How to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency

by | Mar 20, 2018

I have a confession, I’m writing this article because of some of the horror stories I’ve been hearing lately about digital agencies. They’re making unrealistic promises, overcharging for their services, and taking advantage of small businesses. It’s not okay!

As someone who absolutely loves what they do, I couldn’t imagine knowingly accepting money from a company and not using every tool in my arsenal to get them results. However, I would be naive to think there weren’t people like that in marketing. But I promise that not all agencies are looking to just make a quick buck.

Why Should Small Businesses Hire Digital Marketing Agencies?

We all know that we have to promote our businesses if we want customers to find our brand. Small business owners are typically trying to handle everything on their own, including their marketing. They spend the time to create a good system, then things get busy and marketing gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. I’ve seen it over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that money is tight when you’re starting out. Many businesses don’t show a profit for the first few years. However, marketing absolutely needs to be included in your budget. Hiring a digital marketing agency may cost more up front, however, your advertising dollars will go so much further. They have the tools and experience to target your brand’s personas and create the ad copy that they’ll respond to. Plus, your campaigns won’t be pushed aside when things get busy.

What Services Do Digital Marketing Agencies Provide?

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While each agency will have a specific list of services they are well versed in, here are some services that you may see offered in many agencies:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Make your website easier to find by search engines to increase your organic web traffic.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – Promote your brand with pay-per-click (PPC) ads with Google AdWords and Bing Ads.

Website Design – Create or update a website optimized to help you reach your goals.

Social Media Marketing – Boost your following and connect with customers with social media profiles. They help you to build new audience lists and learn about more about your customers. Plus, you can run ads with specific goals.

Content Marketing Strategy & Creation – One of the biggest trends in marketing is creating great content to generate leads. Having a good strategy that includes what your customers are seeking and where to reach them is key.

Digital Media Creation & Optimization – Create stunning visual elements, such as videos, guides and e-courses to use as giveaways or lead magnets.

Email Marketing – Build your email list, manage subscribers and set up an automated email system. You can not only stay in contact with customers and prospects but also guide them through your sales funnels.

Data Collection & Analytics – Testing different ads, offers and pages is all part of the marketing process. Knowing how each piece performs is vital to finding what works best for your company. Plus, keeping a close eye on your website/advertising stats will help you identify which areas of your site need improvement.

Graphic Design – Professionally-designed collateral, print and digital assets are very important when attracting prospective customers. It’s the first thing they see, so it needs to make a strong, positive impression.

PR – Any special announcements, big company news, events or achievements should be celebrated and shared within your industry via press releases and interviews.

Influencer Marketing – Having influential public figures in your industry promote your brand can be very powerful. They sell your product or service to the large audience that they’ve already established trust with. It’s like getting a recommendation from a friend.

Affiliate Marketing – Promote products that compliment your brand and earn a commission for each person that buys it. Or set up your own affiliate marketing system to let others sell for you.

Whether you need one service or all of them, a customized plan of action should be presented to you. Most agencies will take a look at your data and identify areas that can be improved. If fixing everything isn’t in the budget, ask them to prioritize the list. The goal would be to implement the actions that will increase conversions, which increases sales, and then tackle the rest of the list of recommendations.

What to Look for When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

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This is the part where you start researching to find a good fit for your brand. Make a list of three to five agencies that you’ll contact. First, start with your standard research of a company, looking at reviews, customer comments and the services they offer. Next, narrow down your list with these pieces of information:

Minimum Project Amount – Not all agencies accept all sized businesses. Some will have a $1,000 minimum while others start at $25,000. You want an agency that will work within your budget.

Specific Industries Served – Some agencies specialize in one or two industries. For example, there are some who specifically market in healthcare. Be sure the agency you add to your list has experience in your industry.

Read Employee Reviews – One way to see how a company operates internally is to read reviews from the people who work there. If the employees are not happy they may not be putting their “all” into customer campaigns.

Transparency – You want an agency that is up front about, well, everything. From customers they’ve worked with to the team who’s managing your account to additional costs that may come up, they should hold nothing back.

Contact Information – See that the agency publishes their location and phone number. Digital marketing can really be done from anywhere, however, some companies mislead you, claiming they are located in the U.S. but really they are overseas. This can cause a conflict when you need to get ahold of someone during your business hours. Also make sure there is an actual phone number to call instead of just an online form to complete. While most services take place over email and video chat, you want the option to call your agency if you need them.

