Top 5 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Hire a Digital Marketing Agency

Jan 12, 2024 | Education Marketing

Learn important pillars of digital marketing for higher education

Digital marketing in higher education can play a huge role in increasing student leads and the overall growth of your school. The right higher education marketing partner can help you generate leads, boost enrollment and lower cost-per-start, plus ideally free you up to focus on other things. 

Before you partner with any marketing agency, make sure they can answer the following crucial questions:

    1. OWNERSHIP: Who Owns the Assets & Accounts? 
    2. REPORTING: Will There Be Clear & Transparent Reporting?
    3. PERFORMANCE: What Is Your Conversion Rate Optimization Strategy?
    4. SECURITY & COMPLIANCE: What Are Your Data Security & Compliance Policies?
    5. CONTRACT: Will I Be Locked Into a Long Term Contract?

#1: Who Owns the Assets & Accounts?

The most important question you need to ask when you consider a digital marketing agency: Who ultimately owns everything?

If the answer to this first question is not you/your company, that should be the end of the conversation. Even if you never intend to oversee your own website or run advertising yourself, it’s crucial that YOU own the materials and accounts, not your agency.   

Many agencies run client advertising campaigns on their own proprietary accounts and own the hosting of any websites that they build. That may be a fine arrangement for a while, but if you ever decide to leave that agency, or if the agency goes out of business or chooses to move in another direction, you have to build a new website and/or start new advertising accounts from scratch. Not only is that a headache, it can mean a huge loss of revenue. 

Digital marketing is a long game investment. Every time you start over on an ad platform like Google, Bing, Facebook/IG etc, there’s a learning window of about 6 – 8 weeks. Plus you pay a premium as a “new advertiser” with higher click costs and lower impression share.  

If you own your website and business ad accounts outright, you maintain the valuable data that goes with it, including the machine learning insights used for effective ad placement. As the owner of your accounts, you can switch agencies but maintain your advertiser position on all the platforms.  

Your website and paid search accounts are too valuable to not have ownership.

#2: Will There Be Clear & Transparent Reporting?

Ask prospective marketing companies to send you an example of one of their reports AND to explain exactly how the report shows:

  1. Their business objectives
  2. Performance ROI

Some companies will send monthly reports that LOOK impressive, with plenty of graphs and stats, but lack real accountability. If a company over emphasizes things like the number of ad impressions but has no way to accurately measure and demonstrate the impact their ads have on important business outcomes such as cost-per-enrollment, you may want to look elsewhere. 

Real marketers LOVE data and creating impact. Look to partner with a company that is excited about measurable results and performance ROI.

#3: What Is Your Conversion Rate Optimization Strategy?

This question basically boils down to: are you invested in continual improvement? As operation costs rise and competition for ad space grows, it’s important to partner with a marketing agency dedicated to testing and to pushing peak performance.

Ask prospective marketing companies about their conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategy. Specifically, ask to see examples and how often they run tests on their ads, landing pages and website assets. 

Every digital marketer requires CRO knowledge to be successful and those that are will have a deeper well of knowledge to share. These professionals will have the skills to accelerate your marketing ROI in a shorter amount of time.  

#4: What Are Your Data Security & Compliance Policies?

When you work with any outside company, but particularly a marketing company that may run campaigns that involve outbound contact to prospects, you need to ensure the company has strong data integrity and security policies in place. In particular, your marketing company must be able to demonstrate how they:

  1. House data safely
  2. Ensure compliance with data privacy
  3. Secure assets (like marketing accounts & personal communication)

Your marketing efforts must be compliant with digital privacy laws and regulations around expressed consent to contact. This requires a solid technology foundation to ensure you meet and exceed these requirements.

Second to that is protections around internal email and outreach. With the rise in phishing campaigns, you need to ensure whoever you work with has solid security protocol in place, even in their own personal communications.

The number one cause of a security breach is typically a weak password shared among team members that doesn’t get updated. Too often we see websites get hacked and blocked from search engines and ad platforms because “admin” was their username with a simple password.

In addition to compliance with digital privacy laws, you need to be certain that any company you partner with is compliant with all Department of Education (DOE) regulations. 

TIP: Periodically audit your passwords to any major marketing asset and social account. Platforms such as 1Password or LastPass can help recommend strong passwords and provide a safer way to share those passwords with third parties.

#5: Will I Be Locked Into a Long Term Contract?

Something to look out for when you partner with a marketing agency is do they require you to sign a long term contact. For example, are you committed to pay the monthly retainer for a full year or other predetermined length of time? This can leave you paying for a service even if you don’t see results.

As mentioned in question #1, digital advertising and other marketing campaigns can require long term effort. It’s not unusual for it to take a couple of months to see a real return on efforts. You don’t want to jump ship if you don’t see results instantly. But you should never feel committed to something that doesn’t work for you.

Agencies that stand behind their work won’t require you to commit to a long term contract.

Choosing the Right Higher Ed Digital Marketing Agency

Most digital marketing agencies will do an informal audit to provide you some insight into what can be improved. Compare what various agencies promise, along with their fees and what type of relationship they have with their clients. Ideally you’ll find a company that fits with the values of your organization, has an ethical and efficient plan to grow your business through digital advertising and a rate that matches your budget. 

As you evaluate your options, remember the 5 important questions to keep in mind:

    1. OWNERSHIP: Who Owns the Accounts? 
    2. REPORTING: Will There Be Clear & Transparent Reporting?
    3. PERFORMANCE: What Is Your Conversion Rate Optimization Strategy?
    4. SECURITY & COMPLIANCE: What Are Your Data Security & Compliance Policies?
    5. CONTRACT: Will I Be Locked Into a Long Term Contract?

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