How To Choose The Right Digital Agency

Written by Mandy Brasser

Choosing the right digital agency (or Consultant) for your business can make or break your business. That’s why we’ve put together this checklist to help you select the right digital support that you need depending on your specific needs.
How To Choose The Right Digital Marketing Agency

How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Agency

Criteria for Selecting the Right Digital Marketing Agency

The decision to hire a digital marketing consultant or agency to help you grow and scale your business usually comes easy. You’ve got to a particular stage in your business, and you know you need some external expertise to take it to the next level.  Now, the difficult part is deciding which digital agency to hire for your business needs.

In reality, pretty much anyone with internet access can create a website, chuck an ad together, write an email etc, and can therefore start offering digital marketing services as an entrepreneur. The barriers to entry are minimal to non-existent.  There is also no governing body or association to confirm whether providers are legit or experienced.  Needless to say, this complicates the process of selecting the best digital marketing agency for your business.

Avoid The Dodgy Marketing Agencies!

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of businesses paying huge sums of money to “digital marketing experts”, only to find that they are dodgy, have shady practices, and you’re left with nothing to show for it.  I hope that you’ve never experienced that and that you never will.  Unfortunately, I’ve had that experience myself 🙁  And it’s one of the reasons why I started our digital agency directory.  $25k USD down the hole engaging an agency that folded.  More about my story here.

I don’t want that for you!

In addition to dodgy agencies/consultants, the field of digital marketing services is incredibly broad.  Whether it’s email marketing, paid advertising, content marketing, branding, videography, copywriting, content creation, social media management, CRM or all of the other digital services – it’s a long list to be an expert in.  It’s basically impossible for a consultant to be across everything themselves.  As for agencies, even your full-service agencies typically will have some level of speciality. 

So, taking all of that into account, how do you decide who you should go with?

Let’s go through the criteria you should look for when choosing the right digital marketing agency (or consultant) for your business.  We’ll also discuss several red signs that should be avoided.


In order to select the best agency for your business, it’s best to take a step back and get clear about your own needs BEFORE you approach providers.

Define Your Marketing Objectives

The most important thing about selecting a digital consultant/agency is making sure that you know what you want out of your relationship. Do you know what you want to achieve?  Do you want to increase sales?  Generate more leads?  Improve rankings?  What do you hope to achieve? If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, how can an agency help?

Define Your Marketing Objectives

If you’re planning to hire a digital agency, there are several things that you’ll need to consider. You’ll want to make sure that you have a clear understanding of your business objectives. This will allow the agency to determine whether they can meet your needs. An agency will often work with clients who have very vague ideas about where they’d like to go, and this makes it difficult for them to provide recommendations based on best practices.

You’ll also want to ensure that you have realistic and specific expectations. For example, if you think that you can rank in position 1 of google for a popular and highly competitive keyword in your industry, you probably won’t find much success. However, if your goal is to generate an additional $1 million in annual revenue, you might be able to find agencies that specialise in generating leads.

By being clear on your marketing objectives and getting as specific as you can on what your business needs, will help determine a framework in which to measure the success of the consultant/agency that you are engaging with.

Determine Your Marketing Budget

How much have you allocated to invest in marketing?  What percentage of that specifically will you need to spend in order to achieve the goals/objectives that you’ve defined?  For example, if you want to generate an additional $50,000 in sales, would you be happy and willing to invest $2,000, $5,000 or $10,000? 

Marketing Budget

By being clear on specifically what you want to achieve, will help you to take a step back before you get started with any expert, to determine the budget you’d be comfortable spending to achieve those results.

Here are a couple of extra considerations to consider when determining your budget:

Set a realistic budget – This includes both your initial investment and ongoing expenses. For example, if you want to hire someone to manage your Facebook account, you might decide to invest $500 every month, and then you’ll need to spend $5,000 in ad spend every month to get X number of leads/sales.

Ensure you’re getting a ROI – You shouldn’t spend money unless you know you can generate returns. Start by figuring out what type of return you’d like to see. Is it leads? Sales? Engagement?

What type of support are you looking for – your budget may dictate the level of support you can afford.  You may not possess the internal knowledge and experience in an area that you need, so you’ve identified you need to engage with an expert.  So, depending on your budget constraints, you may be able to tap into the expertise of a consultant/agency via different support options. 

Marketing Team

For example, if you have the budget, you can get an expert to do it for you.  If you’ve got some budget considerations, you may want a done with you option – so you can get some additional support for your in-house digital marketing team.  Then finally, you may not have a big budget, therefore you may need to pay in terms of a higher investment of time for someone internally to access training to learn how to do something.

Your budget will dedicate the best approach forward here, but never rule out a consultant/agency if you think you don’t have the budget for them.  You never know what packages they have available, or the ROI that they can help you achieve as well.

What Services Do You Need?

