It's an undeniable fact that your brand needs to consistently push out helpful, engaging content. But not all companies have the time or the resources to devote to daily content generation— and are left with the difficult task of outsourcing blogs, videos, and other content to a partner who does.
It can be hard to find a subject matter expert who understands your business and even harder to get an outside source to operate as an internal content marketing department.
You need content producers who can provide quality, on-brand, SEO-smart content that's both time and cost-conscious of your marketing budget.
When choosing a content agency, it's crucial to do your research and make a thoughtful decision about who will check all those boxes.
We know you have quite a feat on your hands, finding the right content experts for the job. That's why we hope to make that monumental decision feel a little more manageable, with straightforward tips for selecting the best partner for all-things content:
Look for a real human relationship, not a cut-and-dry service exchange.
Think about walking into a store where you know who works there. Maybe it's the barista at your local coffee shop who instantly recommends your favorite drink order or the person at the farmer's market who asks how your family is doing while hand-wrapping your produce with special care. No matter what product or service we need, it's nice to have a relationship with those serving you.
With that in mind, you could outsource your marketing to a faceless person behind a screen, one who knows nothing about your brand or your goals and is just there to make a quick buck.
Or you could begin a partnership with a content marketing agency that cares about your shared effort and long-term growth.
When looking for a content marketing company, ask them what their typical client relationship looks like.
- How often do they get in touch?
- Is it over email, video, or in-person meetings?
- How many people would you work with on the agency's team, and how frequently?
Dig deep to see how they value their relationships with clients to know if you'd be an ideal match.
Discuss everyone's expectations and roles.
Before chatting with outsourced content partners, it helps to know what exactly you'll need from them and what you'll take care of yourself.
For example, if you know your marketing budget and only can handle social media and blogging internally but want an agency to help you with video production, you'll need to be clear about what that means.
Is your team going to drive the strategy and write the scripts for the videos internally, or will the agency handle that? It'll be a very different conversation to say, "we just need someone to shoot this and edit it. We'll handle the pre-production writing and the final promotion of everything," than it is to say a vague statement like, "we need video help."
Ensure you're clear internally on what will be handled in-house vs. outsourced before talking to a content agency. Be specific about what it is you need and expect from their team and who will be handling the moving parts in between.
Need help deciding the best content to outsource? Here's some advice from marketing guru Neil Patel.
Seek a team with subject matter experts.
Every industry has its knowledge base, each with a separate learning curve. It may be easier for an everyday person to write about one subject than another— an important consideration when vetting writers, podcasters, or video talent.
For instance, creating social media posts for a local café may come more naturally to someone than writing a round-up resource on HIPAA compliance violations for a cybersecurity company.
Luckily, some content marketing agencies know that not everyone can make content about every subject, so some hire professionals with unique knowledge about specific industries or work with a particular niche of clientele in one vertical.
These specialized content generators with years of experience on one subject matter are often called subject matter experts (SMEs).
When chatting with a would-be agency partner, ask them if they've worked with a company in your industry before.
Don't be afraid to ask them if their current employees have as well.
Even a content marketing agency who tells you they've worked with, say, electricians for years may be keeping from you the fact that their SME on all things electrical left last year— and you're stuck with someone who knows little-to-nothing about circuit breakers or generators.
Some folks are fast learners, but it helps to know the team who will be creating your content knows what they're talking about.
Determine if they really know SEO.
We're not sure that there's a content marketing agency out there who doesn't claim to know how to get content ranking organically on search engines.
But do they really?
SEO expertise is such a bare-minimum-demand nowadays, it's not uncommon for agencies to throw that buzzword into their marketing materials without truly delivering on the promise. The real question is, does your outsourced content source have a specific SEO strategy for each piece of content they create, as well as a holistic strategy for each of your products or services collectively?
When interviewing content marketing partners, ask them for specifics around what it means to optimize the content they produce. Request access to previous keyword research collateral they've done for a past client and show data to prove they've increased organic traffic.
For example, here's a screenshot of one of our clients' long-term growth from when they came to us in February 2018 to the present day, October 2020. You can see in green a dramatic, consistent increase in their organic views. Nothing like seeing a visual of the impact!
Talk to them about their lead generation strategies.
During your early conversations with the content marketing agency, be sure to push past vanity metrics like page views and see if they can help acquire leads online. While site views are undoubtedly important, you don't want to spend money strictly on content where readers come and leave without taking action.
There are bigger goals for most companies outsourcing content than just eyeballs or brand awareness: they want conversions— leads that directly foster new customers.
If the agency says that facilitating and tracking the conversions is on you, know that there are content generators out there who would gladly drive lead generation strategies for content for you, and cross them off the list right away.
