Updated August 2023.
As a business in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, if you want to succeed, you have to be better than the rest. And to be better than the rest usually requires the help of an agency. So understanding how to choose a digital marketing agency is crucial.
With a plethora of online marketing strategies like social media, PPC, email, content and SEO, it’s easy to get overwhelmed as to which to focus on. Digital marketing agencies promise to navigate these waters on your behalf.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the secrets to selecting the perfect agency for your needs, delving into key questions to ask and weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing versus in-house marketing.
Dive in and let’s make the best choice for your business together!
Their expertise has helped Nextiva grow its brand and overall business
Benefits of Partnering with a Digital Marketing Agency
Before learning how to choose a digital marketing agency, knowing the benefits of working with one is important.
Why do many businesses partner with an agency rather than hire in-house? New marketing tactics are popping up daily, so it can be tough for busy business owners and entrepreneurs to stay on top of the latest trends, figure out the best ways to use different platforms, and become a master in every area of digital marketing.
That’s where hiring an agency can save the day!
Here are the top benefits of partnering with a digital marketing company.
Expertise and Specializations
When hunting for the ideal agency, it’s vital to delve into their specific expertise and niche specializations. For instance, if you’re in the e-commerce sector, an agency with a track record in driving online sales and managing platforms like Shopify or WooCommerce can be invaluable.
A premier agency will not only produce data-informed content but will also have case studies showcasing a surge in conversion rates for similar businesses:
For a B2B company, they should demonstrate proficiency in using platforms like LinkedIn for targeted campaigns, ensuring your content resonates with decision-makers in your niche.
Agencies with a forte in, say, the health and wellness industry will craft tailored messaging, perhaps using influencer partnerships or wellness webinars, to maximize engagement. Top-tier marketers will also be versed in leveraging tools like Google Analytics, Semrush or HubSpot, ensuring that they continually optimize campaigns based on real-time data.
While the marketing realm is vast, your needs might be niche-specific. There are experts dedicated to particular areas like local SEO for brick-and-mortar stores, content marketing for SaaS startups, or email marketing tactics using platforms like Mailchimp or ConvertKit, ensuring specialized attention to detail.
At first glance, partnering with a top-notch digital marketing agency might seem like a significant expense. However, the long-term cost benefits can be substantial. For instance, a business that spent $10,000 on in-house efforts might find that a specialized agency can achieve the same results for $7,000, thanks to their expertise and resources.
When you work with an agency, not only do you save on individual campaign costs, but you also bypass the expenses tied to recruitment, training and purchasing advanced marketing software like HubSpot or Semrush. So, for example, instead of investing $500 monthly on a particular software subscription, the agency, benefiting from bulk or enterprise licenses, can offer you access at a fraction of that cost.
Moreover, agencies often present flexible packages tailored to your needs. A small startup might opt for an SEO and content marketing package for $2,000 a month, whereas handling these in-house could cost upwards of $3,500 when considering salaries, marketing tools and training.
By judiciously choosing which tactics to outsource and which to retain internally, businesses can optimize their spending for maximum returns.
That said, all marketing tactics come with different price ranges.
Access to Advanced Tools and Technologies
More than 75% of marketers say marketing technology affects their sales.
Agencies use the highest-quality marketing tools to create campaigns, fulfill services and track progress. There are full-suite tools to accomplish every task in a campaign, as well as niche tools to assist with specific tasks, such as marketing analytics and keyword research technology.
When you partner with a marketing agency, they not only have access these tools, but also have a deep and thorough understanding of how they work. This saves businesses time and money while accessing the most innovative marketing technology.
Hiring a team of experts to manage the more technical aspects of your marketing strategy allows you to focus on other areas of your business that you enjoy and do best.
Digital Marketing Services Offered by Agencies
Internet marketing agencies help you increase sales by leveraging different marketing tactics to attract your ideal customer and improve your online presence.
