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Digital marketing requires so much work and so many different moving parts it’s often impractical for businesses to try to keep the work in-house—and remain up-to-date with current best practices.
Digital marketing activities and techniques are being updated on a daily basis with new technologies taking over to better reach and engage the consumers. With such a huge development in place, it becomes impractical for SME’s and their CEO’s to try to keep the work in-house – and remain up-to-date with current best practices.
Outsourcing to a digital marketing agency ensures you will have a team of dedicated experts without the overhead. Essentially, your SME can stay on the cutting edge by hiring an agency which provides digital strategist for your company.
But here’s the catch: There are many digital marketing companies out there, and not all of them provide the same quality of work or the same types of services.
Of course, you’ll first have to do the work of researching digital marketing companies to identify those that look like a fit for your needs. Then you’ll want to have conversations with each to figure out which is right for you. Going into those conversations, you want to be prepared with a good set of questions to ask a digital marketing agency, that will enable you to distinguish what makes each digital marketing company unique and make an informed decision about hiring the one that’s right for you.
To help you start crafting that list, here are a few good questions to learn more about these digital marketing companies and how they work.
This is a question with a potentially big answer—it should cover both how they approach digital marketing and how they approach working with clients. The process followed by the digital marketing agency is of paramount importance as it will provide you the roadmap towards attainment of your SME goals. Most digital marketing companies that have been around for a while have figured out a general process they use to work with clients. Their answer will give you a feel for the kind of experience they have and how organized they are in their work.
In addition to hearing generally about how they work, ask follow-up questions to dig down into how they approach the different areas of digital marketing you need help with. Certain questions to ask a marketing agency can be:
Hearing them talk a little bit about each of the specific types of digital marketing you’ll be hiring them to perform gives them the chance to show their knowledge and expertise and you the chance to look for any signs that they may not be a good fit.
When it comes to these questions, what you’re ensuring is that your account won’t be completely outsourced to a different company.
Many digital marketing agencies outsource some of their services – development, perhaps, or graphic design – but the bulk of what they’re doing for you really should be handled in-house.
This is because too much outsourcing almost always means lower quality. Plus, if they’re outsourcing everything from creative to analytics, you’re essentially paying them for little more than administrative and management tasks.
One of the benefits of hiring a digital marketing agency is trusting that they’ll have employees with specialized skill sets to bring to your digital marketing campaigns. Instead of trying to find a generalist to work in-house, you can lean on their full staff of specialists.
That’s the idea anyway, but you want to make sure it will actually play out that way with the agency you hire. Questions to ask the marketing agency would be:
Pay attention to how well the skills of the specialists they mention match your priorities. If your main goal is improved SEO, then you want to know someone with solid SEO experience would be assigned to work on your account. If you’re more focused on building an email list, then you’ll want to know they have people skilled in inbound lead generation and email marketing.
You’ll want regular check-ins about how your campaigns are going and any insights your digital marketing company learns about your audience as they go. Find out how often they get in touch with clients and what kind of information they provide each time they do. What form of contact do they prefer? If they stick primarily with email, but you prefer regular conference calls, then that’s something to be aware of up-front.
You also should find out if you’ll have one main contact for communication, or if you’ll have direct contact with the various individuals working on your account. Which is preferable is a personal question. One clear contact makes communication simpler—you always know with whom to get in touch. But the ability to provide information directly to the writer working on a blog post or the designer putting together an email layout for your brand can be useful for those who want a little more hands-on access.
If your contact says “What other clients?” then run for the hills. Seriously, though, there are a couple of potential answers that you’ll want to explore more fully.
If your contact tells you that your business is by far their biggest client, you’ll want to ask a few follow-up questions.
There’s nothing wrong with being an agency’s biggest client, but it’s all about degrees. If you’re a global company with millions in annual revenue, and all their other clients are locally-owned small businesses, you may want to ask how they’re prepared to meet your – necessarily much larger – needs.
On the other hand, if the agency mainly services global companies with millions in revenue and you’re a smaller business, you need to make sure that your account will be just as important as their other clients. Will your business have its own account manager? Is the agency prepared to work with your budget? Are they as versed in running locally-focused campaigns as they are national or global ones?
There’s no hard and fast rule here, but if the fit feels a little off, you may want to look elsewhere.
