Five Essential Tips for Evaluating and Selecting a Digital Marketing Agency

There’s no avoiding it, modern marketing is digital-centric. Understanding Google AdWords, SEO, Facebook microtargeting, email campaigns, high conversion landing pages, and the production of high quality branded content for distribution online were once mere value-adds for a marketing agency.

Today, they are fundamental skills, and before selecting an agency to partner with, you should find out whether they are up to snuff on all the trending platforms, tools, and cutting-edge digital strategies.

But how do you separate the authentic thought leaders from the pretenders? You do it by setting reasonable goals, asking the right questions, examining their track record, and ensuring their capabilities match your need:

1. Start With Your Goals

Even before beginning the process of evaluating a digital marketing agency, you must first understand your own company’s aims. Establish realistic return on marketing investment (ROMI) benchmarks, and delineate all other objectives (e.g. expand to a new market, increase social media engagement, develop a content marketing strategy, etc.).

These early decisions will help guide your selection process and choose an agency that is a suitable fit.

Don’t get lost in the numbers, however. Yes, metrics help gauge the effectiveness of a comprehensive strategy, but the broader blueprint for brand growth must always take precedence over granular details. Hence, when you move forward with your evaluation, you should put as much effort into investigating the marketing approach and process that is producing the results as the results themselves.

2. Ask Questions

Even in the age of social distancing, take the time to speak to the agency face to face over a video connection. Get to know how they operate and their level of candor. Develop a rapport before submitting a Request for Proposal (RFP). It’s also a good idea to speak to some of their peers.

Ask about prior work. Any agency worth its salt should have an extensive list of past projects, client testimonials, and case studies relevant to your particular brand or industry to prove its expertise and establish a track record of success. Also, ask about their fee structure upfront. Do they take a percentage of your ad spend or media buys? How much? Ten to twenty percent is a typical range for that type of arrangement.

Other questions that are wise to direct to a new agency get to the specifics of their operational capabilities, tempo, and culture:

  • How do you submit reports and how frequently are they made available?
  • What accountability and transparency protocols are in place to certify results?
  • How long do you retain clients on average?
  • What tools do you use and which do you recommend to clients?
  • Do you work collaboratively with clients or prefer a clear division of labor?
  • How frequently do you perform brand or content audits?
  • How are you leveraging organic and paid campaigns within an overarching strategy?
  • How do you perform keyword research?

3. Do Your Due Diligence

Questions are a good start, but don’t just take their word for it. Closely inspect the work materials and online content they share. Every digital marketing agency today would like to be seen as a thought leader, operating at the forefront of their particular niche, but there are more followers than genuine innovators, disruptors, and trendsetters.

“Put as much effort into investigating the marketing approach and process that is producing the results as the results themselves.”

For example, don’t neglect to read their blog, and that means more than a mere glance. Take the time to review an article or three. Check that the content is high quality, of an appropriate length, and follows current SEO best practices (e.g. longtail keyword usage, mobile-friendly, fast-loading, etc.).

Perhaps above even those factors, ensure the information is more than filler. Are they just posting to post, or are they pushing out content strategically tailored to actually inform and engage their audience? Further, in addition to their blog, look at other educational content they have produced such as webinars, templates, ebooks, and whitepapers.

4. Find Out Their Areas of Expertise

Digital marketing is a fast changing industry. Yesterday’s best practice is tomorrow’s inefficiency to root out, so check that the agency you are evaluating is up to date and employing smartly-developed strategies across a range of established and emerging approaches, including:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Inbound & Content Marketing
  • Email & Mobile Marketing
  • Marketing Automation
  • User Experience Optimization
  • Social Media and Influencer Engagement
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Customer Relationship Management

5. Vet Their Social Media

Social media is a central component of virtually every digital marketing strategy today. It’s the perfect channel to distribute branded content on a daily basis to your audience. Examine the channels a prospective agency is operating on:

  • Do they have active accounts on the major networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)?
  • Are the accounts stagnant or updated regularly?
  • Do their followers engage with the content?
  • Does the content match their brand values and persona?
  • Are they sharing relevant information?

Find a Partner You Can Trust

When you do finally select a partner, demand realistic assurances from them. Never select an agency that guarantees it will deliver a specific and difficult to attain outcome. Choose an agency, instead, that guarantees it will deliver a system that is optimized to produce an outcome, and one which has proven effective in a similar use case.

“Any agency worth its salt should have an extensive list of past projects, client testimonials, and case studies relevant to your particular brand or industry to prove its expertise and establish a track record of success.”

A transparent and accountable agency would never make a promise it wasn’t absolutely certain it could keep. Results are subject to the vagaries of the marketplace. Systems aren’t.

In conclusion, it’s not without cause that digital marketing has seen tremendous growth over the last few years. As legacy media channels like TV, radio, and print slowly but surely lose relevance to new formats, brands are shifting their investments to where the eyes and ears have gone. eMarketer reported that the digital spend, which hit $83b in 2017, will grow to $129.23b by 2021.

Add to that, the increasing importance of data-based marketing optimization and the growing number of people who have migrated completely online as the result of the current health crisis, and it’s clear: If there was ever a time to make digital outreach a priority, this is it. So make sure you have a partner with the right skillset and approach to grow your brand online.


Hanlon has a proven record of building brands with comprehensive and data-driven digital strategies. Get in touch today to learn how we can enhance your brand.