Admit it, digital marketing can be intimidating for even the best marketing teams. Without experience, developing, executing and optimizing an effective digital strategy can be challenging and time-consuming. Social media algorithms along with search engine optimization, content marketing and other digital marketing best practices are constantly changing. Unless you manage digital campaigns on a regular basis, it can be tough to keep up and ultimately do your business more harm than good.

Rather than figuring it out as you go, or even worse, ignoring it altogether, consider calling in some reinforcements by hiring a digital marketing agency. Digital marketing agencies manage, and work to improve, the digital presence of their clients by using a variety of online strategies such as website design, social media marketing, search engine marketing and optimization, email marketing, targeted display, and content creation, among others. Some digital agencies provide all of these services, others specialize in a select few.

As a small business, you may need to fully outsource your digital marketing efforts. Or, maybe you have a full in-house marketing team that is digitally savvy but they just don’t have the bandwidth to maintain your on-going digital presence or launch a major campaign. Whatever your needs, there is a digital agency out there that can help.

But not all agencies are created equal. Don’t just align yourself with the first agency that comes along. How do you know which digital marketing agency is right for you? Invest some time, do your homework and follow this guide to hiring a digital agency.

What do you need?

Before you begin your search for a digital marketing company, figure out your needs. Start by conducting an internal needs analysis. Evaluate your short and long term marketing goals, determine the strengths and weaknesses of your marketing team and identify what gaps this digital agency will be expected to fill. Identify what responsibilities, in whole or in part, you will be passing to your marketing partner. Do you have a social media expert on your team but fall short in SEO and SEM? Can you write content for days but need help pushing out it? Could your website use a redesign? Trying to implement an email marketing strategy? Create a list of must haves and nice-to-haves and keep these in mind as you begin your search.

What do you expect?

Remember that digital marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Results are rarely immediate with digital campaigns (if an agency tells you otherwise, this is a major red flag!). It generally takes at least 90 days for a digital campaign to really gain traction and results typically grow over time as the campaign optimizes. So, when outlining performance goals for your digital campaigns, be patient and realistic with your expectations.

How much can you spend?

Another key factor is budget. Generally speaking, depending on the size of your business, you can expect your marketing budget to fall anywhere from 5-20% of total revenue. The larger the business, the lower the percentage of revenue dedicated to marketing. The largest businesses tend to commit 5% of revenue or less to marketing while smaller businesses are investing up to 20%. Because every business is unique, these numbers can vary widely however, this range is a solid point of reference to help set your overall marketing budget.

Regardless of your budget, no one wants to spend more than necessary. As you go through the process of selecting a digital marketing partner, don’t make your decision based on price alone. Cheap isn’t always best when it comes to digital agencies. Going with the lowest-priced agency could end up costing you in the long run. Instead, maximize your return on investment by considering the value of what the agency can provide. Will their services meet your needs? Are they offering services that you do not require? How many support hours are they willing to work each month? Is that number reasonable based on your needs?

Now that you have identified your needs, expectations and budget, it’s time to do some research.

Do your homework.

As with most searches, the best place to start is online. Search for agencies that specialize in the areas identified in your internal needs analysis. Do you need an expert in social media marketing? Maybe you are looking for a writer to assist with content creation? Searching for a designer to upgrade your website? Using these keywords will help narrow your search and make it easier to sort through results.

Also, seek out referrals. Ask your contacts who they know or have worked with in digital marketing and search LinkedIn to see who among your contacts are connected with various agencies.

Aside from what a prospective digital agency offers, consider where they are located. Does it matter to you if they are local or not? If your needs list is large and you anticipate a great deal of hands-on time, it is probably best to look closer to home. However, if you are comfortable with virtual meetings, emails and phone calls, then an out-of-town agency might be for you.

Also, do they specialize, or at least have experience, in your industry? Is that important? In some instances, it could be helpful for a digital agency to have industry knowledge. In others, it could produce pre-packaged creative and less than stellar results.

When you have some ideas of which agencies you want to learn more about, check out their websites and social media accounts and seek out client reviews. Also, pay close attention to case studies and portfolios to get an idea of the agency’s capabilities, quality of work and level of service.

Get to know them.

Treat your agency search like a search for a new hire. Once you’ve done your homework, create a shortlist of agencies with whom you’d like to schedule interviews and take some time to get to know them. Request a capabilities presentation to get a clear picture of who they are and what they do.

As you conduct your interviews, think about the agency’s personality. Are their mission and values aligned with yours? If an agency has a more relaxed and casual atmosphere, it might not be the best fit for an organization that is all business – and vice versa.

Also, do they have experience with your specific needs? Request case studies or examples of work they have done within the scope of your needs. If they don’t have experience or proven results within the areas you require, it might be best to move on.

What do they provide in terms of reporting? Ask for sample campaign performance reports and confirm the frequency of when reports are provided. Also, find out how they react when a campaign doesn’t perform up to expectations. Not everyone is perfect and mistakes happen but how an agency responds is imperative. Demand honesty and clear reporting.

Watch for red flags.

As with any major decision, it is important to trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Here are some red flags to consider and avoid:

  • Do they only give high-level vague answers to direct questions?
  • Are they guaranteeing immediate results?
  • Do their website or social media accounts appear to be outdated?
  • Are they lacking transparency – in planning and reporting?
  • Are they slow to respond to questions and requests?
  • Do they put themselves first?

Your search for a digital agency shouldn’t be taken lightly. You are putting the reputation of your brand on the line. It is important to take your time, be thorough and find the best digital agency for you. In the end, trust your instincts. You will be working very closely with this agency, so it is vital that you feel you can trust them and equally important that you are comfortable working with them.

Contact 535media today to set up a no-obligation strategy session. We would love to get to know you and find out more about your digital marketing needs.