Deciding to hire a digital marketing agency is easy.
The hard part is deciding which digital marketing agency to hire.
In today’s world, anyone with an internet connection can create a website and start offering services as an entrepreneur. The barriers to entry are slim to none.
Which… is what makes choosing the right digital marketing agency so tricky.
However, I know a few things that can help simplify the decision-making process. In this article, I cover what to look for, things to avoid, how to make the most of your digital marketing agency, and my top recommendations.
But first, let’s start at the beginning.
Know your goals and desired outcomes
Every business is different, as is every digital marketing agency.
Digital marketing agencies usually specialize in one or two areas. And while many of them are “full-service,” they typically prefer projects within their specialty.
So the first step in choosing the right digital marketing agency is understanding your goals and what you hope to achieve by working with one.
It may be easier to break this down into deliverables, the goal of those deliverables, and the outcome you hope to achieve. Knowing these things helps you communicate what you wish to get out of the project.
And when an agency knows what you’re looking for, they know whether they can actually help you without wasting anyone’s time.
Here are some examples to get your wheels turning.
Example #1: A Company Blog That Works Automatically
Pretend you want to hire an agency to help you develop a content marketing system. You ultimately want a blog that continuously runs on autopilot with no work required by you.
- Deliverable: a fully-managed content marketing plan, strategy, and system
- Goal: attract more of the right visitors to your website with high-quality content
- End result: a blog 100% managed by someone else
From there, you can start looking for companies that fit the bill because you know exactly what you’re looking for and how to communicate your desired outcomes.
Example #2: Coaching Your Team on Viral Videos
Maybe you’re interested in creating a series of marketing videos you can use on social media and your website but you don’t know how to do it or where to start.
You also want someone to coach you through the process.
- Deliverable: a series of on-brand marketing videos and matching visual assets
- Goal: communicate your new offer in a fun and engaging way for your audience
- End result: a finished product and the know-how required to do it on your own
Now, you can actively look for digital marketing agencies that are willing to coach you through it. Coaching is more hands-on, so not all video marketing agencies can do this.
But because you know what you want, you can find the right fit for you.
Imagine the disappointment of hiring someone and realizing they can’t (or won’t) give you what you were really looking for.
This is why it’s essential to pinpoint your goals and desired outcomes before doing anything else.
7 characteristics that make a great digital marketing agency
Now you know what your goals and desired outcomes are. So, it’s time to talk about what makes excellent digital marketing agencies… great.
So, look for these characteristics as you go through the process of deciding who you want to work with. They’ll help you vet out top-notch service providers from those who say they’re the best without proof to back it up.
Let’s dive in!
1. A sizable portfolio and/or list of past clients
Smart digital marketing agencies are proud of who they work with and the work they do. Furthermore, they typically display their partnerships for the world to see.
You don’t necessarily have to know who their past clients are (bonus points if you do). But if you can’t find a list of previous clients or examples of their work, that may mean they haven’t worked with anyone.
This is fine if you’re on a budget. But it’s not okay if you’re looking for the best of the best.
That said, some types of services aren’t easy to display, like content marketing and SEO. So, agencies specializing in those areas may not be able to showcase their work in a portfolio.
However, a client list is a good indication of their experience.
Note: with services like graphic design or website development, you should see a well-put-together showcase of the type of work they do. If you can’t find any examples, move on to a service provider with a portfolio that matches your expectations.
2. Experienced and specialized team members
Regardless of the type of services you’re after, it’s essential to make sure the agency you hire has the right team members to suit your project.
For example, you wouldn’t hire someone to design a logo if they don’t have a graphic designer.
Look through their about page to see if they list their team members there.
And if not, LinkedIn is also a great place to look. Start by searching for the agency.
Then click “People” to see a list of everyone who works there.
Note: this typically won’t show you any freelancers or contractors they work with, so it’s not always 100% indicative of who’s on their team.
Furthermore, some of their team members may not be on Linkedin at all.
But this is an excellent place to start. You can always ask questions during your consultation if you aren’t sure.
3. Social proof and a strong industry reputation
Social proof, like testimonials and previous client reviews, can give you deep insight into what working with that agency is like.
