How to choose the right content marketing agency
With just a few strategic pieces in place, content marketing can work outrageously well.
Businesses that blog generate 67% more leads than businesses that don’t blog.
They also get 55% more website visitors and 434% more pages indexed in search engines.
The problem is, how do you put those necessary pieces for results in motion?
Content marketing strategy is notoriously complex for the uninitiated. It can seem like a giant machine with countless cogs, wheels, and whirligigs that connect in multiple ways.
43% of businesses don’t have a documented content strategy – and they perform less well than brands that do have one.
What if you could hand off content – the entire thing, from planning to creation to publishing – to someone who already knows how it all fits together? Who has a proven record of making it work?
That’s what a content marketing agency is for.
If you want content done right, but don’t have the expertise or experience to do it yourself, you can hire a content agency. Here’s everything you need to know about finding the best one.
What is a content marketing agency?
A content marketing agency is an expert team that helps businesses plan, create, and execute a content marketing strategy.
That team usually includes project and account managers, content strategists, content writers, editors, SEO experts, graphic designers, consultants, salespeople, and more.
What does a content marketing agency do?
Most agencies are full-service, which means they’ll take the entirety of your content marketing off your plate and handle it all. That includes planning your strategy, creating your content, and distributing it to your content channels. They’ll also:
- Create content marketing campaigns.
- Do market and SEO research to discover the best audience, topics, and keywords for a brand.
- Create a brand content calendar.
- Create most types of content, from written blogs and lead magnets to designed infographics and visual social media posts.
- Make sure a brand’s site and content are search engine-optimized.
- Manage a business’ website and blog.
- Track and measure results.
As you can see, a content marketing agency can do it all. Their teams are robust and cover a vast range of skills. This makes hiring a content agency an all-in-one solution for getting a content plan in place or helping a stagnant one start moving.
What to look for when choosing a content marketing agency
There are a lot of content marketing agencies out there these days.
How do you choose the right one? Consider these criteria.
1. Evidence of expertise and credibility
You’re hiring a content marketing agency because they’re supposed to have the expertise that your team lacks. That means you should make doubly sure it’s actually there.
Look for past examples of the agency’s work. Check their website for testimonials and case studies. Look for a list of past clients and partnerships.
Specifically, look for examples of past work similar to what you need. Do they typically serve your industry? This will be important for brands in specialized niches like healthcare, finance, or law, where certain standards for content must be met.
Most agencies will list the industries they serve on their sites, but looking at work examples will show you more detailed proof that they can handle your niche.
If the agency doesn’t have any samples on its site, it might not have had any clients yet. This isn’t a deal breaker if you’re on a budget – they may have related experience that demonstrates their expertise.
If this is the case, check their “About” page for staff bios and information on what they’ve done that makes them experts.
2. A good reputation
Have you seen/heard other people talk glowingly about this agency? Have you read lots of good reviews? Or does the agency seem to exist in a vacuum of silence?
The information you can find about the agency online should speak volumes about its reputation. Usually, you’ll find proof of reputation in these places:
- Featured on the agency’s website:
- Lists of past clients or partners
- On social media:
- Mentions, tags, or comments from customers
- On review sites like Expertise, Agency Match, and Clutch.co
- From a Google search of the brand name or “[brand name] reviews”
Weigh good, neutral, and bad reviews carefully, and consider them in light of the services you need.
3. An emphasis on strategy, goals, ROI
Strategy is everything in content marketing. Without a plan of action, your content will go nowhere.
That must include goal setting, how you’ll track and measure those goals, and the type of ROI you’d like to see from content.
78% of marketers who said their content marketing was very successful also reported having a documented content strategy, per a Semrush survey. Most focused on content quality, SEO, and visual content in their planning.
A formal process and documentation attached to content marketing give you a map to follow, essentially.
If the prospective agency you’re looking at doesn’t emphasize strategy at the bottom of a working content marketing plan, they have no map to follow to reach success. Move on.
4. A skilled team of creators
Most brands want skilled creators behind their content. After all, content quality is a giant Google ranking factor, not to mention a huge reason your audience will stay with you.
