When Should You Hire a Marketing Agency

Should you hire a marketing agency? Most clients would admit they hire them just to offload the full challenge and responsibility onto someone else. That’s okay, since that’s how service providers get new business.

There is a presumption that the marketing agency offers full, complete mastery and that all that’s needed is good execution. Yet there’s more to it than web design, creative briefs and email campaigns.  Web design doesn’t even exist on tiny smartphone screens and it’s more likely to get in the way of a good user experience and high rankings.

Agencies depend on the old Madison Avenue image of making magic.  The image has softened to include chilled out techies who know everything about code and can talk to robots. But increasingly, rankings and sales are created through expertise and it’s shaken the foundations of the agency business.  Industry expertise is increasingly the most important talent needed.

Agencies often are too busy, taking too many mediocre accounts, which strains their resources, time and passion of the talent. It makes getting work done in a timely manner difficult. Work automation and publishing tools don’t really solve the overwork issue either.


“Our interviews revealed that the amount of mistakes nearly double when digital agencies scale above $1 million and $5 million in fees” from the Morphio.ai agency report.


Agency Errors Made
From Morphio’s AgencyConfessions-Report.pdf. Screenshot courtesy of Morphio.ai.

Marketing Agency Checklist

You’ll find this marketing agency evaluation checklist convenient, but let’s take a closer look at marketing agency models and what they could be achieving.

Paul Roetzer’s book on the modern digital agency is excellent. Very enjoyable read. However, the takeaway is that your business model must be perfect or it’s a no go.

Buying With Confidence

What’s being purchased is the confidence that it will get done, and that the agency can juggle many clients simultaneously. In the end, after failure, the project is handed back to the client. Whatever happened, you could see it coming from the start. Perhaps hiring manageable, independent talent might be a better route?

Should you ever hire a San Diego marketing agency to perform specialized work such as search engine optimization? Professional SEO is highly skilled, competitive, complex, technically demanding with outrageous expectations. How would an agency possess this elite expertise? The best SEOs work for themselves, not to get leveraged for low wages by an agency.

In this post let’s explore this contentious issue, and find out how big agencies pretend competence and use big money to produce mediocre results. This is hard hitting and I’m sure you’ll get a few laughs out of it too. As the title banner above shows, the truth can make us laugh. If you have your own agency stories, I’d really like to hear them.

10 Ways Hiring the Wrong Marketing Agency Could Hurt You

  1. they could really send you in the wrong direction, big time
  2. they don’t know your business and are overconfident of directing it
  3. major waste of your budget through excess staff, high overhead, and cookie cutter mediocrity
  4. they don’t have the expertise which is only achieved through intense study and work
  5. they charge too much and the ROI just isn’t what’s expected
  6. lower fees and higher skill of independent specialists allows you to capture opportunity fully
  7. they won’t work cooperatively with outsourced experts
  8. you can’t work directly with the expert producer/creator
  9. they don’t have expertise in your industry or ability and time to create it
  10. they sell you on non-essentials to prop up their weak value proposition

There’s more so let’s move on to the good stuff.

SEO Marketing Agencies in San Diego County

Let’s take a quick visit to what is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the US — San Diego California.  For non San Diegans, it’s a fascinating destination to visit. The palm trees, beaches, mountains, restaurants, tourist venues, and sunshine are unforgettable.

Millions of people and many businesses have moved here to enjoy the amazing lifestyle. They discover it’s expensive with not much housing available.  Workers can barely survive financially and taxes are sky high. Local service providers may not be up to international standards of performance making SD-based businesses less competitive.

It’s why outsourcing for talent and production is the biggest trend in California and will continue to be.

San Diego Clients Prefer Outsourcing for Success

My clients in SD were distracted by the local vs national focus decision. In each case, they could compete for national or international audiences for additional revenue and opportunities. SD is a small regional market, just south of the main Southern California market that is the greater metro Los Angeles area. Big competitors from LA can easily move in and take the San Diego market.

That makes it an appendage of their real market, and San Diego companies gets second hand treatment. Many SD business owners resent that.

A Full US Market Focus

One of my  SD sports ecommerce clients was struggling. Local meant nothing to local consumers who bought products online from big national competitors such as Tennis Warehouse, Dicks Sporting Goods, and Tennis Express. I got them focused on pursuing National and international sales too. They sold items they couldn’t get rid of before and received orders from Europe and other far off countries. They laughed when they got their first orders from Europe and Asia.

Those are some of the best moments I’ve had in marketing. Due to my broader strategy, they achieved a new geographical reach and a new outlook. They increased sales throughout California but the real sales gains came across the US.

A global focus is important for San Diego companies because business isn’t local anymore. SD business can win if they outsource SEO to the right provider who has worked in the full US market.

By hiring an advanced SEO strategist who was not distracted by local pressures, they actually gained a unique advantage on competitors in California. Going local turned out to be a curse that lead to downward spiraling. A global focus opened new doors and they’ve enjoyed good success. They relocated from Oceanside to Carlsbad and tripled their staff. Another client, a major US real estate publisher picked up top ranking for their number one keyword phrase, which was also their brand name. Top rankings on Google aren’t a given. You must win them, and advanced SEO strategy is essential to win.

