How to Evaluate Digital Marketing Agencies

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How to Evaluate Digital Marketing Agencies

As business owners, you already know that marketing is crucial to your success. However, expanding effectively into the digital marketing space or increasing the value of your company’s digital presence requires the expertise of a digital marketing agency. Fortunately, the ever-evolving digital world means that there is an abundance of digital marketing consultants and agencies. Understandably, in starting to think about engaging digital agency professionals, many questions arise about how to begin this process and how to ensure that the agency collaboration fits your business and your existing goals. Additionally, initial research into agencies or the digital marketing world in general may have been accompanied by an onslaught of digital marketing terms or unfamiliar acronyms. So, you may be feeling slightly adrift or overwhelmed as to how to evaluate digital marketing agencies and choose one that is right for you, even if you have a substantial foundation of data with which to begin your collaboration.

To help you in your search for your best digital marketing agency, we’ve leveraged the experience of development specialists and agency leadership to offer guidance regarding preparing for initial meetings with potential digital marketing agencies and key questions that can reveal some of the information you need to ultimately choose your top digital marketing team.

How to Prepare Your Mindset for Initial Evaluations of Digital Marketing Agencies

You’ve arrived here for recommendations about evaluating digital marketing agencies, so one of these scenarios may apply to you:

  1. Your current marketing team or a fellow business owner you trust has encouraged you to expand into digital marketing.
  2. You feel like your marketing efforts are serving their basic purposes but notice that your competition is growing or succeeding more than you are. You want to know how, why, and what to improve with your own business.
  3. You have some digital features in place or a significant pool of data about your current marketing efforts, but you don’t feel like you are benefiting from that resource (and its associated cost) in a way that really optimizes its value to your business.

Whether you find yourself a fit for these scenarios or a host of others that have prompted you to increase your digital marketing efforts, you are ready to find, evaluate, and engage digital marketing services.

working with marketing agencies requires a winning mindset

In beginning the search for a digital marketing agency, industry professionals often find that potential clients approach initial meetings with two mindsets:

Mindset 1: I want to know exactly what results or products this set amount of money will achieve and in what specific time frame.

Mindset 2: I’m not sure of my goals or what will work best, but I know that improving my company’s online presence is vital to our continued  success.

With either mindset, combinations of related features, and even possibly some initial goals or data, it’s easy for individuals to fall victim to some pitfalls in the evaluation process, especially if digital marketing or working with SEO consultants is a new experience. Regardless of your familiarity with the digital marketing world or marketing in general, consider what predetermined ideas or frame of mind you may have at the starting stage of your search. As you review some common expectations that may be initially in your mind when going into preliminary conversations with digital marketing professionals, consider how and why reframing your perspective may better enable you to find a digital marketing partner to whom you can truly entrust the digital marketing efforts of your business. Below, you’ll see the top 5 most frequent expectations that clients have when participating in foundational digital agency consultations and why reframing these thoughts can result in more successful relationships with the right digital marketing agency for your business.

  1. Magic Solutions or Guarantees

digital marketing agencies do not offer magic solutions

One may hope that finding a digital marketing agency is like going to a grocery store for carrots: whichever store you stop at (or company you choose) will have that exact item you need and be able to provide it to you when you need it. The appeal of a simple and guaranteed equation of x price = y product and result is tempting, because it seems like it could be clearly outlined at an initial meeting. Such a magical solution scenario may also be enticing for business owners who may not know where to begin with their digital marketing efforts. However, this approach to digital marketing can ultimately cost you more than you gain.

If a digital marketing team doesn’t know your company or how your current digital presence is performing, then (to return to our initial analogy) they are essentially going to the grocery store for carrots without looking at the recipe first! In short, the digital agency has no data to back up these magical solutions or guarantees. Even if you as a business owner have data that you have collected, an agency is likely to have a more substantial scope of performance indicators and tracking tools to leverage, and these will likely provide an even more comprehensive understanding than the one you already have.

In either case, opting for the magic solutions or guarantees may mean that you get lucky and the carrots are somewhat useful, but you are still spending both time and money without extensive research, previous application, comprehensive data tracking and interaction, etc. No matter how fast you want results or a clear plan, investing in a digital marketing agency that is trying to sell you this strategy will not guarantee that you are advancing your company goals and may even undermine them.

  1. Set Prices

it is important to understand cost structure working with agencies

In the last few years especially, producers and consumers alike have become acutely aware of the continually fluctuating nature of product availability and associated costs. In being more mindful of expenditures than ever, both business owners and the general public don’t want to pay for products and resources that they can’t use. After all, if carrots are on sale or part of a package of mixed vegetables, but they aren’t part of your weekly menu, why buy them?