Furthermore, smart marketers understand the importance of displaying social proof on their website. So, if you can’t find any, they may not have any previous clients, or they may not understand the industry as well as you’d like them to.
Besides positive reviews, negative or neutral reviews can also shine a light on areas that agency struggles with to get a clear understanding of their work.
Lastly, you can search for in-depth reviews on Google to see what others in the industry (and their past clients) say about their experiences with the agency.
4. Similar core values and company culture
Take a moment to revisit your company’s core values and culture.
Why? Because it’s crucial to work with a digital marketing agency that values the same things and operates in a similar environment.
Doing so ensures they mesh and work well with your team. Ultimately, an agency is an extension of your business. Choosing an agency with the right values and culture is just as important as considering the quality of their work.
The last thing you want is the stress of working with a group of people who don’t value the same things or operate in the same way.
Look at the words and phrases an agency uses to describe what they do. Does this align with your core values and the results you expect to see?
If not, move on to an agency that feels like a better fit.
5. A well-designed website
Your website is like a cozy entryway that makes the right people feel welcome.
The best digital marketers know how essential a well-designed website is. So, if they’re not executing internal projects well, why would you expect them to deliver something better for yours?
This is especially true if they offer website development or design services.
So, look through their website and listen to your instincts.
If it doesn’t feel right or appears low-quality, you’re better off moving on to an agency that values good design and delivering exceptional user experiences.
6. They don’t make outlandish promises
The type of results an agency promises on their website is a strong indication of how well they understand the industry.
For example, anyone claiming to fast track your way to the number one spot on Google doesn’t know that SEO is both a long-term and short-term marketing strategy. Or that it requires continuous work to maintain.
So, that’s probably not someone you should hire to help optimize your website.
Pay close attention to the claims and promises they make.
Make sure they align with what you know about the industry. And remember outlandish or seemingly impossible promises are a huge red flag.
Stick to digital marketing agencies that offer transparency and realistic promises.
7. And they’re easy to get in touch with
The best digital marketing agencies make it as easy as possible for potential clients to get in touch with them.
Navigating their website shouldn’t feel like a maze,
In a perfect world, their contact information isn’t more than one click away regardless of what page you’re on. And they provide a clear call to action, so you know what to do next.
Furthermore, your first step should be painfully clear. Do they want you to schedule a consultation? Maybe you’re supposed to fill out a contact form for more information or a custom quote.
If it isn’t obvious or you’re struggling to figure out how things work, consider choosing a digital marketing agency that simplifies the process.
How to work with a digital marketing agency
There are quite a few things you can do as a client to maximize your results and get the most out of your strategic partnership with a digital marketing agency.
Doing these things helps set the stage for effective and successful collaboration through every phase of the project.
Prepare your team and do your homework
It’s essential to have everyone on the same page. So, have a meeting with your team and let them know the extent of your new project or partnership with plenty of time to get ready for it.
If you owe the agency anything, be sure to spend time on it and do it well. They need to learn the ins and outs of your business, and this is your chance to put it all out on the table.
This sets the precedence for the rest of the project, so don’t rush to get it done.
Understand the scope, process, and timeline
Before the project starts, make sure every person with a stake in it agrees on the scope and timeline before moving forward. This is just as much your job as it is your agency’s.
Furthermore, most digital marketing projects go through these four phases:
- Discovery and research
- Project planning
- Review, results, and offboarding
Layout the details of each step with your team and agency so everything is crystal clear before the project begins.
Don’t expect a hands-off experience
The best digital marketing projects are highly collaborative.
Furthermore, your input, thoughts, and ideas help move the project forward in the right direction to match your desired outcomes.
Some agencies and projects are more collaborative than others. So make sure you understand what they need from you throughout the entire project.
It may help to have a dedicated point of contact and a team or team member ready to manage the project. Having someone readily available helps ensure you’re not holding things up on your end.
Be ready to forfeit control
It’s important to remember that the agency you hired is excellent at what it does, and you hired them for a reason — their expertise.
This means giving them complete control over certain aspects of the project to let them do what they do best. It’s also important to listen to what they say.
