How to Choose Your Online Marketing Company

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Looking for an online marketing company is a surprisingly difficult task.  I’ve been in this position as a buyer and it is really, really hard to tell which are the right people to move you forward and achieve results.  Everybody says the same things and there is often a massive knowledge gap between the customer and the consultant.  I’ve seen a lot of advice on this subject in blogs and a lot of it is poor and self serving.  It can be very difficult for buyers with a knowledge gap that allows consultants to pull the wool over your eyes.  So here is my advice on buying consulting services in 4 easy steps.

1. Find out about their experience

This is a fairly obvious one.  You need a consultant that can help steer your way through decisions that will cost you money and, if done correctly, generate revenue for your company.  These can be serious, strategically important decisions.  There are people out there that have been through much of this before.  Make sure you find them and make sure that the person with the experience is the person who works with you on your project.

2. Go with someone you trust

If the consultants you are talking to know enough to do their job, then they know too much to explain it all.  You need to find the people you trust to guide you.  Your online marketing company should be advising you on what can work and where to focus next as well as how to achieve individual tasks.  That’s what you are paying for.  Get them to explain your situation and outline what needs to be done with your project going forward.  Don’t allow people to bamboozle you with technical nonsense.  The best thing you can do in this process is talk the project through and get an impression of whether this is the person you trust to help you.  Watch out for situations where the top man sells you and some intern does the work.  In that case, you need to trust the intern and the company’s systems.  Will the guy you trust be leading your project and taking responsibility for it?  If so, that’s fine but check it out.

3. Talk to them about ROI

For most businesses, return on investment is the key benefit that online marketing can provide.  Search engine optimisation and paid search marketing should make you money, not add to your costs.  When you are considering hiring a company to consult on your online marketing, ask them about return on investment, discuss your goals for traffic and income from the campaign. 

In our SEO Guide we talk about knowing the goals for your site so you can align those with your strategy.  You may run a campaign where generating sales or enquiries is not the goal and that’s fine when it is well thought out.   I’d be nervous about consultants who talk marketing jargon and want to generate reach and mindshare instead of cash though.  These are hard times and your consultant should understand the Internet enough to understand how to get a return on your investment.

4. Don’t look for guarantees that aren’t in your interest

Guarantees are a difficult thing in SEO in particular.  They are not a feature of most of the better SEO companies and there are very good reasons for that.  Guarantees and pay for performance deals can easily get into situations where they work against the interests of the client.  They narrow the focus of the contract down to the targets.  Clients often set targets which are not in their best interests and the company you hire then needs to focus on those targets to get paid.  You want your interests and those of your consultants to be aligned.  Certainly you should work with your online marketing company to set meaningful targets but you should be careful about what they are.  It is usually not in your best interests to have a consultant working for you that needs to hit a number to get paid.  You may not like the methods they use to hit that target.

Just to be clear.  I’m not saying pick someone and lock yourself into a 12 month contract and stay with it regardless of performance.  You should have an agreement with staged payments that allows you to review progress towards agreed goals and you should be able to stop if that progress is not there.

I hope you found this advice helpful and I’d be interested to hear any tips or experience you have to share.  Have you come across particular problems when looking for consulting support? or are there tips that you think would help others?

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