Before approaching any agency, have a rough idea of what marketing services you think you may need.  The list of marketing services is long!  Whether you’re looking at lead generation, SEO, video, graphic design, copywriting, content creation and more.  The clearer you are, the less time you’ll spend going through a huge list of inappropriate providers.  Instead, you’ll be able to shortlist the best digital agencies that meet your needs faster.

One vs Many Consultants/Agencies

You’ll most likely have the option to work with a full-service agency that can cover all of your marketing needs.  Alternatively, you may wish to consider reaching out and engaging with a number of providers to deliver the specific needs that you have (if you have more than one).  We encourage you to be open.  I’ve heard some success stories of agencies who do it all, but most of our clients have specialists they work with in particular areas of marketing. 

Marketing Consultant

This allows them to tap into a higher level of expertise for a specific marketing need, and have a team of outsourced experts working together to help them achieve their overall goals.

Ok, now you know roughly what you need, let’s take a look at the consultants/agencies… what should you look for…


Check out their service offering

I know this one is obvious, but now that you know roughly what you need, make sure the consultant/agency does actually offer that service.  This will save you and them time in the long run!  As there is a vast range of services needed to help businesses with their marketing, be sure when you shortlist – check out their websites to confirm that they do offer what is it that you need.

What experience do they have…

It can be difficult to validate how much previous experience someone has in digital marketing without a governing body or framework.  As digital marketing is constantly changing, we recommend businesses work with experts that are on the tools every day.  That way you are tapping into the latest trends that are actually working.  Someone who did a 4 year marketing degree 15 years ago, may not be as up to speed as someone who has no degree, but has spent $1m in the last 6 months and generating a 5x return on investment.

Some ways to validate experience may include:

  • Client Success – case studies around what specific results they have achieved.
  • Certifications – experts that continue to re-invest in their education with recent certifications is another way you can check how they are upskilling themselves.


Don’t be afraid to ask them more details about their experience.  How did they get started, when was that, who trained them, what have they been exposed to, what’s worked well, what do they love about it, what projects didn’t work and why (we all have these – but will be helpful to hear what they have learned from them), what results have they been experiencing and what do they think they can help you achieve etc.  Here’s a full list of questions to ask when interviewing a digital agency. If you have the knowledge, don’t be afraid to ask more technical questions to assess them further too.

Check customer reviews and testimonials

Social proof is a powerful way to investigate the agency’s reputation and customer experience via reviews.  Examine current and previous client testimonials on the company’s website, Google, Facebook and other relevant online review sites. Try to determine how genuine these testimonials are.

Marketing Agency Customer Reviews

If you’re making a big investment in a new agency, it’s always a good idea to check the agency’s client references.  Don’t be afraid to ask to speak with a client.  You want to hear about the positive experiences, but you also want to hear about the negative accounts. Every agency has had a customer encounter that did not go as planned at some point.  It’s crucial to understand how the agency dealt with the matter and how they explain it to you. Are they owning up to the situation or placing the blame squarely on “that awful client.”?  You can also get a sense of this if there are any unfavourable reviews.  Check how the business has handled them in their response.

What kind of results do they achieve?

These days, the market is overcrowded with digital marketing agencies. Of course, each one promises to be better than the last. Keeping your business objectives in mind will allow you to quickly separate the competent agencies from the mediocre ones. Check with each agency you’re considering to see if they’ve helped achieve similar success with other clients. 

Marketing Success Stories

If they’re as good as they say, they’ll gladly direct you to their portfolio page or share some specifics about what they have achieved for businesses like yours, so you can check out their work.

Are they a good cultural fit?

Some client-agency relationships are more successful than others.  When there is a good fit, a consultant/agency can feel like part of the family, or at least an extension of the internal team.  Other relationships, on the other hand, can sour quickly and go south in a matter of days, if not hours.  To ensure cultural fit, this starts with knowing your own core values.  What’s important to you?  Once you’re clear with yours, then the best way to find out whether an agency you’re considering aligning yourself with shares your values and culture is to ask about it directly. Ask questions like: “What are your core values?”  If you don’t know if your values are aligned, then you won’t be able to make good decisions about whether the agency will work and fit well with your business.  You can also get a sense of their values by their online presence.  Look at their social media platforms, look at their website.  This can also give you a good idea about what and how they communicate. 

Consider hiring a local digital agency

Hiring a local digital agency is frequently advised for a variety of reasons, but the most important issue is communication and timely support.  We’ve all been in the situation, we have an issue with a product/service, and we need to contact support.  However, their office is overseas and of course they are offline in our business hours in Australia  So you submit a ticket, and you need to wait and waste a business day to get a response. 

Local Marketing Agency

By engaging with an Australian-based digital agency, businesses can work within normal operating hours.  It also provides an easier option to meet in person, allowing you to build a stronger and more personal relationship.  Finally, local agencies are more familiar with local target market strategies that are working on the ground.  We’ve worked with big agencies that run massive advertising campaigns in the US, however our Australian audience is not as big of course.  Being able to tap into local experts does help with local SEO, copywriting (for our lingo of course and less full on salesy approach ;-)), advertising channels, PPC and more.  Having someone in the same country can give you peace of mind that your needs are going to be taken care of by someone you can just jump on the phone and call if you need.