Here’s a snapshot of the services you can expect when partnering with a digital marketing agency.
Any great marketing firm should be able to perform market research efficiently to figure out how to serve you best.
Market research is a multifaceted endeavor that dives deep into various segments to offer actionable insights for businesses. An agency should have a thorough understanding of:
- Trends: By keeping an eye on the evolving market trends, agencies can predict future shifts, enabling businesses to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, an agency might identify an emerging trend of eco-friendly products in the beauty industry, prompting a company to develop or highlight their sustainable offerings.
- Keywords: A comprehensive keyword analysis goes beyond mere search volume. It provides insights into user intent, seasonal variations and competition. By identifying both short-tail and long-tail keywords, agencies can create content strategies that address specific queries. For example, instead of just targeting “running shoes,” an agency might find that “best cushioned running shoes for flat feet” offers a niche yet lucrative market segment.
- Audience Demographics: Knowing the specifics of your target audience — age, gender, location, income, education, etc. — is key to your success. If an agency discerns that a majority of your audience comprises working mothers in their 30s and 40s, they might recommend marketing strategies that resonate with this group, such as content centered on work-life balance or time-saving tips.
Once armed with this comprehensive data, an agency can intricately map consumer behaviors to your marketing objectives to create a tailor-made strategy that speaks directly to your target market, enhancing engagement and significantly boosting conversions.
PPC, or Pay-Per-Click advertising, is an online advertising model where advertisers pay a fee each time their ad is clicked on. Rather than earning visits organically, businesses can buy visits to their site.
Here’s a quick overview of what types of PPC advertising the right digital marketing agency will offer:
- Search Advertising: This is the most common form of PPC advertising. When users type in specific keywords into search engines like Google or Bing, advertisers have the chance to show their ads at the top or bottom of the search results page. For example, a plumber in New York might run ads for keywords like “plumber NYC” or “emergency plumbing services New York”.
- Display Advertising: Unlike search ads, display ads appear on third-party websites and are more visual. They can include banners, images and even videos. A sportswear brand, for instance, might run a display ad showcasing their latest collection on fitness blogs or websites.
- Remarketing/Retargeting: Remarketing and retargeting are two ways to target users who have already visited your website or engaged with your brand but haven’t made a purchase or taken a desired action. A classic example is when you view a product on an e-commerce site and then see ads for that same product on different websites or social media platforms you visit.
- Shopping Ads: For e-commerce businesses, shopping ads can be particularly effective. These are product-based ads that show up in search results and display product images, prices and merchant names. A bookstore, for instance, might use shopping ads to highlight bestsellers or discounted books when someone searches for “best fiction books 2023”.
- Social Media PPC: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn also offer PPC advertising options, allowing businesses to target users based on detailed demographics, interests, and behavior. A travel agency might run a Facebook Ads campaign targeting users who have shown interest in travel blogs, vacation packages, or specific travel destinations.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
We all know SEO is vital for businesses, but landing in the top of the first page of the SERPs is where you’ll see the best results.
The first five organic search engine results receive 67.6% of all clicks.
Getting your articles to rank high in search isn’t just about building brand awareness or getting more page views. By getting your content to rank on page one, you’ll be able to capture potential customers at the perfect stage in the buyer’s journey — right when they realize they have a problem and need your solution!
Most digital marketing firms offer this service, though specific SEO agencies exist.
There are different types of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical. The right digital marketing agency will include all these types in its services.
On-page SEO is what it sounds like — anything you do on ytour website to improve your search engine rankings.
Keep in mind that 25% of SEO success happens on the web page.
