7 Red Flags to Watch Out For When Hiring a Marketing Agency
Marketing

7 Red Flags to Watch Out For When Hiring a Marketing Agency

13th August 2020

Finding a marketing agency to outsource your tasks can be a smart move for your company. This is especially true if you’re running a small business with few employees onboard, making it difficult to build a great marketing team.

A digital agency can provide you with the necessary resources, skills, or experience that your company may be lacking. It can give you an external perspective of your business and share with you best practices and fresh approaches to success.      

However, if you want to outsource your marketing tasks, you need to consider several critical things before hiring an agency. To help you avoid making the wrong selection, we asked our fellow marketing specialists which alarm signals can show you that a vendor is not a good fit.

1. They guarantee surefire success 

Exaggerated promises are a strong red flag. With marketing, there’s always a certain level of risk, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll have X number of visitors on your website or X number of leads coming your way.

Pay attention if an agency promises you:

Immediate results

Most SEO campaigns take 6 to 12 months to see results. A good agency can develop an effective SEO strategy, instead of simply palming you off with promises. Anyone can manipulate links and use other black-hat SEO techniques, but that’s definitely not what you want. 

#1 in search results for specific keywords

Instead of emphasizing a few specific keywords, they should be targeting a certain increase in high-quality traffic to your website and improving your online visibility.

If they not only promise you the #1 spot for any keyword, but also that you’ll stay there forever, it’s another reason for you to be suspicious about the quality of an agency. Search engines are constantly evolving, and no one can be sure what the next Google algorithm update will bring. What’s more, Google tailors its results based on the user’s preferences and search history, which means your website can rank in the first position for one searcher and in the fifth position for another.      

Money back

SEO takes time and effort. A professional agency invests a considerable amount of resources in their work. Money-back guarantees can be a sign that they are using low-cost techniques. 

2. Their prices seem too good to be true

Cheap agencies usually use techniques you can actually be banned for by Google, like keyword-stuffed optimizations, paid links, cheap content, etc. Or, they can simply buy bot traffic to your website, which is a very cheap technique and will not add any value to your website. More importantly, bot traffic can be dangerous, so you need to pay attention if an agency promises rapid growth with a small marketing budget.   

You get what you pay for. If the quality of their work is too low, it can damage your brand image and the overall business. Fixing a cheap agency’s mistakes can cost you even more money in the long run.

Another case is standardized prices for all services or tiered-price packages; for example, gold, silver, and bronze SEO bundles. Every company is unique, and there are many variables that can affect each project. If an agency offers standard prices or packages, it means they won’t be customizing the work to meet your specific business needs. 

If you like a marketing firm you can’t afford, you can ask if they’ll do consulting, so you’re at least getting solid expert recommendations.

3. They don’t place emphasis on research 

Research is a crucial element of preparation in marketing. To deliver you the desired results, an agency should provide a detailed plan — we’ll explore this further a bit later — and to prepare a good plan, they must do some digging.

Assumptions shouldn’t be made. Without proper research, even the most experienced professional won’t understand your company and its specific needs.   

Here are a few topics a good marketing agency should dive into to get to know their client:

  • Company discovery: questions about your organization, the overall business environment, product or service, value proposition, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Market research: questions about your industry and competitors.
  • Buyer persona: questions about the customers you’re trying to reach with marketing (their gender, age, occupation, etc.). 
  • Communication with the customer: questions about how you engage with your clients and how you help them to solve their issues and problems.

So, when finding a marketing agency, pay attention to whether or not they ask you the right questions.

4. They do their own marketing badly 

If an agency can’t impress you with their own digital marketing, it’s unlikely that they will help you to achieve your goals.

Based on which aspects of marketing you need help with, there may be several alarm bells: 

They don’t have a solid online presence

If you hire an agency to get help with online visibility and brand awareness, look at how the agency promotes itself on the web. Also, check how they handle their own social media account. It will help you better understand how an agency will treat your brand. If they have poor online visibility and little social media activity, it’s a bad sign.  

Their marketing materials are low quality

Look at their marketing materials, like blog posts, ebooks, emails, etc. Is their content high quality or mediocre? Do you like how they run their blog? 

Content marketing is not just about writing a few blog posts a week, but also ideation, SEO writing, infographic creation, analysis, distribution, and promotion. If an agency is bad at what they offer, they won’t be able to serve your current and future content needs.

Their own website is terrible

If you want to find a marketing agency that offers web design services, take a closer look at the their own site. It doesn’t have to be large or fancy, but it should be easy to use, draw people in and help them find what they were looking for.

How quickly does their website load? Is the navigation intuitive? Does it adjust itself to the screen of your device (responsive website)? Are text fonts easy to read? If the answer is ‘no’, they are not likely to deliver on what they promise to provide.

5. They don’t provide relevant case studies

A professional agency that knows they are great at what they do will be willing to share the results of their previous and current projects with you. 

Find an agency that has a good track record. Ask them about case studies that are relevant to your business and your current situation. You need to be sure that an agency has proven itself as an expert.  

You can even try to reach out to their past clients and talk to them about their experience working with this agency.

6. They don’t outline a plan 

To reach the desired results, you need a solid strategy. When finding a marketing agency, ask them to show you an action plan that includes objectives, timelines and activities they’ll be using to help your business reach your targets. 

Creating a detailed roadmap helps to visualize the project for the client. Plus, it allows the team responsible for the project to prioritize their tasks. For example, this is how a timeline-focused marketing roadmap with all activities broken down into several categories may look:

Timeline-focused marketing roadmap example
Timeline-focused marketing roadmap

A roadmap can be organized by topics (content, branding, events & PR), goals (leadgen, awareness & branding, retention), deadlines or other groups, depending on the  structure that suits you best. 

The following digital marketing roadmap by Roadmunk is organized by themes, which is clear and very simple for everyone to understand:

Theme-based marketing roadmap example
Theme-based marketing roadmap

If an agency doesn’t show you a well-developed roadmap that outlines all the details, like tasks that should be fulfilled and timing, this firm isn’t worth your time. 

Search for a marketing firm that can explain to you in detail their plan, why they are going to take these particular actions, and how the budget will be distributed. This is a good sign that you can trust a marketing agency.

7. They are not proactive 

The digital marketing landscape is highly dynamic and evolves quickly. A good marketing firm keeps up with the latest trends. These people have been there and done that and can offer new approaches to your business.

They should not only provide lots of actionable suggestions, but share best practices and offer a customized approach to your tasks.

An agency that tries to sell you an off-the-shelf solution will not take into account your specific goals and challenges and, thus, will not be able to generate the best possible results. 

For example, Italian luxury fashion house Moschino had business challenges that they were struggling to solve. Back in 2018, the widely known fashion brand was lacking online visibility, because they only ranked for their branded terms, not to mention that the competition was very tough. Also, they wanted to focus on content and create strong product pages

The brand partnered with Triboo Group, who delved into their business challenges and needs and their main markets. The agency performed a quality competitive analysis for an effective keyword strategy and helped Moschino to grow the number of visitors with high search intent thanks to data-driven website content creation. The work on this project is still ongoing, but has already resulted in 38% increase in visibility for non-branded keywords.

Find the Right Marketing Agency

As you start your search, keep in mind these seven red flags to save your time and energy. Hunt for a trusted agency partner to outsource your marketing projects, so you don’t have to worry and can focus on your other business needs. 

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Written By
Maria Raybould is a Online Marketing Specialist at SEMrush.
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