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How to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency

By Mike Neerhof –

Whether you’ve been handling your marketing in-house or have been disappointed by the results your current agency has achieved, choosing a new digital marketing agency can seem like a daunting task. Besides trying to figure out who will best help your business and who you can afford, you also need to consider the relational aspect of a partnership. You don’t want to choose a digital marketing agency who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and you certainly don’t want to be stuck working with a bunch of jerks.

Here are a few tips on where to look and what to look for in order to find the right agency for you.

Where To Look

Google Partners – While accreditation from the other search engines – Bing, Yahoo!, etc. – should not be overlooked, Google has developed a fantastic database of their partner agencies. It shows how many people at the agency are certified and in what categories – search advertising, display advertising, mobile advertising, video ads, shopping and GoogleAnalytics IQ – as well as minimum monthly budgets the agencies work with. It is a great tool for finding agencies that are backed by the legitimacy and trust factor of Google.

Referrals – It’s important to understand what the experience of working with an agency will be like. Referrals from peers or other agencies are a great way to find out more about an agency, with all of the marketing and salesmanship removed. Unlike the quantitative results you would derive from a simple search, referrals tend to give you a better idea about what it’s actually like to work with someone. Are they pleasant? Responsive? Do they get involved, or are they far removed from the clients they work with? Referrals can bring to light these more qualitative and personal experiences.

Search – This is how we do things these days, isn’t it? So how can you utilize a search engine to find an agency? Be specific. Searching for “search marketing agency chicago area” gives you 145,000,000 results, including a ton of different types of agencies. Meanwhile, a more specific search such as “higher education paid search marketing agency chicago area” cuts that down to just over 1 million results, and chances are that the top agencies listed will be a much better fit for you and your needs.

What To Look For

Credibility – Does the agency have a decent website? A terrible site should be a red flag for any advertising agency, and especially an online marketing agency. Does their website include client logos and testimonials? Most do. Do they have experience in your field? With similar-sized companies? Are their reviews positive? Do their testimonials seem authentic? Are they certified in a variety of disciplines? Have they won awards? All of these things are factors that help build credibility. Certainly there are great agencies that might not meet all of these standards, but if too many red flags are raised, it would be wise to take notice and reconsider.

Case StudiesCase studies give you real-life examples of what an agency can do. So if you can’t find any case studies on an agency’s website, make sure you ask them for examples of how they’ve helped their clients achieve success. Look for real, lasting results, and pay attention to the strategy which drove those results. Was the agency thinking outside the box and developing custom strategy for the client, or did they apply a cookie cutter program that barely moved the needle? If an agency can’t provide any case studies, that should be a major red flag.

Vibe – Go meet with an agency at their office. Take a look around and talk to some of the team members. Have a casual conversation with the people who would be managing your account. What is the agency’s vibe? Are the people good communicators? Are they friendly? Do they seem like they enjoy speaking with you and helping you, or do they seem annoyed and frustrated? Paying attention to these often overlooked intangibles will help give you a much clearer picture of what working with the agency will be like.

What To Ask For

Audit – Give agencies the opportunity to prove themselves. An audit is a great way to allow them to do so, and also provides you with insights into improvements you should be making to your marketing. It’s a win-win. The more an agency uncovers during an audit, the more they probably want to work with you, and the more likely it’ll be that they pay closer attention to detail in managing your account should you become their client.

Experience – Ask the agency team what outside experience they’ve had. Diversity of thought is very important in digital marketing, and those innovative ideas are often sparked by previous experience. Outside experience is also important in helping to develop empathy, as your account team must have a solid understanding of the challenges you face every day in order to provide valuable solutions. Agencies that have experience working on both sides of the client-agency relationship will often have a great advantage in providing real life solutions.

Passion – Passion is one of those words that has been so overused that it has lost much of its power. So allow me to throw it out there once more… Ask your potential agency partners what gets them excited about your business and about working with you. Ask them what industry innovations they find fascinating. Since people love talking about things they find exciting, this will help develop a personal connection and comfort level. It will also give you great insights into what would motivate them as your account team to help you succeed. If their answers focus on things that benefit them – ego, awards, making more money, etc. – you will know that they are driven by personal gain and your success is an afterthought. But if they are driven by passion – curiosity, genuine interest in your business, desire to be on the cutting-edge of innovation, etc. – they are more likely to help you succeed. What do I not mean by this? Don’t ask them if they are passionate about keyword bidding or title tag optimization. Because anyone who says they are is either a liar or crazy.

The Best Fit For You

These are just a few of the things I recommend you consider when searching for and selecting a digital marketing agency. This list could go on and on, but I hope this has at least sparked some ideas you hadn’t considered yet.

Everybody wants something a little different from their agency relationship, so the best first step you could take would be to make a list of the tangible and intangible must-haves, and then utilize this post to expand your list and go find an agency that meets your needs.

You should probably start your search by checking out Lever Interactive. We might not be the right fit for everyone, but we’re good at what we do and pretty awesome to work with, so maybe we’re the right fit for you.

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