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Don't Settle: How to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency

Published on
August 16, 2023
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Digital marketing agencies play a crucial role in helping businesses succeed online. Choosing the right partner makes all the difference in your company's growth and success.

But with so many options available, it can feel overwhelming to decide who you should partner with. In this article, we'll explain what a digital agency is and services they offer in detail. We’ll also explain how to find the right agency for your business.

In This Article:

Part 1: Understanding Digital Marketing Agencies

Part 2: The Benefits of Hiring an Agency

Part 3: Marketing In House versus Agencies

Part 4: Before You Begin: Get Clear on Your Goals

Part 5: Eight Questions to Ask a Potential Agency

Part 6: After the Deal: How to Measure Success

Understanding Digital Marketing Agencies

A digital marketing agency is a business that provides web-based advertising services to help clients achieve their online goals. Sometimes, they’re also referred to as a digital marketing company or an online marketing agency.

By leveraging their expertise, advertising firms help businesses increase their online visibility, drive traffic, and convert leads into customers.  

There are partners for businesses of all sizes, from small startups to large corporations. Agencies also come in all sizes, from independent freelancers to midsize firms and even global conglomerates.

Types of Digital Marketing Services & Agencies

Since the digital space encompasses a multitude of disciplines, agencies span many service categories. Some of the services offered by digital service companies include:

Paid social media marketing: paid advertisements on social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Pinterest, Reddit, and Twitter. Agencies might offer media planning and buying, ad content creation, creative strategy, influencer services, technical support services, and more.

Paid search marketing: paid search results and pay-per-click advertising on platforms like Google Search Ads and Bing. Also referred to as search engine marketing (SEM), paid search promotion captures traffic on search engines and display networks. You might also see this described as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which can refer to multiple types of channels.

Organic social media management: overseeing brand social media accounts and creation of organic content for social media platforms.

Search engine optimization (SEO): website content optimization for search engine discovery. SEO aims to improve your search rankings and drive more traffic to your site using content and other tactics.

Influencer marketing: utilizing social media and website influencers to promote brands and content. Influencer advertising can involve things like product giveaways, organic content, paid content, affiliate programs, and more.

Web design: concepting and developing website designs, conversion rate optimization, and user experience.

Additional categories managed by digital agencies could include:

  • Email and SMS
  • Connected TV
  • Programmatic and Display Ads
  • Content Marketing
  • Podcast and Audio
  • And much more.

Most digital agencies will fall into one of four categories: full-service, specialized, boutiques or growth. These categories are based on the scope of services offered and the team’s size.

Full-Service Agencies

Full-service agencies offer a comprehensive range of marketing services, acting as a one-stop shop for all digital needs.

Their services could include paid social ads, influencer marketing, paid search, SEO, web development, conversion rate optimization, marketplace ads, connected TV, and everything in between. Each company will have its own assortment, depending on the industries they service.

A full-service provider can provide a cohesive, integrated approach. However, they may be significantly more expensive and less agile compared to smaller agencies.

Specialized Agencies

Specialized agencies, on the other hand, focus on specific areas, like SEO or perhaps a specific channel like TikTok. Specialist agencies provide in-depth knowledge and expertise in their chosen niche.

Since they target one narrow scope, they can bring advanced knowledge and tactics. But, they may lack the ability to address complex business challenges, or to approach your marketing strategy holistically.

Boutique Agencies

Boutique agencies tend to be smaller in size and offer personalized, tailored services to a limited number of clients. Boutiques tend to focus on specific verticals, such as apparel or mobile gaming. They can be either narrowly specialized or may provide a full range of services.

A boutique digital agency can deliver a highly customized experience and close working relationships akin to in-house teams. They also tend to be able to adjust and adapt to market trends swiftly. But, smaller teams may have resource limitations as brands scale.

Growth Marketing Agencies

A growth marketing agency typically takes a more holistic, data-driven approach. Their focus is on scaling businesses. Growth marketing encompasses the full digital funnel. This includes paid social and search, ad creative, SMS & email, as well as website optimization.

