How to Vet a Digital Marketing Agency

How to Vet a Digital Marketing Agency

Why You Should Listen to Me

You may be asking yourself, what gives this guy the audacity to give me advice on Digital Marketing.  That’s a fair question.  I may have spent the majority of my career in Financial Services, but I’ve spent the better part of the last few years as a freelance digital marketer.  What most people don’t know about digital marketing agencies is that many of them outsource a lot of the work to freelancers like me.

In one instance I was hired by a digital marketing agency to do SEO project management.  They’re biggest client was another digital marketing agency.  So I was a freelancer working for an agency who was working for an agency who was hired by the client.  Think about how many layers existed between me and the client and how many people were making money off of the relationship.

I have agencies approach me everyday regarding whitelabel relationships.  Where I essentially take their services, mark them up and charge as high of a price that I can, outsourcing all of the work to them while I simply manage the relationship.  In my humble opinion, you should avoid these agencies.  In my experience they tend to care about selling you the product or service that gives their business the most ROI, not the product or service that will give your business the most ROI.

I want to help you identify the right agency or the right freelancer.  There are so many “churn and burn” agencies out there that go out and sign as many clients as they can and in doing so they sacrifice quality of work.  As long as they are signing clients faster than they are losing them, they’re happy.  It doesn’t exactly bode well for client experience unfortunately.  That is probably why most of my clients have a horror story or two.

Know What You Want

The first step in any process should be knowing what you want and understanding specifically what you want to get out of it.  There are many facets to any digital marketing campaign.  As I mentioned previously, many agencies are going to sell you on the services that give them the most ROI.  So it’s important to identify which components of Digital Marketing provide your business with the most ROI, not the other way around.  Don’t blindly trust the person that’s trying to sell you on their service.  Do the research and come to your own conclusions.

Take a hard look at your competitors and see which aspects of their digital marketing campaign appear to getting them the most traction.  Even if you have to look outside your niche or industry, find an example of a company doing it in a way you want to emulate in some way.  As Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.  Don’t just copy your competitors best ideas, do your best to improve upon them while staying true to your own voice and brand.

Learn the Basics

In order to get the most out of any service, it’s important to understand the process.  Knowing the basics can really useful in identifying the best candidate for your business.  The easiest way to learn is by doing.  I highly recommend trying to do it yourself, even if just briefly.

If it’s SEO (search engine optimization) get a free trial membership to SEMRush or MOZ.  Do a little keyword research and optimize a page on your website for a target keyword.  If it’s social media management on Facebook, trying posting every day for a month.

In the process of learning, you may discover that you actually enjoy some components of the digital marketing process.  You can then engage with the parts of the process that you enjoy and outsource/delegate the rest.  The key is to still have an understanding of the processes you aren’t directly involved with.

Do They Practice What They Preach

This is my favorite litmus test for any marketing agency.  Do they practice what they preach? Are they actively implementing all of the services they are selling you on?  My favorite postings on Upwork are the Lead Gen companies looking for help generating more leads.  If you can’t generate leads for your own lead gen business, how do you expect to do it for your clients.  For me it’s a relatively simple way of disqualifying a potential service.

It sounds pretty logical, but just do your due diligence to make sure they are drinking their own kool-aid so to speak.  If an agency is pushing Facebook Ads, but they aren’t implementing any of their own, that should tell you something.  I once worked for digital marketing agency that got all of their clients utilizing local in person networking events.  They had a lot of clients and it blew me away that they were able to close all of those deals considering they didn’t implement any of the services they were selling their clients on for themselves.

Working with a digital marketing agency that doesn’t implement it’s own digital marketing strategy is like hiring an obese trainor to get you back in shape.  It probably isn’t going to work out.

Ask The Right Questions

Ask For Specific Examples

Identify prospects that provide specific examples that directly apply to your business.  If it’s SEO, ask what keywords they would target and why. If it’s Facebook Ads, ask for sample ad copy etc.

There are so many digital marketing agencies shopping around cookie cutter template proposals.  Learn to look past the fluff and identify the prospects that have taken the time to customize their proposal to your business.  If they didn’t take time to customize their proposal, it should tell you that they are most likely shopping the same proposal at scale.  In my experience working at digital marketing agencies, these types of relationships are not sustainable because they rarely yield results for the clients.

