According to SEMRush, there's a hefty list of BIG red flags that can keep folks from becoming clients or cause current clients to say adios to digital marketing agencies (of all kinds!).
Check out their list of the top 10 red flags for marketing agencies:
If you ask me, these are red flags for ANY business in any industry you want to work with.
But I love this list.
These are red flags that I look for as a consumer, red flags I have seen in other companies and agencies I have worked with (internally or externally), and red flags that are completely valid for any client to be mindful of before they choose to hire a marketing agency like mine.
I love this list because it's complete validation that my ecommerce marketing agency, The Digital Perch, is on the right track.
Here's a breakdown these red flags in light of what The Digital Perch does NOT do:
1. Poor Communication
There is nothing more frustrating than any service or company that doesn't have good communication with their clients. It actually surprises me how common this issue is amongst "professional" businesses.
Whether things are going good or bad, deadlines are approaching, feedback or support is requested, or simply keeping your clients in the loop, it's crucial to have timely and consistent communication to maintain client relationships.
The better the communication, the more likely your clients will stick around, be happy, and remain loyal to your business.
Mistakes happen. Not every campaign or effort has the ultimate results. But always keeping that consistent line of communication will help clients know you are doing your best to ensure they are taken care of in the best possible way.
Our Approach: We respond to ALL voicemails, texts, emails, and even social media direct messages within 24 business hours. Even if we don't have an answer for you at the moment, we will let you know we are working on it and will keep you updated along the process until we can resolve an issue or concern. We communicate consistently with clients about deadlines, needs, requests, updates and reports. Even when we don't hear back from you after the 3rd follow up email, we will continue to be proactive in communicating with you and finding a way to get ahold of you when something is time sensitive. We won't drop the ball on communication with you and we will do everything we can to ensure we help you communicate back, even when the ball is in your court. We won't throw up our hands and quit trying to stay consistently engaged with you — unless you directly specify otherwise, of course.
2. Lack of Transparency
When a company isn't transparent with their clients, it creates a barrier of trust. And this directly impacts how the client views the company's customer service.
Clients know when a support team isn't truly out for their own good, from diverting the issue or giving surface level feedback that isn't helpful at all.
What are they hiding? Why aren't they telling me the whole truth? Why can't they own up to their mistakes or shortcomings instead of pointing the finger to someone else? Can I trust this company to take care of me when I need it?
These are all valid questions many clients ask to any company who isn't fully transparent about their services, goods, or capabilities.
Our Approach: Transparency is our middle name and we take it very seriously. We have empathetic hearts and work hard to put ourselves in our clients' shoes to truly understand their needs. We won't recommend anything we wouldn't do ourselves if we owned a small business, including money. We have a list of verified and trusted referral sources to send your way if there is ever anything we don't feel confident we can do effectively for you based on your needs or requests, because we only want to do what we know we can do the absolute best. We aren't afraid to tell you when something you have provided or recommended isn't a good practice, and will give you our expert recommendations to consider. We own up to our mistakes and notify you immediately when we have concerns. We report on results honestly and work with you to determine other strategies when something doesn't seem to be working out.
3. Overpromising Results
Agencies are notorious for overpromising and under-delivering. But man oh man... what a dangerous thing to do.
Because in the vast marketing world, there are truly NO guarantees with ANY effort you do. No amount of money or type of service can guarantee a specific amount of results — and if anyone tells you otherwise, be very careful about what you believe. They may be trying to sell you on a dream, but you don't want to end up in a nightmare of undelivered-but-promised results.
Our Approach: We do our best to underpromise and overdeliver. That doesn't make us less — it makes us transparent about realistic expectations. And honestly, lowballing results or timeframes can actually save OUR butts too in case something crazy comes up (which isn't uncommon in the agency world) that causes us to not overdeliver as we worked hard to do. We won't sugar coat things for you. If you want a sugar coated cookie cutter approach, find someone else. We'll give it to you real.
