should you hire a marketing agency

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency? Pros and Cons

Should you hire a marketing agency? Getting qualified help to reach business goals sounds appealing.

However, it’s easy to waste money on marketing. And how do you find the right agency?

In this article, you’ll get an introduction to what marketing agencies do and how to make good hiring decisions.

If you want to hire a marketing agency, you’ll be better equipped to do so after reading this.

What is a Digital Marketing Agency?

A digital marketing agency provides services that establish brand identity, increase brand awareness, and promote business growth. Those services include website design, SEO, lead generation, social media marketing, email marketing, conversion rate optimization, and advertising campaigns.

Digital PR services are also common and may include outreach to news media, link-building campaigns, event management, and development of co-branding opportunities.

Before we take a closer look at these services, a word of caution is in order.

A Word of Caution

Last week a ‘marketer’ joined a Facebook group for professionals. He’d landed a big SEO client. “Now, what do I do?” he asked.

It turns out this individual has no SEO experience. Like many, he liked the idea of making money with digital marketing.

This lack of experience masquerading as expertise happens at the agency level too.

Several years ago, SEO expert Stav Zilbershtein became disillusioned: “Even if some of these people only read three articles on SEO, they would begin to claim expert status.”

That inspired Stav to leave the industry and use his expertise to bootstrap an app he later sold for over half a million dollars.

Many of the best marketers have shifted out of agencies and companies and into making money online for themselves through affiliate marketing or product development.

Also realize that it’s not uncommon for digital marketing agencies serving local businesses and nonprofits to be mediocre.

However, that doesn’t mean that small businesses don’t have good options.

Let’s explore what services marketing agencies offer and what tasks you can easily handle yourself.

Along the way we’ll share insights from our own experience to help you avoid disappointment.

Marketing Services

Many local marketing agencies bill themselves as “full-service,” meaning they claim they can handle all of your marketing needs.

The attraction here is convenience. But there are cases, as we’ll see later in this article, that choosing a marketing firm based on a single area of expertise can be a wise move.

First, let’s briefly examine the standard services offered.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO is a set of disciplines designed to help website content rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

The goal: grow brand awareness, readership, conversions, and sales.

What SEO Services Do Agencies Offer?

A marketing agency will offer to conduct a “site audit” and deliver a report on your strengths and weaknesses. Their recommendations may include the following.

Technical SEO:

On-Page SEO:

  • Optimizing title tags and meta descriptions.
  • Optimizing existing content for SEO.
  • Adding internal links for SEO.
  • Producing new content designed to rank well.

Off-Page SEO:

  • Creating link-building campaigns. (This means getting other sites to link to yours.)
  • Digital PR, such as guest posting, podcast interviews, and mentions in news media.
  • Social media management.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

Can I do these things myself?

Regardless of your niche, you can learn how to do SEO.

WordPress site owners can use a plugin like All in One SEO (AIOSEO) to easily handle most technical and on-page tasks.

And this will be at a fraction of the cost of hiring an agency.

aioseo homepage

SEO plugins provide click-button ways to:

All in One SEO (AIOSEO) also automatically generates and updates sitemaps.

And when it comes to optimizing content for SEO, a plugin can give you “advice” on improving your page.

aioseo sidebar
Above: The AIOSEO sidebar appears shows you exactly what to do to improve your rankings.

Increasing internal links to your most important conversion pages can help them rank higher in search results.

Adding these links is easy using the Link Assistant in AIOSEO.

aioseo link assistant dashboard

Link Assistant will list linking opportunities in your website. All you have to do is click buttons; you don’t even have to open any web pages.

We routinely use All in One SEO (AIOSEO) to optimize our page content before publishing. Within about 5 minutes we can increase our SEO score substantially.

And we set aside a small amount of time each month to build internal links.

Do I want to outsource to save time?

You may want to hire someone to handle SEO basics to save time. Or maybe learning it doesn’t interest you.

Understand that a full-service agency will likely charge a premium for handling low-level tasks, such as optimizing title tags and meta descriptions.

And original, compelling content optimized for SEO is hard to come by and expensive. You may be better off using an agency specializing in this rather than a “jack-of-all-trades” firm.

Of course, you can also choose to handle content creation in-house too.

Specialty Issues

Mid-sized or large companies with complex website issues may need to hire a technical SEO specialist.

Speed optimization can also require technical expertise. WordPress users may want to see what speed gains they can obtain using a plugin like WP Rocket.

wp rocket homepage

Graphic Design

Graphic designers offer visually compelling marketing collateral, such as brand-based signage for industry booths, impressive-looking e-books, and digital annual reports.

They may also offer branded visuals for your website, such as original illustrations for articles and landing pages.

What Graphic Design Services Do Agencies Offer?