Agencies shopping proposals at scale tend to have more clients that they can really manage, so they’re consistently sacrificing on quality.

Ask About the Structure of Their Firm

Ask yourself if they have full time employees or if they are outsourcing the work to other agencies.  Keep in mind that it’s really easy to generate a company email for someone.  It’s relatively easy to create the illusion of a team.  I’m not saying all white label agencies do bad work, but I do think they do a poor job of being transparent.

Not in all cases, but sometimes these agencies will put up a website that creates the illusion of this big company with a huge staff so they can justify charging big prices to big clients.  The reality is that in many instances these agencies are nothing more than a very small nucleus of full time employees paired with a small team of virtual assistants and part time freelancers.  I should know because I’ve worked as a freelancer for multiple agencies with this structure.

Ask if They Implement Their Own Strategies

Any SEO professional can drive traffic to low difficulty keywords.  But it takes a skilled professional to dive deep and find keywords that will actually lead to conversions and not just drive traffic.  Any influencer can buy followers and buy likes, but only a legit influencer can help sell out your next launch.

Another reason why it’s so important to understand the basics of the underlying service before hiring any agency or freelancer.  Try to have an understanding that most metrics are vanity metrics that can be manipulated.  Once you have a basic understanding, do some background research into each agency.

If they are pitching Facebook Ads, check out the success of their own facebook ad campaign.  If they do Social Media Management, check out the last months worth of posts on all of their agency social media pages.  When it comes to social media, I like to look at the comments because they are harder to fake.  You can buy followers, you can buy likes and you can even buy comments.  But it’s relatively easy to identify comments that are real and genuine vs something a bot left behind.

Proposals and Case Studies Are Over Rated

I’m going out on limb with this one.  I’m not making the claim that case studies and proposals are not compelling.  I’m also not making the claim that all of them are worthless.  However, they are overrated as whole in my humble opinion.  Here is why I say that.

Templates are Free and Easy to Find

Google “free SEO proposal template” or “free social media management proposal.  In many instances it’s as easy as entering a few simple fields.  Client Name, Business Name, Client Email and then a picture of their logo and your logo.  Most of the proposal is generated for you.  You will begin to notice that it’s extremely rare to find proposals and case studies that contain content that is curated specifically for your business.  Unfortunately most contain fluff material that be broadly applied to any business.

Numbers and Metrics are Easily Manipulated

Most SEO professionals can drive traffic to low competition keywords.  Not all can develop a SEO strategy that will drive traffic that actually leads to conversions.  Most Social Media Influencers can get you likes and followers.  There are few influencers that can really drive real sales.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the metrics that are cherry picked and taken out of context, especially if you don’t understand the underlying topic.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your homework!

Understand if Your Goals Align With Your Budget

The easiest way to get burned when hiring a digital marketing agency is having unreasonable expectations that do not realistically align with your budget.  Here’s why.  If you’re expectations far outweigh your budget, you’re opening yourself up to being pitched fraudulent services.

For instance, an SEO agency or freelancer may be promising first position rankings for next to nothing. What they aren’t telling you is that they’re most likely utilizing “black hat” techniques that yield short term results, but leave you vulnerable to potential penalties over the long term.  It could also take shape in the form of an influencer who is offering to promote your business for what seems like a low price given the size of their following.  What they aren’t telling you is that their followers and likes are not organic because they have been purchased.

So take the time to understand the price range for the given service you are looking for.  If you do have a limited budget, rather than hire an agency, consider finding a freelancer with limited experience.  In my experience these people are usually highly motivated to build out their body of work and therefore willing to work for less so they can gain experience to justify charging more in the future.


Selecting and vetting a marketing agency is no easy task.  It’s imperative to the process to take the time to understand the basics of each of the individual aspects of digital marketing that you are interested in.  If not, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by what you don’t understand and that can easily influence you into making the wrong decision.