Understandably, cost is a concern when hiring a digital marketing agency. Most companies, especially small businesses, can’t simply write blank checks and presume for the best. Rather, you want to know that the digital marketing work being done for your company is work that will actually benefit it. Being sold a one-size-fits-all package or choices from a generic menu means that the service isn’t personal; it isn’t customized to your needs as a business. If it is not customized to your business, then how can it offer what your clients need or result in the growth that it is intended to achieve? Instead of asking how much, consider asking how the digital agency will learn about your business and offer solutions tailored to it, specifically in relation to the company’s goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), or key metrics, like revenue. After all, the digital marketing agency should ultimately be able to prove that they added value through the efforts that you’ve paid for, including more data or information gleaned from any data you initially had. Inevitably, carrots from your own garden or the farmer’s market, even if they cost a bit more, are always more visually stunning and delectably appealing than those that have sat around in a bag at the grocery store for too long. Consider how your digital agency selection can most empower and enhance your business.

  1. A clear plan

creating a clear plan and strategy is vital to a successful agency relationship

Especially with the anticipated financial investment that a skilled digital marketing agency requires, business owners understandably want to know exactly what will be done for their existing website or to their content offerings. Revisiting our grocery shopping experience, it’s this simple: you might find a “Buy One, Get One Free” offer on one pound bags of carrots, but you probably won’t just find a sign that says free carrots at your local grocery store. On the off chance that you do, you might want to think about WHY these items are free, not to mention how long you’ll actually be able to use and benefit from them.

As with the expectation for guarantees or set prices with only the most introductory understanding of your company, expecting that a digital marketing service will simply give you the plan you need to improve your digital presence within minutes of meeting you is not only a flawed business strategy on their part (which should elicit concern) but also doesn’t draw from the actual data about your business.

Even though you may have a website, there is no way for a potential digital marketing agency to know how effective the content, navigation, or calls-to-action (e.g. “Buy Now”  buttons or “Subscribe” links) are, unless they are able to track and assess the data. Even if you have data to share, that data still needs to be evaluated in terms of its current use and future potential. That said, portfolios or models, if available, or the company’s own website can help you understand the kind of work that the particular digital marketing agency can provide.

  1. A Set Time and Success Schedule

understand timelines when evaluating digital marketing agencies

Much like the desire for an established service price, people often want a set amount of time, either in hours, weeks, or months, wherein the digital marketing services should be completed or the value of the investment should be apparent. Since time and expenditure are typically tied together, marketing packages that promise certain results or completed enhancements within a set schedule may seem easier to manage. As with the predetermined marketing plan discussed in the above section, there is substantial risk here that may not net you the results that you were hoping for. After all, there isn’t a single set time for cooking carrots, since that time depends on a myriad of other factors, like carrot size, cooking method, preparation, and temperature.

Collaborating with the best digital marketing agencies means regularly scheduled interactions and adjustments to paid search campaigns or SEO (search engine optimization) work, as well as evolving content marketing plans based on initial data and performance indicators as time progresses. Should your digital marketing partner be able to provide you with a timeline for an action plan with the understanding that it may need adjustment based on ongoing research?

Yes. Is it reasonable to expect a certain percent of increased traffic or sales within a designated amount of time after strategies have been implemented? Although a guesstimate may be possible, here too the more reasonable expectation is to see data-based evidence of progress instead of the achievement of a potentially arbitrary number. Just as you’ve probably experienced in beginning and growing your own business, there is a learning curve in the initial stages of digital marketing work to find and adjust the content and strategies to best reach your specific clientele. Remember: you want a marketing plan that is tailored to your business and industry, not just a generic plan that chooses from a set selection of marketing tools that may not be most beneficial for your success.

  1. Who Needs to Be Involved

discuss all the internal and external team members involved in the marketing plan

This expectation may vary based on your business’s current digital marketing presence. For example, if your marketing team or division is already publishing content on your established website, you may be wondering if hiring a digital marketing agency is really necessary. Instead, you consider only hiring additional team members, like a content marketer, to your in-house team versus using a digital marketing agency to specifically develop the components that your general marketing team recommends. However, to return to our carrot analogy, if you purchase a bag of rainbow carrots but only get the yellow carrots, you aren’t really achieving the fundamental goal of your carrot-buying endeavor.

The best digital marketing agencies leverage the resources of both consumer facing strategies, like on-page SEO and paid search campaigns, along with back end development skills to truly optimize your digital marketing efforts. In short, these marketing companies have professional experts who can not only research, develop, execute, and evaluate content that your clients will see but also secure, design, optimize and customize the technology you need to maximize your audience’s experience and your website’s functionality (the more behind-the-scenes operations). Insteading of entering meetings thinking that you only need to engage one or two types of digital marketing expertise, inquire about how comprehensive the digital marketing services are as part of your agency evaluation. Your investment should enable you to have the best and most complete care to effectively enhance your digital marketing presence.

To conclude, business owners in the process of evaluating digital marketing agencies enter into this endeavor at many different stages. Especially if you have previous experience with digital marketing specialists or agencies some shifts in your expectations or considerations may have already taken place. Furthermore, your own digital skillset or experience may also enable you to think at greater depth about preparing for your upcoming consultations. For further details about why your approach to initial and ongoing conversations with potential digital marketing agencies is important and the more technical aspects of what you’ll want to know about any potential agency, this guide to hiring digital marketing services or consultants may also be helpful.

