Every business owner and marketer should know the value of a solid online marketing strategy.
But it's hard to create the best strategy for your business, let alone execute that strategy properly, without adequate resources, time and expertise.
That's where you need a marketing agency.
But not just any marketing agency. The problem is that many businesses go for the cheapest agency available. But if you're going to see real revenue-shifting results from your digital marketing, you need a marketing agency with the right skills, experience and approach.
Hiring an agency can be a daunting task, but there are simple steps you can take to ensure you engage the right marketing partner for your business.
In this article, we reveal the types of marketing companies out there, the services they offer, what to look for in an agency, and some red flags to watch for. By the end of the article, you'll have the know-how on:
Types of marketing companies
There are many types of marketing companies out there. Some are extremely specialised in what they offer, while others offer a wide range of services. Here are the most common types of marketing companies you'll come across:
Think of a marketing firm or consultancy as a strategy partner rather than an agency that does the "doing". A marketing firm will coach you on your marketing strategy, goals and tactics. They might run some internal workshops to help you work out the best approach, but they won't necessarily be the team you outsource to when it comes to getting the work done.
A digital marketing agency exists to help you increase traffic to your website or eCommerce site, and convert that traffic into customers.
There's a wide range of digital marketing tactics the agency might use, such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising (PPC), social media advertising, content marketing and more.
A digital marketing firm might also design or redesign your online presence and website, and help you improve your customer experience and user experience.
Sometimes a digital marketing firm might not offer all the services, but specialize in one or two only, such as SEO and social media marketing, or content and social media marketing only.
Direct marketing refers to direct mail marketing - not email marketing. It includes letterbox drops and catalog advertising straight to the door. A direct marketing agency will help you plan your mail marketing campaign with creatives and advanced mapping tools, and will often execute it for you too.
If you are working on printed advertising and marketing materials, such as brochures and sales packs, a print marketing agency is worth engaging.
They specifically focus on print ads, brochures, flyers, posters, product displays and catalogs. There is often a crossover between direct marketing and print marketing firms, though a print marketing team will focus on the creative aspect of marketing collateral, rather than distribution.
Market research firm
Market research firms focus on collecting and analyzing data to help you craft your marketing strategy. They focus on the very initial part of the process - developing the questions and topics you want to research, getting insights into your target audience, executing the research, and analyzing the results. They can also help you measure campaign results and predict the impact of marketing activities on your intended audiences.
Types of services a marketing company provides
A marketing agency will usually offer search engine optimization (SEO) services to businesses to help them improve the visibility of their website, brand and products online.
On the surface, SEO is a pretty simple concept - you make changes to your website to make it more appealing to search engines for specific keywords, so you get higher rankings.
The closer you are to the top of the search results, the more people see your website, which drives more conversions and, ultimately, more revenue.
However, the execution of SEO is incredibly complex (mostly thanks to the ever-changing Google algorithms). That’s where an agency really adds value.
The best agencies start with a comprehensive SEO audit to see where you are at now, what strategies are working, weak areas and opportunities for improvement. They’ll look at content and site architecture, and your competitors' SEO performance.
Armed with this data, the marketing company will outline the most effective strategies to gain traction and drive better quality traffic to your site. They will also conduct in-depth research into the right keywords for your target audience, and optimize each page of your site for ideal keyword placement. A good agency will also build quality content and links (through white hat methods) to boost your authority and trust rating with search engines.
Finally, a great SEO agency will use analytics and reporting to refine your strategy and ensure it is always delivering the most conversions from the traffic, and the all-important return on investment.
Types of SEO services that good agencies offer include:
Pay per click advertising, or PPC advertising, is a type of online advertising where advertisers pay money every time a user clicks on their ad.
PPC ads can show up on search engine results pages (like Google Ads or Bing Ads), social media feeds, web pages and apps.
A good PPC marketing company should offer the following services:
Custom landing pages
Here's the thing: PPC advertising takes a lot of effort, time and skills. So, if you want your PPC campaign to win, you need to work with an agency who will take care of the details, such as:
Weeding out non-performing keywords
Fine-tuning advertising copy
Creating a high-converting landing page
Reducing your cost per click
Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising is a digital marketing tactic where you pay for ads to target your audience on social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and more.
Different social media platforms have their own tools and features to help their advertisers get the best from their ad budget. Effective social media marketing strategies vary depending on the nature of your business, and which platforms are most suitable for reaching your target audience.
These marketing efforts should always be part of the bigger picture, which is your overall brand message and digital marketing plan. When targeted correctly, social media advertising can deliver incredible conversions and sales with a remarkably low cost per acquisition.
A good marketing company will strategize your social advertising campaigns, manage your ad creative, targeting and ad spend, and optimize them as part of your overall marketing plan.
What are the benefits of hiring a Digital Marketing Agency?