The best and last piece of advice I will give you is to not to ignore the human element.  The person you are potentially working with is just as important to the process as the service itself.  So many people get caught up in the numbers and they forget about the human element.  Don’t forget to ask yourself if you can work well with this person or team of people.  Communication can be one of the most important elements to any working relationship, especially if you’re dealing with remote workers who are not on site.  You have to be able to trust them to get work done effectively when you aren’t actively engaged in the process.  I would argue that the person behind the service is more important that the service itself, but that’s a conversation for another day.


Social Media Marketing – Which Social Media Platform Is Right for Your Business

Social Media Marketing – Which Social Media Platform Is Right for Your Business

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Social Media Marketing

Hopefully at this point, as a business owner, you understand the importance and the power of social media marketing. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you are B2B or direct to consumer. Social media marketing is one of the most cost effective ways to build brand awareness in today’s business world.

Consumer Behavior has changed quite a bit since the early 2000’s. Television and radio are no longer the most effective channels of advertising. Those two mediums are passive in nature, as people have no control over what commercials they consume via television and radio.  Unlike social media which is very targeted in nature and users are actively deciding to follow you.

It can be tough to know where to start if you have yet to make the transition, as there are so many different social media platforms to choose from these days. The first step is identifying your target demographic. Once you know more about your ideal client or customer, figure out which social media platform they are most likely to be utilizing.


Facebook Marketing – The All in One Social Media Platform

Facebook is a must for every business in my opinion. Consider the fact that 79% of all adults worldwide you Facebook. Creating a basic fan profile page is generally a good idea, even if you aren’t going to use it for lead generation. From a reputation management standpoint, if you don’t create the page for your business, someone else could. From a social media marketing standpoint, Facebook is the best place to start for any business.

Facebook has 1.18 billion daily active users that spend an average of 50 minutes on the platform. It doesn’t matter how amazing your product or service is if nobody knows about it. The first step is creating a Facebook “Fan Page.” Over 30 million businesses now utilize Facebook fan pages.

Facebook Marketing

Whether you are B2B or a straight to consumer business, Facebook is great way to create brand awareness. It’s also a great place to advertise as you can build target audiences. If you are an E commerce business or any kind of a media company, then you should be going all in on Facebook. Believe it or not people do a lot of shopping through their Facebook news feed these days. It’s also a lot of people’s primary way of consuming news of any kind as well.

Facebook is the most versatile social media platform out there. When they identify a cool new feature from one of their competitors, they always seem to find a way of integrating it into their platform. You can roll out simple status updates like twitter. They acquired Instagram, so if you take the time to link your instagram to your Facebook, you can upload something to Instagram and easily have it feed to your Facebook profile as well. You can post and share videos like Youtube. You can create stories and implement filters like Snapchat. Or even stream live content like Periscope.  So if you are thinking of dipping your toe into the pool of possibilities that is social media marketing, definitely start with Facebook.

Instagram Marketing

Instagram is one of the more visual social media platforms as it’s based around images and short videos.  As of the end of 2017, Instagram has over 800 million users. If your business is visual in nature, you should absolutely be utilizing Instagram in your social media marketing efforts. For the first 6 years, Instagram utilized a simple reverse chronological feed. Regardless of quality or engagement, you would see the most recent post first. Then in March of 2016, the sky fell and Instagram announced that they would be incorporating the use of an algorithm.   There are two pillars to Instagram growth now that they have switched to an algorithm.

Instagram Marketing

The first pillar is engagement. Engage with your followers that are taking the time to like and comment on your posts. Respond to every comment you get. Go out of your way to return the favor by liking and commenting on their posts as well.  Doing so ensures that your posts will show up higher on their feed when they first open the app. Obviously this can be time consuming, but it’s absolutely essential to organic growth when you’re first starting out.  This is one of the most effective ways of creating a loyal following on Instagram.

The second pillar to growing your followers organically is the use of hashtags. Effectively using hashtags allows you to reach new audiences within your niche. Getting into the coveted “Top 9” for any relevant hashtag will have a significant impact on your growth. The maximum number of hashtags is 30, so the more the better. Make sure all of the hashtags you implemented are relevant to the post itself or at the very least your business. Research trending hastags within your niche before you post and utilize a mix of highly used hashtags and others that are less common. If you have a specific location or service area, make sure you also mix in some location based hashtags as well.

