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12 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

Choosing a digital marketing agency is a big deal for any business. The right agency partner can help your company overcome challenges, boost marketing performance, and fuel business growth. The wrong agency, on the other hand, can waste your time and your marketing budget. 

In other words, it’s crucial to make the right choice.

Finding the right agency for your business can be daunting.

Unfortunately, finding the right agency for your business can be daunting. A Google search will provide you with an overwhelming array of options, but offers little help in narrowing your list.

To make things more complex, all agencies work and talk about themselves in different ways. They offer a confusing array of services, philosophies, and processes. Despite what many may claim, they also offer varying levels of expertise.

So, how should you review these options to find the right digital marketing agency for your business? Start by considering these twelve factors.

Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

1. Business Goals

What are you hoping to accomplish by bringing in a digital marketing agency? Business growth? Increased ROI? Improved marketing efficiency and decision-making?

If you’re like most businesses, you’re probably hoping for some combination of all those outcomes. To properly evaluate potential agency partners, though, it’s important to be specific. Think about your desired outcomes and your timeline. 

A good agency will help inform and refine your objectives based on their expertise, but don’t be afraid to set goals upfront. The more clarity you have about what you’re trying to get from an agency relationship, the easier it will be to identify partners who can deliver.    

Ask Yourself: 

  • What are our specific marketing and business goals?
  • How soon do we need to achieve these goals?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Have you helped other businesses with goals similar to our own?
  • How will you help us achieve our goals?
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2. Marketing Resource Gaps

Yes, it’s important to identify what you want to accomplish with an agency. It’s also important to think about how you’ll get it done. 

Digital marketing agencies can support your business and marketing efforts in many areas. Conducting research, developing marketing strategies, building websites, managing campaigns and content creation, analyzing performance, and everything in between.

Depending on the configuration of your internal team, however, you may not need an agency to take over everything. Maybe you have talented designers, writers, or developers on your in-house team. Or, maybe you have a marketing operations person who knows your martech stack, inside and out.

Evaluate your internal team’s functional strengths and weaknesses, and determine the areas where an agency will best support your goals. This will help avoid overlapping responsibility situations that cause friction and bloated fees.

Ask Yourself: 

  • What marketing resource gaps does our business have between our internal team and additional agency partners?
  • Of these gaps, which are the highest priority for us to fill? 

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • How would you prioritize and fill our company’s resource gaps? 
  • How do you collaborate with internal marketing teams? 

3. Agency Fit

Every marketing agency is unique. That’s true even within the sub-category of digital marketing agencies. With that said, there are some loosely grouped categories to be aware of when evaluating your options.

Some agencies narrow their focus to specific digital ecosystem components (e.g., social media marketing agencies, pay-per-click agencies, search engine optimization agencies, email marketing agencies, content marketing agencies, etc.). Others provide comprehensive digital marketing services while providing foundational work—like website design and development—as a supplemental offering. Larger marketing agencies may offer digital as a sub-set of a wide range of services.

At Olive & Company, we offer a holistic approach that combines web design, digital marketing strategy and management, and branding services. This combination fits the needs of our clients. 

Your goal should be to choose a digital marketing agency that fits your own unique needs.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Do we need an agency specializing in a single service or offering, or one that can help us in multiple areas?
  • Do we have foundational issues with our brand and website that must be addressed?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Which parts of the digital marketing ecosystem do you focus on, and why?
  • How do you handle situations where brand messaging isn’t resonating with target audiences?

4. Agency Expertise

Agencies are made of individuals, and individuals all have unique areas of expertise. Some have deep knowledge of particular marketing channels or technology platforms. Others may have worked extensively with clients in a particular industry. 

When choosing an agency, make sure you consider what types of expertise matter most for your situation. If you’re in an industry with a steep learning curve, you’ll probably want an agency partner who has worked with groups like yours. If you have limited internal resources, you’ll want an agency partner who can provide holistic strategy and implementation services. 

Much of this information can be learned by looking at an agency’s website and content, but don’t be afraid to ask probing questions.

Ask Yourself: 

  • What services and technology expertise do we need to supplement our team and achieve our goals? 
  • Do we need an agency with experience working in our industry?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Do you specialize in working with certain types of businesses or organizations?
  • What are the most common services you provide to your clients?

5. Proven Processes

Digital marketing is complex. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish will require research, analysis, expertise, execution, and thoughtful management. It will also require a process designed to deliver results while overcoming challenges.

