When it’s time to choose a digital marketing agency, even cursory research will show you’ve got thousands to choose from, all the way from one-person shops to sprawling companies with multiple locations. Some focus heavily on one particular strategy, while others offer a broad menu of services. So, how do you choose an agency partner that best suits your needs?
Here are four important steps in the process:
Step 1: Know Your Own Needs
What’s most important to you?
- Do you work in an industry where in-depth knowledge is crucial?
- Are there specific services you need? Is a flexible, highly customizable approach important?
- Is the location of the agency important?
- Is local marketing best for your company? Or it is national, international, or a combination?
- Will the agency need to have proven experience in integrating its efforts with in-house marketing teams?
Ask all key players at your company for their list of wants and needs, compile them, then prioritize them.
Step 2: Conduct Multi-Pronged Research
Search online to find a list of agencies that, at a high level, look like good matches for your company. Also, browse the web to see what digital marketing campaigns appeal to you. What, specifically, about those campaigns is attractive? The touch of humor in them? The compelling storytelling? The hand-in-glove pairing of text and visuals? If you can articulate what you appreciate about those campaigns, and that isn’t covered in your list from step one, then add it. Which agencies manage the campaigns that dazzle you?
Also, use your personal network to find out what agencies are recommended by people you trust. When you ask people in your professional organizations, do you hear the name of the same agency more than once? While that’s not definitive, that’s a plus for that agency. Do you hear more than one person tell you to avoid a certain agency? If so, why? Be sure to talk to people who are likely to have contacts in the marketing space: web developers, graphic designers, videographers, printers, writers, public relations practitioners, or anyone in a creative field.
What awards has a particular agency won? Are they national awards? How prestigious are they?
Step 3: Dig Deep
You now have a list of what you want and need, as well as a list of agencies that can potentially fulfill those needs. Now, take a deep dive into the websites of the agencies that appeal most to you. Read the bios of the marketing team and review what services they offer. How well-structured is its own website? Are there barriers to usability? How clear and compelling is their copy? Do they avoid overuse of jargon, which can confuse more than it can clarify? Try not to focus too much on small details that you don’t like, such as a color in the design or a word that you wouldn’t use. You can share your specific preferences with the agency for your site. The goal here is to narrow down your agency list to a manageable few.
Step 4: Testimonials Tell the Story
The reality is that anyone can create a website. That’s why you should take time to review testimonials and case studies. If a site doesn’t have any, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do great work – but it could mean they’re new to digital marketing and don’t have significant experience. Is that who you want working on your digital marketing campaign?
For sites that do have testimonials, do they have an actual company name attached to them or are they “blind” or otherwise composite testimonials? There can be good reasons for testimonials to occasionally omit a specific company name (perhaps reading “leading dental company” instead), but if most or all of the testimonials are that way, that’s a potential red flag. This could mean a company is lukewarm about having a testimonial on the digital marketer’s site or it could mean the agency didn’t get permission to post the testimonial and so is using the remarks in an anonymous way. Ideally, most to all of the testimonials should include the name of the actual company providing them.
If you’ve found a digital marketing agency with plenty of professional testimonials posted with the company name attached, this should move it up the list. Double-check to ensure the testimonies include specific, quantifiable data. If they’ve increased organic traffic, by how much? What about conversions? How much did they go up? What about time on-site? Is it improving?
Do the testimonials include quotes by the client? If they do, especially if the name of the person being quoted is listed, that’s another big plus.
Close to the Finish Line
You may have started with a reasonably long agency list early on. That’s only natural. But, by the time you put the sites through this process, you will most likely end up with a short list to contact. Here are additional questions to ask digital marketing agencies on your short list about the people who will be working on your account, the kickoff process and what your day-to-day experience will be like with them. Also ask for references you can contact, then follow through.
Although these steps can take some time, digital marketing can be a significant investment. Help ensure a return on that investment with a thorough agency vetting process.