Marketing your brokerage online and driving converting traffic to your website is no easy task. With all the metrics to measure success out there, at which ones do you look? Have you set up goals correctly? Do you have a succinct content marketing plan that leverages consumer behavior on your website to attain return on investment (ROI)? Are you retargeting via Facebook, Google and so on?

Those are lofty questions for a brokerage trying to shift its marketing budget toward online advertising.

For many brokerages, digital marketing is something they have heard of but don’t understand. This lack of understanding allows for devious marketing agencies to take your cash and not produce sustainable results. We’ve compiled nine questions that you need to ask a marketing company before hiring them, and what to look for in their answers.

1. Can you guarantee first-page ranking?

A lot of agencies will make guarantees about search engine optimization (SEO) and rankings. If they do this, run for the hills. SEO isn’t magic, it’s marketing. And nobody has a magic button that they press to get to the top of Google rankings for a select keyword.

2. Do you outsource?

Ask this, and be straight up. If the provider gives you a wishy-washy answer like, “We have a team of qualified individuals,” ask where they work. If you forget, you could end up with someone across the world doing your digital marketing who has been contracted by an agency. You’re not looking for a middleman — you’re looking for a relationship that will be profitable and sustainable.

3. What’s the best way to get a bunch of links?

Here is a great trap question. Agencies love to talk about their successes and will be the first to gloat about their techniques. If the provider starts telling you how they build link circles or do article submissions, blog commenting, etc. — you need to run. You want a provider who examines your site and your community partnerships, and builds a strategy specific to you and your business.

4.  Do you have references I can contact or do you have any clients in the real estate space?

The provider should have references, period. If they are reluctant to give you contact information, it should be a red flag. If their work is that good, they should be giving you the references before you ask. You’ll also want to make sure the agency has a background in real estate. Checking this will help you vet out which agencies you won’t have to hand-hold through the first six months of operation.

5. How will I see the ROI?

This question is a fair and difficult for agencies. For most brokerages, you would expect to start seeing the results in four to six months. You have to decide with your agency what the goals are. Naturally, you will want to see an increase in the bottom line, but there are other metrics you will want to see a change in as well. These might be increased blog traffic, more citations, more social shares, etc.

Companies should provide monthly and quarterly reports that are in plain English. If they give you a jargon-filled report, ask for a clearly written report that explains what exactly is going on with your site.

6. How will you help our agents?

Your agents are the lifeblood of your brokerage, and their success/failure will determine the brokerage’s performance as a whole. With a ton of agencies all wanting your business, ask the company if they do anything to help agents with their marketing. I would recommend, in any agency agreement, to get some training program in place for your agents as well. A great way to start this is to set up a monthly webinar series focusing on social media best practices, tips and tricks for blogging and more.

7. How often will we communicate?

This answer will differ from provider to provider. A lot of people will hide behind emails, responding when it’s beneficial.

I would recommend a monthly meeting to go over both the results to date and the current company objectives. An agency should be trying to learn your business as they stay with you. The more they know about your brokerage, business procedures and history of your company, the better they can execute a marketing plan.

8. Ask for the founder’s LinkedIn page.

This request might seem like an odd question, but it’s a telling one. If the founder of the agency is active on LinkedIn, has an updated profile, writes, etc., then you have no worries. However, if you can’t find the founder or if he or she has an egghead photo, or if he or she still lists employment history set to a job in 1999 — it’s time to bolt. Marketing agencies should live and breathe the services they are trying to sell you.

9. How much will this cost, and where will the money go?

An explicit contract/statement of work (SOW) will allow you to know where your dollars are going. Most reputable agencies will ask you for a budget, and then they will go and make three package options and let you choose. Stay away from standard packages. Each brokerage and service area will need a tailored marketing package to get the best results.

Ultimately, if you’re shopping marketing agencies, you’re going to have to do your homework. Use the points above and if everything checks out, and you feel good about the organization, then don’t hesitate to move forward with them.

Jordan Scheltgen is the founder of Cave Social. You can follow him on twitter @cavejordans or connect on LinkedIn.

Email Jordan.

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