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What You Need to Know When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

27 Nov 2019

What you need to know when choosing a digital marketing agency.


Regardless of their outward projection, not all digital marketing (DM) agencies were created equal and we don’t all offer the same levels of service, access and transparency. Over the years we’ve seen plenty of businesses sold on a competitor’s slick sales pitch, only to be looking elsewhere six months later when they don’t receive the services or level of care and attention they thought they were signing up for.


In the interest of saving you from this costly and frustrating fate, we’re talking about 14 things you need to consider when choosing a digital marketing agency. This may seem like shameless self-promotion, but we’re putting it out there so you can run all potential digital agencies through these criteria to make an informed decision.



1. What will the goal of your digital marketing activities be?

Before you can decide if companies bidding for your DM account can help you reach your goal, you must first decide what your goal is. Being able to clearly communicate what you want from a digital marketing agency is key to ensuring you’re both on the same page.


Be up front about what success will look like to you, and a good agency will offer feedback on how realistic your goal is and how they will measure success themselves.


Define what you want to achieve and ask the agency how they plan to deliver this.


Which of these goals do you want to focus on?

  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Generate more enquiries for your services
  • Sell products on your e-commerce website
  • Create brand awareness
  • Be more visible in search results
  • Attract clever people to work for you



2. Which digital marketing services do you need to achieve your goal?

Once you’ve confirmed what you’re shooting for you’ll have a better idea of which digital marketing services you’ll need. A good DM agency will be able to help you here by educating your around which services and platforms will best help you achieve success.


Hearing proposals from multiple agencies will help you identify anyone trying to pull the wool over your eyes and upsell you on things you don’t need. If you receive three proposals and one of them suggests a service the others omit, the integrity of their proposal and the knowledge shown therein will help indicate whether or not the other two have failed to identify something important, or if they’re trying to take you for a ride. If in doubt, ask why they’ve included or omitted a particular service.



3. Are they aware of how the marketing puzzle goes together?

Identifying which digital marketing services you need to reach your goal can be tricky because one may impact the performance of another.


For instance; Google Ads campaigns won’t perform as well if they point to web pages with irrelevant content and keywords. Click-throughs from an email campaign aren’t much good either if your website doesn’t render well on mobile.


Use your BS radar and a line of questioning to see if the agencies understand how the puzzle goes together, and if they will have your best interests at heart.


Which of the following services do you (or don’t you) need, and which agencies can provide them?

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Facebook Ads
  • Google Ads
  • Remarketing
  • Copywriting
  • Email marketing
  • LinkedIn profile building
  • LinkedIn advertising
  • Web design
  • Website development
  • Training and consultancy



4. What capacity do you want your digital marketing agency to be involved with these services?

Once you’ve got a fair idea of which digital marketing services you want from an agency, you can then ask them about tailoring their level of involvement around these. Depending on your schedule and level of expertise you may want an agency to set up campaigns and leave you to run them yourself.


Adversely, you may want the agency to act as you’re digital marketing partner, taking care of the whole kit and caboodle from campaign planning through to build, ongoing maintenance and reporting. The choice is yours but be aware that not all agencies offer flexibility on this front and not every agency offers all of the services listed above.


(Bonus tip: ask agencies if your work will stay in-house or if they’ll farm parts out to third-party providers. We frequently come across agencies that present themselves as all-encompassing providers, only to find out they’re propped up by an offshore team with little in the way of local knowledge or support)



5. What level of support does a New Zealand digital marketing agency offer?

The level of support offered can vary dramatically from one DM agency to the next.

Is it low?

Some will sign you up, send automated monthly reports and then never answer the phone or reply to your emails when you need help.


This behaviour is typical of larger ‘churn and burn’ agencies who thrive on high sign-up rates by way of low management fees. They often provide a very generic service across all clients and operate with a ‘plenty more where they came from’ attitude so aren’t particularly worried about client discontent and high levels of turnover. A low level of customer support can make it seem like getting blood from a stone.


Or is it high?

A better example of good support from a digital marketing agency is one that is ‘available’ to their clients. They return emails quickly, discuss ideas and issues with clients over the phone, and often have a support desk set up in which customers can submit tickets regarding website development and hosting issues.


Gauging the levels of support DM agencies offer can be difficult, so look at what they mention in their proposals, how they review with past and present clients, and (to a lesser extent) how they conduct themselves during the courting process. Ask to see examples of their reporting so you can get a feel for the level of insight they can offer your business.


6. How flexible can the agency be with their services?

Leading on from levels of support is how flexible an agency can be. This can depend on the size of their team, how many clients they serve and their core values.


