According to a report released by Forrester, a research and advisory firm that works with various business and tech leaders, companies can expect to spend a combined total of more than $103 billion on digital marketing activities by the year 2019. Based on this amount, Chris Leone, president of WebStrategies, concludes that most business will be increasing their online marketing budget from 30 to 35 percent in the next couple of calendar years.
Depending on the size of your small business, this could quickly add up to being hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. That’s why it’s so important to find the best digital marketing agency possible to handle this growing portion of your marketing budget. But before we get into how to identify that type of agency, let’s first discuss exactly what digital marketing is and why it’s critical to your business success.
What Is Digital Marketing and Why Is It So Important?
SAS, a business analytics software and services company, defines digital marketing as “the promotion of products or brands via one or more forms of electronic media.” Put simply then, this particular form of marketing includes everything from what you put on your website to the posts on your social media pages, and even to your company’s app (if you have one).
SAS goes on to explain that one reason this type of marketing is critical to growing your business and your brand is because it gives your target market “access to information any time and any place they want it.” In this day and age where we’re accustomed to not having to wait for whatever it is what we want at that particular moment—whether it’s a meal via a quick fast food joint or a movie we want to see and can instantaneously watch thanks to online streaming—offering consumers this same no-wait access to your business information enables you to also give them what they want when they want it, circumventing the growing impatience of a number of consumers today.
Another reason digital marketing is invaluable is that it’s like word-of-mouth advertising, but on steroids. In the past, word-of-mouth used to refer only to the people you came in contact with on a face-to-face basis, such as family, friends, and co-workers. But now, with the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, word-of-mouth means that you’re also privy to the opinions of anyone who is willing to open his or her mouth online and share what they think…even if they live on another continent. In business terms, it serves as a form of social proof for your company as potential consumers can quickly and easily learn what others think about your products and services based on their posts about their experiences with both.
These are just two reasons why it’s so important to find a top-notch digital marketing agency to handle your electronic advertising efforts. A lot is at risk. So how can you tell a good agency from a not-so-good one? Here’s what a couple small business owners had to say on the subject based on their own experiences.
Do Your Homework
Bilal Malik, owner of Reserved Barking, a business which provides dog day care, boarding, grooming, and training in Alexandria, VA, says that, when it comes to digital marketing, small business owners should “do your due diligence.” For Reserved Barking specifically, Malik shares, “I like to contact and interview 3-4 agencies before making a decision.”
Taking this approach by putting in some time and checking out many different digital marketing firms allows you to compare and contrast their services on a multitude of levels. For instance, some may handle different social media sites than others. And some may not take care of your social media platform at all.
For these reasons, it serves you well to know what you’re getting right up front. This means asking questions about the services they provide and, most importantly, asking for more clarification if you don’t understand their response.
“Talking tech” can be more than a little overwhelming if you’re the type of person who struggles with operating the tv remote, so don’t be afraid to ask the marketing firm to break their services down into easy-to-understand terms. And don’t stop asking questions until you truly understand the answers.
Check Out Their Portfolio
When seeking to hire a digital marketing agency, Malik also stresses the importance of checking out their portfolio. Ask yourself: “What type of work have they done in the past and does it fit your company’s brand, aesthetics, message, objective, and, of course, budget?” says Malik.
In addition to considering who they’ve worked for, which ultimately gives you a better idea of whether or not they have the expertise necessary to help put you ahead in your industry, also take the time to look into what previous clients say about working with them, suggests Malik. This can be accomplished rather easily by asking for references and testimonials.
Once you have those in hand, you can continue to do your due diligence by actually picking up the phone and contacting their past clients directly. Ask what they enjoyed about working with the agency, what they did well, what they could have improved upon, or any other questions you can think of that will give you a clearer image of what you could expect should you decide to hire them and work with them yourself.
Pay Attention to Their Priorities
Michelle Dempsey, writer, speaker, and women’s issues advocate, also suggests that, “When looking to hire a digital marketing company, small business owners should focus on companies who focus on making branding or rebranding a priority.” Why does this one factor carry so much weight?
