What to Look for in an Inbound Marketing Agency

Justin Lambert

Written by Justin Lambert on Wed, Feb 18, 2015

A recent article in Contently's Content Strategist caught my attention. It's called “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Next Content Marketing Partner,” and the questions listed are all important ones for potential collaborators to consider.

Questions_to_AskBut what struck me even more about these ten questions is how much more involved they are than the questions we (as an inbound marketing agency) needed to answer just a few years ago.

The Age of the Vanity Metric

When content marketing - and inbound marketing in general - was first popping up on the radar, the initial questions potential clients were most concerned with were things like:
  • How well do you do Facebook?
  • How quickly can I get on the first page of Google?
  • How many Twitter followers can you get me this month?
Everything was very much tactic-based and vanity metrics were the goals everyone was shooting for.

Now, as journalists, PR professionals, and freelance magazine writers - which is what most inbound marketing “experts” were at the very beginning, those sounded like perfectly good goals to us too. We could do some digging, come up with creative ways to write Facebook posts, tweets, headlines, and keyword-stuffed articles so that our clients saw their numbers start to rise.

The Age of the Savvier Marketer

Everyone was happy.

But then, reality set in:

We all began to realize that your number of Twitter followers or Facebook “likes” didn't have much if any connection to the money you actually made or the leads you generated. Suddenly, our clients started - rightfully - asking some more in-depth questions.
  • How do I turn a follower into a lead, and into a customer?
  • How do I reach those people who may read a blog article but nothing else?
  • What is it about my page that is causing 85% of visitors to leave after a few seconds?

Heck, we didn't know. But we certainly saw the need to find out.

So we started diving headfirst into the nitty gritty of analytics, lead nurturing, and ROI. We started looking for more of the “why” answers instead of just the “what” and “how” answers we were focused on before. And, as a result, we started leaning more and more heavily on technology to help us help our clients to find the answers they needed.

If the technology told us we needed to shoehorn the keyword into our article one more time to reach the optimal 3.5% saturation point, then we darn well made it happen.

The Age of the Panda and the Penguin

At some point around mid-2011, we hit a tipping point.

Google was cracking down on poor content and ugly SEO, content farms started to falter and, with them, the concept of railroading your way to the top with boatloads of mediocre content.

This was good for everyone, but we didn't all realize it at the time.

You see, a lot of “inbound marketing experts”, “content marketing specialists”, and “content strategists” really only knew one thing for sure: if we start a blog and load it up with 350-word articles based on a list of keywords, we're going to bring in traffic, and that traffic is going to help our client make money.

And a lot of those folks aren't inbound marketing experts any more.

The Age of the TRUE Inbound Marketing Experts

Since then, Google has continued to improve its search algorithms to ensure that the best content makes its way to the top, and that the top results are there, not just because they have the right combination of “on-page SEO factors”, but because they speak to the target audience in a meaningful way and help them get the answers they're seeking.

It's interesting, when you think about it, but many of us have come full circle in a way. We started out years ago as journalists, PR professional, and freelance writers. In all those cases, our number one talent was clearly communicating a specific message meant to reach a specific audience and - in many cases - urge them to take a specific action.

Along the way, we've learned a ton about what sort of technology helps us do that, what kinds of intricate tests we can perform to make sure we're doing it well, and how to slightly adjust the message for various formats to get the very most out of every content delivery channel available to us today. But when you really boil it down, that's what a true inbound marketing expert does now: tells your story.

So what are the most important questions you can ask your next inbound marketing agency?

Well, there are a ton of legitimate questions you should consider, and most of them are nicely outlined in our free white paper, “The Ultimate Guide to Hiring an Inbound Agency”, so hit the big green button below and read that.  These days, you should rightfully expect an inbound agency to have a solid handle on every aspect of content strategy, creation, and distribution, with the results to prove it.

But, at its core, every question you need to be most concerned with at this point revolves around just this one:

“Why can I trust you to tell my story better than anyone else?”

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