Hiring just any content marketing agency is easy. If you need to start pumping out content quickly, there are plenty of options out there.
However, finding the right agency – one who truly understands your business and can help hit your goals – is difficult. And if you want your content marketing strategy to be successful, hiring the right partner is absolutely essential.
The process of hiring a content marketing agency can be time-consuming.
But having a clear outline of what your objectives are and the key questions you should ask during the screening process will help ensure no time is wasted on discussions with the wrong vendors.
Here, you’ll find a list of important questions to ask before choosing a content marketing agency to help make sure you’re hiring a good fit for your unique marketing team and organization.
1. Do You Perform SEO?
If so, what best practices do you use?
A lot of agencies claim to be SEO experts. While some certainly have strong SEO skills, the hard truth is that many of those claiming to do SEO well are actually working with outdated best practices, if any at all.
It’s important to get an understanding of the SEO elements that a content marketing agency considers as well as what best practices they apply.
Asking them to share their best practice documentation will help you get a better understanding of their knowledge and if they are up to date on the latest strategies.
If you aren’t an SEO expert yourself, I highly recommend running it by someone who is or doing some research online before starting your screening process for a content marketing agency.
2. How Will You Help Our Business?
This may seem like a pretty basic question to ask, but it’s completely necessary. No matter how excited you are about an agency, please do not forget to ask this one!
Initially, the agency may present you with a fairly straightforward or universal content marketing strategy that they use across clients. This is fine – it’s a good jumping-off point. But follow up to see how it will be tailored to your specific business needs.
For example, the agency may set certain standards for word count or publishing frequency. But you might be in a very technical trade that requires more in-depth posts, or maybe your business requires thought leadership style content, which will require interviews with your subject matter experts (SMEs).
Not only will this give the agency an opportunity to provide strategic advice and show off their expertise, but it will also help you get a better understanding of how dedicated they are to your business and industry.
3. What Results Can We Expect?
Successful content marketing strategies take time. If a content agency is promising you the world, it’s definitely a red flag.
Ask them to prove it by explaining their strategy in detail and/or by sharing the results they’ve driven for another comparable organization.
More specifically, it’s an automatic red flag when a content agency promises any kind of bottom-of-the-funnel results. Obviously, this is the ultimate goal of all of our marketing strategies. But there are far too many factors out of their control for a content agency to promise sales, new customers, etc.
It’s no secret that content success isn’t always as easy to track and report on as we’d like it to be. For example, brand awareness is difficult to measure.
At the same time, you want to make sure they will hold themselves accountable for driving the results that your organization needs to see, which is why you need to understand exactly how the agency will measure their success and what metrics they use to prove it.
Setting goals around increased traffic and conversions, improved keyword visibility, and boosted social shares seems much more realistic. Determine what goals they (and you) are comfortable with – and set them in stone.
4. How Do You Report On Results?
Performance tracking and reporting are critical, especially as you are building trust with your content marketing agency. Be sure to ask them how they typically track and report to clients, and how frequently they do it.
They may also have some de-branded example reports they can share with you to provide more insights into how it’s all presented.
While they may have a standard reporting framework they use for clients, it’s a good idea to see if and how they will customize it for your business.
As part of the onboarding process, a quality content agency will put together a baseline report for you. This way, you can eventually see the progress since the start of your relationship.
5. What Will Be Required Of Our Team?
Setting expectations around what the content agency will be expecting from your team – in order to hit the results that they’ve promised – is key.
How much do they want you to be involved? What types of reviews and approvals will be needed? How does the process work? There’s a lot to cover here.
Addressing this before you choose to move forward with an agency will help avoid more difficult conversations in the future.
6. What Industries Do You Specialize In?
As you are researching agencies, it’s essential to consider their expertise. Some claim to be a jack of all trades, but this isn’t always the best thing.
In fact, a lot of times it’s a red flag. Rather than trying to be good at everything, content marketing agencies that find what they are good at and stick to it tend to be more successful at providing high-quality content to their clients.
An agency that already has a solid grasp of your industry will ultimately be easier to work with.
They will have an understanding of pain points and what your audience resonates most with, in order to craft a content strategy that’s tailored to your target audiences.