Examples of on-page SEO tactics include:
- Keyword Research
- Title Tag Optimization:
- Meta Descriptions
- Header Tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
- URL Structure
- Image Optimization
- Internal Linking
- Content Optimization
- Schema Markup
- Responsive Design
- Page Load Speed
Off-page SEO consists of tactics done outside your web page, such as:
- Backlink Building
- Guest Blogging
- Social Media Marketing
- Influencer Outreach
- Brand Mentions
- Forum Participation
- Directory Submissions
- Blog Commenting
- Local Listings & Citations
- Syndicated Content
- Webinar Promotions
Many off-page SEO strategies can improve SEO results, but link-building is one of the most effective tactics.
When Google bots scan web pages, they will pick up on backlinks to other websites in the content. Backlinks tell Google that the website is authoritative, and thus you’ll have a better chance at ranking higher in SERPs.
However, achieving backlinks is difficult: 66.31% of web pages have no backlinks! By partnering with a digital marketing agency, they can introduce backlinking opportunities to you. These partner websites have high authority, so you shouldn’t worry about Google penalties.
The technical aspects of a web page are just as vital as the content. When Google crawls a web page, the bots will pick up data and code to understand the website better and rank it more effectively.
This metric is called the bounce rate, and a high bounce rate indicates a problem with your website’s user experience.
Most digital agencies employ technical SEO professionals who can regularly audit your website. These audits will show technical errors, such as sitemap issues, duplicate content, code issues, and broken pages. This way, you don’t have to worry about high bounce rates or indexability issues.
Social Media Marketing
With 4.8 billion social media users worldwide, this is one of the core strategies that digital marketers use to increase brand awareness and sales.
Social media marketing also opens more opportunities for businesses of all sizes. Businesses can advertise on social platforms, connect to their audience, and use it as customer service. Because of these opportunities, social media is a lead-generating machine.
A digital marketing agency will focus on organic and paid social media marketing and apply these tactics to the channels that best engage your audience. But most marketers pay special attention to Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Many digital agencies offer PPC management that includes Facebook Ads, since they receive an average CTR of 0.90%.
Facebook’s targeting features and massive user base make it a fantastic platform for virtually any business to see a healthy ROI. You can target by gender, education level, income, location, and interests.
Instagram Promotions is a powerful channel that can increase your audience and brand awareness, leading to more followers and revenue. There are many ways for your audience to engage with your brand on Instagram, such as by commenting and sharing your posts, widening your reach even more.
Since Instagram is popular among the younger generation, there’s a good chance a digital marketing agency will add this channel to your social media strategy.
61% of Instagram’s advertising audience is between 18 and 34:
But this isn’t the only vital demographic to note. Digital marketing professionals will also use other features, such as geo-targeting and hashtags, to engage your audience by location and interests.
48.8% of marketers use LinkedIn as part of their strategy. Since this platform is a place where professionals network, your marketing agency will pay special attention to this channel if you have a B2B audience.
LinkedIn drives nearly 80% of B2B leads, making this an effective platform to improve brand awareness.
Your digital marketing agency will drive B2B leads on LinkedIn in different ways. They will share content, backlinks to your website, and invest in LinkedIn ads.
86% of businesses use video marketing, and your digital marketing agency will likely implement a video strategy.
Over 3 million people watched videos at least once a month in 2022, so this strategy can improve brand awareness, conversions, and sales.
Plus, video is a form of content that can improve SEO. Since Google owns YouTube, your videos can end up on SERPs for both websites:
But YouTube isn’t the only place to post your videos. Thanks to TikTok and the popularity of social media reels, video is an effective way to engage your audience.
Since video marketing is so popular, there are numerous marketing video types that your business can make. These include product demos, explainer videos, event videos, brand promotions, interviews, customer testimonials, personalized messages, and case studies.
Your digital marketing agency will consider your business, audience, and budget to create converting videos while improving your ROI.
A good digital marketing company will optimize your strategy for mobile, and this goes for all marketing tactics.
Consider these numbers:
- 81.6% of Americans own a smartphone.
- 63% of organic search visits are on mobile.
- And if you’re a local business, 76% of people who conduct local searches on their smartphone visit the brick-and-mortar store within 24 hours.
