37 key questions to ask when evaluating digital marketing agencies

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37 key questions to ask when evaluating digital marketing agencies

Selecting the right digital marketing agency partner is key for businesses aiming to drive results and scale efficiently. With countless agencies vying for attention, marketers must ask the right questions to ensure they make the best choice for their company’s needs.

Although I’ve owned an agency for seven years, most of my career was spent working on the client side. I’ve compiled questions I would have asked when I was on the other side of the desk and also from questions prospective clients ask us.

These questions can guide your agency selection process, aiding in informed decisions. While not all are necessary for an RFP, they’re valuable for discussions with agencies.

Primarily for paid search, they can be adapted for SEO, paid social, retail media or other needs.

Understanding the importance of this part of the business

1. How many total paid search clients does the agency have and what is the average annual spend of their clients?

  • Understanding the agency’s client base and their typical investment levels helps gauge their experience and the scale of their operations.

2. What percentage of the company’s revenue does paid media management represent?

  • This insight provides valuable context regarding the agency’s emphasis on paid media and its significance within its overall business strategy. It goes hand in hand with the question above.
  • Is the agency just starting out in paid search or is it a core capability?

Understanding your position

3. Will your business be considered a big, medium or little fish in their PPC department?

  • Knowing where your business stands in relation to the agency’s other clients gives perspective on the level of attention and resources you can expect to receive.
  • In an ideal world, you’ll fit somewhere in the middle – important enough to get proper attention but with an agency that has experience with running larger accounts so that they can help you scale.

4. Will you own your accounts or would they?

  • It’s important that you always retain ownership of your account. That way if you’re ever dissatisfied, you can easily take your business elsewhere.
  • You’re hiring an agency to manage on your behalf, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t own the work.

5. What does a typical contract term look like?

  • Do they lock you into long contracts without an out clause? You’ll never know how the relationship looks until you’ve started collaborating.
  • Make sure you have some flexibility in case the partnership or results aren’t working out. If you’re OK signing on for a longer term without an out clause, you may be able to get a discount.

Account audit and optimization

6. Has the agency performed an account audit and what specific observations and areas for improvement were identified?

  • This question delves into the agency’s analytical capabilities and its proactive approach to optimizing client accounts. It also helps ensure they have a deep technical and strategic knowledge of finding opportunities.
  • Make sure you’re getting specific recommendations instead of generalities. Many agencies won’t perform a free audit unless it’s for a larger account.
  • Still, you may consider paying for an audit as part of your evaluation process to get a feel for what they’ve found and how they present information.

7. Based on their audit findings, how much restructuring do they believe is necessary and what is their preferred account setup approach?

  • Understanding their proposed strategies for restructuring provides insight into their expertise and methodologies.
  • This will also give you a sense of whether they are likely just to take your existing account and make standard optimizations or if they are bringing new thinking to the table.

Assessing performance metrics

8. What do typical reports look like?

  • It’s helpful to see a sample of a weekly or monthly report. This will give you a sense of what type of information will be shared with you continuously.
  • Do they talk about results or more vanity-type metrics? Is it the level of reporting you’d expect? Does it feel very templated or more customized and full of rich information?

9. Will you have access to a live dashboard?

  • You’ll want to know if you have access to performance data (aside from logging straight into Google Analytics or Google ads) directly or if you’ll have to request reports.
  • If you can access a dashboard, ask to see a sanitized report version. Make sure that spend and CPA or CPL (or another performance metric) are shown.
  • We’ve seen dashboards that report on impressions and clients but hide spend so the client doesn’t know what is profitable and what may be inefficient.

10. What do they typically use to evaluate performance? GA4, platform data or another source?

  • Each source of information has pros and cons. Platform data can be very helpful because it provides the richest information, but GA4 will provide a deduplicated view of the order/revenue. You may also want to understand if they use other technology like Triple Whale.

11. What attribution methodology do they typically use?

  • This goes hand in hand with the question above. It’s helpful to get aligned so that you’re speaking the same language. Make sure you also discuss the attribution window.

Expected results, timeline and onboarding process

12. Based on their findings, how long do they anticipate it will take to see improved results and what are their expectations regarding performance gains?

  • Setting realistic expectations for results and timelines is essential for aligning goals and forming a healthy partnership. However, be a little weary of overly aggressive forecasts unless you know that your program is in disarray.

13. What is their process and timeline for taking over an account?

  • Understanding their onboarding process helps manage expectations and ensures a smooth transition.
  • For larger programs, you’ll probably expect a request for an overlap period with the existing agency.

14. How do they ensure a smooth transition to avoid any drop in performance during restructures?

  • Probing into their strategies for minimizing disruptions during transitions highlights their commitment to maintaining performance consistency.
  • Many agencies will suggest a period where more minimal changes are made while they learn the ins and outs of the account. While this may seem lax, it may be for your protection.

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Industry focus

15. Do they lean into one particular industry or spread their focus and why?

  • You’ll need to decide if you prefer to align with a digital marketing agency specialized in your industry for targeted expertise or opt for one with a broader focus for diverse perspectives and potential cross-industry insights.

16. If they have multiple accounts in your industry, how do they ensure account/client separation?

  • Understanding their approach to maintaining client confidentiality and avoiding conflicts of interest is crucial for establishing trust and transparency.