Ask the content folks if they know anything about inbound marketing and developing content for each of your personas and their specific stages of the buyer's journey.
If these concepts are foreign to you, download our Beginners Guide to Inbound Marketing.
Seek a partner who promises accountability.
You want more than just content from an outsourced partner; you want content that performs. An agency may talk a big game when it comes to lead gen, but how do they promise results? A mature agency may respond by saying they can never promise anything, but they can help you define, set, and work towards SMART goals.
An agency that holds itself accountable for its content performance will be sure to set up frequent check-ins with your team, reporting at least monthly on the core metrics for success that you worked together to define. When something just isn't hitting the mark, they'll hold themselves responsible for discovering the bottlenecks and making the right adjustments to get back on track.
They certainly won't try to pin the content's poor performance back on you; if they do uncover an action on your end that was to blame, they'll work with you to correct it for next time.
Ask the content marketing agency a broad, open-ended question about how they hold themselves accountable and see how they respond. You want to know you're investing in a relationship with a team that cares just as deeply about your goals as you do.
Look for proof from past successes.
Suppose the agency was willing to show you data and charts of some metrics, great! But don't forget to branch out beyond the bar graphs and their word alone and ask for proof of their success stories.
Ask to see case studies or chat with some of their current clients to get an idea of their previous work. Even if they only share the name of one or two clients, you may be able to do more research and reach out to others privately.
If you're reading testimonials, be sure to search popular review sites and not exclusively rely on the quotes from the content marketing agency's website. These are hand-selected by those from the company itself and could very well be biased or exclude bad reviews.
Be sure to develop a style and brand guide.
Anytime a new partner begins creating content for your company, they need to be coached on essential factors like your brand's tone of voice, mission, vision, core values, etc. Without this information, they'll be no personalization or brand consistency in what they submit to you.
Because it can be difficult or arduous to explain all these subtleties to a newcomer, compiling all this information into a shareable resource is often the best use of your time and money. If your business wants to tackle creating a style and brand guide yourself, be sure to download our Brand Plan ebook.
Better yet, look for a marketing partner who would be willing to work with you to develop a resource like this to use as a North Star for all content generated both internally and externally moving forward.
Ask how they can support your mission.
If your company has a vital overarching mission, you must choose a content marketing agency partner who understands it and prioritizes promoting it.
Some content marketers don't even ask about your company's mission, vision, and core values before starting to write for you, creating a core misalignment between the content you've previously produced and the new material they create.
In our Mission-Driven Content Marketing article, we detail a few examples of major brands that have found this careful balance. Brands like Lush and Patagonia ensure each piece of content they produce in some way supports their mission and values, writing about broader issues like global warming, sustainable farming, and other ways they nurture the environment, all while selling their cosmetics and clothing.
When down to your final choices for a content partner, ask to set up a brief meeting to go over your mission and values.
During this chat, you'll get a feel for their level of care and devotion to staying aligned with your brand's greater purpose(s). Any agency that's focused too heavily on keywords clearly doesn't understand the value of building a community of loyal supporters. Read our linked article to discover more ways mission-driven content marketing can help to grow your brand.
Have an internal content specialist scope out the agency.
Grammar and editing aren't everyone's thing, but someone on your team must be confident enough to act as a proofer for your outsourced content. Your brand needs a set of eyes who understands your tone of voice and marketing goals— someone who can work hand-in-hand with the agency to accept and approve their generated content.
Before selecting an agency, be sure that this person is involved in the conversations. This content-savvy employee will be more apt to sense early partnership problems and the most relevant to weigh in on the final decision. Plus, once the agency is hired, you'll already have an established coordinator to manage the relationship.
Look for an agency that doesn't require a lengthy commitment.
It's not uncommon for an outsourced content marketing agency to make you lock into a year contract when agreeing to your partnership. While a year can sometimes go by fast with the right help, it can sure drag with the wrong kind! Sometimes you realize only a month or two into the new partnership that you and the agency aren't as good of a match as you thought, but it's too late to back out now.
The right content generator will understand that it's essential to test the waters before making you commit to a long-term retainer. Ask if it's possible to work together on some smaller-scale projects or shorter-term quarterly campaigns to ensure you're both a stable fit for one another. Any agency unwilling to budge on this is probably not the partner for you.
Also, don't be shy about asking what you can expect from the agency after three, six, or nine months in. It's crucial they can think strategically that far ahead and accurately forecast results.
Why Impulse Creative?
- Discover why our clients choose our Wayfinders and what makes our crew different from those other freelance writers out there.
- Schedule a call with us to talk about your content goals and see if we're the right fit for one another today.