Give them a hypothetical situation: what would happen if at short notice you were to ask for a special marketing report for your AGM? While we wouldn’t recommend actually making this request (you’ll be up a creek without a paddle if said report can’t be delivered!), their response will be telling. It should sound something like, “Tell us what you need, and we’ll see what’s involved at our end (a cost may be incurred if outside your agreed management fee). We’ll certainly try to do whatever we can to accommodate it within our schedule (remember you may be trying to jump a queue).” Out of fairness to the agency you do decide to go with though, try to keep last-minute requests to a minimum — you’ll get the best from your agency if you work with them as a partner rather than a service provider.  


7. What if your business’s situation changes?

Businesses go through ups and downs, and a compassionate digital marketing agency will invoice monthly and allow you to look at increasing or decreasing your DM package and fee as your needs and budget change.


A not so flexible agency won’t. They’ll lock you in to fixed term contracts and make it difficult for you to part ways.



8. What level of reporting and data analysis can the agency provide?

 A complaint we sometimes hear during our onboarding process is that the company’s previous digital marketing agency didn’t give them enough usable data in their reporting.


The depth of beneficial reporting you should receive will be influenced by your type of business, your DM goals and your level of understanding of the marketing tools being used to power your activities. Some clients are honest in saying they just look for up and down arrows and that’s all that concerns them. Others ask for more insight into what different metrics mean and what remedial work could/should be done off the back of them.


In any case, an agency should help you understand your data and reports. They should be available to talk you through them if you don’t understand what you’re looking at or want to know something that isn’t included. Just remember that your level of reporting will likely also be determined by your agreed monthly fee.



9. Who will ‘own’ your digital marketing accounts?

This is extremely important because it’s crucial to your ongoing digital marketing should you part ways with the agency.


When speaking to an agency ask if the digital marketing accounts (e.g., Google Ads, Google Analytics, etc.) created for you will be owned by you or the agency. If you aren’t set to retain ownership and access to these accounts if you no longer require the agency’s services, then you’ll lose all related data and insights into what worked and what didn’t. In essence you (or your next agency) will have to build all your accounts and campaigns again from the ground up.


Honourable agencies will create accounts for you using credentials they’ll provide you with and attach your accounts to their master account. If you go your separate ways you are left with all the tools to continue your marketing activities yourself or take them to a new agency.



10. Will the agency act as a digital marketing ‘partner’ or a ‘provider’ for your business?

Depending on the size of your business and budget, an agency that you can treat as your very own ‘external marketing team’ or ‘digital marketing partner’ is the ultimate.


This means they are readily available (within the conditions of your agreement and common sense) and have the client-to-staff ratio right so you aren’t treated as a number or starved of attention.


When talking to prospective agencies, you’ll want to get the impression that you could look to them to provide impartial input about everything to do with your online presence — regardless of whether or not their answers are going to result in increased business for them.



11. Look at an agency’s track record

We live in an age where a business’s reputation is normally very visible online, so do some digging about their track record and level of reliability.


Who are their existing clients, and can you see examples of their previous work to gauge their ability? Are they experienced in delivering the products and services you require? How long have they been in the industry? Do they appear to be financially stable?


A telling factor here can be the average duration of their client partnerships. Are they commonly a matter of months or is it more like years?



12. Are they up to speed with their industry and any developments?

The world wide web and digital marketing are both constantly evolving and it’s essential that DM agencies adjust their approach to align themselves with the expanding tool set and ever-shifting goal posts. Does it look like they cling to best practices from five years ago or are they adapting their services all the time? Do they have any industry accreditations?



13. Where is the agency located?

The very nature of digital marketing means it can be done from almost anywhere, but that’s not to say a hairdresser in south east Asia will be best served by a Christchurch digital marketing agency.


Look for an agency that will speak the same language as you and have a sound understanding of users in your local market.


It’s down to your preference whether you want them to be available for in-person meetings or are happy to conduct business via video meetings, phone calls and emails. We find in most cases if clear communication is kept via these channels, not being in the same town as a client isn’t a showstopper.



14. Does the digital marketing agency have staff of the ilk you would hire?

You wouldn’t trust an apprentice to build a new house single-handedly, and a similar sentiment can be made for your digital marketing efforts. You’ll want the person doing the actual work on your campaigns to be switched on, have attention to detail and to be able to uncover DM insights and opportunities that will help you boost the performance of your business.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into how to choose a digital marketing agency and the differences between a lacklustre one and a great one. Good luck with your search and don’t hesitate to drop us a line if you have any questions about our services, or those of another agency.

Written by
Mark is our Digital Marketing Manager and has worked in the online marketing space since 2005. Before joining us he plied his trade in various traditional marketing roles abroad and in New Zealand, yet nowadays much prefers the highly measurable and transparent nature of online marketing.

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