Happy Customers – Look for case studies or statistics from specific customers. These are a great way to see real results.

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What to Be Weary of When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

In addition to the qualities we are looking for in our efforts to weed out the not-so-ethical agencies, a little red flag should go up if you encounter any of these:

Promise of Immediate results – This is a big one. Marketing requires a little patience. When you perform SEO on a website, sometimes you can see in immediate jump in rank. However, realistically, it takes about three to six months to see real results. One big thing to remember is Google doesn’t scan every site every day. In fact, most sites only get scanned every six weeks.

No SSL Certificate – These certificates ensure that your website is providing security for your users. In 2016, Google announced that if your business site is not secure, your website will be deemed unsafe. If the agency you are researching does not have a secure site, they may not be operating with the latest best practices. You can check in the address bar to find out.

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Promise of Being #1 – There really are no guarantees in marketing. So if an agency claims they can get you to be the first search result for a specific keyword, they may be purchasing cheap backlinks. For long-term results and accurate audience data, you need quality link building.

Content is Hard to Follow – Digital marketing agencies are filled with marketing professionals. I would expect to walk in and talk in marketing terms to any of their staff. However, I’ve seen some people continuously use terms non-marketers wouldn’t know to make the customer feel uneducated. It’s not your job to know marketing lingo, it’s theirs. A good agency will make sure that everything they send you is transparent and easy to understand. Plus, they will educate you along the way so you can be an informed consumer.

Once you have narrowed your list down to one to three agencies, the next step is to schedule a consultation. Now we’ll take a look at some questions to ask your finalists.

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

Questions to ask a digital marketing agency

Any good agency will welcome your questions and respect that you want to be an educated consumer. Here are some questions and preferred answers to help you find your agency match:

Have you worked with brands like mine before?

You do want the agency to have experience in your industry, however, you do not want them to have competing brands as current customers. Most agencies will not accept new clients that conflict with current ones.

How will you help me stand out from my competition?

There should be a process that the agency uses to research your product or service and know how your product or services better serves your target audience.

How do you communicate with customers?

Digital agencies typically communicate via email or video chat. For some customers, in-person reporting may be necessary.

How often will we review results?

This can vary a little client by client but you want to review campaign results at least once per month.

What do you use to track results?

Any campaign you set up should have measurable results. This can be done by tracking goals in Google Analytics. You can also track results in the individual platforms you’re advertising on. All data should be in your reports.

Are your websites and landing pages mobile-friendly?

Over half of websites are viewed on a mobile device, so your site and landing pages need to be built to adjust to the different devices.

Can you show me some examples of (enter the service you need here)?

They should easily come up with samples of their best campaigns.

Can you help me scale my campaigns and website as my business grows?

You’re in business for the long run, make sure everything can scale with you.

What do your reports look like?

Reports may vary from agency to agency, but you want to see data on each of your campaigns. You want to see how they are performing, if they have increased or decreased, what is working well and not so well, and what actions were taken since the last report.

Is your agency a Google Partner?

Every digital agency should be a Google Partner. This way they get updates on how search is changing and what new requirements are coming.

What is your process for (enter the service you need here)?

Find out what steps there are in each stage of your project so you know what to expect when you begin.

What will be my role in these campaigns?

Agencies will do most of the work for you. However there may be some parts that need your approval or they may need some of your materials to learn about your business. Whatever it may be, make sure you know what’s needed of you.

Have any of your customers received a penalty?

Business that don’t follow the rules on various platforms can be penalized. Hopefully the agency has not had this happen to one of their accounts. But maybe they had to help a new account – ask how they handle it.

I hope you never have any of the negative experiences that I’ve been hearing about lately. Digital agencies can really help your business to grow. Just be sure their values align with yours. One of the main reasons I joined the Meehan Digital team was because I respect the work they do and the methods they use to get results for customers. The owner, Ryder Meehan, takes just as much pride in his work as I do mine. He’s all about improving the performance of our customer’s digital marketing campaigns and is always excited to share it the great results with them. The agency you want to hire is one that will care about you and your business.

Until next time!

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Ryder Meehan

Ryder Meehan

Ryder has been on a 16-year journey to master digital marketing from every aspect. His resume includes Razorfish, Slighshot, Fossil, Samsung Mobile and Tatcha before launching Upgrow. Ryder is the acting CEO, heading business development and account services. He has been featured as a digital marketing leader on Forbes, PRNews,, Workamajig, Databox, Fit Small Biz and other outlets.

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