• 12 Nov 2015
  • 6 Min read

Digital marketing agencies: How to see past the smoke and mirrors

The term SEO has a mark against its name because some unscrupulous agencies and freelancers do whatever they can to achieve quick success for their clients, even if this causes problems down the line. Many companies have been burned by a bad SEO agency at some point, so we want to help you make sure your agency is doing everything it can for you.

Does your agency regularly communicate with you?

Are there regular spells where very little work is done on your campaign? Of course, certain campaigns require more activity and attention at particular times, so work is unlikely to be absolutely consistent from month to month, but there should never be zero work done on your campaign, no matter how small your budget.

You should always have a good understanding of what’s happening on your campaign. If your agency is happy to discuss their processes and keep you in the loop, you can rest assured they’re working towards your goals.

Good communication doesn’t just benefit clients: our own projects are often enhanced by clients’ input, and we appreciate the opportunity to showcase the behind-the-scenes work that goes into every campaign.

Do they tell you what you’re paying for?

If you don’t know what you’re paying your SEO agency to do, it is very tricky to know if they’re doing the right thing (or enough of the right thing). And how do you know if you’re getting value for your money? This problem also comes down to communication. Make sure your agency breaks down their activities for you, telling you what their goals are and how much they are focusing on areas such as content creation and outreach.

It’s not always possible to provide a specific break down of activities by time, but the deliverables should be made very clear. Ask your agency how they break up your budget up into different services. If you pay more, or less, per month, what will your agency add or take away from their service?

We spend a lot of time working on the initial strategy, which involves a full technical, content and outreach audit. We let our analysis dictate how much work needs to be done and we outline this clearly to our clients.

Do you have a tailored strategy?

Some agencies take a one-size-fits-all approach, but we know that the best results come from strategies tailored to your business, its industry and audience. There’s no use prioritising outreach activity when your site’s in dire need of technical help — or vice versa. Carefully consider whether your strategy feels bespoke to your business, or just a package off-the-shelf.

It’s important to audit every aspect of a business, assessing what areas are in need of the most help. If a client has great content and assets but limited links with influencers in their industry, it makes sense to put more time and effort into outreach activities for them. On the other hand, if a client’s website has very little content or assets to work with, then outreach would be relatively limited, so it’s important to spend more time researching and creating sharable assets. Every business’s website is different and their SEO campaigns should reflect this.

Does your agency understand your business?

Context is absolutely essential to what we do. Certain clients’ industries are seasonal, such as gardening or travel, and our work needs to reflect this. Other clients have very niche customer bases and it’s important to cater to this demographic instead of a more mainstream one. You should feel confident that your agency has taken the time to really get to know your business.

We encourage a back-and-forth dialogue with clients, but we also send over a more formal set of intricate questions for them to answer. These answers help us understand their business and they inform all facets of the strategy we develop for them.

Does your agency baffle you with marketing jargon?

This is a common problem with many digital services, as there are a lot of industry-specific words and acronyms with the potential to bamboozle clients. Anyone who truly understands digital marketing will be able to explain what they’re doing using clear, succinct language. It’s like what Einstein supposedly said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Does your agency produce real results?

SEO involves a lot of long-term goals, so you should beware of any agency that promises quick results. Allow some time before assessing your agency’s efficacy, as results tend to develop steadily, not all at once. And if you’re still unsure about your online performance, it’s always worth having a candid chat about it with your agency.

Does your agency promise particular results?

Sometimes, agencies promise huge increases in traffic, conversion rates and ROI. They may also guarantee improvements in rankings and traffic within a specific amount of time. Lines such as “we’ll get this page to rank in third place within six months” should ring alarm bells: it’s simply not possible to predict Google’s or users’ behaviour.

An SEO agency should provide as much analytical evidence as possible and offer honest predictions. The same goes for traffic and ROI forecasts. Promising the world might seem like a great way to obtain a new client, but it’s dishonest, and will probably earn you a long list of ex-clients further down the line.

Does your agency understand your budget?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some agencies have a tendency to overestimate what they can do with your budget in an effort to secure your business, then disappoint after you sign the contract. On the other hand, agencies can be guilty of underutilising bigger budgets. When you’ve got more to spend, it’s fair to expect more ambitious, high-impact project proposals.

Does your agency use outdated tactics?

It’s important to find out whether your SEO agency is using outdated methods. In order to keep up with Google’s changes, the SEO industry is constantly evolving. Outdated SEO practices such as keyword stuffing and overly-targeted anchor text links are likely to result a Google penalty, so adapting to these changes isn’t just good practice, it’s absolutely essential.

Similarly, an overreliance on one single method of content generation can cause big problems — whether it’s product reviews, competitions, or infographics. These techniques have worked for years and will continue to work in the future, but as Google improves its algorithms, SEO professionals must also improve their practices.

Choosing a digital agency

It can be difficult for businesses to navigate the digital marketing world, and your agency should make things easier for you, not harder. There are lots of great digital agencies out there, with a few bad ones shuffled in with them. We hope this article has helped you understand how digital agencies work and how they should be working for you.

Read more about our specific SEO and content marketing services, and please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions for us.

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