Twitter Marketing – Social Customer Service

Twitter is a network for conversation, not a mass messaging channel.  Twitter is multifaceted from a social media marketing standpoint.  Twitter is also becoming the top option for social customer service.  Close to 35% of consumers prefer to customer service via social media now. Twitter is utilized by younger demographics more than older. 36% of 18-29 year olds use Twitter and between 21% and 23% of 30-64 year olds use Twitter. The numbers fall off a cliff from there.

Twitter Marketing

Source – Sprout Social:

So if your target demographic is older, Twitter may not be the best option.  Don’t make the mistake of using it as a bullhorn, as you will most like get limited engagement. Even if you already have a massive following, it doesn’t ensure that they are going to see every tweet you put out there. Even the top brands and celebrities aren’t seeing the level of engagement they once did.  Start thinking of Twitter more of as a direct line of communication, like a telephone.

The Twitter algorithm attempts to show it’s user the Tweets they’re more likely care about. So it rewards the brands and users that share content their audience actually wants to see. If your followers are engaging with your tweets, then your future tweets are more likely to show up in their feed when they first login. One way to ensure this is by creating one on one conversation’s with your followers.

Twitter can also be used for lead generation. Put yourself in the shoes of your potential client and search for keywords related to your business or a problem your business tries to solve. Send direct replies to individuals who may be interested in your service or product.

LinkedIn – The Social Network for Professionals

LinkedIn is a must if your business is B2B.  If you are B2B and you have yet to integrate LinkedIn into your social media marketing arsenal, now is the time. Known as the social media network for professionals, there are currently over 467 Million registered users and 133 million of those reside in the US. Even if you aren’t going to utilize it as a lead generation tool, I still believe it is worth setting up a basic company page as it can improve the legitimacy of your business.

When it comes to generating B2B leads, LinkedIn is by far and away number 1. LinkedIn comprises more than 80% of business’s social media leads. All the other platforms put together only amount to just over 19% of lead generation. The first step in utilizing LinkedIn for lead generation is to create a company page for your business.

LinkedIn Marketing


Generate a captivating image in the header that draws people in. Create a clear and compelling pitch in your company description. The first few lines are the most important. To get past this part of your LinkedIn page, they must click the “see more” button. So you have to grab their attention right out of the gate to compel them to continue reading or they won’t read the rest. Identify your target audience, define your value proposition and define your product or service as efficiently as you can in those first few sentences. Once they click the see more button, the link to your company website appears.

It’s also important to utilize the recent updates section for those prospects that scroll past your link. Post updates that are directly aimed at your target audience. Keep in mind with every update that your goal is to get clickthroughs from people seeking information about the product/services your company provides.

LinkedIn can also be used to find prospects. So there is more to it than the inbound techniques I’ve outlined above. Utilize the advanced search section of the website to identify the exact type of people you are targeting. There is a small caveat to this tactic. The bigger your personal network, the greater your chance of finding prospects. If you take the time to build out a very specific search, be sure to save it for later.

Another way to prospect on LinkedIn is to join and create Groups. There is most certainly an existing group for whatever niche your company occupies. A great way to find blocks of leads is join a relevant group and maintain some level of activity within it. You also have the option of starting your own group. Once you have joined and interacted in enough existing groups, you may identify an opportunity to form your own.

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Youtube Marketing – Utilize the 2nd Largest Search Engine

Youtube is a lot more important than most people think. Did you know that youtube is actually the 2nd largest search engine on the Internet? You probably thought it was going to be Yahoo or Bing. Youtube is also amazing because you can embed any of the videos from your Youtube channel on to your site itself and you can also share those videos across all of your other social media platforms. Not only is it great for for social media marketing, it’s also great for SEO. Google owns Youtube, so it’s no surprise that it carries weight in terms of their algorithm.

A common misconception is that you should only have a Youtube channel if you are going to be an active vlogger. Even if you are only going to put up a few videos to utilize on your site, it’s better that any video you embed on your site come from a Youtube channel under your companies name than from someone else’s channel.



