Questions to Evaluate Digital Marketing Agencies
By Kiley Skadburg on February 12, 2018 in Digital Marketing
Whether you’re a new business owner just starting out, have an established business or work in marketing for a multi-million or billion dollar company, chances are you’ve been approached by a digital marketing agency or publisher trying to sell you their digital service offerings. Spinutech’s president, Marc, likes to call today’s digital world “The Digital Goldrush” – everyone is abandoning traditional forms of media to marketing that is traceable and measurable. According to eMarketer, “Digital spending will see double-digit growth each year of the forecast, soaring from $83 billion in 2017 to $129.23 billion in 2021.”
Last year, digital ad revenue surpassed tv revenue for the first time ever, and that gap is expected to widen by approximately $10 billion in 2017 (Source: eMarketer, 2017). Television and radio are going digital, with things like programmatic TV buys making their way into the mainstream and digital radio like Spotify and Pandora.
With that shift, traditional advertising companies like TV, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines are eager to retain their portion of marketing budgets from the chopping block, so they develop their own digital offerings to help fill this void. In addition, many agencies are trying to build up their knowledge about digital marketing by training or hiring employees to do the work that many of their clients and prospective clients are asking for.
So, if you’re looking for a digital marketing agency or partner, how do you weed out the good from the bad? How do you evaluate a digital marketing agency to determine if they really know their stuff? Our team of strategists has compiled a list of questions for you to ask when talking with potential partners, as well as some words of wisdom. And hey, good luck out there.
General digital marketing agency questions to ask:
- What clients have you worked with and how long (on average) do you retain clients? When you say you work with a larger brand do you work with just a local location or all locations?
- What industry experience do you have and do you work with any competitors?
- What do you do really well? (make sure this aligns with your business goals)
- How do you define client success? If the campaign/strategy is working – how can it be leveraged even more? If not, how do you handle this? We believe in a fail-fast mentality.
- How do you report and measure performance? How transparent are you in reporting? How much detail do you provide? What tools do you use? How often do you report? When would we receive those reports?
- How do your track calls from digital efforts?
- What are the terms of your service agreements? Is there a set monthly commitment/cancellation clause?
- How many clients did you lose last year and what were the reasons?
- What would our team structure look like?
- Who will be executing the work and where are they located? Do you contract out any of your management services to third parties? Could I actually sit down face to face with this team?
- What certifications do your team members hold?
Angie Bolotin, Senior Social Strategist: Ask how the various agency departments interact and if they share strategy plans. Large agencies often segment work and miss the "bigger picture" of how tactics can support each other. If all department strategist are communicating (the social team with the display team, for example) on a regular basis, they are able to implement a cohesive multi-channel approach and ultimately better meet goals.
Jeremy Schmidt, Digital Account Lead: I see a lot of companies out there who advertise themselves as a "digital marketing" agency, but frankly don't understand digital and/or are attempting to transition from the print age. The advice I would give is to ensure you're working with not just an agency but rather a digital marketing partner who understands all facets of digital marketing and how not only to make them work together but also know how to leverage different channels based off campaign goals/engagement.
Kiley Skadburg, Director of Client Services: Always ask who will be servicing your team, where they are located, what certifications and qualifications they have and if they partner with any third party companies for services they provide. Find out if you can sit down with the team who will be doing the work – not just the sales or account rep – face to face. Many times we work with clients where their previous agency claimed to have capabilities to do the work, but in reality, were outsourcing it to another company in another state or country. A good digital agency should always be fully transparent about who is actually doing the work.
Marc Reifenrath, President: There is and will continue to be a ton of “noise” around digital marketing. It is easy to get caught up in miseducation on what is all possible. The marketplace will eventually weed out this noise, but it is important that you check references to ensure you get what you believe you are buying. We like to fail fast, which is a very transparent approach, but it leads to a faster maturation of our strategy for our clients. Unfortunately, there is a “set it and forget it” mentality with many agencies and that just won’t cut it over the long haul. You should see continual improvement in your accounts and have a team that can deliver that.
Questions to ask about paid media
- How are your fees structured? Commission based, retainer-based, etc. and what percentage of media fees are they?
- What bid management tools do you use and how do you use them?
- What is your approach to creative and landing page testing?
- What are the most important KPIs that you tell your clients to focus on?
- What is your general approach to optimizing toward a healthy SEM strategy?
- What does your reporting look like for your media strategies?
- What is your process for implementing conversion tracking and campaign goals?
- What does your build process for search and display campaigns look like?
Cody See, Paid Media Strategist: Meet your implementation specialist. Most digital marketing agencies follow the account manager/account specialist business structure, where account managers handle the majority of client communication and overall direction, and specialists do the intense number crunching and day-to-day changes within the advertising platforms. When shopping around for an agency, ask to meet the implementation specialist that would manage your account (it might be me!). If the agency refuses to grant this request, it's likely because they outsource the work. If you meet them and don't click, ask to meet a different one. As they say, it's nothing personal; it's just business.
