Finding a marketing agency to outsource your tasks can be a smart move for your company. This is especially true if you’re running a small business with few employees onboard, making it difficult to build a great marketing team.
A digital agency can provide you with the necessary resources, skills, or experience that your company may be lacking. It can give you an external perspective of your business and share with you best practices and fresh approaches to success.
However, if you want to outsource your marketing tasks, you need to consider several critical things before hiring an agency. To help you avoid making the wrong selection, we asked our fellow marketing specialists which alarm signals can show you that a vendor is not a good fit.
1. They guarantee surefire success
Exaggerated promises are a strong red flag. With marketing, there’s always a certain level of risk, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll have X number of visitors on your website or X number of leads coming your way.
A promised exact number result. For example, “I guarantee you the #1 position for a term”. “You’ll grow your YouTube channel by X amount of subs within x time range”, etc.
— Nick Nimmin (@NickNimmin) July 20, 2020
Pay attention if an agency promises you:
Most SEO campaigns take 6 to 12 months to see results. A good agency can develop an effective SEO strategy, instead of simply palming you off with promises. Anyone can manipulate links and use other black-hat SEO techniques, but that’s definitely not what you want.
Guaranteed results. It’s like saying you guarantee nap time at a daycare.
— Ian Lurie (@IanLurie) July 20, 2020
#1 in search results for specific keywords
Instead of emphasizing a few specific keywords, they should be targeting a certain increase in high-quality traffic to your website and improving your online visibility.
The agency promises you rankings for your target keyword X.
Even worse, the agency promises you rankings for your target keyword X, in a set number of days.
— Nikola Roza (@NikolaRoza) July 20, 2020
If they not only promise you the #1 spot for any keyword, but also that you’ll stay there forever, it’s another reason for you to be suspicious about the quality of an agency. Search engines are constantly evolving, and no one can be sure what the next Google algorithm update will bring. What’s more, Google tailors its results based on the user’s preferences and search history, which means your website can rank in the first position for one searcher and in the fifth position for another.
SEO takes time and effort. A professional agency invests a considerable amount of resources in their work. Money-back guarantees can be a sign that they are using low-cost techniques.
“We’ll get you on the first page of Google in X weeks.”
“We guarantee links in these high placement publications for less than half of what other agencies charge!”
“You’ll have X more followers in this short amount of time.”
— 10x digital (@10xdigitalinc) July 21, 2020
2. Their prices seem too good to be true
Cheap agencies usually use techniques you can actually be banned for by Google, like keyword-stuffed optimizations, paid links, cheap content, etc. Or, they can simply buy bot traffic to your website, which is a very cheap technique and will not add any value to your website. More importantly, bot traffic can be dangerous, so you need to pay attention if an agency promises rapid growth with a small marketing budget.
You get what you pay for. If the quality of their work is too low, it can damage your brand image and the overall business. Fixing a cheap agency’s mistakes can cost you even more money in the long run.
Another case is standardized prices for all services or tiered-price packages; for example, gold, silver, and bronze SEO bundles. Every company is unique, and there are many variables that can affect each project. If an agency offers standard prices or packages, it means they won’t be customizing the work to meet your specific business needs.
Offering “packages” is a big red flag. Every business is unique and cannot fit into little square boxes, even within the same industry. Try ranking a pizza joint in Gettysburg, PA versus ranking one in New York City.
— Mike Friedman (@MikeAtClicked) July 20, 2020
If you like a marketing firm you can’t afford, you can ask if they’ll do consulting, so you’re at least getting solid expert recommendations.
3. They don’t place emphasis on research
Research is a crucial element of preparation in marketing. To deliver you the desired results, an agency should provide a detailed plan — we’ll explore this further a bit later — and to prepare a good plan, they must do some digging.
They’ll generally come to the pitch meeting having not done much research into your company.
— Brandon Egley (@BrandonEgley) July 20, 2020
Assumptions shouldn’t be made. Without proper research, even the most experienced professional won’t understand your company and its specific needs.
When they don’t ask lots of questions about your business, your target market, your competitors, your goals, etc.
If they aren’t trying to deeply understand your biz, they won’t be able to craft an effective, tailored strategy…the biggest red flag IMHO.
— Sam McRoberts (@Sams_Antics) July 20, 2020
Here are a few topics a good marketing agency should dive into to get to know their client:
- Company discovery: questions about your organization, the overall business environment, product or service, value proposition, strengths and weaknesses.
- Market research: questions about your industry and competitors.
- Buyer persona: questions about the customers you’re trying to reach with marketing (their gender, age, occupation, etc.).
- Communication with the customer: questions about how you engage with your clients and how you help them to solve their issues and problems.
Agencies that put the cart before the horse and don’t establish a proper consult with the customers target demographic, who their consumer base is, along with providing a solid foundation by having their local listings accurate across all of the major search directories.
— Daniel Rivas (@DMNinja3) July 20, 2020
So, when finding a marketing agency, pay attention to whether or not they ask you the right questions.
If the agency or consultant you’re considering hiring does not ask any questions, that is a major red flag. No matter how well you think you explained your needs, even if you gave read only access to your accounts, a good agency or consultant should have questions for you.