Almost all agencies have creative artists that can produce art for advertising campaigns, logos, website design, social media graphics, or brand materials.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

What business outcome do I expect?

Of all marketing services, a logo and marketing collateral may be the least likely to move the needle on conversions and sales. And if it did, it would be difficult to prove.

Indeed, we know of a successful serial entrepreneur who’s been running a profitable website for years with no logo (just the site name) and a stock, out-of-the-box WordPress theme. He recently added a logo.

Why the wait? For his niche, it simply wasn’t an issue that deserved prioritization.

Can I do this myself?

Budget-constrained? There are lots of low-cost online tools that make it easy to create impressive logos and brand materials. And you can use services like Printful to design branded merchandise easily.

Regarding website illustrations, consider the free service created by artist Katerina Limpitsouni. You can alter the colors to match your brand. And they’re free to download as a PNG or SVG file.

Here’s an example.

undraw illustration of woman sitting at desk

Tools like Canva make it easy to create social media graphics, eye-catching charts, brochures, book covers, posters, merchandise, and even cartoons.

canva brochure template

For data-rich sites, consider using Tableau to create interactive web graphics. See their public gallery to get an idea of what’s possible.

You can also hire a freelancer from Fiverr to create a Tableau graphic for you.

Website Design and Development

Websites are an ideal platform for establishing your credibility and expertise. You can use them to book appointments and sell services and downloadable or physical products.

Online courses and communities are also commonly included in sites.

How fast a website loads impacts conversion rates and sales. And excellent content can also drive conversions and sales.

Features of a quality website include

  • Secure checkout and straightforward navigation
  • Helpful information for the target market
  • Social proof, like testimonials or live transactions
  • A persuasive case for the product or service
  • Compelling copy.

What Website Services Do Marketing Agencies Provide?

An agency can provide web design and development services. They’ll meet with you to learn your business goals and understand your requirements.

The team will comprise at least one creative artist and one or more developers.

What to Expect

In one or more “discovery” meetings, the agency team will draw out your goals, get information on your brand, and present options.

If you don’t have a logo, or want a new one, then a branding package will be negotiated and relevant charges added to the estimate.

The outcome will be a proposal and plan that lists your deliverables (such as logo files and logins) and theirs, on a timeline.

It’s important to realize that many agencies will expect you to furnish the site architecture and all content for every page.

  • Architecture refers to the file and folder structure of the site. It includes how each page relates to the whole.
  • Content includes every letter on every page.

It’s common for small businesses to mistakenly think the agency will create all the content and architecture for you.

While they may offer to do this, it will be at additional cost.

And if you provide it, it will likely take you far longer than you expect.

A Glimpse into Industry Changes

Over the years, website creation has become increasingly “Lego-fied.” Pre-made building blocks, like shopping carts, contact forms, and home page designs, are available, speeding up the site creation process.

Even the best designers use templates of various types, frameworks, and libraries of pre-built modules. So, no one is building anything entirely from scratch.

However, when you request specific functionality, like a shopping cart, the agency may use language that makes it sound like they are building it from scratch: “Sure, we can provide a shopping cart. We’ve estimated that will take X hours and cost $7,500.”

In reality, they’re re-selling pre-made parts that they’ll modify to fit your site design.

That said, it does take work to set these things up on a new website. And, if you’re moving from one type of CMS to another, that can require substantial work.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

Why do I want a new website?

Make sure you define what you hope to achieve with a new website. That includes how it will support your business goals.

Perhaps you simply want a more professional look and content that better communicates the expertise of your staff. Those are legitimate goals.

Is your current site buggy and slow? Fixing your site can help your business. But it won’t create leads or sales out of thin air.

Do I expect a new website to increase my traffic?

It’s common for small business owners to believe that a new website automatically means more traffic. And they don’t necessarily voice this expectation.

Typically, new websites experience lower traffic temporarily. If optimized for SEO, the site’s traffic will pick up after Google indexes the site again.

However, we know of a case where a business spared no expense with their website redesign, hiring top SEO pros, and yet, following the launch, they sustained a 50% decline in traffic.

A website is an online container for your content. In and of itself, it doesn’t generate traffic. And moving to a new platform can cause unexpected problems.

Regardless of your results, you’ll need a plan for acquiring traffic.

Can I, or a staff member, do this ourselves?

There are lots of DIY “website builders.” These software products enable you to drag-and-drop blocks to build a website.

Well-known builders include WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and Webflow.

The downside: Many of these solutions are filled with code to please everybody, so they’re “bloated” and slow.

What they offer in simplicity, they may take away in site speed. And that can kill your conversions and sales.

Some, like Wix and Squarespace, don’t offer the option to choose a different web host. (The quality of web hosting can affect speed and reliability.)

You can upload as many themes as you like to WordPress. Switching themes is as easy as clicking a button.