As we mentioned earlier, a client-agency relationship is all about communication. The agency should have a formal structure in place to ensure that communication lines stay open – weekly phone calls, regular email updates, etc.
This is generally laid out in the contract. If it’s not, you probably want to get something in writing to ensure that the agency is committed to regularly communicating with you.
However, there should also be a more informal culture of supportive communication at the agency. You want to feel confident that your account manager will be responsive to your team’s requests and prompt in returning emails and calls – even if it’s to suggest that you table a discussion until your regularly scheduled phone call. Even if she can’t chat several times a week, you should feel as though your requests, concerns, or comments are heard and acknowledged.
A good digital marketing agency will also be forthright in sharing strategy, KPIs, etc. with your team. An agency that guards this information with secrecy isn’t truly interested in helping you grow your business. And that, after all, is the whole reason you’re looking for a digital marketing agency.
Any reputed digital marketing company will understand that marketing technology is an important tool to achieve success. So which marketing technology is being employed matters a lot. While this isn’t a question with clear correct answers (whether an agency opts for Buffer versus Hootsuite doesn’t tell you much about the quality of their work), it will help you understand how they work and give you a chance to confirm that their technology is compatible with any tech you’re already using.
Defining and measuring success can be tricky in digital marketing—you want to be careful not to lean too much on vanity metrics to the exclusion of data that shows you which marketing activities are leading to sales and profit. Ask the digital marketing companies you speak with what analytics they pay attention to and report on for clients. Find out how often they send analytics reports and what form they send them in.
You want to make sure you and any firm you hire are on the same page in how you measure success, in what you expect success to look like, and in how it will be communicated to you over the course of your relationship.
The success of a marketing campaign can seem like a complex thing to measure. How do you measure things like brand awareness, people’s attitude toward your brand, or how much they like your content?
The answer? Through analytics. A good digital marketing agency will have the tools and skills to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) like unique visitors to your site, your bounce rate, etc. A great one, however, will work closely with you to identify the KPIs that are truly relevant to your marketing goals. Then they’ll use those to drive progress and inform future campaigns.
For example, if your marketing goal is to raise your CEO’s cachet as a thought leader in your industry, a good KPI to track would be inbound links – how many other sites are linking to your content. Another would be a specific conversion rate, such as how many people who come to the site are signing up for your newsletter.
If your marketing goal is to raise brand awareness for your new line of designer shoes, relevant KPIs might be more social media-oriented: Facebook likes, retweets, Twitter mentions, and other measures of how many people are talking about your product.
Your digital marketing agency should be transparent about the KPIs they’re measuring and willing to shift tactics or directions if the results warrant it.
Depending on the organization, digital marketing agencies may have different departments to handle different aspects their work: Social Media, SEO, Content, Influencer Outreach, etc.
If you’re engaging an agency for more than one of these services, you want to be assured that the departments’ teams will be working toward a cohesive strategy. It won’t do you much good to have the content team pushing hard on a few select topics, while the SEO team is optimizing your site for keywords related to different topics.
Ask the agency how their teams share information, and how they create strategies for each client. Will your blog posts spur social media campaigns? Will your social media campaigns tie into your SEO? You’ll get the best results when all these things are working in harmony, pushing toward agreed-upon goals.
Obviously, you can’t make a decision without knowing the cost of each agency. If you have a budget in mind, make sure what they charge works within it. And just as importantly, you want to know that what you’re getting for your money matches your expectations. You don’t want to realize after you sign the dotted line that you assumed you’d be getting social media services that the agency doesn’t actually offer.
Ask each agency to describe, in clear terms, what their monthly rate includes. And ask if there are services clients regularly request that cost extra. If you can think of specific future needs you might have that aren’t covered in the monthly rate, talk to them now about the expected costs for those if they arise.
If there’s something you know you need they don’t offer (or charge more for than you’re comfortable with), then you need to know that going in so you can get quotes from other providers for that service and factor the difference into your decision.
Marketers know the importance of positioning—if they can’t provide a satisfying response that clarifies their own positioning in the industry, it doesn’t speak well to their ability to do so for you.
Give them the chance to pitch you on why they’re special and what they do better than everyone else. It’ll give you the chance to make sure their specialties line up with your unique needs.