The growth agency approach brings similar benefits to boutique and full service options. Growth teams may also employ specialized experts, with more experience than typical agencies.

Usually, a growth team relies on business goals, KPI-tracking and analysis to lead strategy vs solely branding and awareness objectives. If your business is trying to increase sales, enter new markets or takes a data-centric approach, a growth agency may be the right choice.

Weigh both the services you need and the type of team you want to work with. This will help you get a clear picture of who may be a good fit.

What do digital marketing agencies do?

Each company works differently depending on what services they offer, the industry they are in, and their relationship with the client.

Generally, an agency will provide campaign strategy, planning, execution, and analysis. Some may also make the advertising assets (both copy and visual content). Advanced data services like attribution and forecasting may also be in-scope.

Digital Strategy: Media Planning & Media Buying

One of the primary services offered by modern digital ad agencies is developing a comprehensive digital strategy. This includes identifying your target audience and determining which channels to use to reach them. Your partner may also develop the plan of how to execute your marketing campaigns in.

Media planning and media buying are also crucial components of strategy. Media planning involves selecting the best channels to use for your campaigns. Media buying involves purchasing ad space on these channels to reach your target audience.

Content Creation: Creative Strategy & Execution

Creating high-quality, engaging content is another essential aspect of online promotion. Research suggests up to 70% of digital campaign success depends on the advertising creative.

Agencies typically help develop a content strategy for the channels that they manage. The primary role here is developing creative that aligns with your brand and resonates with your target audience.

In addition to creating content, agencies may also help you optimize your website for both conversion performance and search engines. Optimizing websites for conversions makes all traffic more efficient and improves overall results. Search optimization helps your website drive relevant customers and improve organic traffic.

Making Sense of the Numbers: Data, Analysis & Technology

An agency’s role typically doesn’t end with campaign execution. To measure the success of your efforts, it's important to track and analyze data.

Digital marketing agencies often use tools to collect data on your ad campaigns, website traffic, social media, and more. They then use this data to make informed decisions about how to optimize your campaigns for better results.

In a constantly evolving technological environment, agencies also help clients keep up with changes in trends and technology. For example, ongoing data privacy changes significantly changed the way social media marketing works. An advanced agency can help brands adjust and adapt swiftly to these trends.

Benefits of Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

  • Deep Expertise & Experience
  • Access to Resources & Tools
  • Cost Efficiency
  • More Internal Resources

One of the primary benefits of hiring a digital service agency is access to their expertise, experience, and resources. As specialists in the field, agencies stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and best practices. This knowledge allows them to create and implement effective marketing strategies.

Additionally, agencies’ work with many clients across different industries, garnering valuable insights. Their experts can provide data-backed recommendations tailored to your business. By leveraging the resources and tools that agencies have at their disposal, businesses gain a competitive edge in the digital landscape.

The cost and value of hiring a digital marketing agency is often misunderstood. Many businesses assume it’s more expensive than managing efforts in-house. When you factor in the costs of hiring, training, and retaining a full-time marketing team, costs add up fast. Ultimately, outsourcing marketing services can often be more affordable.

Working with a good partner also frees up time and resources for other aspects of your business. By outsourcing marketing tasks to professionals, business owners, and employees can focus on their core competencies. This allows internal teams to dedicate more time to developing other areas of the business. More efficient allocation of resources often leads to improved overall productivity.

Furthermore, digital marketing agencies are results-driven, as they have to perform to retain clients. A strong agency team is focused on delivering the best possible return on investment (ROI). Their key goal is ensuring your advertising budgets are utilized effectively.

In-House vs. Agency Marketing: Pros and Cons

Managing a digital marketing team in-house does have its advantages. For example, holding direct control over all strategies and decisions.

Your team also brings a deep understanding of your brand. In-house teams can ensure that efforts are aligned with the company's vision and culture. Additionally, they can provide quick responses to changes and issues that arise.

However, several challenges arise when managing all advertising in-house.

