May 21 2020
Opal Gamble

4 Guidelines for Selecting a Digital Marketing Agency


Whether you’re just getting started with a SEM program or a long-time digital marketing DIYer, leveraging a digital marketing agency can rocket your returns and launch your product or service into the internet big-time. The problem, of course, is selecting the right digital marketing agency.

This is no small matter: the wrong choice can cost your organization a lot of time and money, not to mention add a lot of stress to your day. That’s why we think selecting the right digital marketing agency is so important.

A slight aside: though there are differences between a performance marketing agency and a digital marketing agency, selecting either is a similar process and follows identical considerations—for example, experience and track record.

Here are the top four guidelines we think you should consider when selecting a performance or digital marketing agency for SEM: 

1. Define your marketing goals

Wait a second...this one seems pretty simple and isn’t actually about the agency. Isn’t the goal to boost your SEM programs by hiring a digital marketing agency?

To get the results you want, you need to be able to measure your progress. This means having a clear view of where you are starting and where you want to end up right from the beginning, and a good agency will ask for this information during your initial conversations.

When gathering your data, beware of vanity metrics. You should report on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as:

  • Unique visitors
  • Time on site
  • Traffic source 
  • Bounce rate 
  • CPC
  • CTR

Your report should cover at least a year of data—two or more, if you can do it. That way, you have enough data to start to understand trends like seasonality. This information gives you a benchmark to compare your results before and after the agency launches your new, improved program and allows you to track your progress.

2. Look for transparency into the business

When considering agencies, it’s best to narrow your search to agencies who are open about who they are, where they are, and what they do. You want an established team to manage your SEM programs, not a fly-by-night provider who hides behind big claims.

Ask prospective digital agencies questions like: 

  1. Who will be managing my account and be my key contact?
  2. Who on your team is doing the work?
  3. How do you manage projects and requests (email, project management system, etc.)?

They’re pretty basic questions, but they should give you enough details to rule out inexperienced providers or those that are less honest. Also, look at the digital marketing agency’s website for these key details—there should be lots of information available.

3. Does the agency have credibility?

What adds up to credibility when it comes to a digital marketing agency? There are three main factors to building credibility:

  1. Does the agency employ industry experts with a track record of performance in SEM?
  2. Do they display case studies and client testimonials to illustrate their results?
  3. What do people say about them outside of the agency control? Can you find good reviews online?

Bonus points can be given for awards, but then you have to be wary of the legitimacy and clout of the awards themselves.

4. Select by value, not price

It’s completely reasonable to want to get the best value you can for your advertising budget. This is another case where the old adage about not going with the lowest bidder rings true: “The lowest bid does not always equal the lowest cost.”

You need to weigh the cost of the agency against the gains to your SEM program. Similar to calculating CPC, you need to achieve a balance between the lifetime income a client brings to you versus the acquisition expense of the client. Spending a little more for a highly-effective, quality team works out to your advantage when you measure your final ROI, due to efficiency and the growth you can expect in your advertising program.

How do you find out if a digital marketing agency has the value you’re looking for? Refer back to #3: credibility. Give a few of the testimonial-givers a call and ask them about their experiences.

In summary

Ideally, hiring a digital marketing agency is akin to starting a long-term relationship. Clear communication and statement of expectations both go a long way in ensuring there is understanding and harmony. 

Perhaps after you do the analysis and groundwork, selecting the right digital marketing agency for your organization comes down to fit: many people refer to the “beer test”—is this team a group you’d sit down with for a drink?