Mobile SEO isn’t the only tactic that a digital marketing agency will optimize. There are a variety of options that an advertising agency has when it comes to mobile advertising, such as mobile YouTube ads, in-app advertising, and campaigns to boost mobile app installs.
Content marketing is the fuel that built many multi-million dollar businesses:
70% of B2C businesses and 73% of B2B marketers use content marketing.
Why is content marketing important? Because content marketing nurtures your audience. The best content builds trust by answering questions and positions you as authoritative in your niche. This is why content marketing generates high-quality leads, leading to more conversions and sales.
Services that agencies might offer within content marketing include blog post generation, infographic creation, SEO writing, content analysis, and social media promotion.
Blogging is at the core of content marketing. This strategy drives engagement and is an effective way to connect to your audience. Since blogs are shareable, users can post them on social media or share them with loved ones. This also means blogging is an effective way to expand your audience and brand awareness.
Most digital marketing agencies include blog writing services, and the agency will create the most effective strategy for you, based on the market research they conducted. All content will be centered around your industry and include post types such as tips, educational pieces, and how-tos.
Infographics are visual types of content that combine images and written content. They’re displayed as a graph, chart, or diagram. They’re popular among niche businesses since they display complex content in a fun, easy-to-consume manner.
60% of businesses have used infographics in their strategy. They’re the perfect medium to use as a visual aid in blogs and articles, for marketing, and for sharing research or case studies.
Because infographics are so effective, there’s a chance your digital marketing agency will include them in your strategy:
Email still generates the most ROI for marketers, even with all the new social networks popping up.
In fact, for every $1 spent, email marketing generates $40 in return:
Agencies might offer services like list building, engaging with your list so it doesn’t go cold. They may also use other email marketing strategies, such as segmentation and autoresponder sequence optimization.
Web Design and Development
There’s a reason why the web design market growth rate is 3.1%. A professional-looking and user-friendly website makes your business look more authentic and attracts more customers.
75% of customers judge a company’s credibility based on their web design.
How can you get an aesthetically-pleasing website? Ask a digital marketing agency! While not normally considered marketing, design and development can set you apart from your competition, improve customer trust, and help you get more exposure.
How can web design improve your marketing efforts and better accomplish your goals? The right website user experience (UX), form design, and other elements can boost your lead generation and conversions.
Don’t forget about website development. While web design creates the look and feel of a website, web development is the backbone to make the site work. Web development can improve your SEO results; the developer will use code to build your site and a coding language that’s easy for Google bots to read.
Evaluating a Digital Marketing Agency
Now that you know all about what a marketing firm can do for your business, it’s time to examine how to best decide on the right one.
There are specific best practices to follow when evaluating how to choose a digital marketing agency. These include:
- Defining your goals
- Conducting research
- Asking the right questions
- Evaluating their expertise
- Considering the working relationship
But the evaluation phase goes a step further than these best practices. You’ll need to check the agency’s online presence, KPIs, and ensure they’re transparent during the consultation.
Here’s more information about all these points.
Assessing Your Business Needs
The first step in choosing among the best digital marketing agencies is determining your company’s marketing requirements.
Do you need website design? PPC? SEO? Analytics? And take a hard look at your team — can you/they strategize, implement and optimize the most effective marketing strategy?
If you already have an in-house marketing team, what does your team have the skills (and time) for? What marketing tactics do you know you “should” do but haven’t gotten around to yet?
These questions will shed some light on what you can outsource to an agency to get more efficient results.
Checking the Agency’s Online Presence and Reputation
All digital agencies know the importance of having a great online presence. Maintaining a good web presence is essential for any business, and this extends to the digital marketing agency you’re hiring.
First, search for the agency on Google. The SERPs should show the agency’s website, social media pages, review listings, and any directories they’re listed in.