No matter what your situation may be, challenges are inevitable. Internal alignment issues, data limitations, budget constraints, brand foundation gaps, etc. No situation is perfect. 

No matter what your situation may be, challenges are inevitable.

That’s why it’s so important to find a partner with a proven process for identifying and dealing with these challenges. Agencies with tested processes know how to navigate issues to ensure success and protect your investment. 

Ask Yourself: 

  • What potential challenges does our business have that may slow down our digital marketing progress?
  • What can we do as a team to help streamline decision-making and workflows?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • What is your digital marketing process?
  • How do you adapt your process to situations like our own?

6. Scalable Solutions

If you’re looking for an agency to help you achieve growth, you plan to evolve as a business. That’s a good thing, but will your agency be able to support that vision? 

You’re already investing time and energy in finding a digital marketing agency. So, make sure your selection will be able to support your long-term growth. Talk to them about your vision. Ask questions about how they’ll support your next stage. 

It’s possible that you’ve already outgrown a digital agency relationship. If so, use that experience to inform your next selection. Where did your previous agency fall short? What do you need from your new agency to ensure the partnership is sustainable?

Ask Yourself: 

  • What do we want our business to be in 1-3 years?
  • What will we need from an agency in 1-3 years?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • How will your account management and solutions change as we continue to grow?
  • How often do you reevaluate your services and approach for individual clients?

7. Analysis and Reporting

Measurement, analysis, and reporting are critical to the success of any digital marketing program. Ideally, this work should improve performance, inform strategies, and focus investment. 

Agencies all approach analysis and reporting in different ways, however. They use a variety of platforms and dashboards. They share reports in different intervals (e.g., monthly versus quarterly). Some send automated reports via email, while others share data and insights with clients during in-depth review sessions. 

Ultimately, the right way to review performance is the way that suits your team’s needs while optimizing your digital marketing program as quickly as possible. 

Ask Yourself: 

  • What KPIs matter most to our business?
  • How frequently do we want to review performance?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • How do you share performance reports, insights, and recommendations with your clients?
  • How do you use data to inform strategic decisions?

8. Results and Relationships

You can learn a lot about an agency by reading their case studies and testimonials. Who have they worked with? Which industries do most of their clients represent? How did they help their previous clients achieve their goals? What challenges have they overcome?

To dig deeper, ask a prospective agency how long they’ve worked with a specific client. The length of a partnership between a client and an agency speaks to trust, collaboration, and, of course, success. 

One-off projects aren’t a bad thing if that’s what a client needs. But, when a client works with an agency for a long time—or comes back to an agency for multiple projects—you know the client gets substantial value from the partnership.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Does this agency have case studies that align with our situation and goals?
  • How will we evaluate the success of this partnership?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Who are your longest-tenured clients?
  • What made those partnerships successful?

9. Agency Team Members

In many ways, hiring a digital marketing agency is similar to bringing on a new employee. Instead of just bringing in one new individual, though, you’re adding an entire team.

If you find the right people, you’ll find the right agency.

Keep that in mind as you’re reviewing agencies. You’ll likely be working closely with agency team members, so seek out groups you want to work with. Are they good listeners? Do they know their stuff (prior experience, industry certifications, etc.)? Are they excited about your business and success? 

When it comes down to it, you’re investing in a relationship with an agency’s team. If you find the right people, you’ll find the right agency.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Who will be the primary point of contact on our internal team?
  • What are we looking for from agency team members?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Who will we be working with over the course of our partnership?
  • Will we have a dedicated account manager and strategist?

10. Communication and Transparency

If you’re making a significant investment in an agency relationship, make sure your agency’s communication and transparency practices align with your expectations. 

Most agencies can adapt their practices to your preferences, but be sure to clarify. Do you prefer calls or email check-ins? How detailed do you expect reports and updates to be? Which members of your team should be in the loop? If the agency plans to use outside contractors, how will they manage those resources? 

Finding an agency that fits your preferences and working style will help prevent project breakdowns and frustration.

Ask Yourself: 

  • How do we want our agency partner to communicate with us? 
  • Who on our team should be included in agency communications?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • What project management and communication tools do you use?
  • How often will we meet, and what will we meet about?

11. Budget and Terms

Agency fees are obviously a crucial factor when choosing a digital marketing agency. How much will you need to pay an agency for them to perform their services and generate the ROI you’re looking for?

