How to choose a digital agency (without the bullshit…)

What should you look for in a digital agency?

Unlike law, accountancy and any other long-established professions that business owners partner with, the digital industry doesn’t have the luxury of heritage.

We’re new on the block, full of technical jargon and seen as saints and sinners in almost equal measure.

We want to change this and make sure that businesses know exactly who they’re working with and, more importantly, why they’re working with them.

Any business you collaborate with should treat your project as an extension of their own brand. Your great results should be their great results and in order to make sure your objectives are compatible, you’ll need an agency which goes the extra mile to understand your business.

So, gimmicks, styling and big promises aside, these are the questions you should be asking your potential partner agency.

Can they cater to your niche?

Forget the big homepage brands and prolific portfolio entries, how will an agency approach your business?

As an agency with a strong digital marketing focus, we know that devising a campaign for a fashion brand is entirely different to planning a strategy for an asbestos consultancy company.

Agencies are usually well versed in planning tailored campaigns across a range of industries, but it’s worth asking if they have any clients in the same niche as you. If these clients have experienced great results, then the team should be happy to showcase their work.

Another good indication of whether you’re a good fit is to gauge how interested the agency is in your business. You will usually find that engaged partners will be excited about seeing your premises and should have a comprehensive overview of your competitors.

Are the KPIs set out realistic?

While a good search marketing professional will research high and low to find out how many visits your site could attract once optimised, no one can promise you eternal success and glory.

Objectives are great. Ambition is fantastic, but all claims and aims should be backed up with a clear strategy for achieving them. Expect to be promised a great campaign, not the world.

Can the agency be scaled to meet your objectives?

Some agencies have a speciality service and while they may branch out into other areas, that speciality remains the service that pays their bills.

The route from organic SEO to PPC advertising is common in online marketing as businesses start to see an increase in traffic and revenue. As your campaign starts to scale up, you may also look to incorporate social media management and additional services such as videography.

While the agency might position themselves as full service, do some digging to find out how passionate and experienced the team are with the proposed services.

Ideally they’ll have case studies which centre on specific services/integrated campaigns and dedicated teams to fulfil each service offering.

A ‘Jack of all trades’ should be avoided. Great, complementary teams are evidence that the agency can meet your requirements as your business grows.

Are they up to date?

Digital moves. Fast.

And updates, changes and general shifts in online usage are going to affect your site and your marketing activities.

When your agency reaches out and tells you that mobile-friendly websites will be favoured by Google, it shouldn’t be a sales ploy, it should be part of their obligation to keep you in the loop.

Look out for an informative blog, an active social media presence and an account management team who can take responsibility for regular communication.

For more information on key mobile changes, check out our recent blog on the upcoming ‘mobilegeddon’.

Accreditations and reviews?

We might be a relatively new sector (i.e. some of our team members can remember an age before gifs), but digital is working to train accredited staff and get ‘officially’ approved.

Of course, qualifications can’t beat experience, but there are some well recognised accreditations which can give you the peace of mind that your agency has invested in training:

> Official Magento partnership
> Google Partnership Agency
> Inclusion on the Recommended Agency Register (RAR)
> Investors in People certification
> Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) certified team members

Is it clear how your agency charges?

We’ll completely level with you here, while those of us in the creative sector love our brainstorming, concepts and strategy meetings, quotes which are pie in the sky shouldn’t be accepted.

There should be an hourly or daily rate and extra costs (for example ad-hoc development work) should be transparent. An account manager should make it clear to you how the time you are paying for is managed and logged and don’t be afraid to probe if this isn’t forthcoming.

You’ll also want to enquire about how the agency deals with any of your site queries in general. For example, will you need a maintenance contract to receive a timely response if your site goes down?

How will they communicate with you?

How do you like to do business with your partners? Are face-to-face meetings preferable or would you prefer weekly Skype calls?

Any agency you partner with should be on the same wavelength as you. If you travel, they should tailor their communication channels accordingly. Don’t be afraid to speak up during the initial stages – business is becoming increasingly global and the team should be able to respond to this.

Ask what they will expect of you too. When offering feedback on concepts it isn’t uncommon for an agency to want to speak to you face-to-face.

Which brings us to…

Local or national?

If you’re the type to prefer face-to-face meetings, then a local agency will allow you to pop in without taking a chunk out of your day in travel time. However, if you’re comfortable to communicate via Skype and email, then the world is your oyster.

Ask around at business events and meet-ups and look out for any positive recommendations. This can be much more telling than a Google search and many successful agencies secure a large portion of their business through referrals.

In terms of reviews, the Recommended Agency Register (RAR) is a great resource for sourcing agencies and seeing what their clients say about them.

Do you like the team?

Finally, are the team members you’ll be working with affable and professional? We can safely say that we get to know our clients quite well and you’ll usually be collaborating with your agency on everything from initial meetings right through to training sessions.

You’ll also want to make sure that key points of contact in the team are patient. You shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed to ask what site migration is – we know it can seem convoluted to professionals who don’t work within the digital sector.


If you’d like to find out more about partnering with a digital agency, please get in touch with our team on 0161 368 9814. Tracey Phillips (our account manager) or David Johnstone (our commercial director) will be happy to help.



Victoria Browne
  • Written by on 7th April 2015 at 15:23
  • “Victoria Browne is a copywriter & social campaigns manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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