They will have tested strategies in your industry and learned from past successes and even failures, which can help you avoid making the same mistakes.
For agencies that claim to have expertise in your industry, don’t hesitate to ask them for case studies and examples of them hitting similar goals to the ones you’ve set.
7. How Will The Project Be Managed?
No matter what size the agency is, this question is fundamental to ask. Once you sign a contract, many agencies will hand the program off to a general project manager or account manager that has very limited experience.
A good agency will have a content marketing expert handling your program. If that’s not the case, you may want to re-evaluate before drawing up the contracts.
Having an experienced content manager involved in the strategy of your project is absolutely essential to setting a solid foundation and hitting your goals.
Getting an understanding of how the writing team is structured is also important. Will you have a dedicated team of writers on your project? Or will writers be alternated? If you like or don’t like the way a particular person writes, is there any flexibility to work more or less with them?
Employee turnover is a real challenge for agencies, so it’s also helpful to ask about the qualification of writers. How many years of experience do they have? Are they technical writers?
If there are constantly new writers on your project, keeping a consistent tone and style of writing could become a problem, along with many others.
It’s also a good idea to inquire about the communication process – how frequently you will chat with the agency and using what tools.
8. Can You Share Proof Of Results?
This is something that I briefly mentioned above but deserves deeper discussion. When evaluating an agency, don’t just ask for examples of their work. Ask for real results too.
If an agency has no proof of results, it’s an easy way to disqualify them. On the other hand, if the agency can share similar results to the ones that you are expecting – whether it be traffic, conversions, keywords, or all of the above – it will give you confidence in your decision.
It’s may go without saying that you should spend some time digging into the case studies they have available on their website. But they should have more proof in their back pocket, as well – screenshots from Google Analytics, testimonials, etc.
9. What Types Of Content Do You Create?
To be honest, this is kind of a trick question. But it’s still essential to ask.
A quality content marketing agency should be able to provide you with tons of different types of content including general blog posts, thought leadership pieces, sales collateral, glossary pages or some type of definition-based content, premium content assets like ebooks and white papers, and more.
Even if you have other hands in your content creation process, if the agency can’t provide you with any of these types of assets it’s a bit concerning.
Different types of content will general different things and knowing the agency can provide you with the content you need to reach your goals is key.
10. What Tools Do You Use?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask – not just in content marketing discussions but for making any hiring decisions. It’s a great way to check on their level of expertise, as well as discover new tools in the space.
For example, if I’m hiring someone to do SEO and they don’t mention SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz as one of their go-to tools, it’s probably not a good fit for the role.
One of the many benefits of working with a content agency is getting access to the specialized tools that your business may not already have in your MarTech stack. It’s also critical for reporting purposes.
Choosing an agency that is using the best tools for the job will help ensure your investment is worthwhile. It’s also a great way to help leading agencies stand out from the rest.
11. What Will It Cost?
Last but not least, you obviously need to understand the investment required from your business.
Keep in mind the popular saying, “You get what you pay for.” A cheaper proposal does not mean it’s the right choice for your business.
In fact, if it’s priced too low, you may want to go back to the drawing board.
You can bring it to the attention of the agency and ask them directly why they are so much more affordable than others – how do they manage to keep prices low and is the quality of content compromised by this?
If nothing else, you should do some checking and digging on your own to make sure you’re not wasting marketing dollars altogether.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean that the most expensive proposal is the way to go either. Use all of the research and screening that you’ve done throughout this process to come to the best decision.
Remember, part of making this decision will require using your own judgment and trusting your gut. Some considerations you may not be able to ask directly during the screening process and need to do your own digging.
One of the most important things being – do they practice what they preach?
An easy way to tell if a content marketing agency is full of it (for lack of a better phrase) is by looking at their own content. It’s safe to assume that they are providing the same quality of content that’s on their own website to their clients.
Is it up to your standards?
If you need additional validation, ask them if they can provide you with a reference, so that you can hear it directly from a client.
By asking the questions outlined in this article, you will hopefully find the right content marketing agency and partner for your business. Best of luck in your search!
Featured image: Shutterstock/View Apart