That specific number isn’t the only thing to keep in mind, though. Be sure to ask about media spend and other fees for tools, tech platforms, etc. Those fees may be billed directly to you rather than through the agency, so it’s important to understand your full investment. 

If you’re entering into a contract partnership, check the terms. Some agencies may be willing to go month-to-month, but others will have a minimum contract length. If you hope to set up a pilot program with an agency, keep these distinctions in mind.

Ask Yourself: 

  • How much should we budget for digital marketing services, media spend, and tech platforms?
  • What contract length are we comfortable with?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • Is our budget realistic?
  • What is your minimum contract length?

12. Geographic Location

In the virtual age, geographic proximity has become less important for many business relationships. Zoom meetings, email, and other online tools foster connection and collaboration regardless of an individual’s location.

With that said, there are situations where it’s still helpful to meet directly with an agency team. In-person discussions can help break down communication barriers. On-site meetings can show your business and culture to your agency in a way that may not come through online. 

Ultimately, how important geographic location is to your agency relationship will depend on the nature of your business and your people.

Ask Yourself: 

  • Do we need our agency partner to be in close proximity to our own location?
  • What would we miss out on if we couldn’t meet in person with our agency?

Ask Prospective Agencies:

  • How often do you meet in person with client teams?
  • How do you manage travel if it’s needed?

3 Bonus Tips for Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

1. Speak With Agency Teams

Go ahead and conduct as much online research as possible. As you start narrowing your list, though, make time to interview potential agencies. 

Nothing compares to the value you’ll get from talking directly with agency team members. 

We understand that some businesses and industries rely on RFPs, which can limit direct interactions. But, if you have the option, nothing compares to the value you’ll get from talking directly with agency team members. 

You’ll learn more about the details of their philosophies, processes, and specialties in a thirty-minute conversation than you’ll ever get from their website and sales content. And, don’t be afraid to ask to speak with individual contributors. If you want to learn more about an agency’s PPC management process, ask to speak with the person who does that work. If you want details about an agency’s web design workflow, speak with their lead developer. 

You wouldn’t hire an employee without taking the time to interview the person. So, spend as much time as necessary to get to know your agency candidates.

2. Compare Apples to Apples

Because every digital marketing agency has its own approach, every digital marketing proposal will be different. This makes perfect sense to the agencies developing the proposals, but for a business leader trying to choose between multiple options, it can be confusing and frustrating.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to convince every agency to adopt a uniform proposal format (although that does sound like a great idea). What you can do, however, is ask an agency to review their proposal with you on a call. This will give you another opportunity to hear how an agency plans to approach your project or program. It will also help you clarify proposal elements so you’ll know you’re comparing apples to apples. 

If, after meeting with multiple agency teams, you’re still unclear about certain issues, follow up for more information. Agencies that want your business will be eager to spend as much time as necessary to answer your questions and clarify details.

3. Start With a Pilot Project

We get it. Selecting a digital marketing agency is a big commitment. Even if you find an agency that feels like a good fit for your business, it’s hard to know if you’re making the right choice. 

Fortunately, you don’t always have to invest in a long-term engagement right away. Depending on the situation, you may be able to start with a pilot project. 

A pilot project can take many different forms (e.g., an audit, a limited-duration campaign, a landing page, etc.). Whatever the project may be, it gives businesses a chance to move beyond a sales process and start working with an agency team. 

Ideally, the pilot project will demonstrate the agency’s value, establish a working relationship between teams, and build momentum toward a full, long-term partnership. 

If that happens, congratulations! You’re off and running. If the pilot project doesn’t work out for some reason, learn from it and continue with your search.

Finding the Right Digital Marketing Agency for Your Business

Whether this is your first time searching for a digital marketing agency or you’ve been through this process before, finding the perfect agency for your business is never easy. 

There are countless agencies out there, and many of them are good at what they do. The question is, which agency has the right combination of characteristics to help you achieve your goals? 

By using the considerations and questions outlined in this article to guide your process, you’ll be able to streamline your search and find the perfect agency.

And, by the way, if you’ve had a chance to learn more about our services and approach, and feel like we’d be the right digital marketing agency for your company, contact us today and tell us about your goals.

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Erik Norsted

Erik has spent his entire career immersed in every aspect of marketing and branding. His expertise around current digital trends, content strategy, and technical best-practices proves invaluable as he guides clients through the dynamic Modern Marketing landscape.