— Julie F Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon) July 20, 2020
4. They do their own marketing badly
If an agency can’t impress you with their own digital marketing, it’s unlikely that they will help you to achieve your goals.
Do they practice what they preach? I’ve found several agencies that have multiple H1 tags on their site, horrible UX, non-existent social media engagement, etc.
— Itamar Blauer (@ItamarBlauer) July 20, 2020
Based on which aspects of marketing you need help with, there may be several alarm bells:
They don’t have a solid online presence
If you hire an agency to get help with online visibility and brand awareness, look at how the agency promotes itself on the web. Also, check how they handle their own social media account. It will help you better understand how an agency will treat your brand. If they have poor online visibility and little social media activity, it’s a bad sign.
Their marketing materials are low quality
Look at their marketing materials, like blog posts, ebooks, emails, etc. Is their content high quality or mediocre? Do you like how they run their blog?
Content marketing is not just about writing a few blog posts a week, but also ideation, SEO writing, infographic creation, analysis, distribution, and promotion. If an agency is bad at what they offer, they won’t be able to serve your current and future content needs.
Their own website is terrible
If you want to find a marketing agency that offers web design services, take a closer look at the their own site. It doesn’t have to be large or fancy, but it should be easy to use, draw people in and help them find what they were looking for.
How quickly does their website load? Is the navigation intuitive? Does it adjust itself to the screen of your device (responsive website)? Are text fonts easy to read? If the answer is ‘no’, they are not likely to deliver on what they promise to provide.
5. They don’t provide relevant case studies
A professional agency that knows they are great at what they do will be willing to share the results of their previous and current projects with you.
Ask them how many of the case studies and testimonials listed on their site are still current clients. If all of them are past clients, this could be a red flag that they aren’t doing great work anymore.
— Boyd Norwood (@boydnorwood) July 20, 2020
Find an agency that has a good track record. Ask them about case studies that are relevant to your business and your current situation. You need to be sure that an agency has proven itself as an expert.
A few things that’d raise a red flag:
1. If they can’t answer questions related to their case studies. For instance, what was the thought process behind running a campaign in a certain way or what does their communication with a client look like?
— Tanya D’souza (@WriterTanyaD) July 20, 2020
You can even try to reach out to their past clients and talk to them about their experience working with this agency.
Another way to look at that might be the NDA has run out with those clients so you’re able to talk about them.
— debramastaler (@debramastaler) July 20, 2020
6. They don’t outline a plan
To reach the desired results, you need a solid strategy. When finding a marketing agency, ask them to show you an action plan that includes objectives, timelines and activities they’ll be using to help your business reach your targets.
Creating a detailed roadmap helps to visualize the project for the client. Plus, it allows the team responsible for the project to prioritize their tasks. For example, this is how a timeline-focused marketing roadmap with all activities broken down into several categories may look:
A roadmap can be organized by topics (content, branding, events & PR), goals (leadgen, awareness & branding, retention), deadlines or other groups, depending on the structure that suits you best.
The following digital marketing roadmap by Roadmunk is organized by themes, which is clear and very simple for everyone to understand:
If an agency doesn’t show you a well-developed roadmap that outlines all the details, like tasks that should be fulfilled and timing, this firm isn’t worth your time.
Bad marketers don’t present a clear idea of what they want to do, and how they’re going to do it for the specific niche and sector. Researching niches, having a process and the ability to detail it on demand is a sign of a seasoned professional.
— Valerio de Giorgi (@Valakias) July 20, 2020
Search for a marketing firm that can explain to you in detail their plan, why they are going to take these particular actions, and how the budget will be distributed. This is a good sign that you can trust a marketing agency.
7. They are not proactive
The digital marketing landscape is highly dynamic and evolves quickly. A good marketing firm keeps up with the latest trends. These people have been there and done that and can offer new approaches to your business.
They should not only provide lots of actionable suggestions, but share best practices and offer a customized approach to your tasks.
When they use the same case study for every potential client (the one that makes them look the best and could be a total outlier), and can’t speak to your industry or be specific to the challenges you face. You can say it’s not something you’ve dealt with before, but show me how
— Mike M. (@seo_sitch) July 20, 2020
An agency that tries to sell you an off-the-shelf solution will not take into account your specific goals and challenges and, thus, will not be able to generate the best possible results.
For example, Italian luxury fashion house Moschino had business challenges that they were struggling to solve. Back in 2018, the widely known fashion brand was lacking online visibility, because they only ranked for their branded terms, not to mention that the competition was very tough. Also, they wanted to focus on content and create strong product pages.
The brand partnered with Triboo Group, who delved into their business challenges and needs and their main markets. The agency performed a quality competitive analysis for an effective keyword strategy and helped Moschino to grow the number of visitors with high search intent thanks to data-driven website content creation. The work on this project is still ongoing, but has already resulted in 38% increase in visibility for non-branded keywords.
Find the Right Marketing Agency
As you start your search, keep in mind these seven red flags to save your time and energy. Hunt for a trusted agency partner to outsource your marketing projects, so you don’t have to worry and can focus on your other business needs.
Post from Maria Raybould