How do you know if you’re being ripped off by a marketing agency?
How do you know if they’re stealing money right from underneath your nose every month, or if they’re doing exactly what you’ve hired them to do?
After all, there’s no governing body for digital marketing agencies out there, and anyone can hang up a sign that says they’re an agency.
How do you know if you’re working with a legitimate agency or just some person working out of their mom’s basement in between games of Fortnite?
I got a call from a business owner who asked me to take a look at their marketing campaigns. I dropped by the shop, they handed me a 30 page printout of their monthly statistics and said,
“I feel like these guys are ripping me off. I can’t get them on the phone, they treat me like dirt, and they charge $2,000 to my credit card every month and all I get is this report I don’t understand.”
It didn’t take me long to see why he was frustrated with his current company. He was being taken advantage of by his current company, and the more I read, the more my blood started to boil.
What follows below is inspired by that meeting.
You shouldn’t have to guess if your digital marketing agency is treating you right and doing what’s best for your business.
If you have the same questions that this business owner had, walk through the list below and see if any of these shady tactics are happening to you.
Paying an agency to build a website for you is a great way to ensure that you build the right website to achieve your marketing goals.
During the build process, you may not have total access to your site back end, but that should change once the site is complete and fully launched. Once you’ve made your final payment to the agency and the site is yours, you should receive full administrative access to the back end.
I can’t tell you how many business owners I’ve talked to where they don’t have any way to login to their website. They can’t change a picture or edit a word of text. It makes me furious!
A non-negotiable should be having some kind of access to your website. If you’re paying monthly for your site, you should at a minimum be able to get author or editor access to your site. You should have the ability to write and edit blog posts as well as make minor changes to the site as necessary without having to pay $325 an hour minimum to change a misspelling.
If you have an agreement where your monthly payment covers all edits and changes to the site for you, then great! They should take care of it all, but you should still have access to the back end of the site in some shape or form.
If you don’t have access to your Google AdWords account, that should be a huge red flag. You should own your AdWords account, not your agency. Who works inside of your AdWords account can change, but you need to own your own account.
If you can’t get into your account and see what they’re doing for you, more than likely they are trying to hide something from you.
I’ve seen agencies that charge a ridiculously low monthly retainer fee for running paid ads and then pad their earnings by stealing money through their reported cost-per-click. These unscrupulous agencies were adding a profit percentage on top of what Google was charging per click without ever telling the client.
If the client could have logged into their own AdWords account, they would have been able to see this, thus why they were denied access in the first place.
The business owner I was chatting with today called in to get a list of the keywords and phrases he was paying to target with his ad dollars. He was told that keywords were confidential information and that he couldn’t gain access to that list.
I asked him if he had ever been consulted on the terms that his agency was targeting, and he looked at me like I was crazy… He said, “They’ve never really talked with me at all, let alone discussed things like the terms I pay for.”
This should be a huge red flag for any business owner. The risk for the agency here is that you could start an ad campaign with them, they give you their list of keywords and you then run off to do it on your own. Here’s the thing though. Nobody knows how effective those keywords will be until you run a few months of traffic to your site and see how they perform. The beauty of working with an agency is that you begin with a strategy and then tweak things every month until you have a refined machine that’s continually kicking out new leads.
You as the business owner should be in the know about what keywords you’re paying for and how they’re performing. If you can’t see that information, there’s something going on you shouldn’t be okay with.
This is one that really steams my clams. If you’re running paid traffic to your website, please oh please don’t just run it to your homepage.
Your homepage isn’t designed for every keyword that you’re targeting, and it probably isn’t built to convert on the specific felt need of the customer for any single keyword. Your homepage is guaranteed not written for all 90 keywords you are targeting in AdWords and won’t convert people who click.
There’s no way that even our agency homepage can convert people searching the terms website design, marketing strategy and paid ads management. They’re three separate offers and therefore need 3 separate landing pages to speak to the need of the customer.
If the agency running paid ads for your organization is just running traffic to your homepage, take a cue from Toy Story and “run like the wind, Bullseye!” You’re wasting your ad dollars and they’re lining their pockets with your money.
If you are paying to have your ads managed but haven’t heard anything about strategy, keywords, or changes to the market, then someone’s asleep at the wheel.
Paid ad management is anything but a passive activity. It takes constant management to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
If you haven’t been on a strategy call in the last few months to talk through how things are performing and what could be improved, you’re probably working with a bad agency.
Strategy changes monthly (at a minimum) in the paid ads space, and it’s not a set it and forget it task. Keywords that aren’t performing well need to be eliminated and new keywords added to increase your return on investment.
If you’re not seeing this kind of activity on your paid ad account, you can do better.
The business owner I met with hadn’t been able to speak with anyone outside of a receptionist for months when trying to get ahold of his digital agency. He was constantly being told his representative was in a meeting or couldn’t schedule a meeting with him because his ad spend wasn’t high enough.
He was told to increase his ad spend so he could get greater access to someone at the agency.
If you’re spending thousands of dollars every month, you should at a minimum be able to get someone on the phone to discuss your account. There should be strategy calls and performance calls to talk about what’s working and what could be improved. They should be trying to help you understand additional steps you can take with your marketing dollars to get a better ROI.
If you’re being shut-out, those are not the marketers that you want on your team.
When I was handed a 30 page report of the paid traffic and statistics for this business, I was initially impressed. 30 whole pages every month of data on their traffic campaigns? That’s a whole lot of data!
What I proceeded to see as I looked closer was 30 pages of data meant to confuse the business owner and make them feel stupid for asking questions.
Almost the entire document was based on impressions that their ads received. It didn’t show how many clicks became a customer or even what keywords were performing well for them.
If your reporting is all focused on impressions, they’re hiding something. The thing you should care about more than any other with your paid ads is how much it costs to acquire a customer.
Anyone can get hundred’s of thousand’s of impressions for any business by throwing money at Google. It takes actual skill to acquire customers at a reasonable cost, and that’s the reason you should be paying someone to manage your paid ads.
Demand customers, not impressions.
When you look at blog posts that are being written for your company, ask yourself a couple of questions. Are they worth reading? Are they interesting? Does it seem like a human wrote them?
This seems like a no-brainer, but I run into this happening every single day. An agency “blogs” for a client and they just copy some of the technical details for a product off of Amazon and paste it into a blog post. I’ve also seen agencies that search the web for content that’s already been written for another company, copy and paste it into their client site and call it content marketing.
Neither of these methods are going to help your company rank higher in the search engines, and here’s how to tell if this is happening to you.
Head to one of your recent blog posts and copy the first paragraph of text. Pull up the Google search engine and copy the paragraph of text into Google and hit search. What comes up? Is there another website with the same content as you? If you find that the same content has already been posted somewhere else, your current agency is trying to pull a fast one. Dump that mess and find an agency that will treat you right.
If you’re ready to stop being taken advantage of by your agency and start working with the big boys who do things right, click below to book a call with the Fusion Creative team directly.
David works every day to help businesses turn clicks into customers. He's the CEO of Fusion Creative - a digital marketing agency located in Indianapolis, IN.