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Choose the Best Digital Marketing Agency with these 15 Questions

January 26, 2017

15 things you need to know before choosing a digital marketing agency

A quick look at some recent stats will show you that Kiwis are spending an increasing amount of time and money online: 

These numbers clearly demonstrate that the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. So, how does this impact you as a business owner? Firstly, it’s very safe to assume that your customers are looking for your products and services online. Secondly, it means that digital marketing needs to be a central component of your overall marketing plan. 

If you don’t have an internal marketing team or your team has very little digital experience, partnering with a digital marketing agency can be a great way to get the most from your digital marketing efforts. Choosing the right digital marketing partner can help you to achieve your online business goals. 

With few barriers to entry, it’s no surprise that a quick search online yields several pages of results for digital marketing agencies in New Zealand, many of whom are very willing to promise guarantees and ‘too good to be true’ results to win your business. Unfortunately, the plethora of unproven ‘promise makers’ in the market place makes it hard to sort the good providers from the bad. Get it wrong and you’ll waste time, money and energy – and potentially cause significant damage to your online presence and performance. 

So, how do you choose the right digital marketing agency and avoid the pitfalls of a less reputable agency? In today’s article, we cover 15 questions you need to ask before choosing a digital marketing agency. By becoming more knowledgeable about the industry and your own needs, you’re far more likely to make a wise choice first time.

1) Have I created an accurate and informative brief?

The selection process will be much easier if you’re able to provide prospective agencies with a digital marketing brief. A carefully considered brief will also make it easier for agencies to provide you with accurate pricing for their services. To create the brief, you’ll first need to think about your short and long-term business goals, expectations and requirements.

  • Your brief should include the following elements: 
  • Your company’s background, target market and business goals
  • The specific problem you want to the agency to solve (e.g. Are you looking to increase site traffic or generate more leads?)
  • Your involvement in the project. (e.g. Do you need the agency as a strategic partner or do you need a more tactical approach, with the agency handling all aspects of your digital marketing strategy and campaigns?)
  • Your budget

2) How does the agency get results?

This is a big one. In the early days of digital marketing, agencies could achieve fast results by manipulating website metadata to help websites rank higher in search. Those days are, fortunately, long gone. While Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is still a vital component in most marketing plans, digital marketing today encompasses so much more. 

Before you meet with prospective agencies, spend some learning about their marketing philosophy and approach. You should be able to find this information on their website or in other marketing materials that they provide. A good digital strategy takes a holistic, long-term approach to helping potential customers find your business online. When you interview agencies, ask them to explain how they achieve results. A good agency will come to the table prepared to talk about a strategy that is unique and specific to your business. No matter what components your plan contains, the strategy should start by understanding your customers’ needs and end with concrete ways to deliver results.

3) How is performance measured and how frequently are reports provided?

Campaign tracking and reporting is critical to the overall success of a digital marketing engagement. Good agencies love data and are happy to share detailed reports with their clients. When you meet with an agency, ask to see examples of the reports that they provide to their clients. The reports should be customised for each client (rather than auto-generated) and provide meaningful commentary on the success of your project, while highlighting areas for improvement. By understanding how prospective agencies manage their projects and track progress, you’ll have a clear idea of what to expect as the engagement begins – and be alert if reporting falls short of your expectations.

4) Does the agency have a proven track record?

In order to ensure your investment is a wise one, you need to verify that the agency has a proven track record of successfully delivering digital marketing campaigns. One of the best ways to verify this is to speak with current or past clients, so ask for references during your initial meetings. Many agencies also demonstrate their track record on their website in a section that showcases their work. Not only do these things indicate a reputable agency, but they also provide a glimpse into the quality of their work.

5) Do they truly understand Search Engine Optimisation?

If you’re relatively new to the digital marketing game, it can be hard to tell whether a prospective agency really “gets” SEO. So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Good SEO does not start with automated tools designed to scare you into signing a proposal. Unfortunately, we’ve seen some recent examples of digital marketing agencies using a set of automated tools to point out all the ways a website is failing. These tools and reports are often based on outdated information and provide very little value to new clients.

Digital marketers are only successful when they truly understand their clients’ needs and have a long-term vision for success. There are no shortcuts – tricks and gimmicks designed to get you quick wins do not set you up for long-term success.

6) Do they have industry accreditations?

Be wary of agencies that have not bothered to get industry accreditations. Google, and other industry leaders, have created special certifications to ensure that agencies working with their products can provide a high quality service. When digital marketing agencies go through the legwork required to obtain accreditation, it demonstrates their commitment to providing excellent results.

7) How do they anticipate and respond to change?

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that the digital landscape will continue to change. For this reason, it’s important to work with a forward-thinking agency that anticipates change and responds quickly when it occurs. For example, over the past decade Google has kept the digital marketing industry on its toes through sudden changes to their search algorithm. While these changes often had a catastrophic effect on websites managed by other agencies, we are proud to say that our clients came through each change with little to no impact on their search ranking. 

When you meet with agencies, ask them for an example of a time that they responded to a dramatic change in the industry. Ask how they anticipate change and how quickly they are able to respond. Look for an agency that welcomes and embraces change. True digital marketing experts understand that change eventually results in a better experience for everyone.

