Beware of Your Digital Agency

BewareThat sounds like a totally crazy thought right? The reason you hired a digital marketing agency was to grow your business. You want to increase your sales and build your brand awareness. So how could a digital agency actually be giving you the exact opposite results? It could be lack of effort, lack of expertise, or even both!

Them

Digital marketing agencies come in all shapes and sizes from the small, boutique agency to the large corporate agencies. One thing they know how to do is sell themselves by telling you how awesome they are. After all, they have case studies to back up their supposed results right? In the end the equation goes like this: you pay us money and we give you miraculous results. We have all seen this.

You

For a small business owner, you are trying to grow your company. So the digital agency comes in and gives you analysis. They tell you that we need to get you a new website design. It needs to be optimized. You need a “fresh, new look”. Doing this is going to explode your business and put you at the top of the search engines in no time. You are going to get more leads with your sales sky-rocketing.

Truth About BAD Agencies

Now let’s look at what is actually happens in this scenario. The agency will indeed build you a new website. This process will drag out over a few months for a basic website but one thing is for sure, they will not drag out the process of getting you an invoice each month. Then after a few months the new site will launch which is great news right? Unfortunately not. After the site launches, you will not hear much if anything at all from the agency.

Are they building your brand awareness as agreed? What about your search rankings results? If you’re lucky you MAY get an automated report from them every couple months. There has never been any strategy written–no actionable items listed anywhere. Everyone is going into this battle completely blind. Wow, now THAT is a winning strategy. What are they doing on your account each month? You have NO IDEA. So now what do you do about all this?

Hold Your Digital Agency Accountable

it-is-your-moneyWhile refreshing your brand and getting a new website design is great, it is not enough. This is just the beginning of the process. After this is done the digital agency should be executing a full-blown strategy for you including inbound marketing and a content marketing strategy. It may also include paid search strategy as well as social media strategy, depending on what all you agreed on.

The ultimate goal of all this is to bring in more customers to your business increasing your sales and revenue. No doubt about it, the customers are out there. It is a matter of your digital agency getting the customers to you. Let’s take a look at some crucial areas you need to consider before choosing a digital marketing agency.

1. Inbound Marketing 101

Giving an old website an overhaul or a totally new website does not guarantee success with any business. No matter how cutting edge your site design with all the bells and whistles, if people can’t find your site that is all just a waste of time and money.

Having an effective inbound marketing strategy will help your business to be found by potential customers. This holds true no matter if your business to B2B to B2C. There are several tactical parts of an inbound strategy. You have to create effective content that is relevant to your potentials customers, meaning content that they find useful and that helps them. This content can be delivered across several different channels in various forms. It could be blogs, ebooks, white papers, case studies, videos, infographics, webinars, Google Hangouts On Air, etc. It can also be via social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, etc. The most crucial point to remember is that the content that is delivered has to be useful for the potential customer. It must address their needs with clear calls-to-action to easily convert the customer from a potential customer to an actual customer.

Here is a clear warning sign: Beware of any agency who does not lay out a clear content marketing plan that will begin once the new website or redesigned website is launched. Also, be leery of any digital agency who is unwilling or unable to dig deep with you strategically. They should be asking hard questions on the front end of a project that force you to define your point of difference and value proposition to customers. It’s not enough for an agency to understand what you do, they need to know and understand who you are—because that gets at your brand essence. That is what defines you from the your competition and makes your business unique through the eyes of the customer.

2. Ongoing Content

The keyword mentioned above is ongoing, as in a continuous flow of content. Not just a one hit wonder. Now that you have attracted potential new customers to your site, you have begun a conversation that is designed to be everlasting. You cannot just turn on the stream of information then shut it off. If you do, if you are erratic in the consistency or quality of information you deliver, those potential/current customers will leave, or at least abandon your site.

