Things to look for when choosing a digital marketing agency for your business

Choosing a digital marketing agency that’s right for your business can be a difficult process, and it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. With so many agencies out there specialising in different areas of digital marketing and making big promises about what they can achieve, you need to trust that they know what they’re talking about, that they’re only selling you the services you actually need.
Most importantly, you need to know that they’re able to the generate results.
The various abbreviations thrown around by digital marketing (PPC, SEO, XE, SERP, CPA…) can also be a bit of minefield, so you’ll also need a digital marketing agency that’s happy to make these clearer for you. Otherwise, how are you going to know if what they’re doing is working?
Karl Hindle manages Pennsylvania-based digital marketing agency, WellSpring Search, and has worked both agency and client side. He says: “What makes a good digital agency is transparency, honesty, and competency.
“Being transparent means helping to educate and explain to clients what is actually involved, and why. You should also speak to them in the language they understand, rather than the jargon-filled, ‘techno-babble’ most digital marketers speak!”
James Norquay founded his agency, Prosperity Media, in 2012 after gaining over 10 years’ experience working in SEO and content marketing. To choose the best agency for your business, he advises: “Look for an agency with industry relevant case studies, and provides 100% transparency on all work they’ve completed and shows you everything they do.
“When speaking to different agencies, you should also prepare a list of technical questions to ask them beforehand. This is a great way to test their transparency and skills.”
Byron Trzeciak, Director at Pixel Rush, says: “We always encourage prospects to seek referrals and recommendations through people they trust. Word of mouth is a large part of our business. Also our prospects often want to speak with one of our existing customers and we’re happy to provide that because we know our customers have great things to say and have been in similar positions.
“Additionally, we don’t hide behind our results. We provide like tracking and dashboards available 24/7 and very detailed work reports each month which shows exactly where our time has gone. Our customers are fully aware of what they pay for and where time is spent.”
Paul Zubrinich from Little Web Giants adds: “One of the things that irks me in digital marketing is the amount of myths and outdated information that’s floating around. This is why I spend a lot of time educating clients on avoiding shady practices like keyword stuffing, forum spam, and link farms.
“A reputable online marketer will take the time to understand your industry and your client base. They will ask a lot of questions. They will probably prompt you to set more specific goals than simply ‘improve your search ranking’ or ‘get more likes’. They will care about the quality of the traffic and engagement you get, and this is especially important in B2B marketing, in which the target market is narrow and specific.”
There are many things you need to consider when choosing a digital marketing agency for your business. We spoke to a number of fellow agencies to find out more about their experiences, and with their help, have concluded that these are the most important things you should look out for…

An area of expertise

Before you choose your digital marketing agency, you should have a basic idea of the serves you want, whether that be PPC (Pay Per Click), SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), content writing services, social media management, or even web design. The likelihood is that you’ll want to focus on just one or two of these areas, and they’ll want to ensure that your chosen agency actually has experience of providing these services – and does them well too.
The last thing you need is to pay for a digital agency that isn’t able to do web design try to build a new website for you! So, read their case studies and reviews, and ask for examples of previous work they’ve done in these areas.
This is something that Doug Darroch, Founder of 21st Renaissance, agrees with. He says: “Most digital marketing agencies can do almost anything you request, but you’d be surprised how little they might know about specific digital marketing channels. Find out what they do very well and what they are the best at. Hire them for that one thing if it matches up with what you need.”
Kurt Parziani, Digital Strategy Lead at Assured Digital, reiterates the importance of ensuring an agency is able to deliver the work and results they say they can. He advises: “Often, the agencies that promise the world and say ‘yes’ to everything are the ones to be wary of. They will overpromise upfront to land the sale, then be slow to deliver, and actually not achieve anything close to what they said they would. This results in clients feeling burnt, which hurts them in terms of trusting other agencies in the future.”
Paul, an Attorney and Online Marketing Manager at Law Firm, Simmons and Fletcher, adds: “We had a black hat agency several years ago that literally went onto blogs about recipes and made irrelevant comments like “great cupcake recipe. For a great lawyer, call!” They also put us in a bunch of seedy, low quality directories using text links. It took us about 4 months to catch what they were doing, and we fired them and began working to undo all of the damage. Years later, we are still working on getting some of the directories to remove the bad listings.
“So, one of the main things to look at in finding the right digital marketing agency is hiring one that has done marketing for businesses in your exact field. This is really important for specialised fields like law as every US state bar has a different set of ethical rules on advertising.”
Sinem Ibrahim, Marketing and Communications Manager at WebSavvy, adds: “It’s a very good sign if they work with other business in your industry, as this means they’ll have some good insight how to get your account performing based on their past experiences. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is something to help you make up your mind.”

