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6 Red Flags When Picking a Digital Marketing Agency

There are loads of fantastic digital marketing agencies out there across Northern Ireland, mainland UK and further afield. Some are specialists in particular niche areas such as PPC, SEO or social media and some are diverse in their offerings across digital marketing. We can think of quite a few that we’ve had personal interactions with that make great partners to growing businesses in many verticals. (By the way, if you’re currently looking for a new digital marketing agency, we recommend you take a look at Niamh Taylor’s guide to choosing a digital marketing agency wisely.)

However, like Yin and Yang, where there’s good – there must be bad. There’s some out there which can make businesses regret ever considering employing an agency – it’s unfortunately just the way the market is! So, here’s just some red flags to look out for when you’re picking your next digital marketing agency.


1. They guarantee success and promise results

If you’ve ever come across an agency that promises that you’ll get to position 1 on Search within a month or two, or promises that you’ll make a 10x return on any ad spend then it’s time to exit their website and never look back. There are exceptions to this rule, however. For example, cases in which the agency has been given access to your historic data and has had the ability to use your existing and previous performance to create reasonable forecasting means they may very well be able to guarantee certain results. 

For cases in which the agency has little to no first-party data on your business, it’s more likely to be smoke and mirrors. There’s really no secret method to marketing businesses that simply works the first time and every time, regardless of offering, competition or wider market factors. Trust us, we wish there was! Sometimes strategies work, and sometimes they don’t. 

Don’t just take it from us, Sprocket Digital claims, “a reputable digital marketing agency can’t and won’t make guarantees simply because it’s near impossible to do so, and would set up the business relationship on unsteady ground”. JDR group agrees, stating, “it’s virtually impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a positive ROI, let alone how much it will be or when you’ll receive it”. You can read further in this blog to find out why guaranteeing results isn’t feasible in digital marketing.

The secret is finding an agency that is dedicated to researching, testing and strategising using insights into your market until they can find something that works for you.  


2. Money-back guarantees

Money back guarantees can work well with some products or services (e.g. SaaS). However, as we’ve already discussed, there’s really no secret sauce to digital marketing that means it’ll work out every time. As such, agencies will often be prepared to lose clients after working together for some time to try and solve a problem. 

You need to remember that an agency is a business too, and whatever they’re offering still needs to be profitable to a degree for them also. Money back guarantees can often mean the agency itself won’t lose any revenue by not charging you for work. Why? Because they’re putting cheap practices into place for you and not spending a lot of time (money) on your account. Often, businesses will spend more time and money fixing the mistakes made by these agencies than if they had gone with a reputable long-term partner. 


3. Prices that seem a bit too good to be true 

Most of the time, you get what you pay for. If your agency delivers poor work, this can damage your brand image – sometimes irreversibly. Again, having a reputable agency fix a cheap agency’s mistakes can sometimes mean even more money in the drain in the long-run. Consider that agencies can also often charge on an hourly basis. So, if you’re not getting charged much – is your brand being taken care of as much as it needs to be?

We recommend bearing this in mind when considering which agency to employ. However, we would also like to note here that for newer agencies, undercutting more established digital marketing agencies can often be their only way of getting fresh business and starting to be competitive. Even if it means their own business isn’t profitable for the first couple of years. So there are, of course, exceptions to the rule! 


4. They don’t speak your language 

If the agency can’t put their work into a language you understand, beware. Excessive use of buzzwords and refusal to chat in Layman’s terms can often be done on purpose. This can mean they either don’t know what they are talking about or they don’t want you to feel willing to approach them with changes or updates. Sometimes, keeping you in the dark can be more profitable for the agency. 

Instead, we recommend having a preliminary chat with an agency you’re thinking about working with. See if they can discuss their strategies and relevant past results with you in a way you can understand. Again, there are some fantastic agencies across the UK that not only communicate with their clients incredibly well but also share their knowledge freely with followers seeking to learn more about digital marketing. 


5. They’re not transparent 

If they don’t let you in on the process in terms of strategy and management (e.g. they don’t give you access to your ad accounts, any new CMS or analytics properties), this could be a major red flag. We’re big advocates for transparency with our clients so this is a big “no no” here at Digital 24

Ultimately, if you are paying an agency, you’re contracting them to deliver results and work with you to grow your business. An agency refusing any access to your analytics or accounts can mean they may be hiding critical information from you. This also means you’re less free to shop around for other agencies or receive audits if things aren’t working out. If an agency isn’t confident in the quality of their work, this would not be necessary and we would recommend either talking to them about giving you access or potentially shopping around for a reputable agency that will allow you full visibility of how your budget is being spent. 


6. Random cold calls critiquing your current marketing strategy 

If the agency itself has been around for a while and needs to cold call for new clients, they’re probably not worth your time. Be wary of agencies that might call you and give you bad advice “for free”. Often, they’re sales people trying to get you in the door.

A good way to find a reputable agency is through positive word of mouth or through the agency’s own good marketing efforts e.g. Google Search, PPC or Social Media.

We do note here, although we currently don’t, some agencies will use PPC (pay per click) like Google ads or Bing as well as paid social to find new clients. As well, there will be newer agencies out there that may advertise to get their own business off the ground in new markets. There’s no need to be wary of this activity as the agency is simply practicing what they preach! Instead, the type of cold outreach we would be flagging here would be quite literally “cold calling” you on the phone or private messaging you commenting on your current marketing efforts (without seeing any first party data). 

We always recommend checking the agency’s reviews on Trust Pilot or Google before working together. 


To conclude, we highly recommend considering the above 6 red flags when you’re looking for your next digital marketing agency. As we’ve already mentioned, there are heaps of great ones out there across NI, UK and further afield that we think make fantastic partners – so, if you’ve been burned by blaggers, don’t let a few bad eggs spoil your impression of the majority! 

Picture of Meghan Semple

Meghan Semple

I'm Digital 24's Performance Marketing Director. My bread and butter's in advertising on channels like Facebook and Google as well as others like TikTok, Pinterest and LinkedIn... However, I'm quite a data-driven person and love chatting all-things tracking, analytics and even some SEO!