As the first part of an on-going series of guides into finding, selecting and working out how much to pay a digital marketing agency, we look at how you can decide if you really need to outsource your marketing to an external supplier.
In our past experience of generating new business for large digital marketing agencies and now guiding companies through this process from the buy-side, we see the same mistakes happening again and again. Here are three steps to follow before you start your search for an agency:
First and most certainly foremost, what do you want to achieve? This question should be answered before seeking out an agency, and the answer should never be a ‘cause’ objective such as “we want to rank higher for our target keywords”. Instead your focus should be centered on an ‘effect’ objective which is typically a commercial business goal, i.e. online sales. By focusing on an effect objective you don’t become blinkered on a set strategy and follow this down a rabbit hole with an agency chasing a target that may have no effect on your bottom line.
For example, Business X decides to employ Agency Y because they want to improve their search engine result page (SERP) rankings for their target keywords. Agency Y – in their attempts to keep the client happy – will create a strategy focused around improving these rankings. The agency’s focus is limited to lowering the numbers in the SERP column in their monthly report. Whether positive results are achieved via increasing the product pages’ authority, or via landing page content that ranks for obscure long-tail variations of the target keywords, it will all be presented to the client as a success – because Agency Y has achieved what it has been tasked with; improving rankings. But has this activity had any influence on an effect objective, e.g. sales? While an increase in the average SERPs’ positions will typically lead to an upturn in traffic and subsequently sales, clients that take cause-first approach can go months and months listening to how well their agency is performing before they realise that the dial hasn’t moved on sales.
If your effect objective is to increase online sales, for example, what is the best way for you to do this? Is it PPC, SEO, a combination of the two, paid social, programmatic and so forth? It’s industry standard for digital marketing agencies to provide strategies and advertising audits free of charge as part of the sales process. These should always be taken with a mountain of salt. They are sales tools first and foremost, reverse engineered to the objectives of the agency not the client. While working agency-side, our senior consultants saw first-hand how these strategies and audits are put together. Numbers are fudged and recommendations pre-determined by the agency’s desired service.
This is why at edenYale we do not offer free strategies, and our consultancy model means that we can provide impartial advice that is right for the client – not us. For example, we were recently employed by a leading independent distributor of cleaning products, Professional Paper Supplies, to devise a strategy for a pay-per-click campaign to promote a new service. After in-depth keyword research and competitor analysis we recommended that running a PPC campaign would be commercially unviable. This saved the company conservatively tens of thousands of pounds in wasted media spend and agency fees. Had they sought advice from a traditional digital marketing supplier this advice would probably have been clouded by the prospect of securing a management fee. (Similarly, agency projections are also at best scrutinised and at worst dismissed out of hand, but more of that when we discuss how to choose a digital marketing agency in a later guide.)
Once you have nailed down what you want to achieve and have an idea of the strategy required to do this, the next question to answer is if this is achievable with your available internal resource? Do you have both the capacity and skills to do so?
A deficit in the latter is typically why outsourcing is required. Agencies, by their design, work on numerous clients at once and experience multiple failures and successes on a weekly basis. This means they have a faster path of evolution when it comes to innovating marketing techniques and refining what does and does not work compared to an in-house team. When you go with an agency, you benefit from the supplier’s learnings from its other clients. Similarly an agency may also have access to expensive tools and partnerships with advertising platforms that may not be commercially viable for you to purchase for your business alone.
This is typically why outsourcing technical campaigns including PPC, programmatic and social media advertising is required. However, it’s still surprising to see the amount of companies that are willing to pay inflated agency fees to outsource tasks that are achievable with internal resource (if it’s available). These tasks include link reclamation and content writing. We’ve encountered numerous examples of big brand names spending upwards of £1,500 per month for link reclamation, when a far more commercially efficient solution would be to allocate 10 hours to an internal member of staff to search for mentions of your business on Google, draft a template email and send to these websites asking for a link to be placed in the article.
Before you start to search for a digital agency – and definitely before you even think about entering into a contract – there are three things you need to do first:
…and finally, never take at face value free strategies or audits that agencies offer as part of the sales process!