5 Questions to Ask in Searching for the Best Digital Marketing Agency for You

After reflecting on your own expectations as you begin evaluating new digital marketing services and reframing them as needed to most benefit you, you are ready to actively engage in your search. Here are 5 essential questions to ask, so that your search results in a partnership with a digital marketing agency that is invested in learning about your business and developing a collaborative relationship that will facilitate the discovery and implementation of solutions and strategies to grow and expand your business.

important questions to ask while evaluating digital marketing agencies

Question #1: How are you tracking the success of the marketing efforts you will be managing?

The continuous advancements in technology and multiple ways to leverage digital resources and information to track every visit, content click, and purchase is incredibly powerful. As your discussion with an agency unfolds, you should not only know multiple types of information that will be tracked but also how and why that information translates into actionable tasks. Consider also inquiring about how frequently this tracking takes place.

Question #2: What systems are in place to enhance tracking and reporting?

To understand how to expand the client base for your business both in terms of interest and active participation in purchases, subscriptions, etc., it is important to examine multiple measures of success, not just the final total of revenue generated. After all, some strategies may work well for one aspect of the business or time of year but not other types of content or time frames. If a campaign strategy is in operation but there isn’t a system to indicate the actual impact of that campaign, the success of that strategy or its potential for use in creating subsequent campaigns is reduced. Although the specifics of traffic and reporting may vary by type of strategy being utilized, it is reasonable to expect that your potential digital marketing agency could explain sample approaches to systems.

Question #3: What type of performance reporting will be shared?

If a potential agency can’t answer this question, then you don’t want to work with that company and should be concerned about its transparency, accountability, and quality. Ideally, a company will offer a minimum of monthly performance reports both to identify progress being made with each strategy employed and to cultivate a successful working relationship. To be clear, this is not simply a random email once a month that only includes selective data. There should be a shared understanding about the source that the agency will use for the performance reporting, as well as consistent access to that report and data as it emerges. Then, in discussing these reports together, top digital marketing agencies will help you understand the performance data, and you as the business owner can actively participate in determining what metrics to prioritize, what delivery format to use, and what additional innovations the data can inspire.

ask the digital agency about reporting & communications

Question #4: What can I expect in terms of collaboration and communication?

Being a business owner means that you are constantly busy and constantly taking on familiar or new roles required to grow your company. The best digital marketing agency for you is one that you can count on to ease your burden or that of your team and enhance your business overall by taking charge of growing your company’s digital impact while collaborating with you and your team, who best know your field and your clients. In responding to this question, what you want to hear is that your digital marketing partner will invest the time in regular strategy calls with you, as well as monthly calls to discuss performance updates, current priorities and long term goals, and visions for growth and success. Since neither your industry nor the digital world are static, consistent and regular communication ensures that your business and your digital marketing experts are operating in alignment.

Question #5: What can I expect from the team that I will be working with at a top digital marketing agency?

Whether your company is newly pursuing a relationship with a digital marketing agency or making a change from a previous partnership, trust is essential. In looking for the best digital marketing agency, who will drive your marketing efforts, both you and your digital marketing team should share these expectations of and for each other:

  • The opportunity for business owners and/or relevant staff to meet the digital marketing team that will be setting up campaigns or managing the company’s website strategy and to discuss any previous experiences with agencies or take-aways to address or execute moving forward with a new digital marketing agency
  • Regular and ongoing discussions between business and digital marketing agency about goals and performance reporting
  • Scheduled communication between business and digital marketing agency to ensure understanding as to the tactics that will be prioritized and why
  • Routine progress updates shared by the digital marketing agency to the business that address what has the team been working on and what the team will be working on
  • Recurring check-ins on the calendar for both business and digital marketing agency during which to review performance data (the updates referenced above) and discuss work in progress

Many of the above expectations appear to be the primary responsibility of your marketing agency. However, your attendance and active participation in review, discussion, and goal setting, as well as clear communication about your needs, are essential to building a successful partnership. Investing in a digital marketing agency is investing in your business, so you need to feel comfortable with the people who are now essential contributors to your ongoing success, as well as how the agency will provide insight into their efforts and how their work is impacting your bottom line.

Final Encouragement to Find the Right Marketing Agency for You

Yes, even taking the time to consider your mindset and review these key questions may take some time out of your assuredly packed schedule and away from the hundreds of other items on the daily to-do list for your business. However, your investment now in reflecting on your own expectations, understanding and using the 5 essential questions, and preparing to choose a digital marketing agency for your company will hopefully save you from having to repeat this process again in the future or from spending money on digital marketing services or strategies that don’t serve your business. Knowing how to evaluate digital marketing agencies is a crucial step in finding the collaborative partners who are as dedicated to your business’s growth and success as you are.