Tyler Rayome, Sr. Paid Media Strategist: Setting expectations and marketing goals for each objective, channel and strategy will build the foundation for a successful relationship and campaign. It gives the agency goals and benchmarks to work towards. If those are challenging to establish up front, just discuss that and lay it on the table so there are no surprises down the road.
Brian Allen, Digital Marketing Director: I think an important question to ask a digital agency is what their process is to learning and understanding your business. Too many companies jump into tactics without fully understanding the business, customer base or overall industry. This can be important to developing quality creative, relevant landing pages and even targeting the right audiences. There should be some kickoff process that they lead to get the information needed to market for the business. If the company says they can jump in and start running for you tomorrow, be wary of the quality and strategy behind these campaigns.
Questions to ask about SEO and content strategy:
- Will you do an initial audit? What type of audit do you recommend?
- How do you know what I need without an initial audit?
- Am I paying for services or strategy or a combination of both with my retained ongoing monthly work?
- How often do you pursue research and regular audits for your clients?
- Can you provide a list of services you plan to deliver monthly as part of your website strategy?
- Can you elaborate on specific recommendations or strategies you are recommending? Why would you choose that strategy or process for us?
- Is this strategy sustainable?
- How does the organic strategy fit within the larger scope of our digital strategy and our business strategy?
- How many years of experience does your SEO team have?
- Can you give an example of a similar client (either in size/scale or industry) and answer the following questions:
- Can you provide a list of keywords you’re tracking?
- What keywords are they ranking well for and what is the associated average mo. search volume for those keywords?
- How well do they perform for high opportunity, high volume non-branded searches?
- What pages on their site are they ranking for? Not all searches should lead to the home page.
- Within their site content inventory, how many pages can they viably use to effectively compete in local search?
- How has their organic traffic grown in the last year?
- What do you qualify as a site conversion? What are their average conversion rate and conversions per month? How have their conversions from search traffic grown in the last year?
- What are the range and breadth of the search queries your targeting and appearing for in search?
- How have you grown in reach?
- If we were to move our website to you what is the most critical step in that transfer to ensure we keep our existing rankings?
- Why would [example client]’s strategy work for me?
Benjamin Johnson, Digital Strategist: Make sure you research and, to some degree, understand what you're looking to get out of the agency. Learn some of the terminology, basic ideas, and outcomes around the specific service you're looking to supplement with an agency. Especially when it comes to digital marketing, 99.9 percent of the population has no idea what any of the terminologies mean or how it applies to their business. This will give you a better idea of what to expect from an agency and you’ll be better informed to understand what they are going to do for you. A few hours of good research will also protect you from sub-par agencies looking to benefit from a lack of industry knowledge surrounding your issue. The more research you do on the service you're looking for, the better prepared you are to avoid poor or outright bad agency work.
Britt Bischoff, Digital Strategist: An important consideration when looking for an agency is the approach they take to your strategy and how it aligns with your business goals. Organic strategy (SEO, content marketing, etc.) cannot exist independently from a business's marketing strategy, which means that they should be very involved with your marketing team and invest in discovery, auditing, and continual research and discovery. In most cases, SEO and content strategy are a long game that focuses on meaningful results rather than the implementation of individual tactics. You won’t see results overnight, but if done right, you will see significant results that support your bottom line long term.
Tyler Peekenschneider, Digital Strategist: Digital marketing and website strategy are just as much about consulting as they are implementing specific tactics. There seems to be a misconception about SEO that the strategy simply revolves around updating some title tags and content to get landing pages to rank better. A true strategy needs to be more than a simple checklist of things to be done month to month. This requires education on your part allowing you to ask the right questions of the agency but also understanding that not every individual tactic you have heard of will be appropriate for your site.
Questions to ask about social media
- Who will create the content for our social media? i.e. blogs, videos, pictures etc. Examples: will the business have internal team members help, does the agency need to come up with content, or will they be using third parties to create it.
- How do you handle internet trolls and other crisis management?
- What tools do you use to schedule content?
- How can we track our leads and traffic from social media?
- How will you measure the success of a social media campaign?
Katie Thompson, Digital Strategist: Keep your social team small. While you can have several team members writing blogs, taking pictures/videos (sending in content), leave the direct posting and scheduling of content for only a few people. This will allow you to control the style/schedule of content and keep your brand tone in check.
Maggie Boesen, Digital Strategist: A reputable digital/social media agency should be able to work with you to set clear goals and objectives for your social media campaigns and accurately measure the success of those goals. They will be able to report clear, quality data, such as leads and website conversions, that occurred through the social ads instead of just fluffy statistics like impressions and page likes.