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What Is a Digital Marketing Agency: A Complete Guide (2024)

Man at a digital marketing agency desk researching what is a digital marketing agency.

Ever found yourself scratching your head, wondering what all the fuss is about digital marketing agencies? 

You’re not alone. Let’s break it down in plain English.

Imagine you’re throwing a party. 

You’ve got the venue, the guest list, and you’re ready to roll. 

But how do you get people to show up and, more importantly, have a great time? 

That’s where a digital marketing agency comes in. 

What Is a Digital Marketing Agency?

In short, a digital marketing agency is a team of marketing experts who connect your business with . 

They work with many channels – think social media, search engines, emails, and websites – to help your business get noticed, grow its audience, and ultimately, boost your bottom line.

Why should you care? Well, just look around. 

Everyone’s online – shopping, browsing, socialising. If your business isn’t making waves online, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of potential customers. 

And let’s face it, in 2024, being digitally invisible is like throwing a party that no one knows about.

So, a digital marketing agency is your guide, your strategist, and your partner to help make sure your business isn’t just a drop in the ocean.

Why your business can’t ignore digital marketing

Remember the good old days of marketing? 

Billboards, newspaper ads, maybe a catchy radio jingle. 

Well, times have changed, and so has the way businesses need to reach their audience. 

The world has moved from traditional methods to digital, and it’s not just a trend – it’s the new reality.

Today’s world is digital-first. 

People are glued to their screens, whether it’s scrolling through TikTok, catching up on Instagram stories, or Googling the best pizza place nearby. 

The craziest part? The younger crowd is now using TikTok like they used to use Google. 

That’s right, they’re searching for everything from fashion tips to financial advice on social media platforms.

This seismic shift in consumer behaviour means that digital marketing isn’t just an option; it’s essential. 

If your business isn’t visible where your audience is spending most of their time, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity

And it’s not just about being seen. 

It’s about engaging with your audience where they are, in a language they understand and appreciate.

Now, keeping up with the digital trends might sound daunting, but it’s easier than you think. 

That’s where digital marketing agencies and fractional marketing agencies come into play. 

They’re the people who can make sure your business stays relevant and visible in a world where a swipe or a click is the gateway to customer engagement.

Types of digital marketing agencies — know your options

Alright, let’s talk about the different kinds of digital marketing agencies out there. 

It’s a bit like a coffee shop – each one has its own vibe and specialty.

digital marketing agency team discussing strategies related to what is a digital marketing agency.
Digital marketing agency team discussing strategies related to what is a digital marketing agency

Full service agencies — basically every Tom, Dick and Harry on the internet

Think of full-service digital marketing agencies as your local big supermarket. 

They’ve got a bit of everything:

  • Need SEO? Check. 
  • Social media marketing? Got it. 
  • Email campaigns? No problem.

They’re good if you want everything in one place. And they basically say “yes, we can do that” to everything…

But here’s the thing – being a jack-of-all-trades can be a double-edged sword. 

While you get the convenience of a one-stop shop, in most cases, these agencies are just average.

Meaning they’re not specialised.

Here’s what I mean:

Pros

  • They’re a one-stop shop: they’ve got everything. SEO, social media, email campaigns – it’s like getting the full menu.
  • Everything’s (hopefully) connected: your marketing strategy gets to be all buddy-buddy across different channels. This can make your brand message more consistent.
  • Life can be simpler: managing one agency relationship is less of a headache than dealing with a bunch of them.
  • They say ‘Yes’ to everything: they’ve usually got a team that knows a little about a lot, which can be handy sometimes.

Cons

  • They’re ‘okay’ at everything: If you want an average website, ad, brochure, or blog post, they’re great. Rarely are they the best at one specific thing.
  • They use a cookie-cutter approach: Sometimes you get strategies that feel more one-size-fits-all than tailor-made for your business. You end up feeling like a number instead of a valued client.
  • Too many clients means playing favourites: if they’ve got loads of clients, you might not always get the VIP treatment or the focused attention you’re after.

Basically, full-service agencies are great if you’re after a bit of everything and like the convenience of it. 