4. Inability to Stay on the Same Page and Achieve Mutual Understanding
I'm going to look at this issue through the lens of both the client and the agency.
Just as important as it is to hire employees that are aligned with your vision and values, the same goes with clients. The best clients (and often the most long-term clients) are usually the ones who believes in what you're doing and trusts you to help them reach goals.
When a client isn't on the same page with your business, it can negatively impact multiple areas. From ignoring best practices and recommendations provided by the experts, to consistently seeking free + extra work from the agency that wasn't previous accounted for, an agency can get bogged down by a client who demands their way but just paying someone to execute it.
Believe me — there are plenty of agencies out there that do exactly that. They say yes to anything the client wants to "keep them happy" but knowing it's not what they would recommend... and the client wonders why they aren't getting the desired results! It backfires. Sure, there is a balance of collaborating with clients to do things they want and doing what you believe is best, but as long as there is adequate education and clear communication about those altering recommendations, more times than not the client will learn to get aligned with your vision.
Keeping the same principles in mind as stated above, it's also important for clients to ensure their marketing agency is aligned with their vision before hiring them on. Or else, it's just not a good fit. Agencies should be able to ask the right questions to the client that will allow them to adequately communicate their vision, in which the agency then has no excuse but to adhere to it. They can't go back and say, "We didn't know that's what you wanted." An agency that doesn't listen to clients' needs and just tries to push their own agenda isn't a good partner.
Our Approach: We invest a lot of time and energy when it comes to onboarding new clients. We do everything we can to ask all the right questions, give the client resources and checklists that will help guide us to creating the best marketing plan that fits their needs. We lay it all out in the beginning so expectations are communicated and met, and the client feels at ease that we have their back through the entire process. And ultimately, we want to make sure that we work with like-minded clients as much as we want to ensure our agency is the best fit for them.
5. Forcing Long-Term Contracts
Contracts are important to agencies, and even stating a minimum timeframe. The reason why most agencies have a monthly minimum when it comes to contracts is because most marketing services are a long-term game.
It's a marathon, not a sprint.
So if a client hires an agency to work on their SEO but after one month, they are disappointed that they haven't seen any results, they would likely leave the agency if there wasn't a contract in place. 6 months tends to be a common minimum on a contract you will tend to see with marketing agencies, because it can truly take 3-6 months minimum to show real results (especially with SEO).
Some agencies offer 3 month minimums depending on the service. For example, social media or PPC ads don't need long-term contracts because those typically come with unique and more short-term goals. PPC can get results after a month. Social media is more of a PR, brand awareness and news board platform, so big results aren't usually a key factor in folks hiring social media services.
Contracts over 6 months can be a bit too long, especially for small and medium sized businesses. I think the only way this can work is if the agency model is based around "don't pay until you have results." A very tricky and risky business model, because you could put in hundreds of hours on a marketing campaign and it not achieve ideal results based on the timeliness, what's going on in the world during that time, what people happen to be searching for online, what the season is, and everything in between that can impact marketing results that are totally unrelated to how "good" your campaign is. Even the best campaigns can underperform due to external, unexpected factors.
Plus, long-term contracts can scare off a new client because they don't have that trust factor built with you, yet. Why be stuck in a long-term contract with someone you don't know is any good?
Those who use shorter-term contracts take on clients with the hope that they can win over their trust through their quality services and measurable results.
Our Approach: We offer 3 month and 6 month contracts, depending on the service. Some services are also no contract, such as marketing consulting or one-off projects such as designing an email newsletter template.
6. Rushing into Tasks without a Proper Plan
Nothing is truer than the quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
An agency can't be effective or successful if they aren't organized or prepared. Lack of preparation before a prospective client calls can turn a warm lead into a failed lead real quick. That's why it's crucial for agencies to have the proper systems and documents in place that will guide them (and the client) to create a successful campaign.