“The way your brand is positioned by a marketing company can make or break your business,” says Dempsey, “and you want to make sure that you focus on what differentiates your brand apart.” Effectively, you want to pick a company who can help you share what makes your business better than your competitors. Is it your stellar customer service? The high quality of your products? The speed of your service? What exactly makes you the top pick over others in your industry and will the digital marketing firm capitalize on that?
Also, if your brand doesn’t already have a personality or a story, that doesn’t mean that you’re out of the digital marketing game, says Dempsey, as “the marketing company should work with you to help build one that not only appeals to your target audience, but that works to further set you apart from your competition.” As long as they make your brand and its uniqueness a priority, then you’re on the right track.
Look for their Management of 4 Key Areas
James Pamplin, DC, CEO of WonderDoc, LLC, a chiropractic EHR (electronic health record) software provider, concedes that “digital marketing is a highly skilled and complex form of marketing that always changes within a growing online presence. For this reason there are simply too many factors to consider when hiring a digital marking company then what can be covered in a single article.”
With this thought in mind, however, Pamplin also says that one thing to pay close attention to is whether the company knows how to effectively manage what he calls the “four key areas of digital marketing.” These are: search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing, and content marketing. Let’s look at each one briefly to better understand the role it plays in the success of your business.
#1: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
“Regarding SEO, it’s important to hire a company that performs best practices in both on-page and off-page optimization,” says Pamplin. What’s the difference? “On-page optimization involves designing a website that offers the best user experience and is focused around the key words you wish to target for search engine ranking,” Pamplin explains. Off-page optimization is “simpler, but much harder to achieve,” he says, but it essentially means “getting backlinks from a variety of relevant and trustworthy websites.”
Some agencies try to circumvent the system, warns Pamplin, advising that it’s important to avoid the ones “who you think may be cutting corners or gaming the system. It’s not worth the search engines catching you doing this because a penalty in search engine ranking position (SERP) may be impossible to recover from.”
#2: Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Because SEO usually takes quite some time (like months) to provide measurable results, some businesses invest in search engine marketing to speed the process and “help increase exposure,” says Pamplin. For this reason, “a company that specializes in SEM must know how to manage your marketing dollars in a way that maximizes the click through rate for your specific target market,” he says.
To help you better understand this concept, Pamplin offers an example. “If you only have $500.00 to spend on SEM, it doesn’t make sense for the company to target an irrelevant keyword in your market that costs $50.00 per click. In just 10 clicks you blew through your budget.” For this reason, you want to “make sure the SEM company knows your target audience and the keywords that will provide the best ROI,” says Pamplin. This will give you the most bang for your marketing buck.
#3: Social Media Marketing
“If done right, this form of digital marketing can be the most powerful form of any marketing campaign,” says Pamplin. Case in point: “Think of when a YouTube video or meme goes viral,” he says. In a matter of minutes, you can be in front of millions of people, increasing the public’s awareness not only to the fact that you exist, but also the services and products you provide.
Because of this, “A carefully crafted social media presence can result in massive followings of your brand in very little time,” says Pamplin. “That’s why it’s important to find a company that knows how to deliver the right message consistently to your potential followers on all of your social media accounts. Like SEM, any irrelevant or inconsistent messaging wastes both your money and your followers’ time.”
#4: Content Marketing
Finally, the digital marketing agency must also know how to manage your content, says Pamplin, referring to this as “the glue that ties SEO, SEM and social media together.” He also adds that, without content marketing, your digital marketing efforts would “be like isolated islands.” Each one would be independent of the other and unable to effectively tie your brand together in one nice, neat little package.
“So make sure a digital marketing company has a clear understanding of your company’s product or service and how it relates to the industry so the content they create is valuable to your customers,” suggests Pamplin. “This builds trust with search engines and, more importantly, your audience,” he adds. And isn’t trust necessary for a long, beautiful relationship? Yes. Yes it is.