How to vet a digital marketing agency

So many options, so little time! Here are 3 solid tips to help you vet a digital marketing agency and decide in minutes if it's worth setting up a meeting.
woman with binoculars

We love the internet. Truly. It delivers anything you can possibly want, from life-saving information in a pinch, to global connections with peers, to a perfect meme for any occasion. But with great Google power comes great Google results—sometimes too many to sort through. This is especially troubling when you’re seeking services online and end up with 100 companies all trying to sell you the same thing—with no good way to help weed out the real candidates.

Digital marketing is especially prone to this problem since many companies operate nationwide or overseas, so you’re not even limited to just local companies vying for your attention. With your dilemma in mind, we have some advice on how to vet a digital marketing agency before you ever pick up the phone:

With great Google power comes great Google results—sometimes too many to sort through.

1 | Scope out their social media presence.

The first step to vet a digital marketing agency is to see how they present themselves online. This might seem like commonsense, but it’s a great place to start for some immediate information. Here are the main things to look for:

Does the agency HAVE social media accounts?

The big ones to look for are Facebook and LinkedIn, followed by Instagram. This isn’t just about judging how active they are, this is about judging if they understand the value of social media.

Having a Facebook account provides access to crucial advertising tools and content sharing methods. If they aren’t utilizing it to their own advantage, they’re not likely to use it to yours either! Likewise, LinkedIn provides prime networking tools and access to their primary market, which is business owners like you.

If an agency isn’t pursuing connections within their own target market, they may not have the skills to identify your ideal customers either. Targeted marketing matters!

Do they produce and share custom content, or are they just posting ads ?

You’ve probably heard the idiom “content is king,” and that’s certainly true online. Maintaining active social accounts through sharing blog posts, sharing in-progress work, snippets of their process, celebrating successes of their current clients—all of these are good signs of a legitimate and savvy agency. But if you go to a agency’s Facebook page and the only thing they post is the same ad for SEO services over and over…give them a wide berth, and mark them right off your list.

Is the content they post consistent with your values?

You’d be surprised at what some small-time marketers share with the world. We’ve seen everything from screaming matches with local business owners to the head marketer ripping a bong on camera (yes, really), all posted to their own business accounts!

It should be a given to expect a professional agency to conduct themselves professionally, but such is not always the case. Of course, values are subjective—maybe you’re a growing smokeshop, and the bong guy sounds more your style! No judgement, that’s a call you’ll have to make for yourself. But it all comes down to who you want to trust with your ad dollars and online reputation, so always try to keep personal style separate from what—and who—is best for your business.

2 | Investigate their portfolio.

First off, does the agency even have a portfolio? if not, it’s an easy way to knock someone off the list. How many of us would be comfortable buying something important, sight-unseen? If you wouldn’t do it for a house, you shouldn’t do it for your digital marketing team—they’re the ones who will ultimately build your online home for your business, so you need a strong foundation and competent workers to get it done right. Here are things to look for when vetting their portfolio:

Does their work meet your standards?

If it’s in a portfolio, they’re presenting that project as a prime example of that agency’s capabilities. Take it at face value and assume it’s the best they can do at the moment. If the work you see from them doesn’t meet your standards, move on to someone else!

How recent was their last project?

Not every project belongs in a portfolio, so it’s understandable if some agencies don’t post their entire work history. But if you notice they’re being selective in what’s included, take note of the dates. How recent was the last project they deem worthy of showing? If it’s been awhile, what does that say about the client work they’ve done since? Either their clients are few and far between, or the quality of their work didn’t make the cut—neither of those inspires confidence, so look for agencies with frequent project updates AND quality work.

Are they clear about the role they played in helping their clients?

Digital marketing is a large field. At Red Arrow Marketing, we do everything from logo and brand development, to website design and maintenance, to online advertising and SEO. Some of those services are clearly more visible than others. You don’t want to look at a marketer’s portfolio and hire them based on the brilliant websites you see there, only to find out they just helped with Google ads on those projects and nothing else.

Bad marketers will pull those tricks, while good ones will be clear about their role in any project. If you find yourself leaning toward one agency that shows great work but isn’t clear about their role, it’s worth asking them directly about those projects before committing to anything.


For websites, do they show off mobile-friendly site views?

As of 2019, Google overwhelmingly favors websites that work on mobile devices. You’ve probably heard terms like “mobile-friendly” and “responsive design” thrown around, and with good reason. If your agency isn’t providing functional web design for any device, then you’re throwing money away. More than that, any place can claim to provide responsive design without really putting in the work to optimize sites for all devices, so look for agencies that show their work with confidence and don’t have anything to hide.

2 | View their street address.

This is a clever way to separate professional businesses from at-home freelancers! Anyone can advertise marketing services online, and with the glamour of the internet, they can make it look completely professional on screen. But while one fresh-faced college kid may know how to create Google ads and slap together a basic website, you don’t want to pay agency prices to finance his pizza and beer allowance.

If you’re looking to hire a true digital marketing agency, you expect the support of an experienced team of professionals who take your business as seriously as you do. So how do you tell the difference? Scope out their location! Simply Google their business address and click the Street View option. It will show you their location from the street, and you’ll see instantly whether it’s a real business on a frat house on Greek Row.

Take note of the date displayed in the corner on Street View—it may not always be current, so don’t write them off yet if you don’t see business signage immediately. But it should be easy enough to tell if it’s a commercial office building or storefront versus a residential address. Use this information to help weed out the legitimate businesses from freelancers masquerading as full agencies.

Bonus tips!

When faced with overwhelming options for your marketing needs, you can’t be expected to pick up the phone and just start calling. You should narrow your list down to 3-5 solid options, and then build from there. These few tips should help you cut your list down drastically before you ever reach out to a company, and it should only take a few minutes each to Google their social accounts, street view, and portfolios.

A bit of parting advice: once you have a solid list of options, don’t go in blind. Treat these meetings like buying a new car—do your research first, have in mind exactly what you want, know what you absolutely don’t need, and decide on a budget that you’re willing and able to pay to make it happen. Because if there’s one thing marketers do well, it’s sell!

Without a solid plan in mind, you might go in for a Ford Fiesta and leave with a jacked up F-150 with flood lights, all-terrain tires, super sub-woofers, and a built-in hot tub in the bed…all the bells and whistles are great, but it may be WAY more than you need or can sustain. Worse yet, you may go in without a clue and buy the same F-150, but this one has no engine in it…some people will sell you style, but have no substance to back it up. So do your homework, be prepared, and leave with only what you need right now.

Good luck finding your perfect match for a digital marketing agency, and feel free to let us be your first guinea pig for these vetting tips!

That’s it for this week’s Red Arrow Blog. If you found these resources useful, let us know below! And be sure to follow our social media for weekly articles to help you make the most of your business.

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