So, you’ve decided to make the switch from managing all your digital marketing in-house to handing some things off to an agency. Or, maybe you’re in the market for a new agency. How can you be sure you’re making the right choice with such a crucial decision?

The differences from one agency to another are far more substantial than cost. You want to maximize results and minimize risks. You’ll get the best performance from a proven, trustworthy agency that matches your desires and expectations. But to find that, it’s important to know the right questions to ask.

Choosing an agency is also much less taxing and time-consuming than recruiting and hiring employees. But the process still requires careful thought and due diligence.

We’ve devised eight questions to help you truly understand which agency is right for you and find the right relationship for your brand. Here are a few of the topics to consider when making such a pivotal decision.

1. What is their pricing structure?

Though cost is an obvious factor to consider, it should be weighed in the proper context.

The difference in fees between a decent agency and a truly stellar agency may amount to a few thousand dollars per month. Differences in technology and expertise between the same agencies, however, can drive performance gains magnitudes above any differences in cost.

Digital marketing agencies typically price their services in one of three ways:

1. Fixed fee based on level of service

2. Flat fee + percentage of ad spend managed

3. Flat fee + percentage of ad-generated revenue

There isn’t one “best way” to price agency services. At the end of the day, reputable agencies scale the amount of resources that they put into each client’s account based on the monthly fee earned.

While lower fees may look better on paper, don’t forget that this also usually indicates lower resource allocation and/or technology investment.

2. What are their contract terms and commitment?

Contract length should be a greater financial consideration than your actual monthly fee. Sure, even the most expensive agency fees can arguably be justified by strong advertising performance.

But what if the performance isn’t there?

What a nightmare to find yourself locked into paying an agency’s fees months after you’ve lost faith in their work. Month-to-month contracts are ideal, but rare. Most agencies require yearly contracts.

Ask what’s involved in getting out of a contract if you’re not happy with their work before signing. Give extra points to out clauses involving minimal hoops, lawyers, and/or termination fees.

3. What is the size of the agency, especially related to their channel-specific expertise?

This question isn’t meant to elicit a value-based judgement on the number of employees working for the agency, or whether or not the agency is owned by a parent company.

The reality is that you don’t want to sign over campaign management to a startup operation. It’s safest if the agency itself is a minimum of 15-20 employees, with no fewer than five strategy analysts dedicated to each advertising channel you’re considering (e.g. paid search, Amazon, Facebook, etc.).

The entire agency doesn’t need to be focused on one channel, but each of their internal teams definitely should be. Is the person who would build your Amazon campaigns the same person who would handle your Google AdWords or Facebook campaigns?

If you want a jack-of-all-trades running your marketing campaigns, you might be better off cross-training one of your own employees!

4. What additional services does the agency offer?

If 100% of your brand’s sales come from one channel and you expect that to continue for a few more years, then there’s no downside to hiring an agency 100% focused on that channel. But what if your strategy and growth path involves sources of traffic?

If your brand is using an omnichannel approach (as it probably should), you should give extra points to an agency with a more comprehensive suite of specialization areas.

Specialization is more than meets the eyes. As you probably realized with Question #3, you should steer clear of an opportunistic agency with a thrown-together, incongruent set of shallow service offerings.

Ask questions to understand their depth of specialization in other areas relevant to your brand’s growth path. This may involve areas such as paid search advertising like Google or Microsoft, display advertising through programmatic, conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization, paid social media advertising through Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, and others.

5. What are the reasons to trust the agency’s integrity and expertise?

Trust takes time to build. The problem is that the agency selection process typically provides little more than a few phone calls and sales presentations.

Sure, an agency’s integrity and expertise will likely be crystal clear after a few months of working with them, but that won’t help you now. You need a shortcut – one that extends beyond the salesperson’s likability (which, for better or worse, often weighs disproportionately into a final decision).

In the absence of direct experience working with an agency, you have to discern their trustworthiness through your own research and intuition. For the best chance of hiring an agency worthy of your trust, review where each stands in relation to the following signals:

  • Reputable client list including some role model companies
  • Testimonials from clients identified by name
  • Thought leadership content and case studies
  • Depth and organization of the sales process
  • Client reference checks

6. What depth and frequency of communication can be expected?

Communication defines the quality of all relationships, vendors included. People tend to work with people they know, like, and trust.

Would your job be easier if you could rely on consistently timed calls and reporting updates? Everyone has different preferences and expectations for the style, depth, and frequency of agency communication. Some of this is based on you or your team’s particular personality; some is based on the momentum of your business.

Ask direct questions to understand the level of contact and personal attention provided in typical client relationships.

While an agency’s website testimonials will likely reveal some insight into an agency’s communication practices, you can confirm this directly by asking their client references. If you sign, you should also be sure that your communication expectations are precisely spelled out in your agreement to help ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.

And one final note: Don’t read too much into the quality of your interactions with an agency during their sales process. Salespeople are financially incentivized to be on-the-ball with responsive and consistent communication!

7. What structure is in place to ensure continuity of client-specific expertise?

It’s typical for smaller or startup agencies to dedicate a single analyst to each client’s account.

But this setup puts you at risk.

Analysts are human, and humans need periodic vacations, get suddenly ill, need a long-term leave, and put in two-week notices unexpectedly. How quickly can the particulars of your business and brand be digested and internalized by the next analyst?

Be sure of this: The learning curve is rarely trivial. It takes time to develop an insider understanding of your brand’s specific industry, product line, core business objectives, operational constraints, brand voice, campaign structure – the list goes on.

That’s not just the time it takes for the new analyst to get up to speed, but the time you spend getting the new analyst up to speed!

Here’s the solution: Make sure the agency has an option to assign more than one person to your account.

This means that multiple account personnel should (usually) be involved in your campaigns. This type of structure is the only way to get the operational redundancy that a digital marketing agency should provide – and that you’re paying for!

8. What is their investment in technology?

Lacking proper resources on their own, too many brands settle for working exclusively within the capabilities and reporting limitations of self-service web interfaces.

The advertising APIs an agency can typically access open the door to powerful capabilities that are only available to those with the initiative and expertise to engage in custom programming initiatives. Proprietary technology drives additional operational efficiency while intelligent API-powered algorithms and reporting can help point out meaningful competitive advantages for your business.

But be on the lookout for signs that an agency is too focused on the strength of their technology. You also need someone at the wheel. As we discussed in 5 Benefits of Hiring a Digital Agency vs. Managing In-House, the highest value an agency can provide is first strategic before it is tactical.

Making Your Final Decision

These eight questions provide a lens to help you examine key differences between agencies, and should be useful in finding the digital marketing agency that is best aligned with your business needs:

1. What is their pricing structure?

2. What are their contract terms and commitment?

3. What is the size of the agency, especially related to their channel-specific expertise?

4. What additional services does the agency offer?

5. What are the reasons to trust their integrity and expertise?

6. What depth and frequency of communication can be expected?

7. What structure is in place to ensure continuity of client-specific expertise?

8. What is their investment in technology?

ROI Revolution is the agency chosen by hundreds of brands to drive profitable growth, whether that’s through paid advertising, social media, website optimization, or anything in between. Let us show you how our proven digital experts can help your brand not just achieve but exceed your digital marketing goals. Connect one-on-one with an industry expert here at ROI to see what wins and areas of opportunity we can uncover together!