That they practice what they preach

Michelle Kubot, Marketing Director at Ambrosia Treatment Center, says: “I’ve seen a lot of ‘bad’ digital agencies, and they’ll often charge to post generic worthless content on the company’s blog and social media accounts. In the end, a company is paying thousands a month for absolutely nothing. That’s not what SEO or social media marketing is about.
“Instead, agencies need to prove their skills. A company looking for an SEO agency can check SEMRush to see how much organic traffic each agency website is getting. If they can’t get their own site to rank, you shouldn’t believe that they can help you rank either.”
It might seem simple, but if an agency already has the tools to generate website traffic, enquiries, and any other goal they require, then why wouldn’t they be using this to aid in the marketing of their own company? Whether you want to rank on the first page of Google’s search results, or get your business seen and heard on social media, look at how well each agency is performing in this area. If they appear to be falling short, don’t be afraid to ask them why this is.
Xavier Parkhouse-Parker is the COO and Co-Founder of ZapHub, a new and investor-funded marketing technology startup working to help small businesses grow. He says: “The quickest and easiest way to see find out if an agency is good or bad is to ask about SEO. If they immediately tell you that they can guarantee a first page SEO listing for a broad keyword, then you’ve found a bad agency.
“If an agency comes in and immediately tells you “you need to “rebrand” then, unless it’s pretty obvious you do (to a non-marketing expert) – then they’re telling you so they can spend a lot of time and money doing this for you, without actually helping to get you more leads or customers. A good agency looks to understand your business, helps to set realistic expectations and doesn’t try to up-sell you with things you don’t want or need. They look at your goals for the business and help you to hit them.”
Laura Prael, Owner of boutique agency, LEP Digital, adds: “When you’re starting your search, pay close attention how the agency presents itself online. It may sound obvious but you can expect that a digital agency website is going to be top-notch. Obvious red flags include unresponsive or poor design, no social links and out-of-date or broken page content.”

A tailored proposal

A good digital marketing agency won’t claim that you need to invest heavily in every channel and area of marketing to achieve your goals. They understand that some of these won’t necessarily be the best fit for your industry or the audience you’re trying to reach, and they’ll do their research to ensure your time and budget is being spent wisely. For example, Instagram may not be the best channel for a legal firm, though it can generate great results for fashion, beauty, and homeware brands.
A quick way to see if an SEO agency has your best interests at heart is through the proposal they send you. Ben Foster, Managing Director of The SEO Works, shares the following advice: “A ‘good’ agency should have asked you about your market, and your ambitions as a company. You should also have discussed budgets, expectations, and your competition so they can fully understand and deliver what you need.
“If the agency turns up with a ‘one size fits all’ proposal that’s stuffed with generic waffle, it speaks to how much value they place on a campaign. If they’ve taken the time to analyse your market, and come up with a specific strategy based on your company’s ambitions, they know what they’re talking about.”
As Matthew Sherry, Business and Marketing Consultant at Reload Media says: “I’ve worked for digital agencies for the last 5 years, and what really makes a good agency is its culture and approach to clients. Good agencies will build into their brand, culture, and people, and they have the idea that success for the client is top priority. This shifts the work away from “get it done” to “how can I help my client build their business?”
Hayley Patrick, Digital Marketing Manager at Living Online, adds: “Whilst I was a Marketing Manager for a successful building company, we were never short on digital agencies pitching to us and it became very obvious to spot the ones purely chasing a large retainer budget vs. those who wanted to help by actually providing help and value.
“The most obvious signs to look for with a ‘bad apple’ digital agency is during the initial pitch/proposal process. Have they come prepared? Do they have any inclination of who your customers are and how you help them? Most agencies never asked me the most basic fundamental questions pertinent to the business, so the proposal ends up feeling very ‘blanket approach’ i.e. we’ll use every single channel and online possibility and we’ll see what sticks rather than a proper strategy that helps us drive meaningful results for the business using digital channels. Whilst I expect some level of trial and error, this approach doesn’t involve the customer at all and we end up doing all the heavy lifting instead of having a valuable digital marketer resource.”