Much like a personal relationship, your business relationship with customers is an evolving process. There is a very tangible life cycle to each and every customer; and they are all at different stages. You need to hear the customers, knowing their needs and desires. You need to understand these needs, as soon as they arise, or even before they arise. Otherwise, your business will not be able to provide real solutions at every particular point during the sales cycle- from the minute they seek you out to the engagement process,and then to the actual conversion.

Contrary to some schools of thought, the process does not end with the sale; it accelerates. Once you have captured a new customer, once they have purchased, the task is to continue the conversation.  You have to make sure their experience is positive, or gain insight as to how it might even be better. From there, your goal is to satisfy and delight your customers with anticipatory service, continued relevant information, and authentic gestures of appreciation so that they ultimately will become brand advocates for you.

More agency warning signs: Be very aware of a digital agency that does not think or talk about your long-term goals. They should not just talk about the short-term, “quick fix” goals. Digital agencies have a way of swooping in, demanding a bunch of money on the front end to cover the intensive “design and build phase,” and then they disappear like a thief in the night.

Typically, agencies like this will lay out a three- to six-month period of work that abruptly stops. The assumption being that you will have everything you need after that time period, so you can simply sit back and count your money as the sales flood in. The reality is just the opposite, the agency should work just as hard or harder after you go live to ensure qualified prospects are finding you and entering a very nurturing sales process.

3. The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Factor

It used to be that businesses had to be wary of digital agencies that did not fully grasp the concept of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The challenge was to separate the self proclaimed “gurus” from those who were actually legit and delivered effective, results-driven data to support both their paid search and organic search recommendations.

Today, you still have to be wary because the biggest concern now is to be on the lookout for digital agencies that overpromise with SEO, especially as the rules of the game are shifting. Why? Because Google has systematically implemented key changes to their algorithms to prevent companies from manipulating search engines. Instead, they want them having a conversation directly with actual consumer, giving them what they want.

Also, with the recent Hummingbird Algorithm, Google has literally encrypted data for SEO practitioners with the infamous “not provided”. Again, this is all in an effort on Google’s part to ensure that brands are giving their living-breathing customers the type useful information they are wanting/needing/craving, and NOT trying to “write for search engines” in order to improve page rank and better results. Those days are ove and likely are not coming back. So the function of SEO should be to optimize customer-facing content that has been created for actual prospects and customers. It should support and inform the customer experience and the story the brand is telling as it relates to real customer needs and expectations.

bewareofsnakesYet again, another warning sign: Search Engine Optimization is not a science, it is an art (some say it is both). And, the canvas is forever shifting, thanks to Google, who has declared war on sleazy opportunists who employ black-hat tactics such as duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and spammy link-building schemes. So be on the lookout for any SEO company that promises cheap, quick, easy solutions. We’d all like to believe that’s how it works, but reality is quite different, especially in light of Google’s recent algorithm updates. Also, make sure whomever you work with is Google-certified, follows best practices, and most of all, is transparent. Any vendor who is unwilling to “show you the guts” of his or her research, data and methodology is probably up to something shady, or at least ineffective.

In conclusion, ask strategic, long-term questions to make sure you have the right team or agency to help your company build brand awareness, drive leads and ultimately gain market share. There are a number of legitimate, highly skilled agencies around who not only know what they are doing, but have your best interest in mind. But, there are many more who do not. Every brand needs to, on every agency, examine whether or not an agency understands marketing strategy and if they are capable of providing solid strategies before signing a partnership.

Consider well the three areas discussed above—Inbound Marketing, Content Strategy, SEO Plan—so you can spot any of the warning signs mentioned above. By asking the right questions, you should be able to identify an agency partner that is right for you and, like a good marriage, will continue happily ever after and not have to end in a nasty divorce.

 

Image Credits: Shuttertock, Aapthamithra, VT750 , crossstudio

About Lynn Strickland

Lynn Strickland first took the dive into digital marketing in 2006. He has a diverse background including real estate, education and journalism. While he loves all areas of digital marketing, his true passion is social media. Follow him on Twitter: @lstrickland27.

Filed under: Featured, Internet Marketing