17. Which bidding strategies do they prefer to use and why?

  • Each type of account will require different bidding strategies and the strategy will change depending on how much data is available to drive decisions.

For retail or ecommerce clients:

18. What do they see as the role of text ads, shopping and Performance Max (PMax? What about video or other campaign types?

  • It’s helpful to understand the agency’s philosophy on each campaign type to ensure a well-rounded strategy. This question addresses the agency’s understanding of retail-specific advertising dynamics and its ability to maximize returns for ecommerce businesses.

19. How do they navigate optimization challenges if they employ a ‘go all in on PMax’ approach?

  • PMax is easier to run (and likely more profitable for the agency to manage!), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for your business.
  • Do you really want to hand off full control to Google? Would you prefer for there to be more levers to pull to drive scale or control costs when needed?

20. If you have a physical presence, do they have experience with local campaigns?

  • What’s their typical approach and how do they think about attributing sales from stores or driving foot traffic?

For B2B or service focus:

21. Do they have experience with RevOps and understanding the nuances between optimizing for a lead vs a qualified lead and customer?

  • Not all leads are created equally and it’s important in B2B to find actual converting customers.

22. Have they handled integrations with call tracking or other offline data sources?

  • B2B and service businesses also tend to include more offline sales – captured through phone or other means – so you’ll want a partner that understands how to capture and leverage the right data

Team structure and expertise

23. What is the general structure of their PPC department?

  • Exploring the agency’s organizational structure provides insights into its resource allocation and specialization.
  • Is there one director over a lot of managers? Or is it a team with a clear hierarchy that’s designed to ensure each account has sufficient senior-level attention?

24. How big is the overall PPC team and how many members are fully dedicated to paid search or social management?

  • Understanding the team’s composition and expertise distribution informs expectations regarding the depth of talent available to support your campaigns. You may also want to ask if they use a pod structure or have a different approach.
  • The reason that team size matters is because one of the reasons that clients often like agencies is because there is a pool of individuals who are experts and can bring more ideas to the table.

25. What is the average years of paid search experience of the individuals on the PPC team? And what’s the minimum?

  • You’ll want to understand if the agency is using experienced professionals or if there are a lot of junior members of the team. Ideally, you don’t have a team that is “learning on your dime.”

Account management

26. How many accounts is the lead responsible for and what role do they play?

  • This question sheds light on the level of individual attention and involvement you can expect from the agency’s leadership.

27. Who will be assigned to your account and what is each team member’s level of experience?

  • Understanding the qualifications of the team members assigned to your account is crucial for assessing their ability to deliver results. An agency is only as good as the people on your account!

28. How often will you be meeting with the team and who will be on calls?

  • Make sure you are clear about who will attend and at what cadence. You may have some calls with more members of the team and others that include just a limited set – but it’s better to know upfront.

Day-to-day operations

29. Who handles most of the day-to-day work in the accounts and how many accounts are they responsible for?

  • This question provides insights into the workload distribution and the level of attention your account will receive.
  • We’ve connected with individuals in the past who are responsible for more than a dozen accounts. There’s no way that person will have time to learn about your business.

30. Who will be your primary point of contact for day-to-day communications?

  • Clarifying the communication channels and primary contact streamlines collaboration and ensures efficient problem resolution.
  • Will you be working with an account manager or do you have direct access to the people managing your campaigns?
  • You’ll want direct access to ensure that you aren’t playing the game of telephone on strategy and other important topics.

31. What’s the most frequently used method for communication?

  • You’ll want to find out if you have access to the team through email only or if you can also communicate through Slack or another means.

Third-party involvement

32. Are any tasks outsourced offshore or to third parties?

  • Understanding the extent of third-party involvement helps evaluate potential dependencies and risks associated with outsourcing.
  • Ultimately, you’re hiring the agency to know who is actually doing the work from end to end.

Collaboration

33. What is their relationship like with the Google team?

  • Access to Google highlights their ability to gather data quickly and can bring potential advantages, such as beta features and industry insights.

34. How do they view the value of paid search and SEO (or Social) partnering and how do they ensure effective communication between teams?

  • Exploring their perspective on cross-channel collaboration demonstrates their holistic approach to digital marketing and their commitment to maximizing results across channels.
  • How do they collaborate within their agency (if they are managing multiple marketing channels for you) or with other agencies (if the work is divided among agencies)?

Case studies and references

35. Can they provide relevant case studies showcasing successful paid search campaigns?

  • Reviewing case studies allows you to gauge the agency’s track record and success stories in delivering results for clients.
  • Look for something that’s representative of your business, whether it’s big or small. That doesn’t mean that it needs to be for your industry – but there should be some parallels.

36. Are there reference clients you can speak to about their experiences with the agency?

  • Speaking directly with past or current clients provides valuable firsthand insights into the agency’s performance, communication and overall client satisfaction. It’s rare that prospects ask for this and generally reserved for large accounts.

Client retention insights

37. When the agency loses clients, what are the typical reasons cited?

  • Understanding the factors contributing to client churn provides insights into potential risks and areas for improvement in the agency’s service delivery.

Marketers can make informed decisions when selecting a digital marketing partner by asking some of these questions and diving into various aspects of a prospective agency’s operations and expertise.

You don’t necessarily need to discuss every one of these, but choosing a good cross-section of questions can help ensure you find a good partner for your business.

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