August 23, 2018 | Sarah Danks

7 Red Flags to Watch for with Your Online Marketing Company

So you’ve taken the leap and hired a digital marketing agency to fulfill your online goals. Sweet! But is everything going as swimmingly as it should be? Not that all your objectives will be reached within the first week, but do you feel like there’s something amiss?

Here are seven warning signs to be aware of when dealing with any marketing firm.

1) Poor Communication

This might not seem to be very important, but hiring a marketing business that can’t clearly communicate with you can lead to huge issues down the road. If every once in a while there’s a miscommunication, that’s one thing; if they’re consistently dropping the ball in providing clear and open communication, it’s a huge red flag this is how they’ll always operate.

Any agency you hire to manage your marketing budget should be open to all lines of communicating to keep you abreast of any changes with your account.

2) No Transparency

If the company you’ve hired to do your online marketing is hush-hush about reporting, and letting you see the dashboard, it’s time to have a chat. Especially if they say, “Well, it’s a private account so we can’t let you have access,” or some other rubbish — after all, it’s YOUR marketing dollars you’re talking about, so you of all people should be able to see whatever data you want, whenever you want.

Monitoring the stats on an account is key to knowing which marketing techniques are working and which ones aren’t — it’s all part of the process of optimizing each account to perform its best. All marketing data from your campaign should be available to you from the very beginning (even if there’s not much to go on at first).

If not, then it’s got to make you curious about what else your online marketing agency is hiding from you! Again, it’s YOUR account, your marketing dollars; you have every right to see anything and everything related to it.

3) Slow to Respond / Make Changes

If you’re trying to reach someone and neither your emails nor calls are being returned in a timely manner, you’re either dealing with poor organization or lack of available employees (or both!). Also, in today’s easy-to-adapt digital marketing era, changes can be made virtually on the fly, so if your requested changes aren’t happening when you expect them to, you’ve got to wonder what this agency is billing you for…

…that said, you’ve also got to realize yours isn’t the only account they’re working on, so you shouldn’t expect marketers to drop everything else they’re working on every time you call.

While it’s not feasible that every single employee will know the ins and outs of your marketing strategy, there should be enough staff to help you in a timely manner. Depending on the size of the marketing company, there should at least be someone to answer your phone call and take a message, even if the account manager you work with is busy.

If you find slow response time is due to poor organization, it’s time to move on. A lack of organization means the current problems you are suffering will only get worse down the road.

4) Cookie-cutter Approach

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for an ad agency. Said agency claimed to be adept at pay-per-click marketing, yet contrary to my suggestions, every single PPC client was quoted the same strategy, same monthly budget, same time allotted per week on the campaign, etc., regardless of industry, business objectives, timeline…


While there are definitely core best practices and techniques in any agency’s toolbox, online marketing should be customized to each individual business and their goals. A sure-fire way to tell that your marketing agency doesn’t know what they’re doing? They recommend the same pricing, budget, strategy, what-have-you for all clients.

5) Trying to be Everything to Everyone

Some small businesses claim they can do all the kinds of marketing for their clients. I.e., in addition to specializing in online marketing, they’ll also claim to be experts at traditional marketing strategies (think billboards, public relations, print marketing, radio ads, etc.).

While many online marketing companies offer similar types of services — search engine optimization, pay-per-click, web design and development — most companies simply cannot be specialists in all forms of marketing. Depending on the size of the business, it’s also highly unlikely they’re doing all the work themselves — many small agencies use sub-contractors to fulfill aspects of your campaign, which means you’re probably paying more to cover their costs.

Another reason you want to be sure this agency isn’t trying to be all things to everyone is that one business can’t stretch itself that thin for very long and continue to function properly. To claim to be experts in ALL forms of marketing — traditional and online and social media and and and — is a warning sign that they’re a jack of all trades but really master of none.

6) Focusing on the Wrong Goals

If your online marketing company is only talking about getting you clicks or traffic — walk away. Yes, Larry Kim is a huge advocate of getting more clicks equalling more conversions…

…but that needs to be taken into context.

The point of any digital marketing strategy isn’t to get you traffic; it’s to get you the RIGHT kind of traffic. Is getting traffic to your website or landing pages important? Of course! But it’s only one piece in a huge puzzle that all needs to come together to work its best for you.

Again, if the company you hired to handle your marketing dollars isn’t focusing on the goals you have — and how best to achieve them — then you should start shopping for a new agency.

7) They Guarantee “#1”

Here’s a biggie. Especially when talking about search engine optimization, this is a huge red flag — not even the greatest digital marketers in the world can guarantee a number one placement on Google, so if an online marketing company you’ve hired says this, run the other way.

Internet marketing is a skill, yes, but there’s no wizardry involved that magically propels someone’s website or landing page to the tippy-top of any results every single time — and if that’s the case, they’re probably using old-school black hat techniques that are going to hurt you in the long run.

Now, with PPC there’s more of a science to getting ads to show, but there’s still no magic wand that guarantees a certain placement every single time.

How to Preemptively Circumvent All This

While these are seven common warning signs to watch for AFTER you’ve hired an agency, you can try to weed out the bad eggs before you ever hire them by focusing on asking a few key questions when hiring a digital marketing business in the first place.

Some key questions to ask are:

  • Why should I hire you? (i.e., what sets them apart from the competition)
  • What do you specialize in?
  • What’s your process for starting a marketing strategy?
  • How will you manage my budget?
  • What kind of reporting do you do, and how often?

These aren’t the only things you need to ask potential marketing agnecies; they’ll give you a good jumping-off place to start the interview process.



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