1. Marketing agencies save you time and money.
The reality is this: digital marketing is not a one person job. It's a multi-faceted discipline that covers search engine marketing, SEO, social media advertising, content marketing, email marketing, web analytics and so much more.
Trying to do this yourself, or even with a small in-house team, is a hard ask. And trying to save money by doing it in-house is a false economy.
Without the right skills and tools, it can end up costing you more time and money in the long run. Small business owners struggle to run marketing campaigns with any true consistency and success - there's simply too much involved.
Take PPC advertising. Tracking and optimizing pay per click campaigns can suck up hours from your day. Even with all the automation tools out there, you need to spend time learning the inner workings of Google Ads if you're going to see results. For many small business owners, that's time better spent elsewhere.
You can actually save money when you hire a marketing agency.
A good marketing agency will have the professional knowledge, experience and tools to market your products or services in proven ways, thus giving you a head start on getting the results you want. At the same time, they will know how to optimize tactics, such as Facebook ads, PPC campaigns or even web design, to squeeze the most from your marketing budget.
2. Marketing agencies have a wider range of skills.
Not every company (especially not every small business) can afford to have full-time search marketers, data analysts, content writers, social media marketers, or other specialists on their marketing team.
Yet, if you choose to work with a marketing firm, you have access to a broad range of skills and experience depending on what you need in that particular moment, without needing to hire them full time. Rather than hiring one general marketing professional for your business, hiring an experienced marketing agency means you have an entire team of digital experts on hand.
For example, have you ever tried to get maximum performance from your Facebook Ad campaign?
It's not easy! A Facebook advertising agency not only has skills gained from working on different clients, but they have also completed dedicated Facebook training to make sure they're up to speed with any changes and new tools. Can you say the same about your in-house team?
3. You can scale up or down depending on needs
You don't have to commit to hiring digital marketers full time - with a digital agency, you can scale up or down depending on what campaigns you are planning. If you’re about to roll out a new product launch and need help to fuel your campaign, you can lean on an agency to provide you with resources and expertise to implement the campaign.
4. Marketing agencies bring an outsider’s perspective
Often, it's tough to gain perspective on what's right for your business when you are too close. But agencies are experts in the field and can often apply their knowledge and see what’s best for your business from an outsider’s point of view.
An agency will bring diverse insights from across a wide range of industries and businesses, which gives you access to vision and ideas that otherwise would not even be on the radar. An outside perspective can give you a whole new angle from which to look at your business, your goals and your digital marketing strategy.
5. Marketing agencies know and have access to the latest technologies and tools.
Investing in the top software and marketing technology comes at a high price. Not to mention the time and energy needed to work out how to use the tools effectively and ensure you are getting the best return on investment.
A good marketing agency brings you many of the industry’s must-have tools, whether that's analytics, content management systems, SEO tools, and more. So, you gain access to the best technology on the market, as well as people who know how to use it!
6. Maintain efficiency among your in-house staff
Instead of hiring an in-house marketer to pick up the slack or relying on others who are not as knowledgeable of your marketing practices, hiring a marketing agency takes the pressure off your shoulders and ensures your internal resources can do what they do best.
7. A marketing firm gets campaigns off the ground fast
Time is always a factor when implementing campaigns. The reality is that things move fast in the digital world, and if you don't move fast too, you'll lose out to your competitors.
An agency is primed to move quickly. They have processes, people and tools in place to get campaigns executed on demand. It's in their interests to move fast - they succeed when you succeed, so the quicker they can move, the more quickly you can both see results.
Why hire a Digital Marketing Agency?
It comes down to this:
Many business owners simply don’t have anyone in their in-house team who can exclusively devote the time needed to get brilliant digital marketing results - over and over again.
That might mean improving your website’s search rankings, driving more online conversions, increasing eCommerce sales and more.
Even if your team can get amazing results in one campaign, they need to also stay on top of all of the current trends, best practices, Google algorithms and Facebook rules to repeat that success in the long term.
A marketing agency does exactly that. Whether for small businesses or large enterprises, they work with business owners and marketing managers to provide and execute unique marketing plans that will make the business more visible and more profitable.
With your own agency, you get instant expertise and experience - we're talking about in-depth skills that are rarely possessed by your staff members. That's because an agency team is entirely dedicated to knowing current and future trends that have an impact on digital results. They don't need to be an expert in your business - that's your job. Their job is to provide you with recommendations and strategies that will help you appeal to the right audience at the right time and turn them into customers.
How to find the right Digital Marketing Agency
Step 1: What information do you need to know before looking for a Marketing agency
The first and most important step when hiring a marketing agency partner is to work out what you actually need. Take a full audit of your current status and where the weaknesses are. What skills are missing? How could a marketing agency add value to your company?
Outline measurable business goals you want to achieve with your marketing agency. They might be sales goals, conversion goals or awareness goals - or a combination of all three.