That they’re open and honest

Finally, the most important thing to look for when choosing a digital marketing agency is that you can trust them. Otherwise, why are you letting them handle your budgets? However, if an agency is honest and transparent through every step of the process, they won’t just advise you on the digital marketing channels you should and shouldn’t be investing in; they’ll also tell you when something hasn’t worked.
Jose Cabal, Director of Expresa3 “My advice would be: Look for an agency that can prove where your money is going and how that investment will be returned, and then some with more purchases, may it be new clients, upsells or cross sales.
Geoff Main is the Director of Passionberry Marketing, a creative marketing agency based in Leichhardt, New South Wales. He advises: “Trust between an agency and a client comes over time. It relies on the consistent ability to communicate well, meet each other’s expectations, and to overall deliver results.
“There will come times where you don’t deliver as either a client or an agency, and it’s important that you’re open and honest as to why it didn’t happen and how you can better manage this going forward. Always deliver on your promises, and over deliver when you don’t.
“From an agency point of view, to build a client’s trust, you should always clearly explain what you do and how it fits with what the client wants and is trying to achieve. The more they understand what you do, the more confident they’ll be in explaining it internally. Consistently make your clients look better and perform better with their internal teams.”
Marc Goodwin, Director at Multiply Digital, adds: “We’re an agency that has purposely built our values on trust, transparency, and efficiency. A good agency can explain why they’re recommending what they’re recommending versus other options available, and also how they plan to attack the campaign. It’s a red flag when you’re dealing with a salesperson that’s very persistent on making a sale without the knowledge to explain the plan behind what they’re selling.
“Usually, these people are ‘I’ motivated, as they do not deal with the campaign once the sale is made. They get their commission and it’s the implementation team’s headache if it’s a bad sale.”
Elliot Dean is the Director of Melbourne-based digital marketing agency, Temerity Digital. He concludes: “ I’ve had many potential clients come to me who had been burnt by SEO in the past and were very cautious the second time around. Even though they knew the value that SEO provides they were skeptical about ‘trying again’, and rightfully so.
“Getting a potential client to trust you doesn’t happen overnight but I’ve found the most important things to help the process are education and transparency. Most business owners don’t want to know the exact ins and outs of technical SEO but they would like to know an overview of how you’re going to help them. We put a lot of effort in to educating our clients on how things work, and setup realistic expectations for their campaign.
“We make it a point to provide each of our clients a rundown of the work being provided each month, be it blog posts, technical site audits, on-page optimisation, new content or link building strategies. This not only builds trust but helps the client to understand just how much work is involved on a monthly basis to help enhance their online presence.”

Additional advice for choosing a digital marketing agency

Carl Brown, Digital Marketing Manager at Sitback Solutions, says: ” I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as both the employer of a digital agency, and now as the employee of one. However, when I was the employer of an agency, I got my fingers well and truly burnt and it took a lot of my time to manage the situation and ensure that it didn’t spiral out of control. Now that I’m on the other side, I can see from the inside what caused the problems I experienced, and how they could have been avoided.
“fortunately, there are a number of things that agencies can do that could have stopped the problems I faced ever happening in the first place:
1) Look after your employees – They become integral to the relationships formed with customers and if they leave, it can be very hard (though not impossible) to reform those same connections. Make sure your team is engaged, valued and happy and hopefully they’ll stick around.

2)Look after your clients – In the event that an employee does leave, go out of your way to make sure their replacement defines their own relationship with the client. It’s important to regain that initial connection.

3)Define your deliverables – Having a clear outline of what will be delivered, and how, will ensure that there are no arguments further down the line.

4)Document your processes – Train your team to follow these processes. Make sure your project managers understand what your delivery model looks like. Make sure your developers follow the same best practices and coding conventions.
Bernie is a Cardiff and London based digital marketing agency that offers PPC, SEO, social media management, and content writing services for a range of clients. For digital marketing advice or a free proposal on how we can help your business, contact us today!

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