When you measure the skill of a creator, think about their subject matter expertise along with their storytelling ability.
For many niches, it’s impossible to create great content without specialized knowledge – be sure that the agency you’re considering has creators with the right expertise or background.
Also, think about the specific skills you need behind your content. For example, say you need video content creation. If the agency doesn’t have videographers on staff, that’s a reason to look elsewhere.
5. A clear project management process
Content marketing agencies tend to juggle a lot of clients, projects at various stages, and all the associated moving parts. That means they need good project management in their wheelhouse.
You need to know whether your chosen agency has the capacity to deliver results both on time and under budget. For that reason, look for these criteria to ensure they’re up to snuff:
- They have project management listed as an included service with their other offerings.
- They provide an outline of their process, going from the idea stage to results and what happens in between.
- They give an overview of which team member will touch your project at what stage.
Remember, if you can’t find this information on their website, you can always ask about it if you get to the consultation stage with the agency.
6. Good communication
Good communication is a cornerstone of any business relationship. You know it, we all know it – but putting it into practice is another story entirely.
While you’re evaluating your final choices for content marketing agencies, pay careful attention to how they communicate with you. Bad communication can be both the canary in the coal mine and the nail in the coffin.
- How quickly did they respond to your initial inquiry?
- Have you been passed from person to person since, or have you always talked to the same person?
- Have replies to emails and phone calls been prompt and courteous?
- Have you felt like your questions have been answered to your satisfaction?
Finally, consider this preliminary communication as the initial step toward building a relationship with your agency.
It will give you a giant clue about what they’re like to work with – whether this will be fun and exciting, or difficult and tedious. If your gut tells you it’s not a good fit, you’re probably right.
7. Solid values for ethical content marketing
Ethics matter in content marketing, and you should expect your agency to adhere to them.
Look for the agency’s values that guide their business on their website. What have they emphasized? What’s important to them? Are those same things important to your brand?
A good agency will also have zero-tolerance policies for issues like plagiarism, poor-quality content, manipulative content, content created only for search engines, or content that violates Google’s spam policies.
The right content marketing agency should be fully transparent about their business practices, their past clients, their staff or contracted employees, and their rates.
For example, if the agency is promising the moon for a ridiculously cheap rate, that’s a red flag. It’s also a red flag if it seems like they’re trying to hide something.
Comb their website carefully, ask lots of questions, and expect clear answers. The right agency will be fully transparent and happily provide them.
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Tips for working with a content marketing agency
To give your business the best chance of success with content, you should have some key knowledge under your belt before working with an agency.
Know the basics
Before hiring a content marketing agency, it's a good idea to study the basics of how content works. This helps keep your expectations realistic and gives you a better understanding of what's going on behind the scenes.
- Get an overview of the process of planning and creating a content strategy, including all the necessary pieces that go into it.
- Research what high-quality content looks like, and what it takes to create it (from planning to publishing).
- Understand that content is a long-term game, and not for you if you want fast, quick wins.
Know your needs and goals
Before you hire a content marketing agency, you should know what your needs are. For example, maybe you don't have a blog on your site yet and want to set up a content marketing system and strategy for blogging.
You should also set clear, reasonable goals attached to a time frame for the results you want to see. What do you want that blog to do for your brand in the next six months? In the next year?
The clearer you are on both of these things, the more productive your conversations will be with an agency.
Know your budget
What are you willing to spend on content marketing? Set a limit, but don't set it in stone.
You may need to nudge it up or down depending on how well you understand the costs associated with content. (If you have no idea, you might want to do some research on what content marketing typically costs brands of your size.)
Also, remember that most agencies will be willing to work with your budget and set realistic goals you can reasonably meet with the amount you've invested.
Find the right content marketing agency for real growth
When content marketing is set up smartly and the right creators and strategists are behind it, you'll be surprised at the ROI you'll eventually see.
The right content marketing agency can fill in any business's marketing gaps for better reach, visibility, brand awareness, leads, and results.
Carefully vet the agency you hire, because they'll take on a lot of responsibility for you. However, they can also help your brand grow in ways you never imagined.
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