How to Tell If Your Digital Marketing Service Provider is Actually Doing Anything

I recently submitted a seminar to Small Business British Columbia, an organization that provides educational materials to startups and small businesses on a range of topics. I had a great time coming up with a topic I felt would be unquestionably beneficial to any small business or startup and even more fun drawing on my years of experience in the field to summarize some tangible take-away’s business owners could turn around and apply the next day. I chose this topic because I am asked nearly every day about accountability measures between businesses and their Digital Specialists. I’m often asked to transcribe confusing monthly reports and I’m even asked to open up accounts to verify that “work is actually being done”. Here’s a short summary of my seminar, to hear the full seminar email me at

Digital Marketing Service Providers – The Good, The Bad, The Not Doing Anything…


Digital marketing service providers are an excellent resource for small business owners that don’t have the time to learn how to manage their digital marketing in-house. That said, there’s a wide range of different kinds of digital marketing service providers – there are web design agencies, then there are agencies that specialize in organic digital growth, other’s that specialize in paid advertising and media buying and still others in the ‘online public relations’ niche which includes social media marketing. It’s important to understand the differences between these different kinds of agencies so you can choose the right service provider for your business.

Furthermore, in order to establish healthy expectation management, accountability and transparency with your digital marketing service provider there is some basic industry knowledge you should have before signing an agreement with any particular agency. This seminar will effectively prepare small businesses to initiate their search for a digital marketing service provider or, if they are already working with one, they’ll have a new understanding of the inner workings of the industry and a new tool belt they can use to establish an even more effective relationship with them.

The goal of this seminar is to help small businesses that want to better understand the digital marketing industry so they can make healthy and safe choices for their business without worrying if they’re being taken advantage of. After this seminar small business owners will have the knowledge they need to discern between a digital marketing service provider that is working hard for their business and one that is not meeting their goals.

Different Kinds of Digital Marketing Service Providers to Be Aware of:


It’s important to have a solid understanding of what kind of Digital Marketing Service Provider you’re looking for, before you begin your search. You’ll want to choose one that specializes in the specific services you need. Quite often, I see businesses getting their paid advertising management from a web design agency and their search engine optimization done by a PR firm. Do your research and begin by understanding the difference between the services I’ve listed below, make sure as you’re researching that you’re thinking about which of these services you need for your business.

  • Hosting Providers
  • Branding, Design & Development
  • Organic Growth
  • Paid Growth
  • Online Public Relations
  • Consultants

Industry Knowledge You Should have Before Looking for a Digital Marketing Agency


Some Questions You Should Be Asking


I’ve created a print-out list of questions you can ask any Digital Service Provider. I’ve also mapped out what their answers should more or less look like if they know what they’re doing. Send an email to for the full list of initial questions to ask a digital marketing service provider before signing an agreement with them below for free!

Red Flags to Watch out for When Screening a Digital Marketing Service Provider


Red Flag #1: Open-source platforms vs. Proprietary Platforms

Websites should only be built on open-source platforms. Advertising Campaigns, Search Engine Optimization Accounts, Content Optimization – for the sake of your business, it should all be done on an open-source platform. Why? Well, an open-source platform is one for which the original source code is freely available and may be redistributed and modified by anyone, anywhere. In contrast, a proprietary platform is one which a specific company or consultant as developed internally and through which they process only their direct clients. The platform is ‘closed’ and can only be learned and accessed by people working for that company. In plain English, open-source platforms mean you’re not chained to one companies proprietary platform. Often, Digital Marketing Service Providers will talk of the benefits of their proprietary platforms – don’t fall for it. On a proprietary platform you run the risk of being stuck with that Digital Service Provider forever because if you want to leave their services all of your ‘properties’ will have been built on their platforms and no one else will know how to safely migrate away from their services without destroying what you’ve been building. Best case scenario – you’ll end up with a massive bill to safely migrate away from the Digital Service provider and likely diminished account performance due to the kerfuffle.

The takeaway – if a Digital Service Provider starts selling you on their proprietary or ‘in-house’ platform, content management systems (CMS), or anything that isn’t 100% open source – run!