But if you need something super specialised, they might not be your best bet. 

It’s like choosing between a buffet and a gourmet meal – depends on what you’re hungry for in your marketing plan.

Specialty agencies — they focus on 1-3 things

Moving away from the buffet of full-service agencies, let’s chat about specialty or boutique agencies. 

These are like those niche cafes that do a few things but do them incredibly well. 

They focus on just 1-3 areas of digital marketing, ensuring deep expertise and tailored strategies. 

Let’s dive into the different types:

  1. Google ads agencies

These agencies are all about getting your business right in front of people who are actively searching for what you offer. 

google ads agency remote worker strategising on a google ads campaign.
Digital marketing agency remote worker strategising on a google ads campaign

They’re particularly great for e-commerce businesses looking to boost sales or any local business needing a steady flow of leads.

Pros

  • Targeted ads: they know how to put your ads in front of the right eyes at the right time.
  • Immediate results: Unlike SEO, Google Ads can get you in front of potential customers quickly.
  • Measurable ROI: It’s easy to track what you’re getting for your money.

Cons

  • Costs can add up: you pay for every click, so costs can be high, especially in competitive niches.
  • Less focus on brand building: it’s more about getting leads now, not as much about long-term brand awareness.

Google Ads agencies work particularly well when paired with SEO agencies. 

While Google Ads get you quick visibility, SEO builds your organic reach over time. 

It’s a bit like having a sprinter and a marathon runner on the same team – both working towards getting you ahead, but in different ways.

For example, an e-commerce store could use a Google Ads agency to drive immediate sales, especially during peak shopping seasons. 

In contrast, a local services business might lean on them for consistent lead generation in their specific area. 

The key is in knowing your immediate vs. long-term goals and choosing the right type of agency to match those needs.

  1. SEO agencies

An SEO agency’s job is to make sure your website and content rank high in search results. 

The reality, though, is a bit of a mixed bag.

colleagues at a digital marketing agency discussing project details.
Colleagues at a digital marketing agency discussing project details

Let’s be honest, about 90% of SEO agencies are charlatans. 

Born from a quick course by some “SEO guru”, they lack a deep understanding of how search engines really work.

But the top 10%? They’re the gold standard, blending SEO with content that search engines eat up to drive real results.

Let’s say you found a top 10% agency. What are the tradeoffs?

Pros

  • Long-term visibility: Good SEO means your site gets found by people looking for what you offer, and it keeps you visible over time.
  • Quality website traffic: it’s not just about getting more clicks; it’s about getting the right clicks – people genuinely interested in your business.
  • Credibility and trust: ranking high in search engines can boost your brand’s credibility. People trust Google, and by extension, they trust the top results.

Cons

  • Expect a slow burn: SEO takes time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t see instant results.
  • It’s constantly changing: Google updates its algorithms often, so what works today might not work tomorrow.
  • Quality varies a lot: many agencies claim to know SEO, but few truly excel at it. It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The best SEO agencies understand that it’s not just about stuffing keywords into your website. 

It’s about high-quality, relevant content that engages your audience and satisfies search engine algorithms. 

They often cross over into content marketing, working to create a demand for your product or service.

SEO pairs nicely with Google Ads and content marketing, offering a balanced approach to both immediate visibility and building a long-term online presence. 

For instance, while an e-commerce site might rely on Google Ads for quick sales, adopting SEO can help build a more sustainable, organic customer base over time.

  1. Social media marketing agencies (SMMAs)

Social media marketing agencies, or SMMAs, are the people who help brands get more sales on social media.

These agencies are mostly about creating demand

They make sure your brand pops up in people’s feeds, grabbing attention and getting them interested in what you have to offer. 

The tricky part? 

Social media is like a busy street full of billboards – everyone’s trying to get noticed, and your ad might just be another one people scroll past. 

It’s about interrupting someone’s cat video binge with something compelling enough to make them stop and look.

