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Let’s talk digital marketing. It’s something that is an absolute need — not just a want — for any company to be successful. Some bring their marketing in-house, but for my company Wakanow, an online traveling agency for people traveling to and from Africa, it was a business-forward decision to outsource my digital marketing needs.

But it wasn’t an easy task finding the correct agency. Before I hired my current service provider, I dealt with a few that claimed to provide a quality product at a cheap price. A few were outsourced to countries that are known for the proverbial “snake oil.”

It’s sometimes easy to get trapped in these scams — especially for entrepreneurs at the beginning stages of a startup. Scaling, which means getting the most growth with the least amount of resources, is vital, so sometimes we let our guard down when considering service providers. And nowhere is this truer than in the world of digital marketing; from web development to search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search, there are thousands of companies on the prowl, ready to take your money without offering results.

Be wary. It’s like an SEO company guaranteeing the No. 1 position on Google. This is an impossible guarantee, as are the quality guarantees of $5 hourly web developers and 50,000 Instagram friends for $100 (fake friends, of course). The more and more digital marketing is in need, the more digital-marketing fraud grows.

For most startups, outsourcing their marketing needs is the ideal situation. After growth, many consider bringing their digital marketing in-house, but if you find a worthy agency, you’ll likely stick with them. Here are four tips to avoid digital-marketing scams:

Scrutinize the Selection Process 

Start with the obvious Google search and dig into each prospect. First, check out how well they represent themselves on their own platform. Did you see any paid search ads mentioning them? How is the SEO on their website?

When searching, also use words like “scam” or “fraud” in the results, and be warned if the prospect has anything negative against them. Also, use a contact form to first reach out, and then call. Be prepared to ask questions, and get a feel for client services.

Ask about their process, and find out if they outsource or “white label” any work, and if so, what work and to whom? Outsourcing work to third-world countries is a red flag.

Check Credibility 

Start with experience of the executive team. Some newer agencies may only have limited experience as an agency, but the team may have much more. My digital marketing agency was founded by Kris Jones, who has 18 years in the industry. His team members also have vast experience.

Then, dig deeper. Has the agency won any awards? Are its clients listed, and if so, are there testimonies or case studies present on its website? Have they appeared in any major publications within the digital marketing industry? Positive responses to any of these questions will show that the agency has a voice. The stronger the voice, the stronger the product.

Request Daily/Weekly/Monthly Reports

If a digital marketing agency doesn’t offer any reporting, take warning. For example, if SEO services are offered, Google Analytics is an absolute must. With Google Analytics, an agency can track just about anything, from website traffic to transactions that were made through either your paid search or website. The reporting factor should be standard from all companies. If it’s not listed, ask about reporting and demand it if you become a client. Objective data helps prevent companies from scamming even if you weren’t expecting the results you got.

For Wakanow, my digital marketing agency sends a bi-weekly report with the following data: all traffic, all referrals, organic traffic, mobile visitors, traffic from social, traffic from email blasts, and also the top landing pages, to name some of the main criteria.

Make the Warnings Clear. Scope Your Hiring

Did you follow the above tips, but still have nerves? If so, provide yourself an out.

Just as the digital marketing agencies proposal and contracts should have scope, so should you as a customer. Let the agency know you won’t deal with things like missed deadlines or overspending of ad budget on a Google AdWords or Facebook campaigns. If need be, have the agency insert some type of language into the contract that allows you to exit without losing any money.

Sadly, even the most successful business stories have either suffered a digital marketing scam or had some contact with a fraud trying to earn with less-than-mediocre services. Follow these tips, and keep the scammers far out of reach. It may take some work considering there are hundreds – even thousands – of digital marketing agencies, but create the bandwidth to check and double check them. Hard work is eminent for successful entrepreneurship – don’t let a hack digital marketing agency take away from that hard work.