8) What does the agency’s website say about them?

In order to identify agencies that make your shortlist, we recommend first turning to their websites. The website of a digital marketing agency should explain their general approach to digital marketing and discuss the services they rely on to achieve success. 

While looks aren’t everything, we do believe that digital marketing agencies should practice what they preach. Websites with informative content, clean design and a responsive framework demonstrate that the agency understands what it takes to be appealing to prospective customers. To be fair, many agencies are so busy with client work that they find it difficult to keep their own website up to date. So, while we wouldn’t rule out an agency that ticks every other box, we do believe that a modern, professional website says a lot about the agency itself.

9) Do they offer a comprehensive range of services?

An experienced digital marketing agency knows that their customers have a wide variety of unique needs. To ensure that prospective agencies can meet your needs now and in the future, look for an agency that is able to provide many different digital marketing services. Some of the key services they should offer include: 

  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Website Tracking and Reporting (e.g. Google Analytics)
  • Paid Search (e.g. Google AdWords)
  • Local Search
  • Link Development
  • Conversion Optimisation
  • Content Marketing
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Social Media Strategy & Management

Be wary of any agency that provides a “one size fits all” approach to digital marketing. It’s better to partner with an agency that draws on a wide range of services to tailor a plan that meets your needs. In addition, by choosing an agency with a diverse skill set, you can feel confident that the agency will be able to provide support as your needs evolve.

10) Do they have sufficient tech capabilities?

Because digital marketing is carried out on a technical platform, it is important that your digital marketing partner has a reliable programming team to support their efforts. For example, if your digital marketing agency recommends some website changes in order to improve conversion rates, the ideal situation is that these changes are carried out by the agency itself rather than handed off to another company. 

Likewise, if you already have a trusted web design partner, you’ll want to ensure that your digital marketing agency is willing to work with them to make changes when needed. Their openness and willingness to work within your existing infrastructure is a good indicator of how easy it will be to partner with them.

11) Do you own the accounts they create for you?

You might be surprised to learn that some of the bigger providers out there are reluctant to hand over accounts such as Google Analytics and AdWords when an engagement comes to a close. It seems a little crazy to us – after all, these accounts are for tracking progress on your website. It’s vital that you ensure you’ll have full access to them or you risk losing incredibly valuable historical date if you move to a different provider down the line. 

12) Is their proposal detailed and flexible?

After you meet with an agency, you can expect to receive a proposal from them within a few days. This proposal should include the following: 

  • The agency’s recommendations for your digital strategy
  • Specific steps they will undertake to achieve your goals
  • How they will ensure and measure the success of their efforts and campaigns
  • A detailed budget breakdown 

In addition, the proposal should allow for some flexibility if your business needs change or if the proposed strategies are not producing the expected results.

13) Does the agency require a lock-in period?

Many digital marketing agencies ask new clients to commit to a lock-in period. If you decide to end your relationship with the agency before this period is over, you may be required to continue paying them for the length of the lock-in period. The reason this is done is to protect agencies that may need to do a substantial amount of upfront work for a new client. They work fine when an agency is delivering what is promised, but can be a real problem with less scrupulous marketing agencies.

Make sure you understand the fine print – how long is the lock-in period and what are the contingencies for exit if expectations are not met? Not all digital marketing agencies require lock-ins and many will include stipulations that allow the client to end the relationship if expectations are not met.

14) How much are you prepared to invest in digital marketing?

Before you talk to prospective agencies, it’s important that you have a clear idea of your annual digital marketing budget. We encourage you to think of your digital marketing budget as an investment that will, ideally, yield a favourable return. But in order for this to occur, you need to set a realistic budget and share it with your prospective agencies.

Each digital marketing agency packages and prices their services differently, but good agencies always seek to maximize the return on your budget and are honest about what can or cannot be accomplished. If you come across an agency that promises fast results for little money, you can be sure that they aren’t doing it fairly or in a way that will provide long-term results.

15) Do I like these guys??

It’s important to remember that the relationship with your digital marketing partner is exactly that – a relationship. You can expect to be working closely with the agency for the foreseeable future so you should like the people you’ve chosen to engage with. When you meet with the agency, ask to speak to the members of the team who will actually carry out your work. Senior members of the company and account managers typically attend pitch meetings, but these are not usually the people who will do the heavy lifting. Ask to meet the people who you will be answering your emails and phone calls. If you get a good vibe from the team, this bodes well for the relationship.

A final word of advice

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, the right digital marketing agency can help you achieve your marketing goals, but the wrong one can result in lost time, money and energy. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Agencies that promise the world at rock-bottom prices will rarely be able to deliver upon their promises, leaving you with a worthless investment. 

We encourage you to think carefully about your needs and take the time to choose the right digital marketing agency for you. If you’re interested in learning more about the digital marketing services that Apex Digital offers, please contact us today. We’d love to hear more about your project and share our unique perspective on digital marketing. 

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Filed under Digital Marketing

Written by

Mark is the Manager of Digital Marketing at Apex and has worked in the digital marketing industry since 2004. Prior to joining Apex he worked in a variety of traditional marketing roles in both the corporate and SME environment in NZ and abroad, but these days much prefers the tangible measurability and transparency of digital marketing.

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