7 Things to Look for in a Digital Marketing Company

There are lots of reasons to hire a digital marketing company, and most of them are tied to your website. Gathering leads, selling products, and increasing awareness of your business are the primary digital marketing goals – and those conversions happen on your site.

Initial boxes they need to tick usually include their process, location, availability, and cost. But how can you spot the strongest companies in a pool of outwardly similar options?

You need to know exactly what you want the company to do, and how to tell if they’re good at it. Ask these seven questions to identify the real winners.

What to look for in a digital marketing company

Not all companies employ experts in every aspect of digital marketing. Some are strong in on-page and technical SEO, but don’t work in PPC. Others focus entirely around social media, influencer marketing, and brand strategy. Often agencies will specialize in one or two areas, and be generalists in others.

Start by clearly identifying which aspects of digital marketing you’re looking to outsource. These might include:

  • Social media management (content creation, posting/scheduling, responding to comments/messages, reporting)
  • Social media advertising (boosted posts, ad campaigns, audience/targeting management, reporting)
  • SEO strategy and content optimization (on-page SEO)
  • Link building campaigns
  • Local SEO (optimization, Google My Business management, reporting)
  • Technical SEO (audits, 301 management, Google Search Console reporting and fixes)
  • Content marketing (strategy, writing, images, optimization)
  • Google display or paid search ads (strategy, content creation, budget management, adjustments, reporting)
  • Email marketing (strategy, content creation, scheduling, subscriber database management, reporting)
  • Brand strategy (market research, strategic documentation, management, reporting)

Once you’ve found agencies that specialize in the right services, you’re ready for these hard-hitting questions!

illustration showing three people interviewing a man at a boardroom table

1. Are their methods current?

Digital marketing changes it up more often than many people change their pants. I’m not even kidding! Updates to features and algorithms in the following platforms can have big impact on how to successfully market your particular product or service:

    • Google’s algorithm and ranking factors (duh)
    • Google Ads
    • Bing search and rankings (Yahoo is powered by Bing)
    • Microsoft (formerly Bing) Advertising
    • Other search engines and their ad platforms
    • Amazon’s search and rankings
    • Amazon Ads
    • Social media networks
    • Social media ad platforms
    • Email marketing platforms

And these platforms roll out updates constantly. When you’re considering a digital marketing company, ask questions to establish their methodologies and awareness of any recent changes.

To do that, you need some familiarity with digital marketing news. You don’t have to understand it all – that’s what you’re hiring a company to do! – but knowing what’s happening will help you ask the right kind of questions.

I stay up to speed by subscribing to newsletters about SEO, social media, PPC, and content marketing methodologies. My favourites are Search Engine Journal (SEO and PPC), Social Media Examiner, Later Media (specific to Instagram), and Content Marketing Institute. There are tons to pick from that share daily or weekly updates.

On that note – you might encounter a company that uses a practice on an aspect of marketing (often SEO) that you’ve heard has changed. If they have a solid reason that they can explain (and back up with legit sources), that can be a good sign. It likely means that they assess data before making adjustments, rather than reacting to industry gossip and unstable trends.

2. Are they comfortable talking about digital marketing?

Speaking of asking questions – you’ll definitely want to work with a company that can talk to you about what they’re doing, and why.

It’s a red flag if you ask a marketer to explain an aspect of their niche, or data in a report, and they can’t break it down for you in plain language. Sure, it might be social awkwardness – but it could also be that they’ve memorized the definition, yet don’t actually understand how it works.

Nobody knows it all, and oddities will come up that require further investigation. The trait to look out for is comfort (or better yet, joy!) in talking to you about strategy and performance. Choose a company that leaves you feeling smarter, and satisfied.

3. Are they well-rounded?

Even if you’re hiring a specialist to focus on one area, you’ll want whoever you work with to be versed in how all aspects of digital marketing work together.

