If you’re anything like most companies out there, you’ve decided to outsource your social media and digital marketing efforts to either a freelancer or an agency. Deciding on who to go with for your digital marketing agency is no easy task.

The right agency (or freelancer) can get you high converting customers for a low cost while maintaining a high overall ROI for their efforts… Or critically damage your brand reputation while causing you to throw thousands of dollars out the window for a plan that didn’t work.

No pressure…

You may have already had some pretty aggressive sales reps from various marketing agencies contact you over and over again to get you on some kind of SEO or SEM plan. However, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, because not all digital marketing, SEO, or SEM plans are created equally.

In other words, just because they say they offer backlinks and content creation, doesn’t necessarily mean it is quality.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding on your future marketing agency:

1. Understand Your Goals

Understanding your goals is number one when deciding on an agency.

Not only will it help the agency determine the best course of action to take, but it will also help you see whether or not your prospective partners are providing solutions and a plan to meet your goals.

Your goals need to be more specific than, “I want more sales”.  I mean, who doesn’t?

Depending on where your company is positioned in the market, and where the majority of your customers are in the purchasing funnel, the strategy can completely vary. Your new agency will pay attention to your goals just as close as you. If you don’t succeed, they don’t.

2. What’s Your Monthly Budget?

Your new agency isn’t going to be free.

Expect a price.

One of the first questions they may ask you is what your budget is. Don’t take offense to this as it’s important to know to define the constraints of the efforts. If you don’t have a budget ready, the first strategy that’s going to come by you is going to have a hefty price tag and may include things you don’t need.

The future agency should focus on what your goals are but understand and respect your budget.

3. Is the Agency Specific to Your Market?

Advertisers are a dime-a-dozen these days, so finding an agency that understands your market and your services is paramount to the strategy. Most advertisers these days take any client they can no matter which market they’re a part of.

It’s true marketing has its principles and some pretty general outlines, but the way a message reads or is delivered is typically specific to your customers or target audience.

If you’re a car dealer, find an agency that specializes in cars dealerships. If you’re a landscaping or lawn service company, find an agency that specializes in landscaping or lawn services.

I know an agency for that…

4. Transparency

A lot of marketers out there will tell you they do SEO or will run your SEM campaigns. But what does that mean? If you’re having a freelancer or agency run your AdWords campaigns, are they providing more than just simple metrics like clicks and impressions to you?

A transparent agency or freelancer will provide click-through-rates (CTR), conversions, costs-per-click (CPC), and even costs-per-acquisition (CPA). Not only that, but they’ll make sure to let you know exactly what each one of those means if it’s unclear.

SEO can be even more tricky. Since SEO is a “commitment and not a campaign”, as quoted by Jon Buscall, it’s harder to see and understand exactly how your site’s traffic is being impacted by SEO practices being implemented.

These take time to actually see results and when you do see them, it’s nearly impossible to tell just which optimizing tactic created that result, despite what some SEOs might say (i.e. “I can get you ranked in 1 day!”, it’s a scam if they promise you that). Here’s an article with a study from Ahrefs on how long, on average, it takes to rank for new SEO content.

TL;DR, it’s between 2 and 6 months.

A credible and trustworthy agency who understands this will clearly layout each month’s SEO expectations, tasks, and goals either at the end of the month or the beginning.

5. Clear Communication

Clear communication is number one when determining a marketing partner. If it takes your agency or rep too long to get back to you, it’s probably a good sign you should head for the hills.

Communication expectations should be set from the beginning. Including points of contact, goal meetings, and when and how often reporting calls should take place. If the communication is a one way street (you to the rep), then there is a problem.

Your rep should be reaching out to you and seeing if your sales goals have been met or for monthly updates on your side of things. A successful marketing plan can’t be measured if the strategy can’t be correlated to real dollars.

Being transparent with your agency on your sales and goals is just as important as them being 100% transparent with analytics and statistics on your campaigns.

6. Professional Appearance

You’re going to need to be able to trust that your agency is going to represent your business the way you would want it to be. If you’re hiring them for your SEO, take a look at their site. Here are some very simple on-site SEO things to keep in mind when looking at their site:

If you plan on having them run your social media, take a look at their Facebook or Instagram pages and see if they follow all of the Facebook optimization necessities.

  • Do they post regularly?
  • Do their posts look professional?
  • Are they sharing knowledge or services?
  • Are they interacting with their audience?
  • Is all of their info filled out?
  • Do they have an impactful company story?
  • Do they have good reviews?

If they can’t manage their own marketing to appear professional and effective, it’ll be hard to trust them to run your website and social media.

Don’t have your own website? You should. Here are 13 reasons why it’s incredibly important to have a website for your business.

7. Do They White Label Services?

You’ll want to know if the services they provide are in-house or if they’re marketed as a white label.

Similar to how Crest (toothpaste) and Dawn (dish soap) are both their own companies with their own target demographic and marketing, both of those products are produced by Proctor & Gamble. This can be true with your advertising.

A prospective agency may say they offer SEO, social media, or SEM services, but they may be more of a consultative and strategy agency that outsources the execution.  This isn’t always the case and it isn’t always bad.

Although having a team that executes the proposed strategy in-house minimizes communication issues between teams, allows faster response times to immediate campaign adjustments, and even minimizes time to get a valid response back from your rep.

White label services aren’t necessarily the enemy, but there is a lot to benefit from by having an agency execute the strategy in-house. It’s a bit more personal as well.

BONUS:  Is Your Contact a Sales Rep or a Marketer?

All too often I see sales reps trying to be consultative experts. Now don’t get me wrong, consultative experts can be sales reps, but I don’t believe it works the other way around.

You’ll want to make sure your rep knows what they are talking about. Don’t be afraid to probe and ask deeper questions even if you don’t know the answer to it.

If they pitch you on SEO, ask what all does SEO entail or what their off-site SEO strategy consists of. They may go into a list of sub-services that makes up their SEO package. Once they list what those are… ask what one of those sub-services does for you or how it works.

If they can’t answer or appear to be having trouble answering it, chances are they’re a sales rep and the services they’re offering aren’t any more custom than the script they’re going off of.

Summary

There are a plethora of marketing agencies and freelancers out there that are all trying to get your business. Perhaps all of them will net you a higher ROI. But remember, you’re looking for a partner. You’re looking for someone who wants you to succeed as much as you do.

So keep these eight things in mind when looking for a marketing partner:

  1. Understand your goals
  2. Know your budget
  3. Is the agency specific to your market?
  4. Are they transparent with results?
  5. Are they clear communicators?
  6. Do they have a professional appearance?
  7. Are their services done in-house?
  8. Are you being sold or consulted?
  9. Is their name Evergrow Marketing?…