What kind of industry experience do they have?

Check to see if the agency has previously worked with businesses in your industry. By working with someone who has, this can fast-track their ability to understand some of the challenges you face and how you can achieve your goals faster.  If they have, ask about those engagements, including what went well and what was difficult. If they haven’t got direct industry experience, ask about how they would approach working in a new industry such as yours.  Remember, you’re trying to get a sense of their work ethic. Will they conduct a thorough analysis of your industry and competition to develop an effective strategy? Is this needed for what you want to achieve?  (In some cases, absolutely. In other cases, perhaps their experience in other fields will be enough for them to do a terrific job).

Industry Reputation

Is the consultant/agency highly regarded in their industry?  This can be hard to establish for anyone new looking to hire a direct marketing agency. 

Here are a few things you can look for:

  • Industry Recognition – are they a sort-after voice in their field? Are they considered a proven leader in their area of expertise?  Do they get asked to speak at events, or share their expert commentary online related to their speciality?  [You can possibly check out their social media for speaking engagements, media mentions on websites]
Marketing Industry Expert
  • Awards & Recognition – are they being recognised as leaders in their field by industry bodies and associations with awards and accolades? [You can check out their website to see if they have any listed there, and then go to the source to verify]

If you’re struggling to find information, you can always ask them directly.  It could be that they aren’t well known (and/or busy on the tools – which I fully get as well 🙂 )

Common red flags to look out for

So, how do you pick the best agency for your business? Let’s take a look at some of the red flags that should send you running from an agency. We’ll also offer some suggestions for identifying a company that is committed to your success.

Marketing Agency Red Flags

Red flags to avoid:

1. The agency is pressuring you to sign an annual or even multi-year contract: Reputable agencies will not try to tie you into long-term contracts. They’ll make it easy for you to decide how long you want to stay with them.

Instead, they will rely on their expert digital marketing skills to deliver excellent results that will keep you around in the long run.

What to do: find a provider that you can start with a shorter-term engagement to get some quick wins, so you can determine if you’re a good match to work together and they can achieve the results that you’re looking for.


2. They only provide strict, predetermined plans: There should not be a one-size-fits-all marketing approach. Your marketing agency should discuss your objectives with you and devise a strategy to assist you to achieve them.

Even if they have a set of plans to offer clients, they should be willing to work within those plans to provide you with a customized strategy that works for your business.

What to do: Be wary of agencies who try to pressure you into accepting an inflexible plan with few customization options.

3. They own your marketing assets:  I’ve heard HORROR stories over the years of agencies claiming they own marketing assets and when a client leaves, they shut down everything and the client is left with nothing.  The most recent example was a client whose agency they had worked with for years (and paid of course), took down their entire website once they finished up with them.  I’ve also seen others have their advertising accounts shut down too…. and the list goes on.  If you’re engaging someone to do your marketing, check that the assets in which you are paying for, you’ll always have access.

What do to: make sure you ask upfront (and ensure it’s in the contract as well), that you have the rights to everything you paid for if you decide to leave.


4. They don’t give you access to your marketing data: If the agency refuses to provide you with analytics, you should look for another firm that will allow you to track your marketing success. There’s no need for a digital marketing company to be dishonest or keep a client’s information hidden.

What to do: You have the right to know where your marketing dollars are going and how they’re affecting your bottom line.  Be sure to ask for access, if you have got it already.

5. They’ll guarantee you first-page rankings on Google: If an agency claims to be able to get your business to the top of the search engine results, find out how. That’s acceptable if they’re talking about paid advertising. However, run away if they promise to get you to the top of Google without employing advertising. That’s just an example of black-hat marketing, and no one can guarantee that.

What to do: Find a company that is honest about the time it will take to improve your local search results.

The bottom line

Engaging with a digital marketing expert to help grow your business is an important decision.  Selecting the right digital marketing partner can make or break your business.  It’s essential to get clear on your business goals first.  What types of services does a consultant/agency need to help you with?  What type of support do you want based on your budget?  

Digital Marketing Expert Partnership

By doing the homework will help you feel more comfortable shortlisting possible digital marketers who can help. From there, focus on the points above to help select the best expert for your needs.  Base it on the service that you need, experience, customer feedback, cultural fit, geographic location, support model and industry reputation.  Try to keep in mind the possible red-flags to avoid any costly decisions in selecting the wrong provider.  Don’t forget to trust your gut too.  A digital expert can be true strategic partner for your business.  They will go the extra mile, have realistic promises and help you accelerate your results.

If you’re looking for a digital expert to help you with your automation and marketing efforts, check out our Australia digital agency directory to help you to search, find, shortlist and hire digital partners for your business.

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