How to Cull Marketing Groups in Grand Rapids

select from a large quantity; obtain from a variety of sources.
One thing I learned shortly after opening our Grand Rapids office is that there are a LOT of marketing agencies in the area. I also quickly discovered that the services offered by these agencies vary wildly and often overlap. Trying to figure out where we fit in the bigger picture was no small task, and that’s as someone who is a professional marketer. If you’re a prospective client without a lot of marketing background to help you out, that challenge grows tenfold. The purpose of this blog post today is to try to help customers in Grand Rapids learn how to cull marketing agencies in Grand Rapids by identifying what services you need, and then knowing what questions to ask to find a good match.

Build a concise list of needs

From my experience in talking to clients, it’s very easy to get talked into services you don’t need by agencies that offer a full buffet of services. While there might be value in a cornucopia of marketing services, they may not always align with your specific business goals or budget limitations. At Netvantage, our scope of services is very narrow. We only provide services that fall beneath the umbrella of:

  1. Search engine optimization
  2. Paid search management

Most clients come to us with a shortlist of needs that aligns perfectly with our two services. Here are some examples.

  • We have a new website, but it doesn’t really rank well for the services we offer. We need to improve our rankings.
  • We have an AdWords campaign we’ve been running for six months and it doesn’t seem to be working. We need a professional to audit and manage our campaign.
  • Our competitors are starting to rank ahead of us on Google, we need to reclaim our top positions.

These sorts of needs align perfectly with the services Netvantage provides. If you have a new product and you’re looking to build large-scale exposure for your new product or brand, you’re probably going to need an agency that has expertise with PR, advertising, or social media. We don’t provide those services, so we would refer these clients to other agencies we know that can help in those areas.

Before you start talking to agencies, or even whittling down a list of agencies to talk to, make sure all of your decision-makers agree on what you’re trying to accomplish, and what help you need to get there. If you can’t fully articulate your needs, at least have a specific set of goals you want to achieve so you can measure the success of whichever agency you choose.

How to vet an agency

cull a menu

How good do you think these scones are going to be?

The most important thing you’ll need to know about your agency is whether or not they have real expertise in your area(s) of need. One thing that’s a pet peeve of mine is when companies try to do too much. I see this all the time on websites, particularly for small and mid-sized agencies. I always see it as a red flag when a company doesn’t have at least 2-3 employees for every service they purport to offer. Check their website and see if they list their staff. Do they have employees that explicitly focus on the services you need? I find it hard to believe an agency of four or five people can effectively offer a suite of services that includes:

  • Web design
  • AdWords management
  • SEO
  • Photography
  • Graphic design
  • Traditional advertising
  • Public relations
  • Print and graphic design
  • Video production

Look, I have a degree and professional experience in video production and 15 years of doing search marketing, and I’d be stretching myself impossibly thin if I decided to start doing video production for our clients. We have six people on staff right now, so we’d either need to have professionals who focus on just doing video, or we’d be half-assing it. Maybe some other companies can pull this off somehow, but I’d be leery you’re either going to get a provider who doesn’t offer top-notch skills in your area(s) of need, or you’re going to have someone stretched so thin by trying to do too much that they won’t be very responsive.

Another way to check this out is to see how the company presents its services or work on its website. What do they emphasize on their home page when it comes to services? If they have case studies, do they have case studies specific to the services you need? Oftentimes, I see web design companies that claim to offer all kinds of services, but then see that their staff only consists of designers and developers. Further, their portfolio of work only references their design work. If you’re looking for digital marketing expertise, you’ll be better off continuing your search until you see someone who wears their credentials in those areas on their sleeve.

What to ask a potential Grand Rapids marketing agency to cull your list

With your list of needs and/or goals in hand, I’d recommend you ask any prospective agencies the following questions to see if they’re a good fit for you.

  1. Will my account manager/contact have expertise in {insert service of need here}. If not, who will be handling the day-to-day operations – and will I have access to them?
  2. How many years of experience in {insert service of need here} will the person/people handling our account have?
  3. Will the people working on my account be dedicated strictly to {insert service of need here} or do they also work in other areas for me and other clients?
  4. Can you provide me some case studies that show your past success with similar clients who’ve used you for {insert service of need here}?

Ideally, you’d like to know that the team working on your account has experience in your area and spends a significant amount of time working in that area. For example, you probably don’t want a programmer doing your photography, right? If the agency really struggles with these questions, you likely should step away from them, as none of these questions should be difficult to answer. If they pivot and try to push you toward a service that doesn’t seem to align with your needs – press back and ask how and why this other service will help you meet your goals. Note their answer and compare it to what you hear from other agencies.

Beware of the pivot

The pivot often comes when an agency tries to push you away from a service they aren’t good at, or simply don’t really want to provide, and push you into something that’s easier or more profitable for them, rather than what’s best for you. In our world, this happens all the time when an agency pushes a client into a paid search campaign and away from SEO. The truth is, SEO is very difficult, and unless an agency has dedicated expertise and resources doing full-time SEO, they’re probably going to do a poor job at it. However, it’s a lot easier to set up an AdWords or Google campaign which will start generating traffic immediately but can also drive up costs for the client. Rather than spending money for sustainable, long-term traffic from high organic rankings, an agency can keep you on the hook by paying a monthly management fee while you also continue to pay for AdWords and social media clicks each month.

Bottom line – do your homework and take a hard look at a marketing agency before you engage with one. The more you can separate the wheat from the chaff upfront, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage SEO. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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