How to Spot a Bad Online Marketing Partner

Finding the right online marketing partner might feel just as impossible as finding the perfect romantic partner. At the end of the day, a marketing agency should act in many ways like the best version of a significant other for your business: nurturing it, investing time and energy in it, adopting practices to keep it happy, clearly communicating, and even highlighting its best qualities. Although they might not be an official part of your team, the marketing agency you hire should be true partner and as a result, able to anticipate the marketing needs of your company, perhaps even before you can. Relinquishing control of some aspects of your business can be scary, but with the right partner by your side, get ready to see some amazing results when it comes to the growth and development of your business.

Digital marketing has experienced a boom in the past several years as SEO, social media, and website design has become both increasingly complex and important for the success of a company. There are dozens of agencies out there, but how do you know which one is the one? While there might not be an online dating profile for marketing agencies, here are some of the ways you can evaluate the gems from the duds and find the online marketing partner that matches your goals.

What is the state of their website?

You’re hiring a company to optimize your online presence, so your #1 step to judge their capabilities is by taking a look at their own website and social media pages. Even when you’re still in the perusing stage, you can do this research without even reaching out yet. First of all, take a look at the quality and care of the website design. You’ve naturally put a lot of effort into your own product and therefore you should look for a marketing agency that places equal value on their own. This means a website that has a modern design and was recently updated with quality content.

A marketing agency should be adaptable to take on the style and voice of any client, however, you can at least get a feel for their overall marketing personality as a company, based on the content they produce. Click around their website and then head to their blog to see what strategies they frequently use and can provide expertise on for your marketing plan. On their social media page, are they active and providing useful insight about marketing tools, tactics, and strategies? Most of all when doing this type of due diligence, check for the consistency of both their brand identity and content strategy. The alignment and attention to detail that they bring to their own online marketing is a good indicator of what they will bring to your company as their client.

Finally, check on their website if a particular marketing agency provides examples of past work or testimonials from previous clients. Think of this as having a friend set you up on a blind date: you still need to get to know the company one-on-one, but you have a reference and a bit of context going in. Based on these examples, you can get a sense of their reliability, work, and success rates. You can also use these as a jumping off point for discussing what services you are interested in and the outcomes you expect.

Do they eat their own dogfood?

Now it’s time to take a deeper dive below this superficial surface of your first encounter with a potential online marketing partner. Marketing agencies definitely love to talk the talk, but it’s up to you to evaluate if they can also walk the walk. First consider what you want out of the relationship and what metrics you want to measure. Is it website traffic? Conversions? Leads? Social media influence? All of the above? Head back to their website and social pages and see whether they are practicing what they preach when it comes to the strategies they use to achieve these goals.

You can judge a lot about a marketing agency based on your own gut reaction to their marketing tools: do you want to click their CTAs? Are their offers engaging? Do they effectively promote new pieces of content? If no, it’s a warning sign that if they can’t market themselves, they’ll have a challenge with marketing your business. Instead, look for a potential partner that is both successfully marketing their own brand and keeping it interesting by testing new tools, experimenting with strategies and tactics, and pushing the boundaries of content offers with new and engaging uses of media.

Do they provide you with a realistic proposal?

Once you’ve evaluated your options and even had some “first date” meetings, it’s time to raise your standards and judge their proposal. Of course many factors come into play when determining whether a particular proposal will work for your business: budget, scope, depth, longevity, etc. However, the #1 warning sign to look out for is a proposal that does not provide tangible metrics, goals, and a timeline of when they will be achieved.

Think of these key performance indicators (KPIs) outlined in the proposal as not only a way for you to decide whether to take the plunge with a particular marketing partner, but also as your tool to hold your partner accountable, if you decide to work with them. As a result, you want to be sure that their intentions are clear from the outset and that you can then hold them to the standards that they set up front. Once you’ve got some KPIs in a proposal, watch out for marketing agencies that will try to sell you on likes and retweets; these do not equate to conversions or revenue! Remember, your marketing efforts are in support of your goals to generate sales and growth your business and the KPIs in the proposal should reflect this.

 Breaking it Down: Warning Signs of a Bad Online Marketing Partner

  • Outdated website and content  
  • Inconsistent branding
  • Lack of references and reviews
  • Marketing content that doesn’t engage
  • Stagnant content or strategies
  • Proposal without KPIs for conversion

Don’t dive into a serious relationship with an online marketing partner when you can avoid the heartache by already heeding these warning signs. Instead, look for an agency that will take the plunge with you in a way that is backed up by concrete experience and a concrete plan for your work together.