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7 Questions to Ask an Agency Before You Hire Them

You’ve decided it’s time to hire a new marketing agency. Most companies know to gather information about pricing, case studies, and past results, but the search process shouldn’t stop there. 

Not all agencies are equal. There are digital agencies, marketing generalists, industry specialists, and many more. Each type has strengths that are perfect for some clients but not for others. So, before you request a formal proposal and sign on the dotted line, here are a few things you should know about agencies and some questions you should ask.

Before you start, make a scorecard

Discussing your needs with multiple agencies can be overwhelming. You can bet that an agency in the business of marketing clients is good at making a convincing sales pitch for themselves too.

To systematically narrow down your choices, make a scorecard that lists out the qualities you’ll consider most when making your decision. A scorecard is an objective way for your company’s stakeholders to give feedback and come to a consensus on the best fit. It might include Capabilities, Cost Effectiveness, Client Retention Rate, Scalability, Industry Experience, and other factors important to your values and needs. 

As you build out your scorecard and begin interviewing agencies, here are seven questions you should ask any agency you’re considering to make sure you find a partner who is going to be a match for the long haul.

1. “What are your strongest capabilities?”

 

Many agencies boast ‘full-service’ offerings, but it’s important to dig deeper to learn which specific marketing services they excel in. The last thing you want is to hire an agency for a scope of work only to find out they aren’t actually experts in that area—or worse, they’re outsourcing the entire job and passing the bill to you. 

For starters, know that most agencies fall into one of several categories:

  • Full Service: Full service agencies handle basically all forms of marketing including paid advertising, media buying, website design/development, videography, content creation/SEO, and brand strategy.
  • Digital: Digital agencies focus on marketing through online channels like PPC advertising, search engine optimization, website design/development, social media, and email marketing. These agencies focus a lot on website performance and tracking analytics.
  • Brand Strategy: Brand agencies focus on the creative or brand side of marketing. This includes creative services like brand strategy, messaging, logos/brand kits, and videography.
  • Public Relations: PR firms focus on brand awareness and exposure through outreach to media outlets. They can place brands on television, newspapers, digital outlets, and much more. Their work is primarily focused off-site, however, more and more PR firms are getting into the media buying/advertising space.
  • Industry Specialists: Some agencies specialize in one specific marketing service or a specific industry. For instance, some agencies work exclusively with healthcare brands and offer an entire suite of marketing services for them, while other agencies focus on one service, like website design or SEO, but work with a variety of clientele. This doesn’t mean these agencies won’t (or can’t) work with other types of clients, just that they have a niche where they excel.

As you’re researching agencies, consider the marketing services that will make the most impact for your individual needs. If you’re planning an aggressive content strategy, you’ll need to make sure your agency specializes in technical SEO to provide foundational optimization. They won’t have as many extra departments to help with other marketing projects, but they will handle the campaign with excellence.

Ask the agencies about their specialties and request proof of past work in those specific services. Do they have success stories or case studies that demonstrate their expertise? This knowledge will help you judge if they’re the right fit for your project.

2.”What specific SEO services do you offer?”

 

SEO is a multifaceted domain that’s integral to many marketing strategies, so we feel it’s worth a special callout.

SEO is a service that you’ll find offered from virtually every full-service or digital agency. However, we’ve found that many agencies act more as consultants, which surprises some clients. They might only perform one part of SEO, like technical SEO, but expect the client to implement other parts on their own with little direction. If SEO is a service you need, take a look at the following tips to figure out just how experienced your agency is with this service.

First, ask about backlinking and if they plan to get links. Link building is a key part of any organic growth strategy. There are lots of ways to get links, but if the agency you’re working with doesn’t do link building or isn’t familiar with the service, chances are their SEO work won’t have much impact.

Second, ask how they plan to implement on-page changes to the website. A lot of agencies give SEO recommendations but never actually touch the website. For some clients, this is fine as they have staff and processes to handle all website changes. But you may need the agency to implement all the changes. Make sure it’s clear who is handling the website updates so you don’t get caught by surprise.