Go to the social media pages (pay special attention to LinkedIn and Facebook) to see how frequently they post. Ensure that their posts are all consistent and professional. It’s a plus if they collaborate with other digital marketing influencers and thought leaders!
It’s also worth it to check the review listings. See what their other clients are saying about the agency. While you’ll want to read the positive and negative reviews, it’s important to see if the agency responds to any of these reviews and if they try to resolve any bad feedback.
Analyzing the Agency’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
The agency should track certain KPIs to make sure your marketing campaign is successful. KPIs are measures of performance that the agency will track throughout your campaign, but they can also be used as milestones, targets, and insights. All these will help you and your agency make better decisions in your marketing campaign.
The agency will likely set specific KPIs for your campaign, and knowing which ones they track is still helpful since some can benefit all businesses, regardless of their campaign and goals.
Here are some important KPIs or metrics in digital marketing:
This KPI measures the number of people who visited your website once in a specific time period, and is key since agencies use it to set goals and understand user behavior. Depending on how solid the rest of your marketing funnel is, a boost in traffic could be directly correlated to a boost in conversions.
But if you’re not sure exactly who your target market is, generating massive traffic to your site and measuring their interaction with it can be a quick way of figuring that out.
Time Spent on Site
The number of minutes users spend on your site – 53 seconds is the sweet spot on average – can show different results. If you own an e-commerce store, this metric will measure whether or not your products are enticing. But if you own a blog, this metric will prove the quality of your content.
Other factors like page speed could also influence your website’s time. Google loves using this metric when ranking content in search because it shows how valuable your website or blog is to a reader who searched for your keywords.
Traffic Source Diversity
Identifying the source of organic traffic will help the agency understand where and how you’re acquiring sales. This will also assist your lead generation strategy because you’ll know how leads enter and move through the sales funnel. If, for example, you find that most of your traffic comes from a particular article that ranks high in search, you’ll want to produce similar content.
In addition, it’s important to measure what type of traffic you’re getting. Are most of your referral traffic from other websites? Are you getting most of your traffic from specific marketing campaigns? Are you getting organic traffic from search?
The bounce rate shows the percentage of visitors that leave your site after they land on it. Bounce rates usually vary from 26% to 70% but can be lower or higher.
A high bounce rate could indicate that the content on your site is not relevant or valuable. To improve it, you need to understand the intent behind why someone landed on your page, as well as the match between your ad copy and the landing page.
Cost Per Conversion (CPC)
Cost per conversion measures the cost of converting leads into customers. For example, the cost-per-lead is increasing on Google Ads, making a paid campaign more expensive for businesses. That means CPCs on search are better than PPC – 14.6% compared to 10%, respectively.
Cost per conversion often gets confused with cost per click (CPC), which is a purchasing model for paid ads where you pay each time your ad is clicked. A high CPC could indicate that your ad isn’t well-optimized for your target audience, depending on your ad platform. Cost per conversion is a versatile KPI an agency can measure for every marketing tactic.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
Click-through rate measures the number of times your ad has been clicked versus the number of impressions it received. This helps analyze how targeted your ad copy is. A low CTR could mean understanding your target audience better and testing different headlines, copy, images, or even a different offer.
CTR is a popular metric because your agency can use it to measure organic marketing results. For example, the first result in the SERPs has an average CTR of 27.6%.
Inquiring About Their Pricing and Packages
While all digital marketing agencies offer different services, most have convenient pricing packages so you can access their solutions without damaging your bottom line.
If you’re using specific services, you’ll pay a rate for each specialist working on your campaign. These figures vary since they price by expertise and the amount of time needed to work on your project.
But if you’re looking for a full-service solution, you’ll likely pay a blended rate. The agency will factor in all the services and specialists working on your campaign and charge a simple day rate.
In-House vs Agency: Making the Right Decision for Your Business
If you run a small- or medium-sized business (SMB), you’re probably wondering if you should hire a marketing agency or go in-house.
