So, you have a business and have heard about this thing called online marketing. It’s supposed to drive crazy amounts of traffic to your website and create a ton of new business for your company. Someone told you, or perhaps you read somewhere, that you need to hire a digital marketing agency that will handle everything so you can focus on running your business. Sounds super simple, right?
In theory – and in an ideal world – all of the above would be true and one phone call, a few quick signatures, and a check would have you raking in the big bucks in no time. But the truth is, just like with everything else, online marketing is not one-size-fits-all, and how you choose to spend your valuable marketing dollars begins with choosing the right digital marketing agency for your specific needs. Here are some of the biggest things to consider when choosing the best digital marketing agency for you.
Do I need an online marketing firm or website development – or both?
First, you need to look at where you are starting. Are you satisfied with the design and function of your current website? Do you even have a website? If the answer to either of those questions is no, it sounds like you need a web developer. If you have the option or foresight, it is always better to do a website redesign before or in conjunction with SEO. This is because you don’t want to pay your online marketing agency for countless hours optimizing your website, only to change the whole thing and potentially rehash the same tasks. You don’t want to waste your time, or money!
If you do require web development, go to a digital marketing agency first. They can either assist with web development themselves, or provide a referral for a web developer who understands the complexities of SEO. This is critically important, as a web developer can inadvertently make your website horrible in terms of technical SEO. This will not only make it harder for you to be successful in your online marketing efforts, but will cost you money, because eventually you will need to correct these technical issues.
If you already have a website you’re happy with, you can skip the web development piece and go ahead and start looking for a digital marketing agency! This leads to your first question for your potential online marketing agency:
Is it ok that I have my own web developer?
If you already have your own web developer, and you are happy with your website the way it is, it’s important that your digital marketing agency is ok with this arrangement. Many digital marketing agencies offer both web development and online marketing services. While this is usually to help meet the additional needs of customers who require both services, sometimes the agency will want you to use both services – even if you already have a website developer! They might also have specific developers they contract with who they use as preferred vendors, and again may require you to use their services.
A digital marketing agency might recommend that you use their web development services or preferred vendors in order to benefit your SEO. It’s possible that while you really like your website, it doesn’t check the technical boxes that search engines like to see. Here is where you need to pay attention and do what works best for you. Ideally, your marketing agency will meet you where you are at now. They will:
- Do an analysis of your website as it is and make you aware of any technical issues that exist
- Provide you with options to move forward – this might include continuing with your website as-is, working with your developer to resolve the issues, or switching developers (but not forcing you to!)
- Explain the potential outcomes of each of the above options, and letting you choose the right solution for your situation and budget
How involved will I need to be in the process?
The whole reason you are hiring someone to do your digital marketing is so you don’t have to do it yourself or hire an in-house marketing employee. However, digital marketing is a reflection of your company and your brand. It’s important that you have an understanding of what your marketing agency is trying to accomplish and why. When your agency approaches you with changes, they will want your approval to ensure their messaging is in line with your values, while also being effective at drawing visitors to your website. A good digital marketing agency will be transparent and up-front with their strategies and make you aware that your involvement will be critical in the beginning.
As your agency and you or a representative of your company work together, your agency will begin to get a feel for what you do and don’t like. However there are other key areas where your involvement is still needed. For example, if you are a local business with frequent deals or promotions, someone will need to be constantly relaying this information to the agency. If you have special events happening, are giving back to your community, or have recently won an award or accolade, this information should also be communicated to the agency. A good digital marketing agency will be want to be considered an extension of your business and be in a constant line of communication with you.
The important thing to realize when asking this question is, will the involvement required of me be a good fit with my business now – will this agency need me specifically to be regularly available, or can I delegate this collaboration to someone else at my business? Your digital marketing agency should be able to help you with this process and identify who will be the best liason between your business and the agency.
Will Your Accounts Really Be Yours?
This seems like a common-sense thing, but many times a business doesn’t realize that their agency created 3rd party accounts – such as Google Analytics or Google Ads – through the agency’s account. As a result, the company couldn’t transfer the account into their own name and lost complete historical data to their website analytics, ad data, etc. It seems fairly obvious that this practice is unethical, but it’s a long hard fight to try to regain control of these accounts if you don’t have the right permissions to do so.
Be sure to ask your agency how they typically manage things like ad accounts and tools, and make sure they say that you will have contractual ownership of your own assets.
Under what circumstances can I leave my contract?
There is no standard when it comes to the way digital marketing agencies approach pricing schedules and contracts. Some work on a monthly retainer of sorts. Others bill monthly for a set time period like 6 months or a year. Some charge a flat rate for a specific set of deliverables. Because of this lack of standardization, contracts vary greatly. It’s important to understand what exactly you are paying for, what length of time you are responsible for fulfilling your financial obligations, and what the repercussions will be should you choose to stop services early.
As an example, Top Of The List’s Paid Search service contract states that Google ad spend is paid directly by you to Google, and you only pay the agency for the service of PPC campaign management. The agency requires a 30 day written notice to end a contract. So if you chose to stop work, you could immediately stop running your ads (thus, no more payment to Google), and would be responsible for the remainder of services rendered for 30 days. Under different agency contracts, you may be responsible for continuing ad campaigns for a specific number of days, or completing services for a set term like 3 months. These aren’t inherently bad things, but it’s important to be aware of your financial obligations and exit options before you sign the dotted line!
Have you worked with a company like mine before?
This question is a good way to assess the experience level of your potential digital marketing agency. They don’t necessarily need to have worked with a company just like yours, but their answer will tell you about their strengths.
For example, if you have a large ecommerce site and are looking to do PPC advertising, it might be a red flag if an agency has never worked with an ecommerce site at all! However they may have done PPC for smaller ecommerce sites, or done PPC for larger service-based sites and SEO for larger ecommerce sites. If this is the case, ask them what went well and not so well with these projects to draw out whether or not they seem equipped to handle challenges specific to your website.
This is also a good time to address company culture and values. Ask the agency what types of companies they like to work with. What do they like to do outside of their work that benefits the community? What is their mission statement?
Your marketing agency should be extension of your business
Again, your marketing agency should be an extension of your own business, so consider the same things you do when interviewing for in-house positions when making this important decision!
About the Author
Nicole has been working in online marketing since 2007 when she joined Top Of The List. She loves creative endeavors and spending time with her daughter.