From a marketing standpoint Youtube is a great way to build authority in your niche. Especially if you don’t have an actual location and your brand only exists online. Nobody does this better than Gary Vaynerchuck.  It’s a way for you to put a face to your business and humanize your brand. Modcloth is another perfect example; they’ve created a virtual store that simulates the experience of walking into a vintage clothing store.

If Youtube is a good fit for your business, there are many strategies you can implement. Honestly I could do an entire post on Youtube in and of itself, but I’ll touch on a few here. Just like the other platforms, consistency is key. If you aren’t rolling out consistent content, you aren’t even trying. Figure out what topics are trending within your niche and put your brands spin on them.

Reach out to influencers in your community and see if you can interview them on your channel. Lion Zeal built an entire SEO community utilizing this tactic. He interviews successful people within the SEO community and asks them questions that bring real value to other people within the niche. It’s a win win for everyone involved. It boosts his channel’s presence and the person being interviewed also gets some free exposure. The audience gets information that is truly hard to come by. The real lesson here is that to get a consistent following you have to post consistent content with real value. The same lesson for every platform really.

Snapchat Marketing

Snapchat is the new kid on the block in terms of social media marketing.  However Snapchat has more than 178 million daily users, so it can’t be ignored. Not necessarily the place I would start if you haven’t fully developed your other social media platforms. If your target audience is younger, then you should absolutely consider rounding your social media presence and start churning out regular stories on Snapchat. There is also upside in that you can save those stories and repurpose them on Instagram and Facebook.

Snapchat social media marketing

Source – Sprout Social:

Snapchat is more raw than the other social media platforms. Consider that when posting as each post doesn’t need to be curated and edited the way your content does for the other platforms. It honestly only takes a few minutes out of your day to throw up a few posts to your story each day. Snapchat is a great way to give people a sneak peak behind the curtain of your company.

Once you generate a substantial following, you can utilize Snapchat to create offers that are exclusive to those who follow your company on Snapchat. You can also create custom geo filters for as little as $5. Snapchat has also integrated ads to their platform. However if your target demographic is primarily older and a younger audience would have little or no interest in your products or services, then Snapchat may not be a good fit. More than 60% of 13-34 year olds who own smartphones use Snapchat. If that is your target demographic, you should absolutely consider adding Snaphchat to your social media marketing strategy.

Pinterest Marketing

Pinterest is another social media platform that can’t be ignored. Especially if you are in E-commerce and your target demographic are younger women. As of Jan 2017, there are 150 million active monthly users and 70 million of those reside in the US. 45% of women use Pinterest when compared to only 17% of men.

Pinterest social media marketing

Source Sprout Social


One of the first places to start with Pinterest is making sure that all of the images on your website are “pinnable.” This way someone can pin a picture from your website without having to navigate away from your site. Pinterest’s main function for it’s users is to enable them to save images that they find valuable for later use. One of the first things brides to be do is create a pinterest board full of wedding imagery.


So if your target demographic includes young women in a significant capacity, then I would absolutely create a pinterest account for your business.  Start creating pins for your product or service.  Join as many groups as you can as that is a great way to circulate your pins to the masses.  Pinterest also started implementing the use of hashtags recently, so be sure to utilize relevant hashtags for all of your pins.

Social Media Marketing Conclusion

Social Media Marketing can be very intimidating to those who are new to it.  It’s easy to build it up in your head and it gets overwhelming, I get it.  Don’t overcomplicate things.  Research your target demographic.  Once you’ve identified your ideal client, simply figure out what social media platforms they likely utilize.  Go all in those social media platforms to get your content in front of your target audience.  This will drive traffic to your website and increase sales over the long term.  

I’m not saying it will be easy.  Nothing in life worth doing is easy.  Social Media Marketing is no different.  Of course there will be trial and error.  Each platform has there intricacies. Take your time and do some research on the social media platforms you’ve identified as the best fit for your business.  Trust me, there is plenty of material out there so you have trouble locating information.  At the end of the day you can always outsource it to an expert.  I may know a guy if you’re interested.