So, you want to use an online marketing agency …

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To give your business a solid online presence, you need the help of an online marketing agency.

Research shows that in 91 percent of small businesses, the CEO also serves as the primary marketer. Playing double roles doesn't come as a surprise as 96 percent of these businesses have a staff of five or fewer people.

Unfortunately, business owners and managers like you simply do not have enough time to dabble and experiment online.

The core business – be it a bakery, carwash, dental clinic or restaurant – needs you. You need to be running operations. Trying to learn the technical aspects of online marketing and sacrificing time for the business is not worth it.

So why burden yourself when you can leave the technical stuff to an agency, right? Correct!

But now, here's the challenge: how do you choose the right provider for your business? Here's some advice.

BE WARY OF UNREALISTIC PROMISES

Internet marketing consultants or companies typically make the same promise to business owners: more traffic, leads and sales online. What business owner wouldn't want those results, right?

But the question is, can they really deliver? Are they telling the truth, or merely making promises to peddle their services?

Just remember, if the promises are too good to be true, they probably are.

It's easy to plunge into this pitfall as many businesses are in dire need of services and are assigning these needs to providers. For instance, one research found that 63 percent of marketers will spend more on content creation this year. That's how badly they need new content.

Meanwhile, 50 percent will spend more on search engine optimization and search engine marketing efforts delegated to agencies.

YOUR REPUTATION IS AT STAKE

While you may badly need such services, remember that falling for “we'll give you the moon and the stars” type of promises is the biggest pitfall small-business owners make when hiring an Internet marketing agency.

Be careful when choosing your online marketing provider. After all, that company will represent your business online. If it creates a faulty and spammy website, publishes irresponsible Facebook status posts or writes articles with terrible grammar, it's your business that will bear the brunt.

So how do you choose the right online marketing service provider for your business? Here are two qualities to look for:

EXPERTISE: TESTING, EXPERIENCE

Unlike major corporations, small and medium-sized businesses have small and medium-sized marketing coffers, too. As an owner, you want to ensure that you will get your money's worth when entrusting online marketing activities to an agency.

And to ensure you get a return on investment, one of the things you should search for in an agency is expertise.

Expert level Internet marketing agencies typically possess these characteristics:

• Carry out research and development.

• Conduct testing.

• Continuously improve services.

• Front-liner in the industry.

• Have sufficient experience.

ALWAYS LEARNING

Agencies that are experts in what they do are always on the lookout for new techniques and strategies to help promote your business online.

They do not merely rely on previous experiences. They keep on improving services by combining experience and results of new tests they conduct. They stay sharp through research.

That is why they understand Google Panda and Penguin updates, the Hummingbird algorithm and what all of these terms mean to your SEO strategy.

They understand how to maximize online maps, local directory listings, check-in sites and review sites to boost your local online presence. They know that sharing content via social media is better than building cheap links and spamming.

If a provider is a front-liner in the industry and has sufficient experience, there's a good chance it can also handle and steer your business to online marketing success.

PASSION FOR SUCCESS

Passion, they say, is a subjective quality that you cannot measure. But if you ask any entrepreneur, they'll say that passion is a crucial factor in the success of any venture.

And for an online marketing agency to be able to help your business succeed online, it must be passionate in helping you achieve your marketing goals.

How can you tell if it has this passion? Ask yourself these three questions:

• Does this agency listen to my needs?

• Does it provide In-depth consultation based on these needs?

• Does it align its services toward my marketing goals?

If you answered yes to all these questions – and you've determined its expertise based on the characteristics we mentioned earlier – then you might just be looking at the right online marketing agency for you.

KNOWING YOUR NEEDS

The important thing to remember here is that passionate agencies do not simply offer specific packages without first listening to you and analyzing your business. No one knows your business better than you do.

That's why it's important that the agency takes the time to listen to you and give you an in-depth consultation based on your needs.

Knowing your marketing goals and business needs is always the first step to achieving online success.

It's also a very good indicator of the agency's expertise and passion in helping your business make the most out of SEO, local marketing, Google, social media, Facebook, responsive web design and online marketing in general.

Ed Kundahl, Ph.D., MBA is president and owner of Allentown-based BusinessCreator Inc., an Internet marketing agency that offers clients local search marketing and interactive media solutions. His roots are in small-business local search engine optimization and marketing, including video SEO and social media marketing. He can be reached at ed@businesscreatorplus.com.

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