Examining Other SEO Agencies

There’s no shortage of competitors. Ad agencies, IT companies, web design agencies and even traditional marketing agencies have all jumped on the SEO zeitgeist to make a quick buck and shore up a weak value prop.

I was just analyzing the top San Diego SEO companies and the techniques they use are just marketing tactics. They’re actually not presenting or offering in-depth expertise on SEO or content strategy. It’s like a fast food menu.  Whether you have big money or not, legit advanced techniques and assets are the essence of success.

One company’s message was entirely based on doubting any other competitor who wasn’t ranking at the top for San Diego SEO. Well, it took them over ten years to gain that ranking, and how many clients would wait ten years to rank on the top? Further, just because they’ll fight for their own self-interest doesn’t mean they’ll fight for yours.

That company mentions others having no strategy, but they don’t explain any of their own client’s strategies. They mention Google’s guide to search engine optimization and “best practices” policies, for beginners.  But following these tips do not correlate to expert strategy and tactics that create top rankings. You can’t mediocre your way to the top. Google’s guides offer little for serious SEO strategists.

The agency adds that they won’t sell you if they think SEO is worthless to you, but why would the client be calling if SEO is worthless? They mention no ranking guarantees are offered so why bring the topic up in the first place? They mention their unnamed team of professional strategists and storytellers and the need for transparency, but these people remain hidden and unknown.

When speaking about backlink acquisition, they mention that they don’t do spam link building, yet fail to explain how they will build legitimate links. Are they going to buy guest post links or pay for reach?

Staying in Your Lane

They mention going beyond SEO to help clients if needed. However, branding, ppc, web design, video production, and other channels aren’t their forte. Should you hire an SEO company to design your brand? They mention maximizing profits, but an SEO provider doesn’t control most of the elements that create sales and revenue.

SEOs are top of funnel experts. We don’t optimize the customers products, the digital experience, customer service, and creating the client’s value proposition is not in the SEO specialist’s milieu. We can offer insight and encouragement to hire real branding experts.

Finally, they state that SEO may not be cost-effective which is depressing since they sell SEO and other media are not cost effective most times too. SEO is the savior! It is flexible, powerful, leverages a prestigious piece of digital real estate, and can power up the rest of the client’s marketing campaign. How can it not be cost-effective? They mean it’s not cost-effective for you to hire them.

Bloated Costs Force them to Cut Quality

The biggest problem with agencies is overstaffing, account reps, middlemen, overhead of fancy offices, lack of expertise, time inefficiency, and outdated work processes that cause them to bloat their prices. And if they offer a lower price, they have to cut back on quality. The administrative routines of an agency might sound comforting and reliable, but competition today in the marketplace is intense, and routines don’t generate results. Expertise and strategy are everything.

Collectively, these agencies project a provider first and client second approach. They appear more worried about being taken advantage of by a scheming prospect who wants to get something for nothing. But this adds no value for a legitimate, successful client prospect, who is sincerely concerned about SEO mastery.

Good clients who value SEO look to the core ingredients of a campaign — expertise, authority, creativity, execution and a mastery of strategy. They’re not going to chisel on price, because they don’t want to jeopardize the result which could bring immense success and revenue.

A good marketing provider speaks directly and primarily to premium client prospects.

Local Focus Runs Against the Grain

Other agencies are small-time focused on local SEO and technical SEO. This means they cater to local mom and pop shops who need directory listings and have some website design problems to fix. SEO is so competitive now that even local businesses must compete like national brands. Sharks are everywhere and they’re well funded. You must compete against big companies and win — something I really enjoy. They actually mention science and proven strategies yet the credibility is weak and they don’t even attempt to prove it in their content.

An agency’s blog posts is its proof in the pudding. Read their blog posts and you see the clearest signs of their UVP, power, and strategic capabilities.  Content tells all.

Still other agencies dazzle with video interviews of clients. What should be noted however, is that these clients may have done much better with other providers. Many businesses grew sales based on growing market demand during this last economic bull run. Like stock investors who bought stock, when all stock prices rose. The proof of techniques and strategy is often completely absent and performance should have been well beyond average market growth.

Some offer instant, automated SEO audits when real audits can’t be done by scanning robots, and instead is a painstaking process by an expert who manually reviews what really are the issues to resolve.

Others still post awards and designations as a top SEO provider, issued by another marketing agency and local publishers. There may be some bias in their recommendations.

The Top San Diego SEO Agency

The top SEO agency in San Diego (Carlsbad) is a force, but full of account reps and marketeers who add cost and reduce performance. They mention fast growth, but that growth means they’re boasting about their income. And then there’s the potential issue of not having time for your project — you need dedication with no conflicts of interest.

They mention the option of working with independent consultants, which is actually what you should do. They mention lofty pricing before they’ve explained fully the unique value proposition they have for you.

They mention their huge array of other services which is fine, if they do them well. These other services often take money and resources away from SEO thus weakening it.  The point is, they don’t show their mastery of search engine optimization which is the core benefit you need.