Pros

  • Instant attention: gets your brand in front of many eyes quickly.
  • Creates real engagement: good social media marketing can create a buzz, getting people talking about your brand.
  • Hyper-targeted reach: you can pinpoint your audience super specifically – age, interests, location, and psychographics, like buying behaviour, you name it.

Cons

  • It interrupts people: your ads are popping up in someone’s personal social space, so it can be hit or miss.
  • There’s a constant need for fresh content: to stand out, you need to keep things fresh and interesting – and that’s a lot of work.
  • It’s hard to measure ROI sometimes: depending on the agency and campaign, it’s tricky to track how much bang you’re getting for your buck.

SMMAs pair really nicely with content marketing. 

While they get your brand out there, content marketing helps to deepen the story, giving people more to latch onto than just a flashy ad.

digital marketing agency content creator producing viral videos.
Digital marketing agency content creator producing viral videos

Together, they can create a more rounded approach, mixing the immediate grab of social media with the depth and engagement of great content.

  1. Content marketing agencies

Content marketing agencies are storytellers. 

They’re not just about selling a product; they’re about crafting a narrative that draws people in. 

These agencies excel in organic marketing – think engaging blog posts, eye-catching social media content, and emails that people actually want to read.

Their main specialty is in creating demand through words and stories. 

It’s less about ‘Buy this now!’ and more about ‘Here’s a story you’ll love, and oh, it’s connected to this cool product’. 

They help your brand build a loyal audience, not just by pushing sales, but by providing value – informative articles, entertaining videos, helpful tips, you name it.

Pros

  • Builds trust and improves your sales CVR: Good content doesn’t just sell; it builds relationships and trust with your audience. Since these people are warmed up to your content, they are more likely to close in a sales conversation.
  • Creates lasting impact: great content sticks in people’s minds longer than a typical ad.
  • Helps with SEO: quality content boosts your SEO, helping your website rank higher in search results. Social media is an SEO ranking factor.

Cons

  • It’s time-intensive: creating great content takes time and effort.
  • It’s a slow burn: it’s not about instant sales; it’s a longer game, building interest and engagement over time.
  • It’s hard to measure impact: it can be hard to directly link content to sales, making ROI tricky to measure.

Content marketing agencies focus on demand generation rather than lead generation

They’re about pulling people in with great content, not pushing a product onto them. 

This approach pairs well with the more direct methods of SMMAs. 

While social media agencies grab the immediate attention, content agencies work on keeping that attention and turning it into a deeper interest and connection.

  1. Email marketing agencies

Email marketing agencies are all about taking those leads you’ve gathered – thanks to your Google Ads or social media efforts – and turning them into lasting relationships.

What do these agencies do? 

They craft emails that people actually look forward to opening. 

It’s not just spam or endless sales pitches. 

These emails are like catching up with an old friend who always has something interesting to share or offer.

Pros

  • Creates personal connection: emails can feel more personal than other forms of marketing, building a stronger bond with your audience.
  • It’s great for nurturing: they keep your brand in the minds of potential customers, warming them up until they’re ready to buy.
  • There’s high ROI: email marketing is known for delivering strong returns on investment. A little goes a long way here.

Cons

  • It overcrowds inboxes: standing out in a crowded inbox can be tough.
  • It risks being marked as spam: if not done right, your well-crafted emails might never see the light of day.
  • There’s a constant need for fresh content: Like social media, email marketing needs a steady stream of engaging content.

Email marketing agencies gel well with Google Ads. 

Think of it as Google Ads getting people through the door, and email marketing making them feel at home. 

With a good email marketing strategy, those initial leads turn into loyal customers who come back for more.

digital marketing agency expert deep in thought over marketing analytics.
Digital marketing agency expert deep in thought over marketing analytics.
  1. Video marketing agencies

These agencies bring your brand to life through video, an increasingly popular medium. 

With the rise of video content consumption, especially on platforms like YouTube, they help you tap into a vast audience that prefers watching over reading.

Here’s what you need to know about video marketing agencies:

Pros

  • It creates high engagement: videos can engage and hold attention in ways that text or images alone can’t.
  • It makes your content versatile: they can create a range of content – from educational to entertaining, all tailored to your brand.
  • It boosts conversions: a well-made video can significantly boost conversion rates by providing a more immersive experience.

