesson on what makes them different, you likely do need the agency to express its feelings, philosophies, and thoughts on everything it claims to offer.

tone vs voice

See Which Social Channels They’re Focused On

If an agency claims to have mastered all forms of social media, take it as a significant warning sign. Odds are, your company does not have to deploy across all channels, just the most important ones. For instance, if you’re in the industrial sector, you probably won’t generate much interest on Twitter. However, if you have an e-commerce brand that’s known for its individuality and quirkiness, a few well-placed tweets may put your marketing strategy over the top.

Define Social Media Strategic Success

Should social media successes be based solely on the number of followers you have or the number of likes a post receives? Or, should you focus on having an authentic conversation with your audience, regardless of whether they hit the “like” button? In many industries, social media success has a lot to do with responding to customers’ questions in a timely fashion. In others, however, it has more to do with how many people visit a site or a store because of a social media post. Social media is a huge part of digital marketing. When choosing an agency, it’s important to pick one with a social media strategy that fits your company’s goals.


Learn How That Social Strategy Will Reflect Your Company’s Brand

Remember, there’s not much difference between marketing and branding. If we see branding as one side of the coin, marketing is the other side that isn’t always visible (but is just as important). Branding and marketing are inextricably linked; while one establishes a company’s position, the other defends it. Therefore, a corporate social media strategy should always reflect the company’s brand philosophy. If it doesn’t, the brand’s message will simply get lost in a sea of social media posts that all feel, sound, and look the same. Find a marketing partner that will help you create inspired, exciting social media posts that perfectly reflect your brand.

Choose a Firm With Paid Social Media Campaign Management Experience

Paid advertising has become more commonplace in the past few years and it is steadily becoming more important. The sponsored ad game is full of nuances, and it requires significant ad writing and placement experience. It’s one thing to offer paid social posts as a small part of an online marketing strategy; it’s another to actively manage paid social campaigns. To increase your chances of success, find a company that focuses on the latter.

Decide: Custom Website or Template

Template-based websites are slowly supplanting custom sites as they continue to increase in functionality while decreasing in cost. While the jury is still out on that argument, it’s still very important to know which type of web design the agency focuses on.

Focus on Responsive Design

According to recent research, almost half of all mobile users begin searching for products and services from their devices. Responsive design is crucial. When you’re looking for a marketing partner, it’s a good idea to choose a firm that specializes in it.

Find Out How the Site Will Keep Up With Your Company

A compelling and up-to-date web presence indicates an equally fresh marketing strategy. However, many websites experience the same pitfalls. After a complete redesign, years pass, and the site is once again behind the times. Look for an agency that has a background in growth-centric design, as they’ll be able to stop the cycle. In growth-centric design, your site is altered in increments, and it’s optimized as the process matures. Therefore, your site will scale right along with your business.

Pick a Firm That Designs With a Focus on Copy

Web copy is a frequently misunderstood aspect of the design process. While most web designers see copy as a mere afterthought, an increasing understanding that puts it closer to the top of the priority list. When a marketing agency puts copy ahead of everything else, it’s more likely to be ahead of the game.


Be Sure They’re Receptive to Feedback During the Design Process

For a collaborative effort to be truly great, feedback must be asked for and gathered in the right way. You’re bringing a digital marketing agency on board because they’re great at what they do, but you should steer clear of agencies that fail to ask for your input, or even worse, dismiss it entirely. Though you, as a business owner, might not be able to articulate your needs in a way that a marketer can understand, you undoubtedly know what’s right for your company. Don’t sign on with an agency if you’re uncomfortable with how they do things, especially when it comes to the way they receive and implement feedback.

Learn About Web Analytics

Does the agency have experience with Google Analytics, and if not, what are they using in its place? Do team members have any history with lesser-known marketing or web analytics services? The best marketing plan is useless without a way to track important metrics, and web analytics allows an agency to do just that.

Ask How The Agency Will Increase the Site’s Conversion Rate

Yet again, here’s a question that will help you assess the depth of an agency’s marketing strategies; a noncommittal answer likely points to a wishy-washy plan. Earlier in this guide, we advised against relying on “vanity” metrics. However, site conversion rates are at the other extreme. Whether you’re working to get visitors to call you or make a purchase, your site’s conversion rate is something that simply can’t be ignored.

Prevent Conflicts of Interest

This should also go without saying, but it bears repeating: avoid conflict at all cost. Does the agency you’re considering work with any of your competitors? If so, look for another agency. Though industry experience is important, preventing conflicts of interest is even more crucial.

Consider the Agency’s Past Successes

Simply put, if the marketing agency cannot prove its past successes, it will be almost impossible for it to guarantee yours. Read their case studies carefully to be sure you’re satisfied with the level of service they’ll provide. This step is a must-do if you want to find the ideal marketing partner.

past success

Stay Updated

When choosing a digital marketing agency, ask if they’ll provide access to their analytics dashboard so you can track their progress. Will they give you spreadsheets demonstrating good results (or the lack thereof)? No matter how they do their reporting, be sure that you set realistic expectations from the very beginning.

In Conclusion

Whether you’re running a local business or a nationwide chain, it’s important to build a solid brand and establish an online presence. A digital marketing agency will take all the guesswork out of the process, as long as you choose wisely. We hope you find these tips helpful in the search for a comfortable, collaborative, and successful partnership with an online marketing firm.

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