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Everything you need to know about digital marketing agencies in the UK in 2022

As digital marketing spend continues to rise, what do you need to know before you appoint a digital marketing agency?

Spending on digital marketing continues to soar, and according to a recent survey (CMO), companies are setting aside more than 50% of their marketing budgets for digital. 

Digital marketing uses digital and online technology to promote a brand’s products or services. This could be Search Engine Optimisation or Pay Per Click, but digital marketing really is any kind of marketing that uses an electronic device, or online.

So, while SEO and PPC are part of this, it’s not just search engines, there’s also social media, email and connecting with other websites.

“A digital marketing agency is a business that represents you in the digital space. An agency’s purpose is to understand the objective, analyse the opportunities and reach a goal,” explains Ian Lloyd, Joint Managing Director of IDHL, one of the fastest growing digital marketing groups in the country. 

“Whatever the objectives the brand has whether it’s targeting a new territory, appealing to a different customer base or wanting to increase revenue, it’s the agency’s job to come up with strategies and execute this online.”


Why would a brand or company need to outsource to a Digital Marketing Agency?

Some companies may seek to handle their digital marketing in-house, but Ben Foster, Managing Director of The SEO Works explained that it didn’t always make sense. 

“Two brains are better than one. A digital marketing agency gives brands the resource of multiple experts in one service, allowing bigger and more exciting things to be achieved than an internal team could manage alone,” said Foster, who’s expanding agency works with clients ranging from Rab and Decathlon to Benenden Health. 

“Existing solely for the purpose of digital marketing, agencies can also remain at the forefront of progress in the industry, constantly adapting and adjusting to the changing landscape. Experience in hundreds of similar situations allows for this to be done seamlessly. 

“This combination of size and experience, coupled with the added benefit of an external eye, makes digital marketing agencies invaluable to brands.”

IHDL’s Lloyd agrees:

“Digital only becomes more complex and it gets harder to generate an ROI unless you’re aware of the right things to do and how to do them. Agencies should have best of class skills and technology in house so brands can tap into this specialism. 

“Using an agency and allocating your budget where the maximum return will be made, you could deploy three or four people with a specialist skillset designed to reach your objectives. If that agency has top talent and technology, then you instantly have access to a best of breed team.”

Ben Foster, Managing Director of The SEO Works

But there are a lot of agencies out there, so what should be considered when hiring a digital marketing agency?

“There are many things to consider when trying to find an agency that’s right for you. What technology do they employ that enables them to spot opportunities – do they have exclusive systems and intellectual property which set them apart? Who are the people behind the agency? What are their strengths? How do they use data? How stable is the agency? The list goes on,” continued Ian Lloyd of IDHL, which owns 8 agencies across the UK, including WMG, Ingenuity Digital, Equation and Wired. 

“When searching for an agency, you’ll most likely be hoping for a long-term partnership so look for those with a reputation for building successful partnerships. Also, consider the agency’s financial security and stability – you don’t want to invest in their services only for them to fold and cause you to start over soon down the line. They should be able to support you long into the future. 

“The longevity of the team, as well as the agency, is also a good sign. While it’s great for an agency to have new talent and growing teams, you want the assurance of long serving and experienced team members who can give that stability. 

“Knowledge of your market and an understanding of how that market works is also key. An agency needs to know who your digital competitors are which is something we do through our in-house competitor analysis. If an agency can’t produce that and doesn’t understand the market, you’re taking a much bigger risk at investing your budget and getting no return. If the agency does the majority or all of their work in-house, that’s also a positive sign. Having those specialists gives the agency and the client a lot more control over the campaign and how the budget is used.”

Ben Foster of The SEO Works provided a checklist: 

  • Demonstrates expertise - Before you choose your digital marketing agency, you should have a rough idea of the services that you want. Ensure that your chosen agency has experience of providing these services – and does them well too.

  • Strong & Relevant Track Record - As with many aspects of digital marketing, experience is key. Take a look at some of the agency’s case studies, or ask for references from previous clients. 

  • Understands Your Business Goals - Your ideal agency will take the time to get to know the goals of your business and the way your customers interact with you. Your services, your products, your competitors, your priority revenue streams and your market trends are all things that a respectable agency will want to know before setting up a campaign.

  • Driven By ROI - Following on from your business goals, a good agency will want to know what KPI’s (key performance indicators) really matter to you. From revenue to leads to specific regional visibility, the right agency will take the time to fully understand what matters to you as a business.

  • Practice what they preach - if an agency already has the tools to generate website traffic and enquiries, then why wouldn’t they be using this to aid in the marketing of their own company? Whether you want to rank on the first page of Google’s search results, or get your business seen and heard on social media, look at how well each agency is performing in this area. If they appear to be falling short, don’t be afraid to ask them why this is.

  • Offers great communication - Client communication is downright vital, no matter what. Keeping an open line of communication with your agency helps to ensure the campaign stays on target. A good agency will be flexible with their communication, and be able to be reached on a regular basis if needed. While bombarding an agency with endless queries is a bad idea, this shouldn’t be necessary if their communication is efficient, thorough and informative.

  • Exhibits shared values - Ask the agency about their core values. Do they align with yours? Here at The SEO Works, we have five core values: Drive, Adaptability, Passion, Integrity, and Loyalty. These drive behaviours in the business and help deliver a great service. 

  • Awards / reviews - Does the agency hold any awards for their work? Awards demonstrate that the agency’s work has been judged by industry experts and proven to be of a high standard. Look for reviews on public sites like Google Reviews and Clutch to see what existing clients say about the agency.

Key Digital Marketing Priorities for 2022

It is also worth having some knowledge of the key trends and priorities for digital marketing. For The SEO Works’ Ben Foster, data is going to be the big one:

“A huge theme for the coming year will be data limitation - as consumers take greater control of their personal information, the resources available to digital marketers will naturally deplete. However, despite many worrying about the threat of this, we believe it to be an opportunity. An opportunity for brands to develop better relations with potential customers and build their 1st party databases.

“A key priority, and one that should be a priority every year is return on investment. Showing a real, measurable return from digital marketing activities is our number one focus for clients and always will be. This may not always be revenue related - some digital marketing activities are about building brand awareness, or engagement and exposure further up the funnel. Being able to demonstrate value through your digital activity is key.

“Another key priority is to adapt to the changing behaviours of consumers. The last two years have obviously seen an acceleration in the move to eCommerce from the high street. Will this continue? Consumer decision making is now fragmented and across multiple platforms. Whatever direction consumer behaviour moves in, it’s crucial businesses (and their digital marketing agencies) are ready and willing to move too.”

For IDHL and Lloyd, their priority is staff:

“So many areas of digital marketing are developing at such a fast pace but, in my opinion, one of the major areas is people.

“Think about it, it takes someone a year to gain a year’s worth of experience. But we’ve just seen the industry evolve five years in the space of one. You need to invest in your people to accelerate their development at the same speed as the industry. From developing hard technical skills to soft people and management skills and investing in their physical, financial and mental wellbeing is key. We need to create future agency leaders to maximise the opportunities being presented.”

To find out more and see some of the case studies, check out some of the agencies listed on Brands & Agencies.