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9 Items to Evaluate When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

by Cody Slingerland in Marketing Agency Tips This image shows how to hire a digital agency.

Thinking about outsourcing to a digital marketing agency, but unsure if it’s the right move?

Making the jump to hire some outside help is a big decision, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
There are many of reasons why you’re probably thinking about hiring a digital marketing agency; it’ll free up your team’s time to focus on other projects, and the agency can bring in some expertise to marketing campaigns that your in-house team may not have.

Not all agencies are the same, though. While some agencies can completely transform your business and generate lots of revenue, others can fall short of your expectations. They might be unqualified or they might not have a big enough team to support your business.

There are a few boxes an agency needs to tick before you send them your business. In this article, you’ll learn what to look out for when hiring an agency so you can make the best decision for your brand going forward.

1. Before you start looking, determine what you need

Realizing what you need before you start searching is essential. A social media marketing agency will have an extremely different skill set than an SEO agency. And if you’re looking for a full-service agency, it’s unlikely you’ll find it from one that specializes in one area.

What do you need from an agency? A website redesign, or help with email marketing campaigns? Looking to boost your SEO? Or… everything involved in your marketing plan?

Evaluate your needs from an agency thoroughly because when it comes to digital marketing, it pays to be on the same page. According to a 2018 HubSpot Survey, the more aligned your sales and marketing relationship is, the more successful your marketing campaigns will be:

hiring a digital agency marketing strategy

This is why it’s important that your goals fit your agency from the start. Once you have a clear idea of what you need from them, it’ll be easier to focus in on an agency that fits.

2. Look for an agency with experience in your industry

It’s worth your while to look for an agency that has experience in your industry. Not only will they know what your pain points are, but their strategies and expertise will help you to craft marketing campaigns catered specifically to your target audience.

If you find an agency that has experience in your industry, ask them if they have had success on a conversion goal that’s similar to yours. For example, if you’re a SaaS company looking to launch a new product to B2B clients, has the agency ever built a similar campaign? If so, what results did they see?

A strong background in your industry means the agency can not only help you build killer marketing campaigns, but also steer you away from ideas that don’t work.

3. What results are they promising?

The old saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” should be used when searching for an agency.

Sadly, there are a lot of unreliable marketing agencies. You know, the ones that promise you incredible results but don’t live up to their word.

If an agency is offering to provide you results that nobody else can, ask them to prove it. Have them lay out their golden strategy that separates them from other agencies.

What is their exact strategy for achieving results? What makes them unique at solving your problems?

One red flag to look out for is an agency that guarantees you bottom-of-the-funnel results:

benefits of hiring a digital marketing agency

While the end game of most marketing campaigns is to earn new customers, an agency should never promise to boost your bottom-of-the-funnel figures. There are just too many variables that could impact the figures (e.g., how many sales your business is closing). Even the most successful marketing campaigns won’t necessarily bring in a slew of new customers, so watch out for these promises.

Pro tip: If you’re in a particularly competitive market like B2B, don’t be drawn into agency promises of quick results. The more competitive your industry, the longer it’ll take you to see any change in your bottom line. Any agency telling you otherwise is likely overpromising.

4. Are they using the best tools in the business?

Metrics matter and if you’re going to hire a digital marketing agency, you should know what tools they’re using.

Inbound marketing campaigns are much like any campaign; they require an end-to-end experience. This is why the agency you go with should be using the right tools to make the experience worthwhile.

If you’re hiring them to do email marketing, are they using tools like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor? If they’re running SEO for you, are they using Ahrefs and/or SEMrush to monitor trends and track keywords?

And you need to know about communication tools, too. How will they keep you up-to-date on campaign progress? Gmail might work for some companies, but a tool like Slack is built to keep communication flowing and everyone on the same page.

These may seem like unnecessary details to inquire about, but they help you differentiate average agencies apart from the top players.

5. Is their reporting effective?

Reporting is crucial to success when establishing a relationship with your agency of choice. A track record of solid reporting can show how transparent an agency is with its clients. The last thing you need is an agency who makes big promises and then fails to report the truth if a campaign flames out.

Although each agency reports to their clients differently in terms of frequency and format, you should always be kept in the loop. A good agency will provide you a baseline report, and then customize it to whatever goal you’re trying to achieve.

This could mean a specific report about your website’s unique visitor numbers, how much time visitors spent on your site, or if you’re trying to boost PPC results, your cost-per-click and conversions.

