Questions to Ask a Prospective Digital Ad Agency

When you’re a business owner hiring a digital advertising consultant or agency, you may feel like you’re flying blind. Sure you may have a solid grasp of marketing concepts, but a lot of that goes out the window when you’re face to face with a smooth-talking salesman promising you the world. Before you get ahead of yourself and start promising part of your budget to someone that may or may not have the solution to your problems, ask them these questions.

How will we track clicks from this campaign?

For any reputable consultant or agency, this should be an easy answer. UTM tagging is a simple, quick way to ensure clicks are tracked from source to outcome. UTM tags are basically just a suffix added after a URL. A question mark is used to denote the end of the URL, then a series of tags are added to distinguish the source, medium, campaign, terms, and content. When the link is clicked, this data will transfer over to the analytics system. There is even a handy website to make tagged URLs for you!

UTM tags can be used to determine well-performing creative from underperforming creative, gauge the bounce rate across a campaign, or count conversions (assuming your conversion metrics are set up correctly, but more on that later). This, and so much more! Basically, UTM tags are your gateway to full transparency from your agency.

What are the primary goals that this campaign will accomplish? How will they be tracked?

No matter what the nature of your campaign is, make sure the results are trackable. For simpler goals this can be achieved using the aptly-named Goals in Google Analytics. For goals that are a bit more abstract, a Google Tag Manager tag and trigger will do the trick. Either system should be easy enough for an agency to set up for you, assuming you don’t have anyone in-house to handle the implementation.  

Goals are great because they ensure proper credit is given. If a campaign is a total bust, there is no way for the agency to hide it by boasting high clicks or impressions. If a campaign doesn’t drive any direct sales but had a ton of long-term visitors and e-mail list conversions, the agency can get some credit where the client may have otherwise been skeptical of their performance. The point of comprehensive goal tracking isn’t to provide a ‘gotcha’ moment, the point is to provide a full picture so you can accurately judge the outcome.

What kind of reporting will you provide? How often will we convene to talk about the campaign’s results?

It is best to establish reporting and meeting expectations early on, preferably in writing. All too often an agency will set up and launch a campaign… and that’s about it. Months go by, the client continues getting charged, and no real reporting is provided. While this isn’t always the case, it is something I have seen repeatedly from many different agencies. My favorite example of this involves a meeting I had with one of the largest digital marketing agencies in Hampton Roads. I was acting as an outside auditor, ensuring that they were living up to the client’s expectations. It was our first meeting, and they presented me with a PowerPoint presentation showing me the results of their Google Ads campaign… with nothing listed but total impressions and total clicks. Needless to say, I recommended the client find another agency or consultant immediately. Whatever the cause- poor oversight of junior digital marketing personnel, an effort to cut back on overhead, good ol’ American laziness- the results are the same, and it’s not great for the client.

Another great way to ensure quality work is with regularly scheduled meetings. Meetings, even if virtual, ensure that accountability and transparency are maintained throughout the course of the relationship. They also provide a more direct method of communication, helping to keep everyone honest. As a general rule, the more direct the method of communication, the less likely it is that someone will try to lie to you. This is why in-person or video meetings are better than conference calls, especially if you’re suspicious that the agency may not be holding up their end of the deal. Emails are also great because they allow a record of everything that is said, making people more likely to be truthful.

Will I be able to talk directly with the person managing my campaign?

This point is important for larger agencies, especially those that are geographically separated from you. It is a fairly regular occurrence that the primary point of contact is a salesman, not a digital marketing expert, and all communication has to be funneled through that person. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it does require a lot of trust on the client’s part- does this person that doesn’t do the work himself really have a deep enough understanding to sell me these services?

In my personal experience, I’ve seen both sides. Some digital marketing salespeople are incredibly knowledgeable of their field and can be trusted to do the work just as much as the person that is doing it. Some digital marketing salespeople are just salespeople, and the product they move just so happens to be digital marketing services. In the latter circumstance, it is incredibly important that you have a direct line of communication to the person doing the work.

This may be a bit biased of me, considering I am a digital marketing consultant. Still, I believe my logic is sound. As I explain to my clients mostly jokingly, “it’s always good to have someone to yell at.” This goes back to basic human behavior. When you know you likely won’t get reprimanded by the person being affected, you’re slower to react to their demands. When the person being affected is able to call you up directly, you’ll work harder to ensure the problem is fixed.

Other advice for hiring digital marketing help

No one-size-fits-all solution

At the end of the day, you just want what is best for your business. This may be an agency, a consultant, or to hire someone to handle it in-house. The important thing to remember is that these options are not mutually exclusive; you can hire an agency that specializes in SEO, use a consultant with expertise in setting up goal tracking systems, and then hire a marketing generalist to handle ad campaigns and the outside teams.

Don’t hire a stranger that cold emails you a templated message about your SEO

Seriously guys, I shouldn’t have to say this. There are literally zero times that this situation has ended well for the client. It is probably a scam, and if any work is done at all it will be black hat SEO, meaning your website will likely end up heavily penalized. Just don’t do it. Do the extra bit of work and find someone reputable.

Be active in the new relationship

Some agencies really do want to do good work, but are prevented by clients that don’t take the time to let the agency know what is expected and needed. I have had a few situations where I’d go months without any feedback. I would try to get in touch with the client, but wouldn’t receive more than a “looks good!” reply to my end of month reports. Invariably, these relationships would end up going sour.

Like any relationship, it takes work. Before pulling the trigger on a new consultant, make sure to do plenty of research to understand what they’re all about. Once you make your selection, continue following up to make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed. Continue actively participating in monthly meetings, showing legitimate appreciation for the results being driven or providing constructive feedback to points that can be improved.

To sum it up

You can hire a competent, reliable digital marketer even if you don’t know much about digital marketing. Do your research, ask the right questions, and keep open communication with the new company. Of course, I’d also recommend learning the basics of different digital marketing concepts. It doesn’t take particularly long, and will make you feel more confident during meetings with the new company.

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