Cons

  • It can be pricey: producing quality videos often requires a bigger budget than other forms of content.
  • It’s time-consuming: from scripting to shooting and editing, videos take time to create.
  • It needs constant updating: to stay relevant, you need a steady stream of fresh video content.

A recent trend among video marketing agencies is branching into podcasting, offering another avenue for businesses to connect with their audience. 

  1. Web design agencies

Let’s chat about web design agencies. They build and beautify your website, making sure it looks good and works smoothly. 

But here’s the thing – they’re often more about the look and tech side of your site, not so much the marketing and selling part.

While a stunning website is great, it’s only part of the puzzle. 

These agencies typically focus on the design and development aspects – think layouts, graphics, and making sure your site doesn’t take ages to load. 

They’re important for creating a good first impression and a user-friendly experience.

web design agency coder developing client website.
Web Design agency coder developing client website.

But there’s a catch:

  • They’re not always marketing-savvy: many web design agencies aren’t clued up on how to make a website that not only looks good but also sells effectively.
  • The look vs. the strategy: they might nail the visual appeal, but lacking in the strategy department – like how to turn visitors into customers.
  • They often miss the SEO boat: sometimes, they’re not up to speed on SEO best practices, which means your pretty site might be hard for customers to find.

Web design agencies are kind of at the bottom when it comes to driving sales. 

They’re super important for setting up a solid foundation (because who doesn’t like a good-looking website, right?). 

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of marketing and making those sales, you might need to look elsewhere or team them up with other digital marketers.

Don’t get sucked into metrics that don’t matter

I get it, it’s easy to get caught up in the flashy stuff – likes, shares, followers. 

But let’s get real: not all metrics are created equal. 

It’s like being popular at a party; it feels good, but it doesn’t always mean you’re making meaningful connections.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the real deal when it comes to measuring success. 

They’re like the signposts that tell you whether you’re on the right path to achieving your business goals

Different agencies focus on different KPIs, depending on what they do.

But here are some KPIs that matter:

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): This is all about how much you’re spending to get a new customer. It’s like checking how much you’re paying for each guest who shows up at your party.
  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): Similar to CAC, it’s the cost of getting a customer to make a specific action, like a purchase.
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV): This one’s about the long game. How much value does each customer bring over their entire relationship with your business?
  • Click-Through Rates (CTR): This shows if people are actually interested enough to click on your ads or links.
  • Conversion Rate (CVR): It’s great if people visit your site, but are they buying, signing up, or doing whatever you want them to do?

Sure, there are heaps more KPIs out there, but these are some solid ones to keep an eye on. 

The main thing is not to get dazzled by the vanity metrics. 

Likes and shares are nice, but they don’t pay the bills. 

Aligning your KPIs with what you actually want to achieve in your business – that’s where the magic happens. 

Good agencies get this, and they help you focus on what really counts.

Knowing what is a digital marketing agency can save you a sh*tload of time

So, you’ve got the lowdown on digital marketing agencies. Understanding all this can save you a ton of time – and who doesn’t want more of that?

Think about what your business really needs. 

Do you need the full monty of a full-service agency, or just a specific slice of the digital marketing pie? 

Sometimes, you might not even need a full-on agency

Ever heard of fractional marketing agencies

They’re like part-time digital marketing executives, perfect for when you need expertise without the full commitment.

Remember, digital marketing isn’t just a nice-to-have anymore; it’s essential. 

It’s the bread and butter of your business’s online presence. 

But diving into it without knowing what you need is like going grocery shopping hungry without a list – you end up with a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

So, take a beat. 

Think about your goals, your budget, and what you really need to get there. 

The right agency or approach can make all the difference, keeping your business strategy sharp, relevant, and, most importantly, effective in the ever-changing digital playground.

Josiah is a multi-award-winning digital marketing consultant and former journalist for the Australia Times. He now helps 6-7-figure brands as a Fractional CMO to generate predictable leads and sales growth.​

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