Let’s start by thinking about what it takes to run a successful marketing campaign. Here’s a general list:
Pros and Cons of Both Approaches
Assessing In-House Capabilities
Before choosing to hire in-house, assess your current capabilities and marketing needs. You’ll also need to weigh out the requirements of your campaign and the tools you’ll need.
Consider these points:
- Decide your goals and how they will align with your marketing strategy
- Measure the current performance of your existing campaign (if you have one)
- Discover the tools and software you’ll need to fulfill your campaign
- Ensure you have staff members with the right skills
- Hire and/or train, if needed
Analyzing Agency Benefits
When you work with a digital marketing company, you have a better chance of improving your online visibility and increasing brand awareness with data-driven insights. Plus, this solution is more cost-effective since you don’t have to hire and train in-house staff members.
Working with a marketing firm also brings more benefits, and businesses should consider these extra advantages:
Tools and Platforms
Most digital marketing agencies use platforms to fulfill all marketing tactics. These tools can satisfy marketing techniques, such as content, SEO, and social media, while measuring results from these tactics. They may also utilize certain tactics, such as automation, to scale your campaign.
This is cost-effective since you don’t have to pay for or manage this part of your campaign. If you don’t understand the metrics and analytics these tools will measure, the agency can answer any questions and clarify your results.
The highest quality marketing agencies receive positive results and do so consistently. Typically, noticeable results only come in after several months, and some of the most successful companies have been consistently putting in effort over many years.
It can take between six months and one year to see digital marketing results, so work with a marketing agency that’s patient and focuses on realistic goals.
Quality of Work
There are many ways to measure the quality of a digital marketing agency. The best digital marketing agencies employ a team of experts in multiple specializations. Their team comprises skilled staff members in web design/development, content, SEO, branding, social marketing, and more.
What makes their work so special? They must tailor their work to your branding while using creativity and promptly executing all strategies. A quality digital marketing agency will invest in the right tools and use an innovative approach to meet your audience’s needs.
Depth of Experience
When working with a digital marketing agency, the company itself will come with years of experience, but so will its staff members. They come prepared with the right strategies, tactics, and tools, with expertise in executing every step of your marketing strategy. This way, they can accomplish your unique goals with the metrics to prove their work.
Ideally, they can show results from past clients in your niche, proving they understand your audience and how to engage them. Because you’re working with an experienced team, they can offer new and fresh marketing insights to help your business better understand your audience.
Putting It All Together
Before deciding whether to hire a marketing agency or do your marketing in-house, ensure that you understand what goes into launching successful inbound marketing campaigns.
- Make sure you understand your target market at a deep level
- Understand the tools you need to use to keep things efficient
- Stay consistent with your marketing efforts, and know that you’ll have to wait several months to see results
- Produce high-quality content that your audience finds useful
- Have experience running inbound campaigns that generate ROI
If you have doubts about your ability to generate ROI through a marketing strategy or campaign, then you may find it easier to hire an agency to take care of everything for you.
The best digital marketing agencies can handle the systems, processes, and workflows that go into running campaigns from beginning to end. They have a structured process to follow when they create blog posts, run social promotions, etc.
When you start looking for an agency, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Define your marketing requirements before you start looking
- Check out how the agency runs its business, and understand what metrics they value most
- Make sure that they don’t overpromise or guarantee results
- You tend to get what you pay for — low fees often mean poor service
- Look up agencies on the Better Business Bureau website to see their ratings
When choosing a digital marketing agency, you’ll need to know:
- What marketing agencies do
- The right questions to ask to determine if they will meet your needs
- Whether it makes more sense to hire an agency or just go in-house
- What kind of results you can expect by looking at an agency’s case studies
The right agency could generate millions of dollars in revenue for your business, give you peace of mind by handling everything for you, and allow you to avoid the cost of setting up a team in-house.
That way, you can focus on your strengths and perfect what you’re already good at instead of worrying about your online presence.