It has become very easy to start a business today. Simple throw together a website and start diverting search traffic. Presto, you’re a legitimate business and a good looking website is all it takes for people to start taking you seriously.

This is a good thing, and a very bad thing in many ways. For example, in 2009,¬†more businesses were closed¬†than new companies opened for business. When you’re shopping for an online marketing agency be sure to ask these ten questions to find the best of the bunch.

1. Defining Success

Success is a difficult thing to define, but one definition for successful online marketing would be meeting your goals or objectives. You can find successful online marketing agencies by asking them about their successful lead generation campaigns.

They should be able to provide figure for increased leads and lead conversion rates. Based on this information, you can determine which online marketing agency has developed the most successful campaigns in the past.

2. Transparency

When you’re asking about past successful campaigns, you can learn a lot about the transparency of the online marketing agency you’re talking to. Will they share information about their process, team members, partners, and fees? Do you have to ask for this information or is it readily available? It’s always better to work with a company that is very upfront and honest about their business.

3. Time Management

This transparency should include careful accounting of the time spent on your project. Ask for a project timeline, schedule flexibility, and be sure to put it in writing. This ensures everyone is in agreement before any work begins. Also, having the project timeline in writing can help resolve any disputes that may arise during the project.

4. Walk The Walk

Once you have some idea of what an online marketing agency will do for your business, take a look at their online marketing efforts. Visit their own website, blog, and social media presence. Determine if they are taking advantage of the current trends and ask them to share their own experiences with the marketing services they offer.

If something has worked for them in the past, they should be able to share their insight. Even if something has not worked, they should have some suggestions about how your needs are different and why this strategy should work for you.

5. Willing To Teach

You’ve got your own business to run and you don’t need to spend time learning everything there is to know about online marketing, that’s why you’re hiring an online marketing agency. However, the agency should be willing and able to explain technical terms, elaborate on marketing decisions, and walk through data or reports.

They may offer email or phone support to help with this process, but the company needs to be willing to teach you about the products and services they offer.

6. Understand Your Needs

Be sure that any online marketing agency you hire will ask for your input, talk about your needs, and focus on your goals or objectives. Their recommendations need to be tailored to your specific problems. If their proposal reads like a form letter, you may want to consider other options.

7. Guaranteed Results

Be very cautious of any online marketing agency that guarantees their results. Results can’t be guaranteed, but agencies can provide examples of past successes. From these examples, it’s possible to develop projections and develop a strategy that is likely to succeed.

However, every company, product, and campaign will respond to different market variables which make it impossible to guarantee success. Instead, look for an online marketing agency that can offer a list of key performance indicators and contingency plans.

8. ROI Tracking

It’s difficult to compute a monetary value for marketing ROI, but some key performance indicators should be tracked. These can be used to determine which aspects of a marketing plan are the most successful and which should be revaluated. Any online marketing agency that does not track ROI should be marked off your list.

9. Company Size

Smaller companies offer more personal service, but larger companies have more resources in-house. This can be a personal preference, but you should be aware of some of the benefits and draw back with each option.

Hiring an individual to manage your marketing program can be cost effective and bring a high level of personal attention, but it can be difficult to find a replacement if this person goes out of business. On the other hand, a large online marketing agency can be a one-stop-shop for all your marketing needs, but you may feel like your business is just a number on a file.

10. References

The best case scenario is that your online marketing agency has a list of references on their website or testimonials on their social media accounts. Any company worth considering should have a list of references you can contact. If you can’t find it on their site, just ask and they should direct you to their references. Any online marketing agency that cannot supply a list of references should be removed from consideration.

Since anyone can setup a business and market their services online, you need to do your homework before hiring an online marketing agency. What seems like a well established business may turn out to be a lone college student working from home while waiting to land a job. You don’t want to put your company into a situation where you’re forced to find someone to complete a half finished project.

With more businesses closing than new businesses opening their doors, it’s very important to ensure you find the right online marketing agency. This includes developing quantitative measures for success, transparency, time management, willingness to teach, and an understanding of your business needs. Take the time to shop around, compare companies, and call a few references to be sure you find the right online marketing agency for your company.

Your Turn

What are your experiences with an online marketing agencies? We would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

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