Nothing a business tells you about themselves is quite as persuasive as seeing evidence of their work or hearing from a peer who has worked with them. In response to this question, the digital marketing agencies you speak to should be able to provide evidence of their successful relationships with other customers in the form of case studies and testimonials.
They also should be able to point you toward the visible results of their work—whether it’s websites they’ve helped design, content they’ve created, rankings they’ve helped clients achieve or social media accounts they’ve run. Digital marketing usually leaves a clear trail of evidence, so every agency you consider should have good examples of their work.
Not every market or industry can be approached in the same way, so ask a digital marketing agency how they plan to do it differently given your particular market and needs. Not every business needs an ecommerce website, and some of them benefit from location advertising vs global internet marketing. A digital agency should know how to adapt and hone in on your specific industry.
A great barometer for whether an agency can help you is to understand the results they’ve helped similar clients achieve. Do they have experience within your industry (this can be less important) or with this type of work (more important)? Ask to see case studies that show not only the work done, but the results of that work. Creating an ebook series is great and may look impressive if you’re in need of content marketing services, but what did that content achieve? How was the content used? In what way was it promoted? How many sales did it lead to? A solid case study can provide this information.
However, it might not tell the whole story. When you have narrowed down your list of potential agencies to just a few, ask for references. Former or past clients who can help you understand what it’s like to be a client of the agency. Are they happy with the results? Has the agency delivered everything it promised? What is the day-to-day relationship like?
No two businesses, or campaigns, are exactly alike and there are always mitigating circumstances that affect the outcome. But this question makes certain the agency has the kind of strategic thinking, collaboration and effectiveness that you’re looking for.
This is crucial information to determine. Ask them how they plan to handle rush changes, revisions and approval for presented materials, and any costs or fees added onto the base price according to additional work needed for a specified reason.
|Read: Questioms to ask an SEO Agency that promises you moon|
You’re investing in digital marketing to grow your business online. Therefore, you need to know how this new approach is going to help you reach your goals. If a potential digital agency doesn’t have a clear picture for you, then go with one that can give you a straight answer such as, “we’re going to get more quality leads to your website and grow your customer base online using a website, social media profiles, and content marketing that speaks to your audience. We’re also going to build your sales system.”
Before you get roped into a whole new digital marketing system, present your own past efforts and approach, and ask how they plan to do it differently. You need a change instead of the same old thing, and your digital marketing agency should be able to present a brand new approach to get the job done.
Inbound marketing is a trip around the world, not a walk down the street.
I don’t say that to dissuade you from starting your inbound journey but it’s imperative to set the right expectation in stone before you begin. Even pieces of content that rightfully deserve the #1 spot take time to climb in the rankings. That goes for all aspects of inbound marketing, almost nothing is immediate, nor should it be.
Similar to the process of building trust towards strangers or new co-workers, inbound marketing requires an enormous amount of trust from your audience. It’s the backbone of any solid marketing strategy. So if a potential digital marketing agency trumpets their ability to bring you results in a month’s time, you now know better than to take the bait.
A digital marketing agency could consistently do stellar work and still not be the one that’s right for your company. You don’t need just a good digital marketing agency; you need one that’s good for you.
Give them a chance to explain why they feel their agency is a good fit for you. If they’ve been doing their job during the interview, they’ll have gathered plenty of information about what your company does, what you’re looking for, and what your goals are by this point. Look for a customized plan that will help your organization accomplish its goals.
Before you partner with an agency, it is important to know what you are stepping into. This checklist will help you evaluate the agency form every angle and give clarity in your marketing path.
Digital marketing is a long game. To get the results you seek, you want to establish a long, productive relationship with a digital marketing agency. It’s better to be picky now and find the agency you want to stick with in the long term than to make a rash decision and go through this process again in a year. Take your time to vet the potential candidates and consider which is the best fit for you. Once you do, you can begin to see how much a strong digital marketing plan can benefit your company.
Chandala Takalkar is a young content marketer and creative with experience in content, copy, corporate communications, and design. A digital native, she has the ability to craft content and copy that suits the medium and connects. Prior to Team upGrowth, she worked as an English trainer. Her experience includes all forms of copy and content writing, from Social Media communication to email marketing.
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