If they have a reason for doing things a certain way, remind yourself they’re the experts.
You don’t necessarily have to agree, but it’s worth keeping an open mind.
If you’ve never worked with a digital marketing agency before, you will see and experience a lot of new things.
And it’s completely normal if you don’t understand everything that’s happening.
The best thing to do is ask questions.
Maybe you don’t know why they chose this color over that one. Or there’s a piece of data you don’t get. Perhaps someone said something that doesn’t make sense to you.
There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. However, asking about the things you’re unsure of is an excellent opportunity for everyone to learn more. It also helps clear up any uncertainties.
How to find the right digital marketing agency for you
There are countless “full-service” agencies offering every type of service you can imagine under one roof. Which… sounds great, but I don’t recommend hiring them.
Why? It makes more sense when you think about other industries.
Example #1: Would you rather hire a general contractor or a custom porch specialist to build a custom-fit back deck for your house? The specialist, right?
Example #2: Who do you see when you have specific medical issues that need attention? A specialist for that particular problem. Or you get referred to one by your general care physician.
The best digital marketing agencies excel at one or two things with their other services being add-ons or secondary options.
So, choose a niched digital marketing agency specializing in the types of services you’re looking for to get the best results and the most bang for your buck.
The 6 top digital marketing agencies
Now you know what to look for and how to choose the best digital marketing company for your next project. To help you get started, these are my top agency recommendations for different types of projects.
1. Neil Patel Digital — Best “do it all” agency
I may have spent much of my career in SEO and content but online marketing has gotten extremely competitive. When I started building my agency, Neil Patel Digital, I knew I’d have to build a team that would be world-class across every major online channel. And that’s what we built.
After all, most businesses don’t care about which channel they get customers from, they just want more customers!
Whether you want to grow with SEO, content, Facebook ads, or Google Ads, I’ve hired the best markers in each channel.
Instead of trying to convince every client to adopt the same channel, we break down your whole funnel, figure out the biggest opportunities for growth, and do what’s best for your business.
2. Storm Brain — Best for social media marketing and advertising
Storm Brain specializes in helping brands of all sizes generate more leads and leverage social media through organic and paid campaigns.
They go the extra mile by looking at clients through the lens of an audience member to help craft and deliver long-term experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
3. Action Rocket — Best for email marketing campaigns
From workshops and online courses to full-scale email campaign creation services, Action Rocket is a go-to expert for all things email marketing.
Their team specializes in email strategy, design, and coding so you don’t have to worry about planning your campaigns or designing them.
Plus, you can rest easy knowing your email code aligns with today’s best practices.
4. Pop Video — Best for visual content marketing
Pop Video is a visual content marketing agency specializing in video and visual content marketing as well as matching visual assets for digital brands of all sizes.
They understand the importance of deep collaboration between clients and their team, which is why they call themselves video partners… not video producers.
At Pop Video, they consider themselves an extension of your team that works in parallel to supply iterative content for every step of the customer journey.
5. Mad Mind — Best for eCommerce brand design
Online stores and eCommerce businesses deal with different challenges. So, you need a digital marketing agency who things differently to help you overcome those roadblocks.
The Mad Mind team understands the importance of visual brand and product development from the look of your website and social media profiles to the intricate details of product packaging.
6. Cubicle Ninjas — Best for branding and website/app development
In a perfect world, your website is your #1 salesman. But it’s no secret we aren’t all be web developers with a keen eye for design.
But that’s why we hire experts, right?
Cubicle Ninjas is a digital marketing agency specializing in custom app and website development. They use modern design, humor, creative thinking, and the latest technologies to create excellent customer experiences.
The best digital marketing agency is an extension of your team
Every project, big or small, deserves the attention of a true industry expert. However, choosing the right digital marketing agency often feels overwhelming.
With tens of thousands of agencies to choose from, that’s no surprise.
But now you know what to look for, what to avoid, and how to prepare your team. Use the tips and characteristics we talked about next time you’re on the hunt for a niched digital marketing agency ready to bring your ideas to life.
What do you consider before hiring a digital marketing agency?