Red Flag #2: The Reality of Sub-Contracting

It’s important to be aware that most large digital marketing agencies sub-contract out to small out-of-house contractors. Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with sub-contracting as long as it is paired with transparency. I have encountered many small businesses, however, who think they’re paying for the especial attention of Big Marketing Firm X, when in reality their account has been passed off to a sub-contractor, who as passed it on to his sub-contractor, who may pass it on to more affordable off-shore workers to actually fulfill. If you’re aware of this hand-off and you’re comfortable with it – fantastic! But I encounter many businesses who are paying the big bucks and are shocked to learn that their account is being managed by someone in another country for an embarrassing fraction of the cost. Just be aware of this reality, ask your Digital Marketing Service Provider whether they will directly be working on your account and if not, ask them to be put in direct contact with the person who will. Most legitimate sub-contractors for Big Marketing Firm X are under contract and are allowed to speak with BMFX’s clients directly.

The takeaway – always ask any DSP to put you in contact with the person who will be actively working on your digital properties.


Red Flag #3: The Accounts You Should Have Access To

As the business owner you should have access to the following accounts:

Google Analytics – this will house all the data pertaining to your website. You should have access to it and you should review the incoming data regularly to make sure the traffic hitting your site is consistent and high quality.

Website Back End – if you have a digital service provider build you a website make sure they give you the login access to the back end. You may not be the one updating your website regularly but even so, it’s important to have full access just in case you should have want to open your site up and take a look at how it runs from the back end. Just be careful not to make edits accidentally or you could very well end up ruining your site on the front end.

Social Media Logins – I can’t count the number of times relations with a Digital Service Provider have gone south and businesses can’t recover their social profiles. In many cases if you don’t have administrative access to social channels you will not be able to recover them without the cooperation of your DSP. Therefore, if you have a DSP setup your social profiles make sure they immediately make you an administrator on the profile/channel and be sure to save any relevant account and login information in a secure location so you don’t lose it. I can’t stress this enough as I have seen businesses lose access to accounts with thousands of followers because a relationship with a DSP has turned sour – you would be amazed at how little recourse there is for businesses in this predicament.

The Takeaway – Get access to your accounts, they belong to your business!


How to Tell if Your Digital Marketing Service Provider is Actually Doing Anything


Quite often business owners reach out to me for an honest second opinion on the work of their DSP. For the record, I often see accounts that are well managed and performing well in which case I congratulate the business owner and send them on their way – by no means do I criticize the work of other professionals in this industry who are providing good and successful services to their clients. That said, there are times when I can tell that accounts have been neglected. In both instances, the business owner is coming to me to verify that good work is being performed because they do not know how to tell if their DSP is actually doing anything (for all DSP’s out there – communicate with your clients through more than a monthly report!). In reality, it’s easy to tell if your DSP is working hard for you. Depending on the service you’ve contracted out to them you should be receiving a tangible list of direct changes they’ve made to your digital property. This could look like a few different things like

  • Keyword research reports
  • Lists of monthly website changes
  • Drafts of articles being written and published to your site or to 3rd party sites
  • Lists of new contributors to your site
  • Social influencers they have connected your company to in the past month
  • Data showing increased organic, paid, or referral traffic that’s in line with your pre-determined goals
  • Data showing an increase in the volume of leads or sales coming through your online channels


The Bottom Line:

If the unadulterated data is showing you a positive ROI from the digital services you’re investing in – your digital service provider is doing a good job. If you are seeing no movement from your social channels – your DSP is either not communicating with you effectively, or they’re not doing anything. Either way, a change is necessary and you should point it out to them.

Why Did I Prepare This Seminar?


Many of my clients are small businesses in need of honest and personalized digital marketing consulting. I have extensive experience working with startups and developing businesses from the ground up, however, most businesses I work with have some history of digital marketing that I must first audit and improve upon. Many of my small business clients have expressed frustration with prior digital marketing service providers and it is always my goal to restore their faith in the industry and help them achieve a positive ROI on all their digital marketing investments. I am interested in educating small businesses owners on how to make informed decisions when it comes to choosing a digital marketing service provider and to give them the knowledge and tools they need to establish effective expectation management, accountability and transparency with any service provider they engage with.

Want to Hear the Full Seminar?


I can teach this full seminar and many others to your entire office – locally or internationally. Contact me at for details.

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