The President of the big San Diego SEO agency provides his ultimate guide to seo copywriting. However, he isn’t the one who will be writing your copy. In fact, he is the marketing manager, not a copywriter. He should stick to his knitting.  You need to work directly with the person who will generate your copy and content because it is the medium that will create your next quality customer and represent your brand.

Let’s hope the underling is sharp and motivated.

They mention being a Google Partner yet Google doesn’t particularly like search engine optimizers so a partnership seems rather sketchy. Google’s goal is to put small business out of the top ten ranks and squeeze every penny out of them in Google ads. The truth is stark so let’s not fool ourselves.

Yet one more well known San Diego SEO agency displays their team, but every single person is a “senior manager!” Well, who does the work? They should only show those who do the work. The account reps, managers and accountants should be in the background.

Other agencies put an emphasis on video and it can be immersive. However, almost no one contacts a company after viewing a Youtube video. And the video offers minimal rank boosting power. It’s best that we point to our core competencies in search engine optimization so prospects know we’re focused. Their blogs are about everything but search engine optimization such as paid media, creating ads, and using Linkedin. They might be distracted from the professional SEO focus.

And the number 1 SD county SEO agency is focused on big, national enterprise clients and big money solutions. Well, there’s no criticizing them for going for the gold, and they are focused on SEO since 2004. They’ve earned it. However, like others, they pull out the awards issued by another agency with unverifiable, unexplained awards, and gaudy trustmarks.

Bogus, self-aggrandizing SEO awards harm the industry and give us a bad rep. Big agencies can’t win awards because gaining rankings via aggressive big money promotional campaigns isn’t SEO strategy. Anyone can buy sponsorship slots, pay to work with journalists and news publications, develop marketing connections and reach through social and Google ads, along with PR campaigns, and guest posting. Announcing awards without careful explanation is shady.

And an enterprise level, national agency that advertises its local mom and pop clients is a head scratcher. How do they have time to serve these small San Diego, La Jolla, Carlsbad and Oceanside clients who are hyperlocal? Wouldn’t you do that as a free public service, rather than boast about it?

This big SEO company also mentions artificial intelligence aided SEO but it’s nowhere to be found in its service selection pages. If real AI SEO was integrated into their solutions, it would be a major component.

Shallow Insight and Automated Spidering Reports

What is most shocking about this enterprise SEO company is how shallow its SEO audit is (some automated technical website checks and title tag reviews) based only on best practices. It provides a scoring rating for each element which means literally nothing. The issue isn’t the degree of weakness, it’s what it means and how you’ll improve it. The rating scores are cheap tactics to impress and scare naïve prospects.

They also state that 200 algorithm factors deeply affect rankings, which isn’t true. There are a select number of components that affect rankings.  A big money company has all the promotional and resource advantages and don’t need to rely on cheesy obfuscation.  There’s no mention of content strategy and the core algorithm elements that actually determine rankings.

And they present themselves as an all digital marketing solution provider yet they have no comprehensive digital marketing audit. A deep, thorough understanding of the client, it’s competition, the market, and of which techniques would be successful is mandatory. We’re talking budgets in the millions of dollars. There’s a lot at risk.

The main reasons large SEO agencies create poor value is a lack of expertise, efficiency, and conflict of interest and dedication to your project.

The priority is to acquire a skilled, experienced, dedicated specialist who focuses on the key ranking criteria. Of course, that means high quality content, a good-sized budget, and the time and capacity to execute your SEO/marketing campaign. It won’t take ten years, but it’s a project.

This is not to say that a big money digital marketing campaign will not boost your rankings and traffic. It’s true that big money can create an unfair advantage. Big companies eat little companies for breakfast, just as the sun rises.

Expertise is excellent, but results will be affected by your marketing spend. However, it has to be said that much of the performance of digital marketing agencies (and traditional ad agencies) is directly tied to spending. Spending is wise, but you should be sure you have a skilled specialist to focus your money as best you can. Everything else is wasted spend — your funds out the window.

I’ve worked for 4 marketing agencies and the low performance, big billing, and baked in mediocrity are industry standards. They receive awards for duping innocent clients. Please don’t be one of them. Hire an SEO specialist who works directly with you, and who will add value to any marketing and sales people you have.

It’s good marketing to promote the value your services but it’s unwise to hide behind platitudes and attempt to steal market share from legitimate providers.

However, all is fair in love and war, and even competent agencies will use military strategy, techniques and tactics to win markets. Yes, it’s a battleground, yet we can fight back by educating clients on how to focus on what they need — specific services.

It might require a little more work to outsource marketing services to a variety of specialists, however, they might be a great aid in finding the talent you need. One thing for sure, is the best talent work as independents and you can hire them. And Advanced SEO strategist is just one pro that can kick your marketing results up a notch.

Come on San Diego, Let’s Get Started!

Consult with Gord now about your business goals. Call 416 998 6246.

Gord’s SEO Content Strategy Book. The Ultimate Guide to Combining SEO and Content Strategy describes the technique of fusing visitor intent and the content experience to power up search engine optimization. Content is often peppered with SEO like sprinkling sugar drizzle on top, but Google’s not fooled. It’s looking for signals woven into your content.  You have to take it to another level.

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