Primarily, you need to hire, train, and retain a full-time team. This can be costly and time-consuming, especially if you’re not an expert at recruiting in this field. It takes many years to develop in-depth knowledge in each marketing discipline. Experience often commands competitive salaries as well.

In-house teams and junior marketers may lack the specialized expertise needed to execute certain tasks effectively. They may also have a narrow scope of experience when it comes to current tactics and technologies. These limitations can impact the success of your campaigns.

Working with an agency allows you on-demand access to a team of experts with diverse skill sets.  Additionally, outsourcing can be more cost-effective. You only pay for the services you need, versus maintaining a full-time team.

Agencies typically have access to cutting-edge technology and tools that may be expensive for individual businesses. As partners of ad platforms, top agencies also have access to more support, training resources, and advanced technology. By leveraging their knowledge and tools, agencies help you stay ahead of the competition and achieve better results.

Relinquishing some control may be a concern. But, the right partner will work to understand your brand and align with your goals. The advantages of partnering with the right agency often outweigh the drawbacks. Managed services remain an attractive option for businesses looking to enhance their online presence and drive growth.

When is it worth hiring an agency? And, when is it not?

While hiring an agency comes with several benefits, it’s not right for every company. A few considerations that can help you decide include:

  • Your budget: If your marketing budget is limited, hiring a full-service agency may not be in-scope. However, you might still consider outsourcing specific tasks to a specialized or boutique company.
  • Your in-house capabilities: Is your team already experienced and capable of all advertising tasks? If so, you may not need to hire a service. On the other hand, if your team lacks expertise in targeted areas, an agency provides valuable support and guidance.
  • Your business goals: Is your business looking to expand sales rapidly, reach new markets, or improve performance? Then, working with seasoned experts can be a good investment. If your digital marketing strategy is already yielding good results, you might not need assistance.
  • Your available time: Managing ad campaigns and staff takes a lot of time. If your team is stretched thin, they may be unable to devote the necessary time to marketing efforts. Outsourcing can help maintain momentum and keep the focus on core business activities.
  • Flexibility and scalability: Does your business need to adapt to changing conditions, or unlock a new stage of growth? An agency can provide the necessary agility and know-how. If your marketing needs are stable and predictable, an in-house team may suffice.

Before You Begin: Get Clear on Your Goals

When choosing a digital advertising service, it's important to consider your business goals and the services you need to achieve them.

For example, if you're looking to increase brand awareness on social media, a social media ad agency is the right choice. On the other hand, if you want to improve your search engine rankings, an SEO expert may be a better fit.

As a decision-maker, it's important to align your team on the following questions before you begin your hunt:

What are our primary marketing objectives?

  • Identify the key goals you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to reduce customer acquisition costs or increase brand awareness. Or, maybe you need to drive website traffic, generate leads, or improve conversion rates.

Which marketing channels are most relevant for our business?

  • Aim to get an understanding of the platforms and tactics likely to be effective in your space. How do you want to reach your target audience, or which channels do you think are your biggest opportunities?

What are our in-house capabilities?

  • Take inventory of your team’s skills. This will help clarify what you need help with, and what makes sense to tackle internally.

What is our budget for digital marketing?

  • Establish a clear budget for your goals. Remember to include both your marketing budget and how much you can afford to pay for an agency’s expertise. This will help you identify agencies that can deliver the services you need within your current price range.

What are our expectations for the agency's level of involvement?

  • Do you need a full-service agency to manage all aspects of your digital strategy? Do you want a data-oriented growth team? Or, do you require specialists to focus on specific tasks? Do you want a partnership or a more prescriptive approach?

What is our timeline for achieving our goals?

  • Set a realistic timeline for reaching your objectives to help you find a partner comfortable delivering results within your desired timeframe.

Actively Evaluating: 8 Questions to Ask a Potential Agency

When screening potential agencies, it’s important to determine if they will be a good partner for your goals.