So here’s a solution. Search for a WordPress theme known for speed, like GeneratePress or Blocksy. And choose your web host.

We use SiteGround and recommend them.

generatepress templates
GeneratePress costs $59/year (or $249/lifetime) and comes bundled with pre-built themes like these above. Just install, click, and fill in your content.

Also, take a close look at SeedProd. This is a drag-and-drop WordPress builder with fast loading speeds.

With SeedProd takes minutes to create a whole website or landing page with a sales funnel.

Now let’s look at social media marketing.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing uses platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote businesses via content and ads.

Proceed with caution: there’s still a lot of hype surrounding social media. And being good at using it is different from being able to use it to achieve business outcomes.

Indeed, social media marketing is prone to mismeasurement. For instance, some social media marketers rely on meaningless “vanity metrics” like:

  • Impressions
  • Reach
  • Followers
  • Likes
  • Engagement
  • Views.

To be useful, social media marketing must be part of an integrated business plan and have goals.

Those goals can include raising brand awareness (which can be measured) and driving a new source of qualified traffic to your site.

What Social Media Services Do Marketing Agencies Offer?

Professional social media marketers can create eye-catching graphics or videos for you, craft compelling short blurbs for posts, and run ads.

They can also design campaigns to promote activities, events, or products.

Because platforms like Facebook are already optimized for SEO, posts that target keywords important to your business can drive search traffic to your site.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

  1. Can I do this myself?
  2. What business outcomes do I expect?

Email Marketing

With an average return of $36 for every $1 spent, email is one of the most effective channels for acquiring, upselling, and maintaining customers.

Successful email marketing strategies include creating good copy, measuring results, and A/B testing.

What Email Marketing Services Do Agencies Provide?

Marketing agencies can choose and set up an email platform for you and create automated email series designed to accomplish business goals. Experienced copywriters can draft text that gets conversions.

Agencies will also measure and report results. They may also offer to increase your conversion rates over time.

Good email marketers will avoid practices seen as spammy and understand the regulations that govern email marketing.

They’ll also appeal to, then remove, inactive subscribers and scrub your lists of inaccurate emails addresses. (This is called “data cleaning” or “data hygiene.”)

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

Does the agency have a track record of email campaigns that convert well?

Consider reaching out to customers to get first-hand testimonials.

Can I do this myself?

Low-cost platforms like Drip and Convertkit make it easy for bloggers or businesses to set up their own automated campaigns.

They even measure revenue per email for you. (See the Drip example below.)

drip revenue metrics

Try Googling “high-converting email templates” to get headline and email text ideas. (Note: some people use “email templates” to refer to visual email designs. We’re referring to the actual headlines and email text itself.)

A/B test subject lines and content to optimize clickthrough rates. And always be experimenting.

Finally, tap the staff of your email software service. They have experts available who can help. And they typically have blogs overflowing with useful tips.

ConvertKit is known for making it easy to get results from email marketing.

Online Advertising

Online advertising, done well, can grow brand awareness, conversions, and sales. Options include:

  • Display advertising: These are ads served on a network of websites.
  • Remarketing: These are ads that “follow” users around the web. How they work: Once a site visitor clicks on your product, if they don’t buy, remarketing ads will show up on other websites they visit.
  • PPC (pay-per-click): These ads can appear in search engine results pages or in social media platforms. The cost is a set fee based on clicks.
  • Local Services Ads: This ad product from Google offers pay-per-lead pricing.
local services ads
Google’s Local Services Ads display your star rating average, and the Google Guaranteed or Google Verified badge.

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency to Create and Run Ad Campaigns?

Before hiring an advertising professional, ensure your local SEO basics are in order. That should include having a Google Business Profile set up. And optimize your web pages so they can be displayed as rich snippets. These things can boost click-through rates and conversions.

Once you have the basics down, you’ll be better positioned to consider whether you need advertising.

Be sure to calculate your CAC, or cost of customer acquisition, before engaging with a marketing agency

If you decide to hire a PPC ad professional, ask contacts within your industry for names. Good ad pros can present a track record of leads.

Remember that marketing ad pros typically deliver leads, not sales. To make the most of these their services, you’ll need to have these things in place:

  • A compelling product or service
  • An effective sales process
  • Determination to respond quickly.

You’re far likelier to qualify leads if you respond in under 30 minutes. Responding within 1 minute boosts sales by as much as 391%.

So be ready to carry your phone 24/7.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

  1. Is your goal to boost leads? Or are you currently stuck with no leads?
    Some advertisers specialize in scaling up businesses that are already getting sales. Their tactics might not work for businesses that aren’t getting any sales. Inquire about this.
  2. What upsell (or downsell) opportunities can you prepare?
    Upselling refers to offering a second product or upgraded service to someone ready to buy. Downselling means offering a cheaper product for those who can’t afford the main product.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) boosts conversions and sales. Tactics may include things like:

  • A/B testing article headlines, email copy, and checkout buttons.
  • Creating email and advertising copy and campaigns.
  • Creating and optimizing sales funnels.

