Chances are if you reading this that you are somewhere in the process of hiring an Internet Marketing agency, or maybe a consultant. And like many, you are a little confounded by this process.
Unfortunately, the Internet Marketing industry is a bit like the wild west in that it’s a bit lawless. There’s no accreditation, no licensing and, for the most part, there are no degrees. Google offers some certification in Adwords (Google Adwords Pro) and Analytics (GAIQ certified), but few take (or have) the time to get certified, and certification without experience may be a little ‘academic’. Beyond that, there’s little to go on in terms of unbiased 3rd party credentials. People and teams build skills and abilities in the various verticals that make up Internet Marketing (Paid search, SEO, Social Media, Analytics and Strategy) through mentorship, reading, instructional videos, and attending conferences. More experienced people and teams can also bring a level of general business experience outside of Internet Marketing. Many simply “figure it out.”
The best way to know if an agency is skilled is to look at what they’ve already actually done. Do they have reviews from reputable companies? Were present and former clients willing to put their name on a clear testimonial? In other words, references.
1. Did they increase traffic? By what means? (Paid search, organic search, social media)?
2. Did they help to sell more widgets (conversions)
3. Were they responsive?
4. Were they enjoyable to work with (this is important too)?
5. Did they do what they said they were going to do when they were not in sales mode?
6. Were they transparent about how time was spent, and who did the work?
(No outsourcing surprises, or going offshore)
7. Did they provide critical feedback when needed or just say Yes?
What many don’t know about Internet Marketing is that it can be very labor intensive. There’s no magic bullet. Almost every channel within Internet Marketing has its own set of moving parts that require skill and judgment to use properly, and they all take time. Because there are no real tricks or (safe and effective) shortcuts, Internet Marketing is like other skilled trades, hiring experienced people is not inexpensive. This is a legitimate reason why agency fees can seem high.
What are the factors that drive fees?
Fees are determined in a few ways. Our view of the ideal way is to first do a thorough analysis. This is what makes it possible to accurately answer most of the questions above: What is needed, where is work needed, how tough is the competition? This knowledge is required to prioritize work and get the best bang for the buck.
After the areas of work needed are determined, (both opportunities and fixes), costs can be compared against budgets and proper schedules can be created. At this point, it can largely become a discussion of speed. With some limitations, the metaphor for labor is like building a wall. More hands mean faster production.
Setting accurate expectations is important all around. In general, expectations are most likely to be accurate, positive and satisfactory when:
- Expectations are discussed in precise terms and targets set clearly.
Year over year conversion increase by 10%, measured monthly, in 3 months, by changing and testing the page elements and PPC advertising targets and ad copy year over year.
Our sales have been down and we need to improve it and be on the right track.
- Reporting is consistent and reflects the goals.
Biweekly reports covering the nature of conversion testing, PPC edits, progress to date, things needed from the client, and any unexpected changes discussed. In general, reports should reflect what you want to see, not what’s easy to report.
Reviewing tomes of documentation from an automated reporting tool that means very little towards your actual goals but was convenient to produce.
- Work on the right things
This is where the client often gets in their own way, and where agencies with limited skill sets falter. On the client site, it’s not uncommon for a client to self diagnose what’s needed and go seeking the specific services. Unfortunately, if the diagnosis is wrong, the plan is flawed from the start. On the agency side, if the problem (or opportunity) is outside their bag of tricks or purview, it will simply be missed. Fixing something that isn’t the problem is the surest way to be disappointed in the outcome. So, avoid this by taking the time to focus on the right area to focus on first.
Projects (including evaluations before a signed agreement), should be kicked off by reviewing what the client knows, and a thorough discovery process. This includes an evaluation of whether the clients intended goals are really what’s needed.
The fundamental, first-things-first message here is fundamental:
Making sure you’re working on the right things is more important than anything else!
The client identifies a specific area that needs work and requests (and receives) proposals for this specific area. In some situations, the work is beneficial anyway and so the problem goes unnoticed. In most cases, the agency work is simply not in the area with the best bang for the buck, and the project ends unsatisfactorily. Worse yet, the client still thinks the original problem needs fixing and goes looking for another agency. Poor all around.
Here's a sample of an actual client scenario:
Client request: Jason feared a penalty from Google and asked for help with their SEO.
Discovery: There was no penalty. There had been, in fact, a consistent slide in SEO performance that simply reached a tipping point of visibility, so the client experienced it as sudden, when it really wasn’t sudden at all.
Solution: The SEO problem was not singular, but plural, and fundamental. Poor on-page optimization, some faulty settings in Google Webmaster Tools, poor on-page content, old ‘look’ and poor monitoring of results.
Remedy: Correct settings in Google Webmaster Tools, fix on-page optimization and put on a regiment of new fresh content.
Another reason (some) agencies charge so much is because they have to pay high rent for their office and top heavy team. For these agencies, the polish is a sales gimmick, that you’re funding. Check the company roster. If it’s a team of very senior people, you may be paying their rent and making their payments while the less experienced worker bees grind away, maybe offshore.
Look for transparency and ask these questions:
Please know that outsourcing is not necessarily bad, there are lots of good outside consultants providing great work to agencies. We believe simply that you should be aware that it is common practice and a necessary one given the enormous quantity of work that goes into successful Internet Marketing.
We recognize that this is a bit of a dig on the very industry that we are a part of, it is not intended to be. We simply believe in transparency and educating our clients. It’s better for both parties when we are speaking the same language.