what to look for in web marketing agency

Some pitches are fruitful, some aren’t. But frequently, we’re being invited to pitch our industrial marketing services because someone else isn’t doing their job (“someone else” being the web marketing agency of record). In fact, all too frequently this is the case.

For us, this is a great thing – as it leads to new opportunities, new relationships and new business. But for the industry, it’s a travesty. Try being the agency who has to go in after the dust settles from the past-relationship-gone-bad. It ain’t fun. Not because the potential client is mean or unruly or fire-breathing. More because they now have doubt in the profession and are generally wary (as they should be) of everything we preach.

That sucks.

Your web marketing agency must have experience

The first thing you need to consider is the experience of the agencies in the running. We’re not talking length of resumes or the impressiveness of a LinkedIn profile. We’re talking real-world, hands-on, web marketing experience. This is very important. In particular, they should have experience relevant to YOUR company. For example, at Gorilla 76 we’ve specialized in industrial marketing (in fact, we wrote the complete guide to industrial marketing).

As we all know, the idea of the ad agency isn’t a new one – anyone who’s seen Mad Men knows that. But while Don Draper can write the heck out of a giant piece of body copy or craft the perfect print headline, what would he know about interface design, effective use of hashtags, a strong CMS (content management system) or building an effective website? Well it’s your job to find out. And it’s your job to stay away from the traditional agency that now labels itself as a digital shop because their existence depends upon it.

Questions to ask include:

  1. How many clients have you provided digital services for?
  2. How many clients are you currently the web marketing agency of record for?
  3. What CMSs are you comfortable with?
  4. Tell me about how you market your brand?
  5. Do you practice what you preach?
  6. What focus do you put on on-site conversions, lead generation and lead nurturing?
  7. Do you use marketing automation software?
  8. What makes you different?

In fewer words, if they don’t have experience, don’t give them a chance. Unless you want to be the brand they learn on of course. If that’s the case, you’re a better person than me.

Your web marketing agency must be sales oriented

Long gone are the days of the brochure site. Or, at least they should be. Today, so much is possible on the web. Marketing automation works hard to link marketing and sales, and the data and analytics and insights into your audience that are readily available from your site will make your head swim. It can all be overwhelming. And that’s why we believe it’s your agency’s job to help you through the process of it all.

Questions to ask include:

  1. Do you have experience with marketing automation? If so, what software platform do you prefer?
  2. How can you help us bridge the gap between our sales department and our marketing department?
  3. Do you have experience in list segmentation?
  4. What’s your philosophy on strong lead nurturing practices?
  5. What role does content marketing play in your typical strategy? What about SEO and keyword exploration/implementation?

Qualifying whether or not a web marketing agency is sales oriented is a very important step. It’s often what will determine if your marketing is going to work hard for you, or hardly work.

Creativity matters at a good web marketing agency

Do they value creativity? This will be apparent from the moment you visit their site. While a trophy case of awards isn’t needed (at Gorilla, we don’t apply for them), it’s important that they value strong creative. In fact, it’s really, really important that they value strong creative. Doing such will help create a brand to which consumers can relate. This is the foundation of a personable brand and the beginning of a positive brand experience.

Questions to ask include:

  1. Who will be my designer?
  2. Who will be my writer?
  3. Will I have direct access to them?
  4. What is your philosophy on effective design?
  5. How does web design differ from other forms of design?
  6. How do you approach on-site conversion path design?
  7. How does good creative translate to increased sales?

Happy clients

Any digital agency worth their monthly retainer has a list of clients (past and current) that will vouch for them. After all, in today’s space, as an agency, you can prove your worth. Things are measurable. Results are real. Clients are happy – or at least they should be.

Make it a point to request references of at least three happy clients that are of a service offering or business model similar to yours. Don’t worry about intruding, it’s your money. If they want it bad enough, they’ll be more than happy to provide names, phone numbers and email addresses. Note: if you notice that your contact at the agency has the same last name as one of the references, beware.

Questions to ask the “happy clients” include:

  1. How have they been to work with?
  2. What was their process like and how involved were you in that process?
  3. Were they timely?
  4. Were they on-budget?
  5. How has technical support been post launch?
  6. How was the actual team you worked with?
  7. Were/are they involved on an ongoing basis? Why/why not?
  8. At ANY point, did they recommend a Flash intro?
  9. Would you hire them again?
  10. Was their focus on improving your bottom line?

Accountability of the web marketing agency

As we’ve mentioned time and time and time again, one of the best things about the modern marketing world is the level of accountability and measurability that is now possible. If you hire a PPC (pay-per-click) or SEO (search engine optimization) company, and they guarantee more traffic, well, there are hard numbers that they can, and should, provide you detailing the bang of your buck. And this isn’t something they should share once or twice, it’s an ongoing effort that you should be seeing regularly.

Furthermore, don’t just fall for the trick where they sign you up for Google Analytics and call it a day. It’s their job to make sure you not only understand these findings, but that there is a plan in place moving forward to adjust messaging, content, navigation, etc.

Questions to ask agencies in the running include:

  1. What are your thoughts on measuring?
  2. How often will I get statistics and findings in regard to our online efforts?
  3. When evaluating a site’s performance, what three metrics do you find most valuable and why?
  4. Describe how you’ll measure any other initiatives we hire you for, including Facebook, Twitter, enewsletter, etc.
  5. If you don’t do what you promise us you’ll do, can we terminate the agreement at any time?
  6. How do you evaluate your work?


Transparency is almost a buzzword now. Companies are always told they should be transparent. People are told to be transparent. But what does that really mean? How is that applied to your website vendor?

A web marketing agency should be transparent in all of its dealings. They should be very open from the get-go about billing, how they work, who EXACTLY will be working on your project and quite a bit more.

If they’re not, or they’re not willing to share such intel, I’d be leery. After all, in today’s web space, there really aren’t any proprietary processes. Instead, there are simply people who know how to actually execute such best practices and commit to them.

Questions to ask include:

  1. Who is my team, will I have access to them and how often will I meet with them?
  2. How does billing work and what are your payment terms?
  3. Describe your process in short.
  4. How long will this project take?
  5. What are YOUR goals with this initiative?


Last, but not least, how’s their “beerability”, meaning, are they the type of people with which you’d actually want to work and with which you’d want to enjoy an after-work drink? While this might sound foolish, it’s certainly very important. Will they understand your company culture, etcetera? Will you actually like hanging out with them if you have to spend time with them, or are you going to dread every meeting you ever have? If the latter, mark my words, the work and your brand will suffer.

Hope this helps. Look for a more in-depth piece about how to hire a digital marketing agency soon. And feel free to reach out to us if you have inquiries about what the answers to any of the above should be. We’re here to help.