What Conversion Optimization Services Do Agencies Offer?

Agencies (or freelancers) who offer conversion optimization services should be able to provide a verifiable track record of results.

They should bring sales funnel optimization, analytics expertise, and related technology expertise to the table.

And there are agencies that specialize in conversion optimization.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring

  1. What are your current conversion rates?
    Before hiring a marketer, know what your current conversion rates are for product/checkout pages, lead generation pages, and email marketing.
  2. How do I know I’ll be getting a return on investment (ROI)?
    Ask your marketer to provide metrics that show ROI. They should show you a sample report, so you know what the information will look like.
  3. What’s my customer lifetime value?
    If you sell services or subscription products, you’ll want to know what your customer lifetime value is before speaking to a marketer. Use this online calculator if you don’t know what yours is.

Marketing Strategy

Having an integrated strategy, where every marketing channel is designed to work together to optimize sales, is ideal. Here, experience counts, and an excellent agency can be invaluable.

You’ll receive a marketing plan that ties together various channels and technology like:

  • Marketing campaigns. (Advertising, email, etc.)
  • Content creation and SEO.
  • Conversion rate optimization.
  • Metrics reporting tied to business outcomes.

Now that we’ve covered the main services agencies offer, here are some additional guidelines for making a decision.

Making a Decision

Are marketing agencies cost-effective? Many agencies have brick-and-mortar expenses (overhead) to cover.

And in some cases, such as handlng basic SEO tasks, they may not do a better job than you.

Small businesses looking to save should consider creating their own WordPress website and handling their SEO and email marketing in-house.

Scaling Up: Get New Customers and Track ROI

If you’re getting good sales now and want to scale up, consider conversion optimization experts, ad pros, and content marketing pros.

Small business owners will want to be well-acquainted with their current numbers before approaching any marketers. Return on investment (ROI) calculations will be key.

  • “Soft” activities, like social media marketing and creating a strong visual impression with a new website design, are notoriously difficult to measure.
  • By contrast, conversion rate optimization, SEO, advertising and lead generation can all be measured and tied back to business outcomes.

Be sure to choose an agency experienced in measuring and presenting ROI.

Evaluating Marketing Agencies

Consider the following when evaluating marketing agencies.

Case studies: Do these just present visuals or is ROI reported?

Testimonials: Consider contacting clients directly.

Skill match: If you’re getting a website redesign, make sure they’re skilled in the platform you use (e.g., WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Gatsby.)

Retainer: Find out early if a monthly retainer is required.

Remember to base your decision on business needs, not on unsolicited pitches.

And review your marketing efforts to date. That will help you identify strengths and weaknesses.

Wrapping it Up

Small business owners have an abundance of options for marketing. They can take a DIY approach, as many solopreneurs do. This provides an invaluable foundation of knowledge that can be applied to every aspect of business growth.

We don’t know of a single successful small business entrepreneur making seven figures or more who didn’t use self-taught digital marketing skills (especially SEO) to grow their business.

Some small businesses may choose to hire one or more full-time marketers. Or they can choose to cross-train existing staff and gradually grow an in-house marketing team.

Lastly, they can outsource marketing, hire an agency, and get an external marketing team working for them.

Q&A on Hiring a Marketing Agency

How do I prepare for a marketing agency meeting?

To prepare for a marketing agency meeting clarify your goals. The best way to do that is to put them in writing. Gather your key metrics too. These include traffic trends, cost of customer acquisition (CAC), customer lifetime value (CLV), ROI on current marketing, and sales and revenue trends and numbers. Do you have a lead generation and sales process? Be prepared to describe that in detail too.

How do marketing agencies get paid?

How marketing agencies get paid depends on the type of work being done. For instance, website design and development projects usually require a percentage paid up front with the remainder being paid after completion of the project. Some agencies split the payments into 3 equal portions, with the 2nd one due halfway through the project. Ad campaign management usually entails a flat monthly fee. And Facebook Ads marketers may include a fee based on a percentage of your customer lifetime value (CLV).

SEO, email marketing, and social media work usually entails monthly retainers. And content marketing (the creation of SEO-optimized content designed to rank) may involve per-article fees.

What’s Next?

We hope this post helped you understand what digital marketing agencies can do for you and what marketing tasks you can easily handle yourself.

Next, learn why you should avoid paid link schemes. And discover the fascinating role of backlinks in SEO.

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author avatar
Sherrie Gossett Content Writer
Sherrie is an SEO analyst based in New Hampshire in the United States. When she’s not busy researching, implementing, and writing about new SEO developments, she can be found hiking and playing guitar.

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