    • Technical and on-page SEO are different, and both are necessities
    • SEO, social, ads, and email drive content marketing results
    • Social media contributes to SEO
    • Link building is a key part of SEO, and often tied to content marketing
    • Most channels drive customers to a specific or custom landing page on your website

It’s okay if they don’t offer certain services. But be wary of an agency that has no understanding of other digital marketing components, or tells you not to bother (and can’t provide data to support their recommendation).

4. Do they have the receipts?

Case studies! We can’t say enough good things about the value of case studies as website content (seriously, read our article on why case studies are strong marketing assets). And if you’re looking to hire a marketing company, you want to see proof of their work.

the Forge and Smith web design case studies landing page

This can be tricky, as major businesses will often require partner agencies to sign NDA agreements. That means they can’t discuss the fine details about which campaigns they ran and their results. In that case, the most an agency can share on their website is the names of the companies they’ve worked with.

Agencies like ours that work with small businesses can usually show broad results, such as improvement in traffic or engagement by percentage or total, but not reveal exact figures or show proof in actual Google Analytics reports.

In either case, ask questions about the work they did. Even if they can’t tell you the name of the campaign or show you data, they should be able to chat about what the work entailed and how they approached it.

Don’t forget to check their reviews and testimonials! As with any product or service, pay special attention to reviews clearly identified as coming from current or former clients – and why not contact them to follow up?

5. Do they eat their own kibble?

This is one of my favourite Shawnisms, the digital strategy expressions frequently heard from Forge and Smith founder Shawn Johnston.

    • Eating your own kibble is the same as practicing what you preach. If a company is going to handle your digital marketing:
    • Their site should be optimized and rank for relevant terms
    • They should have at least one active social media channel
    • Their Google My Business profile should be claimed, branded, and populated
    • Any ads, social posts, or emails should feel cohesive and on-brand

Time for some fun sleuthing!

Search their company in Google, and view all of the results to see if they optimize titles and meta descriptions in all of their pages, only the primary ones, or have no visible optimization. If they have an email newsletter, sign up for it. Check out their social media content, posting frequency, and hashtag usage.

screenshot showing Forge and Smith site in search results

You can also run their site through an SEO tool like Moz or SEMRush to see how they rank for organic search terms, their backlink structure, and even samples of their Google ads.

6. Are their leaders proactive or reactive?

A company’s leadership style informs day-to-day practices and processes related to digital marketing. If you’re hiring a digital marketing company, you’re buying into their leadership’s ways of thinking and doing.

Similar to knowing if they use current methods, suss out how well the agency as a whole understands where digital marketing is headed. You want their work to be future-friendly, not just sticking to a static plan and fixing issues as they come up.

If prospective companies’ CEOs or CMOs are active on social media, or regularly publish articles on their site or LinkedIn, dive into that content! Look for clear signs of thought leadership and innovation.

7. What kinds of promises do they make?

There are some promises a company can keep. Honouring a contract, meeting deadlines, and completing a project to specifications are things that can (and should) be promised.

Unfortunately, there are scams aplenty in our industry. Beware any digital marketing company that makes claims like these:

    • Getting your site into position 1 or position 0 in search results
    • Getting quick or immediate results
    • Achieving perfect technical SEO health for your site
    • Earning a specific email open rate or advertising click-through rate
    • Reaching specific numbers in social metrics (likes, follows, comments)
    • Achieving a specific domain authority

These are all attainable, and a company might have even been able to help another client achieve these goals. But that’s what they are – goals. Any company that promises they can deliver an exact number or give you fast results is a red flag.

Digital marketing is a game of ever-changing strategies and numbers. Content marketing can take six months to years to show its first results. SEO takes ongoing effort, and every time a search engine changes its algorithm, it can change your performance. Open rates and click-through rates depend on many factors and require constant testing and adjusting.

 

I hope this gave you ideas about what to look for in a digital marketing company. As with job interviews, it’s helpful to give everyone sample questions and see how their responses differ. Someone with less certifications or experience might surprise you with brilliantly creative thinking that’s better suited to your business.

Forge and Smith is now listed as one of the Top Web Development Companies on DesignRush! Thanks for the honour.