Five questions that will help you find the right digital marketing agency

Finding a creative digital marketing partner with a good fit with your university can electrify your engagement activities and take student recruitment to the next level.

But the search can be frustrating and time-consuming and assessing performance during a contract can be difficult.

In this article, we present you with specific questions that can help you find the right digital marketing partner and assess their performance over time.

Asking the right questions to unlock insights and assess the performance

If you are currently in the process of selecting a digital marketing agency for the new academic year you've probably already narrowed down your list of partners, scoped out their portfolios for relevant experience and general competence, tried to get a handle on the cultural fit with the university and spoken to a few of their existing clients.

After that, it's time to arrange a face-to-face meeting or video chat with your top contenders. Here, it really pays to be equipped in advance with insightful and challenging questions to help you get the most out of this initial meeting to determine if the agency is a good fit for your projects and whether they would make a good long term partner.

Alternatively, you might already have a digital marketing agency on board and want to get some further insights into their activity and performance.

We've put together five groups each consisting of five fundamental questions the agency should be able to answer with confidence. They are specific and designed to avoid rambling vague responses, but also open-ended enough to allow agencies to demonstrate their capability and knowledge in detail.

Let's dive in.

5 questions to assess the cultural fit and suitability to fulfill the contract

There may be a temptation to select an agency that is specifically orientated around higher education digital marketing.

This can bring benefits in terms of knowledge and understanding of the market and they can hit the ground running. But if they have other university clients it's also important to assess how they will maintain confidentiality in terms of your digital strategies and how they can differentiate your institution's approach.

Alternatively, if you're in dialogue with an agency with little or no higher education experience, you will need to probe to discover how they will get up to speed quickly and what applicable knowledge they can draw from other industries to benefit your institution.

  • How can you help us raise our game against competitors and differentiate our digital marketing?
  • What is your cost structure, what is included for this budget and what outcomes can I expect?
  • Who will we be working with us and what is the composition of the team in terms of skillset?
  • What measures would you put in place to maintain the confidentiality of our university activities and how would you ensure the exclusivity of campaign ideas, images, and messages?
  • Do you work with any of our competitors?

5 questions to assess the approach to account management

The best digital marketing agencies are strategic partners. Their deliverables should relate back to your goals but they should also be able to think through and tackle your conundrums beyond making conversions.

The way the agency communicates with you and the people involved need to fit with your team. These questions will help you look for signs of alignment.

And how portable is the agency's set-up? No relationship lasts forever so having an exit strategy and clear process for reclaiming full account control is important.

  • How would you co-ordinate our account and communicate with our team and what is the frequency of contact and format?
  • What level of transparency can we expect in terms of digital media strategy, tactics, and buying?
  • What metrics do you propose to use to track our success and how will you report on progress?
  • What project management tools do you use?
  • What software do you use to manage campaigns and generate reports? If we were to move agencies in the future or set up an in-house capability what would happen to the campaigns and processes and reporting in place?

5 questions to assess the agency's search capability

The search engine optimization playing field is constantly shifting with Google relentlessly updating its search ranking algorithms to cut out loopholes and to improve search results.

The paid search environment is similarly complex and evolving. So it's really important to assess whether the agency has up to date techniques and knowledge.

  • How was SEO evolved over the last few years?
  • How do you approach keyword research?
  • What strategy would you suggest we use for running ad copy testing and optimizing ad copy?
  • How often should we examine search query results to find positive and negative keyword opportunities?
  • What strategy should we use to manage keyword bids - would you recommend a manual or automated approach?

5 questions to assess the agency's social media capability

The use of social advertising has grown exponentially in the higher education market over the last few years and continues to climb in importance. It is also a highly nuanced practice that requires finesse and experience.

Regardless of the range of support, you're looking for these questions will result in conversations that will build your confidence in competent agencies.

  • What experience do you have managing paid social media campaigns?
  • Which social platforms do you think we should focus on and which should we invest most heavily in for organic content?
  • How should we allocate our paid social budget? Which platforms should we prioritize for our target audiences?
  • How do you propose we use re-marketing techniques across social platforms to maximize engagement and conversion?
  • How will your social strategy reflect our brand positioning?

5 questions to assess the agency's design and content capability

Only the bold and creative campaigns will cut through sufficiently to reach prospective students these days. They expect relevant targeted content but also a seamless experience.

Assessing the design and content skills of the agency is essential. If they outsource these elements the challenge of creating campaigns with consistency throughout could be higher.

  • Do you have a design team in-house to develop campaigns?
  • How will you maintain our brand integrity whilst developing new creative campaigns?
  • What types of campaign creative do you think will cut through and engage prospective students?
  • How would you recommend we go about creating targeted landing pages for campaigns?
  • How do you gather and incorporate feedback into the design process for campaigns?

A spending war is being waged online in higher education and to compete institutions need to be on top of their game

You can increase your digital marketing impact by unifying your digital marketing initiatives into a multi-channel approach. But this often relies on a digital partner with a capability that covers content, paid search and social, SEO, conversion rate optimization and digital strategy.

Many will claim they have the required competence to run your digital marketing activity, so it's only through in-depth conversations that you can properly assess the relative merits and skills of each agency.

Whatever digital marketing requirements you have, we hope these questions will prove a useful starting point to help you to engage digital marketing agencies in a meaningful conversation. One that gives you clear facts to help select the right partner to develop campaigns that convert.

Over to you. What questions have you used to unlock valuable conversations with digital marketing agencies?