Be mindful that some statistics, like social media and content revenue, are notoriously hard for agencies to report back to customers:

why hire a digital agency

An agency might also struggle to prove their ROI to their clients if they haven’t aligned the businesses goals to a campaign. Or, they might struggle because they simply aren’t collecting and analyzing the right data.

Although increased engagement and awareness in your brand is important, you need to know exactly how the agency will measure success and what metrics you want them to use to prove campaigns are performing well. If an agency can’t show you an increase in ROI from social, they should be making it up in other areas like increase organic traffic through SEO or total leads from gated assets.

6. Do they practice what they preach?

If an agency is promising you stellar marketing campaigns or a professional, cutting-edge new website, but they don’t have either one for their own agency, this is a massive red flag.

One of the best signs if an agency is legit is that they promise things that they’ve generated for themselves.

For example, if you’re looking for an agency to produce blog content, but their blog is non-existent, should you hire them? Or, if you’re seeking experts to manage your social media accounts, but they hardly ever post on their accounts, are you still willing to trust them with your brand?

You should look into an agency’s search ranking if you’re interested in SEO. They should be ranking for search terms in their industry. If they aren’t, how good are they really at SEO?

If you don’t have the time to dig around and investigate these parts of an agency yourself, ask the agency to answer any questions you have. If they hesitate or can’t prove it with stats or examples, that’s a warning sign they might not be able to deliver for you.

7. The size of their agency matters

Some of the best marketing agencies only have three staff members. Some have 300.

A smaller agency can give you more direct access to the people managing your campaigns and a more hands-on approach. On the flip side, the agency with three people working on your campaign is unlikely to have the skill set that a larger agency can offer you.

An agency with hundreds of people will be able to offer you services from video to web development and everything in between. So take these points into account when choosing your agency.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a smaller agency, though. Even if a smaller agency doesn’t offer niche services like video creation and editing, they will most likely offer essential services like SEO and/or content creation.

In fact, a 2018 study by WordStream on digital marketing agencies found the majority of agencies provide about seven core digital marketing services, so don’t automatically disqualify smaller agencies:

hiring a digital agency services

Keep in mind that the bigger the agency, the less likely it will be that you’ll have control over every aspect of your campaign. Bigger agencies will take the reins and will handle everything for you. Sometimes this is a good thing (they take control and make decisions without consulting your team). But on the other hand, it can affect your relationship with the agency and create a sense of detachment as well.

8. Is their pricing fair?

When looking for a digital marketing agency, a lower price does not necessarily mean a better deal. If an agency is quoting a super low price, you should dig a little deeper. Ask them why their prices are so low, and how they manage to keep them so low while still offering quality service.

Think about it from an agency’s point of view. If their prices are too low, they will also make a smaller cut on their services. That means they’re less likely to pull out showstoppers for any campaigns you’re running. You just aren’t paying them enough.

That doesn’t mean you need to pay top dollar for a marketing agency, but chances are, higher priced marketing agencies are more willing to dedicate more resources to your campaigns. Mainly because you’ve paid them to do so.

Agencies that charge higher prices tend to treat their clients more generously because they have the budget to do so.

What should you expect to pay?

The average digital marketing retainer for an SMB will set you back anywhere between $500 to $20,000+ per month:

hiring a digital agency monthly price

Before you start questioning whether or not outsourcing your digital media marketing efforts is worth it, think about the ROI you could receive from a successful campaign. According to a study by Single Grain, here is the average ROI for businesses for every $1 they spend on the following marketing channels:

cost of hiring a digital agency

Digital marketing is totally worth the price tag, as long as you don’t cut corners when picking an agency. If you do, you’ll only end up paying for the mistake down the line.

9. Ask questions before signing a contract

The best way to figure out if a digital marketing agency is a good fit for you is to ask as many questions as you can that are related back to your own business.

At the end of the day, you’re entering into a business relationship with an agency. You’re hoping it to be a mutual fit, but be mindful that things can turn sour.

That’s why you need to quiz them on every aspect of their agency from their reporting to their experience in your industry to their pricing strategy.

Look for things that don’t add up. If a conversion figure is too good to be true, or if an agency isn’t forthcoming with their information, chances are, they’re going to cause problems down the line.

Make sure a marketing agency ticks all your boxes

A digital marketing agency should tick all of the boxes on your checklist before you sign with them.

Before you start hunting for the right agency for your business, make sure you know what you want from them in terms of marketing experience, agency size, and of course — price.

Then, it’s up to the agency to win you over and prove that they are the best fit for your business goals.

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