Digital is becoming the most important marketing channel for small and mid-sized businesses today; failing to compete online just sends customers to those who do. Yet it can be hard for a non-expert to choose the best digital marketing company for their business.

Below are seven tips for finding the right digital marketing agency for you.

1. Ask, “Are They Legit?”

As soon as your business goes online, your inbox gets flooded with solicitations from agencies you’ve never heard of. Many scammers claim to be “Google Partners” and promise to get you to the “top of Google.” This may be true, but the devil is in the details. Most are not focused on organic ranking but selling paid advertising (PPC).

Use an agency that’s clear on how they are bringing traffic to your business (e.g., SEO versus PPC), and what you should expect for the investment. If an agency is going to manage your PPC, negotiate a flat fee for a given level of ad-spend, and pay the click costs yourself. This way, you know where your spend is going and exactly how much your provider is being paid to manage the program.

Find out what the minimum investment in a particular advertising program really needs to be to make a meaningful impact. “Small investments yield small results.” If your budget is too modest to meet that minimum, a reputable agency will recommend a different strategy, and explain why, rather than take your money.

While any new marketing program is essentially an experiment, a good marketing partner can explain how a specific strategy is expected to work and how they’ll be able to show it. If they can’t, or you’re left feeling baffled by techno-babble, keep looking.

2. Check Their Experience

The industry is packed with thousands of systems and products clamoring for the attention of business operators, making for a confusing landscape. However, the fundamentals of effective marketing haven’t changed much. It’s all about getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time. No matter the technology used, its people that drive the process. Find out how they gained their experience and how that can be leveraged to help your business.

Find out their history. How did they learn their craft? How have they helped companies like yours grow? What tools did they use, how long did it take, what did it cost and how big was the impact? A good agency should be able to show specific examples and relate them to your business.

3. Check for Restrictive Contracts

Have you ever signed a two-year contract with a cable company and then tried to get customer service to help you with a problem? A firm that has you locked into a contract may not be as diligent about delivering results along the way. A bad agency company may only pick up their efforts about ten months into a twelve month contract, when they are trying to renew you for another year.

Use an agency that relies on demonstrable results and happy client relationships for retention, rather than contracts.

4. Check out their Reviews

Find an agency that treats people well inside and outside the company.

Do a Google search combining the company name with ‘reviews.’ Smaller or newer agencies may not have many, but still may be perfectly great to work with. In that case, you might look for what their employees say about them on Glassdoor. Employee sentiment is a strong indicator of customer experience. Churn-and-burn, boiler-room agencies tend to generate lots of negative reviews from current and former employees. If an agency is more focused on short-term sales than employee morale and client retention, you’ll see this a lot.

Look for an agency where employees and clients have positive things to say about the company. This is a great indicator of how you can expect to be treated. If there is a lot of negative talk about the company online, look for another agency.

5. Find Out If They Are Financially Stable

Do a Google search using the firm’s name combined with the word ‘bankruptcy’ or ‘layoffs.’ If they show up in the results, steer clear. Some of the biggest names in the industry have troubled histories, or are currently restructuring due to financial problems.

Agencies with business problems are simply going to be more focused on cost cutting and outsourcing than on serving your business. Layoffs and job insecurity undermines employee morale, translating to less effective results and customer service. Strive to partner with an agency that is financially stable with happy employees who will take care of you.

6. Look Into Platform Portability

You can spend thousands of dollars and several months building up your digital platform. Does the agency use a proprietary system? If so, what happens if you want to leave, or if they go out of business? Do you risk losing all the equity in your investment if you break up?

Make sure to partner with an agency willing and able to help you go elsewhere if you choose to do so. Find out what technology they use to build and host your website and supporting services, and whether they are transferable. Find out their process for departing clients, and make sure they have solutions for those who want to move on, should you want to make a change.

7. Consider Their Location

Going with a local agency can make for a great experience.

You just can’t beat face-to-face meetings for collaborating with your agency on you digital platform, and here in DFW people like to “have a throat to choke,” meaning they have reasonable access to their provider when attention is needed.

Can you meet the CEO if you want? Would he or she want to meet you? It’s worth finding out.

At Qualbe, We have great relationships with our out-of town-clients, but the ability to meet in person with local clients can expedite the process of answering questions, generating desired results, and celebrating successes.

Plus it’s easier to get together for barbeque!

Get in Touch

At Qualbe, we’re on a mission to do good through building businesses and people. If that sounds like the kind of agency you’d like to work with, I’d love to hear from you.

Nick Krueger

Business Development Adviser