During the intro call, you’ll meet a representative who typically asks questions to define your business goals and needs. You’ll be able to learn about their services and ask them questions as well.

The right questions reveal valuable insights into an agency's expertise. You also want to learn about their communication style and ability to meet your specific needs. Eight critical questions to ask when finding an agency include:

  1. What is your experience working with businesses in our industry?

Understand the agency's experience in your industry. This helps you gauge their knowledge of your target audience and ability to create effective marketing strategies.

  1. What services do you specialize in?

Knowing the company’s areas of expertise can help you determine if they align with your specific needs and objectives. If you’re optimizing for LTV-based growth, but they specialize in branding, it might not be a match.

  1. How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices?

This question reveals the agency's commitment to continuous learning and adaptation in the ever-changing digital landscape. Their tools and technologies offer insights into sophistication and the resources available to support your marketing plans.

  1. How do you measure the success of your campaigns?

Understand the agency's approach to tracking and measuring campaign success. This helps you ensure they are focused on delivering ROI in a way that aligns with your business.

  1. How do you handle potential challenges or setbacks in a campaign?

Discuss potential challenges and their approach to addressing them. This can provide insights into their problem-solving skills and ability to adapt.

  1. What is your communication and reporting process?

Clarify how the company communicates progress, shares reports, and addresses concerns. Alignment here is essential for establishing a strong working relationship

  1. What are your pricing models and contract terms?

Understand the agency's pricing structure and contract terms. Be sure you understand the actual service offering to determine if it’s a good fit for your budget and expectations.

  1. Can you provide case studies or examples of successful campaigns for similar clients?

Review case studies and past campaigns to understand their approach and style. Past work demonstrates the agency's track record and showcases their ability to deliver results. Consider it a red flag if they don’t have case studies or testimonials to share.

Ask these critical questions, and you’ll be prepared to evaluate potential digital marketing agencies. choose the one that aligns with your goals and requirements.

After the Deal: Measuring the ROI of a Digital Agency

Once you’ve found a fit, measuring the impact of your new service provider is essential. After all, you need to determine if they are a good investment.

Start by setting clear, measurable goals for your campaigns, such as increased website traffic, higher conversion rates, or improved customer engagement.

Monitoring the key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your goals is a clear way to track agency ROI. The KPI metrics you use will depend on the advertising services and your type of business.

If you’re trying to grow overall web traffic, you might track website analytics, such as unique visitors and bounce rates. If it’s social media ads for ecommerce, consider click-through rate and overall return on an spend. Likewise, for email marketing, you might be looking at open rates and link clicks.

Establishing those clear objectives upfront allows you to track progress. It also gives your new partner clear goals. And, it enables you to evaluate the agency's effectiveness in achieving your desired outcomes.

By consistently tracking these KPIs and comparing them to your initial objectives, you gain valuable insights. Monitoring KPI trends helps you gauge the success of your marketing campaigns. This data also reveals the agency's contribution to your overall business performance.

Regularly review campaign data and discuss results with your agency. Being informed enables you to make data-driven decisions and optimize your strategies. Staying engaged also allows you to further maximize the return on your investment in the agency's services.

Choosing the best digital marketing agency for your business

When it comes to choosing the best digital agency for your business, there are several factors to consider. Look for a provider that has experience working with businesses like yours and has a proven track record of delivering results.

Additionally, make sure the company offers the services you need to achieve your business goals. If you have a specific problem to solve in a niche space, you might want a specialist. But, if your marketing team has broad goals to 2X sales and needs advanced attribution, budget allocation guidance and high-level data insights, a growth marketing agency might be your best choice.

It's also important to find a team that you feel comfortable working with and that communicates well. Advertising is an ongoing process for every business. You'll want to find a partner you feel comfortable establishing a long-term relationship with.

Wrapping Up

In today's digital age, partnering with a top agency can help your business succeed online. By developing an informed strategy, creating quality content, and reporting on results, an expert agency can help you achieve your business goals. A little research will help ensure you partner with the right digital marketing agency for your business and goals.

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