What to Look for in a Digital Marketing Agency

November 24, 2015

8 Minute Read

Digital marketing agencies abound these days so it can be difficult to decide which agency will work best for your needs. There are large agencies, small agencies, and everything in between. There are agencies that specialize in certain industries, certain geographies, even certain distribution channels. There are agencies that are part of much larger firms and agencies that are virtual. So what should you look for in a digital marketing agency?

Hiring a digital marketing agency—or agency of any kind, for that matter—is a lot like hiring a new employee. The process starts with a critical first step: a clear understanding of what you need. A clear understanding of your needs can help you narrow the field of candidates by focusing on those that have the skills and competencies you’re looking for. You’re still likely to be left with a pretty substantial list, however. So how do you narrow it down to ultimately select the perfect agency for you?

What makes a great marketing agency?

Here are the Top 10 Things to Look for in a Digital Marketing Agency

1. Specialization

If you’re looking for assistance with paid search you need to focus on agencies that specialize in paid search. If you’re in the healthcare industry, chances are you’ll want to focus on agencies with experience in the healthcare industry. Yes, there may be value in working with generalists but, most of the time, those agencies that are able to demonstrate experience and expertise with tools, channels and audiences that matter to you will rise to the top of your list. This is probably the number one factor to consider when considering what to look for in a digital marketing agency.

2. Recommendations

Your colleagues are the first place to start when searching for potential agency partners. Who are they working with? Who have they worked with? Who would they recommend? Those recommendations are gold in terms of paving the way to a successful partnership. Even if you don’t have a good source of recommendations at the outset, though, make sure that you get recommendations from the agencies you are considering. If they don’t have any, or the list is short, that can be a red flag.

3. What makes them stand out from the crowd?

As we’ve said, it’s a competitive world out there. There are a lot of players and many of them are basically the same. You want to select an agency that stands out from the crowd in some meaningful way. What do they provide that other agencies don’t? How is their approach better? What makes them especially qualified to handle your challenges—more qualified than the other agencies you’re considering?

4. The agency’s own online presence

If you’re looking for an expert to help you with your online marketing needs, their online presence should be exceptional, right? Be wary of any agencies with poorly designed web sites, lackluster company and staff social profiles and a low level of engagement in the social channels they claim expertise in. And, if an agency indicates that they can help boost your search ratings, check them out to see where their agency is coming up in search results related to what they have to offer. A little time online can yield some really important insights.

5. Their past work

Ask to see an example of the work the agency has done previously. Is the work aligned with your own needs and desired brand image? Is it innovative—or does it look like everything else you’ve seen out there? Is it accurate? Is it user-focused? This past work can include case studies, portfolios and reports that demonstrate their ability to deliver real results.

6. Strategic focus

Look beyond the sales pitch to determine exactly what the agency will be delivering to you in real, quantifiable ways. Ask if they’ll set goals based on your margins. Ask what areas will be tracked for success and why these metrics are important. Ask what kinds of strategies they’ll use to drive the specific results you’re looking for.

7. Transparency

In your conversations with agency representatives, you should be looking for openness and transparency in terms of how they do their work and how they will work with you. They should clearly outline the services, reporting and deliverables that you will receive.

8. Tools

Don’t be afraid to ask for information about the tools that the agency uses. Make sure that these tools are adequate for research and development, optimization, management and media buying. As what they use and why.

9. A focus on value, not price

Runaway from any agency that immediately quotes you a price without first seeking to clearly understand what you will need from them. There is such a wide range of possibilities when it comes to serving the digital marketing needs of any organization—and no two clients whose needs will be exactly the same—that it is virtually impossible to quote a price without first gathering some information. Beyond this initial “red flag,” though, you should also be wary of agencies that talk more about price than they do about the value or benefit, you will reserve from their services.

10. Fit

At the end of the day, a good agency-client relationship is all about fit and it’s important to take into consideration when you begin to look for in a digital marketing agency. You have to like the people you are working with. You have to be able to communicate openly and effectively with them. You have to trust that they have your best interests in mind. Keep in mind that every company is as strong as their least satisfied employee. Look for an agency that clearly values their employees and that cultivates a creative, trusting work environment. That kind of culture will likely equate to a high level of service to you!

The process of finding, evaluating, and choosing the right digital marketing agency can take time—and it should. Ultimately, you want to find the right partner to meet your needs and deliver measurable results that can help both of you grow. There are a lot of other factors to look for in a digital marketing agency.

If you’re still not sure what to look for in a digital marketing agency, check out our ‘Paid Media Agency Research Guide‘ to help you determine which type of agency is right for you.

About Clutch

Clutch is a Washington, DC-based research firm that identifies top services firms that deliver results for their clients. The Clutch methodology is an innovative research process melding the best of traditional B2B research and newer consumer review services. Clutch’s proprietary framework, the Leaders Matrix, maps firms’ focus areas and their ability to deliver on client expectations. The firm has researched and reviewed 1000+ companies covering 50+ markets.

Author Bio: Tim Clarke is the Research Manager with Clutch. Clutch identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients. Tim heads the SEO and PPC research at Clutch. You can follow Clutch at @clutch_co  

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Here at BFO, we're always striving to bring you the latest and greatest in digital marketing insights and education. We're not ones to brag, but we've been lucky enough to be featured in all sorts of fancy publications and media outlets, strutting our stuff and showing off our industry expertise.