I want to increase our organic website traffic by X%.
I want to drive X conversions for our Father's Day campaign.
I want to increase sales online by X%
Where possible, include your internal team in the conversation to get their perspective.
Understanding your specific goals and needs will help you choose the right marketing agency, and also measure the success of the agency relationship as you work together. Most importantly, it will ensure both sides of this partnership have clear expectations on exactly what the goals are from the start.
Step 2: Seek references and consider industry expertise
Do you have colleagues who have used good agencies in the past? Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good agency.
Seek references from businesses with similar goals or marketing needs, and make a list of the agencies that seem a good match.
Always talk to the references. Get in touch with the agency’s current and previous clients to learn more about their experience with that agency.
Did they have a healthy working relationship?
Did they deliver what they set out to?
Were there any obstacles or sticking points to be aware of?
If there's a marketing company who is focused on your industry, find out more and ask for their references.
Step 3: Make a shortlist
Once you’ve identified several marketing companies that fit your needs, make a shortlist.
Create a formal request for proposal (RFP), which allows you to collect important information about your shortlisted agencies so you can select the one that best meets your needs.
In the RFP, outline your project, marketing goals and any specific requests.
Include any questions you want your potential agencies to answer — about their experience, their plan, timeline, pricing and fee structure, contract terms, team members, etc.
Step 4: Check their case studies and online presence
How does the agency market themselves on the web? This is a clear sign of whether they are as good as they say they are.
If an agency offers SEO marketing services but doesn't rank for the digital marketing keywords, it may be a bad sign. Similarly, if they offer social media marketing and have barely posted on Facebook or Instagram, their credibility could be in question.
You want to hire a marketing agency that walks the walk.
Ask to read testimonials and success stories from the potential agency. This will give you an idea of the skills and experience they have, as well as how they approach different challenges and goals.
Check online reviews too. A reputable marketing company won't try to hide their reviews online - in fact, they will be shouting about them loud and proud. So, if you are unable to find any reviews from past clients, consider it a warning sign.
Step 5. Look for chemistry
Chemistry is under-rated. You want to work with a team that "gets" you and your business. If you can trust that they understand your goals and needs, you can trust that they will do a good job of hitting them.
The good news is, these days, you don't have to meet your team face-to-face these days to know if they're a good match.
Meet them over a video conference and find out their processes, strategies, and get a feel for the way they do business.
Do you speak the same language, or are they speaking in jargon?
Do you get a good vibe from them?
If you're choosing between a few different agencies, pay attention to how you feel at the end of the first meetings, as this could be what tips the scales.
Red flags to look out for when choosing an agency
Poor communication or slow response times is a major red flag. You should never EVER have to chase up an agency or feel like they are avoiding you.
From the very first hello, you should know what you're going to get from the agency. That means they should be open and transparent about timeframes, deliverables, reporting, and your main point of contact.
If this is unclear, you should be wary.
Look for small signs. Do they always run late for meetings? Do they cancel meetings at the last minute, or do they fail to answer emails?
This shows they don’t value your time or prioritize open communication.
Being aware early of their communication style could save you a lot of time and hassle down the track.
Priced too cheaply
Everyone loves a bargain, but when it comes to an agency partner, cheaper is not better.
While you will pay less up-front, you won't see the results you want. In fact, if a marketing company is too cheap, it's usually a sign that they cut corners or use shady tactics to try to deliver the results you want.
That means the results you get won't be sustainable, or they could lead to issues down the track. For example, they might use black hat SEO tactics which bring fast results but lead to your site being penalized later. These penalties can be expensive and complicated to fix.
In short, it's just not worth it.
Not marketed well
Do you really want a marketing company that can't even market themselves well?
When you choose an agency partner that markets themselves well, that’s what you can expect for your business.
Look for some tell-tale signs:
Is there content marketing well-written and engaging?
Does their social media appeal to you?
Are they visible on search?
Other things to look for are partnerships. Look for the partnerships that matter to your business:
Do they have partnerships with eCommerce platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce?
Are they a Premier Google Partner?
Ultimately, partnerships show that they are committed to being the best.
Poor client retention
If a marketing company can't hold onto clients, there's something fishy going on. While clients will move agencies from time to time, a poor client retention rate means the agency is failing to deliver.
And that's a marketing partner you do not want.
Obviously, a marketing company won't promote their client retention rate if it's bad, but there are some things to look for:
Check their social media accounts, including LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. Are there lots of positive endorsements and reviews from clients?
Ask your peers. The marketing industry is close-knit so if a marketing company has a bad reputation, it won't take long to find out.
Look at their Google reviews. Do they have mostly positive reviews? Are the clients still working with them?
Your future partner
Finding the right future marketing partner for your business takes time and effort, but it's worth it when you find the right match. The most important thing is to work out what you need. Do some business soul searching, clarify your goals and know what services you really need.