Last but not least, find out if they plan to write content (spoiler: they should). In years past, it might have been enough to just make meta updates or add a keyword here and there to get more organic traffic growth, but today, SEO is increasingly competitive and requires a higher standard of effort and work. Most brands need a full content strategy with creation in order to see meaningful results. If content isn’t on the plate, make sure to figure out why.

3. “Who will write the content?”

All marketing, whether email, website copy, PPC, or SEO, requires ongoing content creation. Although most agencies have writers, content creation is one of the most outsourced services. If content is in your marketing plan, find out who will be writing it. Is it done in-house by the agency, or do they outsource content creation to contractors and freelancers? If the agency outsources all content production, you may pay a premium for inconsistent, second-tier work. Get plenty of relevant writing samples before agreeing to let them write the content.

4. “What is your average client turnover rate?”

 

It’s important to find an agency that’s in it for the long haul. After all, you’re investing a significant amount of time and money, and the last thing you want is for an agency to flake out two months in or completely drop the ball on an important project.

The best indication of future results is past behavior, and that can be measured in how long the agency keeps its clients. A lower client turnover rate suggests higher client satisfaction and consistent delivery of results. If your agency keeps the majority of clients for 18 months or longer and if they have a pattern of repeat customers, then you know you’ll be in good hands.

Ask the agency for references you can speak with and talk to a client or two (if they’re willing to do that) to get a clear idea of how the agency operates.

5. “How do you plan to work with our different teams?”

Agencies have to collaborate with clients’ internal departments to get most of the work done. If you work with a digital agency, they’ll probably be used to working with your web or product team. But if your project also needs creative assets, content, or strategy, the agency will need to interact with stakeholders in the marketing department.

It’s important to know how the agency plans to blend with your existing efforts, and if they’ve done it before. Ask them about their process for getting to know your brand, your team’s working style, and how they plan to communicate and collaborate effectively. This is crucial for ensuring that all marketing initiatives are cohesive and amplify your brand’s message.

6. “How do you track results?”

With all of the analytics tools and software available today, measuring and reporting the success of a digital marketing campaign is non-negotiable. However, there are still a number of agencies with little experience in measuring results and interpreting data. When this happens, clients get left in the dark and don’t understand what is working, what isn’t, and why.

Ask the agency about their approach to tracking and reporting results. What KPIs do they monitor for PPC, SEO, email, website design, and beyond? How often will they provide reports? Ask for a sample report to ensure their methods align with your goals and that they can offer clear, actionable insights, not just random data. Transparent and frequent reporting is key to understanding the ROI of your marketing investment.

7. “Who will own the work?”

Finally, get a concrete agreement of who exactly will own the work the agency produces. While most agencies give the rights to contracted work to a client, some agencies limit their clients’ ability to use and reproduce their work. For example:

  • A marketing agency might shoot and produce a 30-second commercial, but would only assign the client rights to the finished commercial and not to the raw footage.
  • A digital agency might build a website on its proprietary CMS. If you end your contract with the agency, you will lose your website.
  • A content marketing firm might limit the use of optimized content to only one website URL, stopping the client from taking content and using it on other websites

There might be good reasons for these restrictions, but it’s important to understand from the agency what you own and how it can be used.

Bonus: Take a look at their values

While not every agency or company has a value statement, they are all run with certain values, whether intentional or not. When an agency has core values or a value statement, they are offering insight into more than just their technical capabilities; they’re stating their character and intangibles, and they’re also giving you a glimpse of the types of employees they hire.

Some agencies value creativity and disruption, while others focus on customer service and diversity. While no value can be considered greater than another, your company can glean insight into what the culture of the agency is like when you look at its values and ask some questions about them.

By asking these critical questions, you’ll be in a much stronger position to choose an agency that not only talks the talk but also walks the walk, ensuring a successful and productive partnership.

Austin Cline

Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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