Our Approach: You have never met anyone more type-A-planner-organizer-checklist-lover than me. I am all about having a plan, but planning to be flexible when the unexpected happens. Because life (and business and marketing and everything else) is FULL of the unexpected. We have a stellar process in place that keeps our team organized and efficient so we can meet (or exceed) client expectations.
7. Lack of Industry-Specific Expertise
This one is tricky. Sure, if an agency has ample experience working with a specific industry, they've got the results and case studies to prove their expertise. But most marketing efforts can be easily transferrable to any industry — best practices, trends, strategies, etc.
However, there is something to be said about a marketing agency that has a niche. The more niche they are, the more knowledgable and likely they are to provide tangible results.
Our Approach: The Digital Perch focuses on real estate marketing. While we have over a decade of experience marketing companies and industries of all kinds, we made the decision to niche in real estate for multiple reasons. First, we have highly successful experience in marketing in the real estate industry through past careers. Second, we love real estate in every form (okay, maybe not all the paperwork... but everything else). Third, we personally know many realtors who struggle to stand out, understand how to use marketing (including social media) for their business, and don't have the time to manage it themselves effectively. So we made it a mission to help 'em out by offering the marketing services they need so they can focus on running their business.
8. Bad Reviews
Reviews (especially on Google) are the golden egg of your online presence. It's basically a public word-of-mouth recommendation that can influence prospects to choose or pass on your business. And people read the bad reviews, too!
If an agency or any company has a lot of bad reviews and they all seem like valid feedback (because, believe it or not, there are trolls and competitors who leave bad reviews without any real feedback just to ruin a business), then it might be a red flag worth considering.
Our Approach: Just as we tell every single one of our clients, it's important to respond to ALL reviews, both good and bad, in a professional manner. Even when you feel the negative review is inaccurate, we can guide you through steps to respond to that review in a way that makes your business stand out in a positive light to others looking at your reviews. Bad reviews can be used as an opportunity to win back clients and attract new ones, as well. Because how you respond to negative feedback can speak volumes to prospective clients about what they can expect if they work with you.
9. The Agency Is Vague about Intellectual Property Ownership
Properly handling IP goes both ways — for the client and the agency. Agencies should know the rules when it comes to sharing photos, graphics and other assets that they did not create themselves.
For example, real estate agents sell homes. But if their listing photos look professionally done, it's important to find out who the photographer was so they can be properly credited and/or understand what the photographer's IP Ownership rights are to those images. Unfortunately, many agents aren't aware that the photos they got from the listing (even if they paid for them) may have limitations to how they can be used to promote that agent online. Such as being able to use the image to help sell the property, but cannot be used in the future or on any other marketing platform, like a website or marketing material, past the sale of that property.
The reason this is important for both the client and the agency is because you don't want to work with someone who could put your business at risk due to unintentional illegal use of copyrighted materials.
Our Approach: Because we have worked with real estate agents and photographers in the past, we understand photo usage rights and work to not only protect our clients (and ourselves) from getting in trouble for illegally using images or infringing on copyright laws, but also to protect the photographer or designer who may rightfully own those assets they created. We take it seriously and will ensure our clients take it just as seriously, or else they won't be a good fit for us.
10. Lack of Testimonials and Case Studies
The most effective way you can prove your expertise is through case studies and testimonials. But for new small businesses, this can be tricky to achieve starting out as you work to build your brand.
While I don't consider this a "red flag" when it comes to hiring a marketing service, I do think this can be the cherry on top that helps a prospective client choose your company. Especially when they're comparing multiple options, testimonials and case studies can help you stand out.
Our Approach: We are currently working on building out case studies on our website, but of course Google reviews are the next best thing to testimonials on your website. This is a priority to us as we build our clientele because even though we are a new agency, we have over a decade of successful marketing experience that provides quality services just as a well-established agency would. Stay tuned as we build these out and publish them on our website!