10 Questions to help you pick a good digital agency.

Tips of the Trade

May 12, 2024

Acommon theme we hear time and time again is how many people have been burnt by their last “web guy.” And sadly, if that sounds all too familiar, you are not alone.

The problem here, is that the barrier to entry is relatively low. We know, we’ve seen people making grand promises for over twenty years and the results, well I think those results can speak for themselves in the many thousands of websites that look like they are stuck in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Many have been abandoned but their bones may still be on display in a quasi website museum. Their perpetrators have probably gone on to bigger fish, with a wake of peeved customers in their rear view mirror.

For more than two decades, there has been both a lack of transparency and credentials on the web. Anyone that called you up professing them self to be something, you sort of took their word for it. And the sale would ultimately be made based on how good of a salesperson they were, not how good of a marketing person or web person they were.

Unfortunately, the person was looking for a gullible mark or a desperate business owner. And while this may not be all the instances of business owners getting stuck with a terrible marketing firm or “web guy,” its far too many for our liking.

With that in mind how are you able to spot a faker from a distance?

10 Questions To Ask

1. How long have you been building websites or providing digital marketing services?

A: If the answer is less than 5, you should probably look elsewhere. If the answer is less than 10, you may still want to look elsewhere. While the length of time in an industry is not particularly linked with their skill set, there are many benefits that come along with a longer tenure of experience. First, they are less likely to be a “fly by night” organization, looking for a quick buck. If they survived in this industry more than ten years, that means something substantial. Also, knowing the evolution of the world wide web is incredibly important so that you are assigned the best solution for your unique needs. Many recent digital marketing agencies may only prescribe a single solution and that solution may not be the best for your particular needs.

2. May I see your three most recent web/digital marketing projects that you have worked on?

People that are proficient and active digital marketers should have a lengthy list of projects they have worked on, and if they are a good agency, most of the most recent clients should be active clients. The websites should look fresh and modern, they should be adequately speedy and all of the links should be working. More so, the websites should probably be tied to actual service based or brick and mortar businesses or at least e-commerce sites that look like they are active. If something is broken, words are misspelled or links are sending you to random websites you should probably steer clear.

3. May I see your track record of success (analytics) proving the growth that you are claiming?

While this is a great question, do proceed with caution. The individual may provide screenshots of random analytics to “prove” they have a track record of success, when in fact they are just stealing other people’s screenshots. So, you may want to do a google image search based on the images they share with you. If those same images come up elsewhere, and it’s not their website, you may want to continue looking for a web professional.

Good analytics should show month over month and year over year growth. A yoy growth of 20-40% is good, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Digital marketers can distort statistics by pumping ad spend into various campaigns and time frames to help inflate the results. So, unless you see the entire picture, you may not get the best information from this question. However, coupled with the answers that you receive from the other 9, this may be a great indicator of the caliber of talent you are working with.

4. What is your current company website?

This one is straightforward. Their current and active “company” website should look modern, load adequately speedy, be free of grammatical errors, broken links and broken designs. This is supposedly the thing they have invested the most time in to prove to you they are capable of handling your project. If the website looks entirely outdated or it looks like it hasn’t been maintained or kept up, what sort of care do you expect to receive when they are working on your project?

5. Where are you based and how do I get in touch with you?

We are entering an age where far too many bad actors are posing as US / UK / Canadian / Australian firms to convince business owners to work with them. What happens when you sign up? You get a point of contact that is not a fluent English speaker, hard to track down and may not even deliver on their promises.

While geographic location does not determine the success one may achieve with a proper marketing team, it does make the job more challenging. Not only communication and time zones become an issue, but also vetting the talent become very tricky. Add a language barrier to that and you are really rolling the dice. Preferably, you want someone you can get on a video call or in person meeting with every once in a while to touch base, set your forward looking calendar and make sure you are achieving mutually agreed upon milestones. And when your marketing team is thousands of miles away, it makes that things pretty challenging.

6. What frameworks are you proficient in?

The answer to this may be a dead ringer. And while a good answer to this does not automatically qualify a web marketing professional, it may separate the wheat from the chaff pretty quick. Adequate answers here may be a list of design programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design or Canva; a list of web services such as Shopify, WordPress, Squarespace, Wix; or a list of coding languages such as Python, Javascript, C, PHP, CSS, HTML, etc.

If you get silence or stammering, you may know that you have found a poser and not a professional

7. Where do you host your websites?

This one may also be a dead giveaway. There are large hosting providers such as Host Gator, Go Daddy, Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean, Cloudways, Google Cloud, 1&1, Blue Host, Liquid Web, Rack Space, etc.

The hosting landscape is littered with many seedy operations, most of which offer shared hosting. And while, not all shared hosting is bad, you need to choose very carefully. If the “web expert” mentions a web host that you have never heard of and doesn’t come up with glowing reviews upon a quick google search. You should probably steer clear.

A professional, will have experience with many different hosts and has probably bopped around from one to another. They should be able to articulate a quick run down of pros and cons from one of several different web hosts that they have hosted with in the past.

8. What are your payment terms?

Never ever pay in full up front. Instead, your payments should be linked to certain milestones or deliverables, ones that you can actually check on the progress of and ensure that the work expected has actually been performed.

The maximum you should pay up front to a legitimate marketing agency is probably 33% of the initial build out and only after they have adequately answered the other 9 questions on this list. The second 33% should be payable after a certain date (say 2-4 weeks) after certain objectives have been demonstrably achieved. The final 34% should be payable after the final product is ready (say 4-8 weeks).

Many projects get dragged on and dragged on indefinitely to the point of exhaustion. If the price sounds too good to be true it probably is. Many overseas firms will bait you with a low upfront price and then ghost you when it comes time to actually deliver the work, or deliver far under their promised quality.

Make sure that the milestones are actionable, check able by a “layperson” and sufficient. You do not want to back load all of the work in this instance as they could very easily show you some work, which you sign off on, but the bulk of the difficult work could be left for the final third of the contract.

9. Have you worked with anyone in my industry?

While all legitimate digital marketing agencies may not have an affirmative answer here, they should be able to provide you color as far as working in similar industries. Bonus if they have actually worked with someone in your industry, as long as it is not a conflict of interest for them to take you on as a client.

However, knowing that they are proficient in your industry, understand the unique demographics and target customers, will ultimately help the results. Always look for an agency that can properly articulate how they intend to cover the learning curve of your industry. Remember, one size does NOT fit all. And someone that promises amazing results without actually having any similar wins to point to may just be another fast talking “web guy.”

10. What are your main proficiencies?

The answer here is very clear, it should never be everything. In fact, digital marketing agencies are very similar to physicians, there exist many specialties that take many years of practice and study to become an expert in. Various answers should be, Web Development, Paid Media, Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Youtube Ads, Graphic Design, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Management, Newsletter Management, Strategic Planning, E-Commerce, Web Optimization… The list goes on. A proficient agency may have knowledge of all of these, but the answer should never be “all of them.” Try to get them to articulate and demonstrate years of experience in each proficieny they profess, and you should be able to get a handle on their ability level.

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