Top Digital Agencies

These digital agencies are the best of a new breed, with a deep understanding of how people connect and buy online.
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How A Digital Agency Can Grow Your Business

Why Hire A Digital Agency?

A top digital agency is a group of experts from all areas of branding, design, technology, marketing and global industries that form collaborative teams to grow businesses online and offline. Their success is determined by their performance, so top-ranking agencies produce a strong return on investment for clients.

Digital agencies combine technology, design, marketing and overarching business strategy to capture consumers and promote a brand across many channels. Their services are comprehensive, ranging from branding services to web design and development to digital marketing to social media marketing, and everything in between.

Seventy-five percent of small business owners have found Internet marketing to be “effective” or “very effective” in growing their business. Therefore, enlisting the help of a digital agency will likely improve your bottom line. However, it’s important to remember that you aren’t paying for a product, you’re paying for a team of experts and a particular return for your company. When choosing the best digital agency, factor in the quality of experts and potential ROI as opposed to upfront cost -- cheaper isn’t always better.

Conduct Effective Research

Digital agencies have access to the top tools and newest resources that allows them to gather and analyze targeted information, from marketing to demographics to industry research to survey tools. Firms are also able to audit your online presence to see how and when you are capturing consumers and where you can improve.

This research is especially important in creating a roadmap for any creative projects down the road. Digital agencies are well-versed in designing campaigns or projects that are beautiful, but ultimately consistent and user-friendly. By analyzing your online footprint and fully understanding the user, a digital agency will be able to design an end product that will help you achieve your business goals quickly and efficiently.

Craft A Brand Identity

Seventy-seven percent of marketers say proper branding is imperative for future business growth -- and digital agencies have specialized branding experts that can accomplish this.   

Every business, big or small, needs a cohesive brand identity. This identity is like a professional personality; it gives consumers something to relate to on a more intimate level as they interact with your company. The comprehensive research that a top team of creatives and experts at a digital agency can complete will result a strong brand identity -- which research says is dictated by consumers more than companies to ensure it is user-friendly.

Grow Digital Footprint

The best digital agencies are well-versed in developing and designing websites that put the user first, creating functional websites with high conversions and strong ROIs. In addition, their focus on creativity and ability to hone a strong identity will ensure that your brand will be highly recognizable across all pages and platforms.

What’s more? Global e-commerce sales are expected to surpass $4.8 billion annually by 2021 -- however, 38 percent of users will stop engaging with a website if the layout and design is unattractive. This means that a stunning and, most-importantly, high-functioning website is imperative to business growth.

Integrate Marketing Efforts

A holistic omnichannel approach to digital marketing is imperative for business growth. Digital agencies have the tools and expertise to ensure your website, print materials and marketing strategies all work together towards a common business goal.

This goal-oriented approach is key -- businesses who set goals are 10 percent more successful than those who do not. Allowing a full-service digital agency to take the lead on achieving objectives and creating cohesive projects will also cultivate a consistent brand identity, which can increase revenue by up to 23 percent.

A full-service digital agency is can create a visual identity, develop website projects, implement marketing campaigns and more. By utilizing the perfect digital agency for your needs, you’ll see online and offline marketing efforts, messaging and branding that are completely in sync and working together towards the same goal.

5 Best Practices Digital Agencies Use To Secure Client Results

Top Talent

One of the biggest benefits of enlisting the help of a digital agency is widening your access to top talent across the world. The best digital agencies often have global offices and draw top designers, brand experts and marketers. In additional to a robust network of skillful creatives and business experts, digital agencies also house industry experts that are well-versed in the best practices of e-commerce businesses, service-based companies and more.

Access to top talent allows digital agencies to curate successful teams, unlocking more innovation, better ideas and lucrative campaigns that result in better success rates for clients. Although your internal team may have great initial ideas, a crafted team of experts will be well-versed in bringing those concepts (and more!) to fruition.

Teamwork

Fifty-seven percent of businesses thinking outsourcing projects ultimately enables a better “focus on the core business.” So, it may seem counterintuitive to hire an additional team for online projects, but in fact, a digital agency could be the best thing for your overall business.

When you contract a small team of experts -- like those top talent pools we mentioned earlier -- your employees will be able to focus on their own roles within the company. This streamlines projects and enables internal employees to stay in their own lane of expertise without allowing new initiatives to falter.

Process-Oriented

Top digital agencies have high success rates with clients because they place a strong emphasis on a consistent and reliable process. This process includes a dedicated point of contact, regular meetings, a cohesive team and plenty of internal and external communication.

Since 46 percent of employees rarely or never leave a meeting knowing what their next steps are, this organized process is imperative. Once you have the right digital agency team in place, relinquish some control and let them go about their agenda, allowing internal teams to focus on other tasks.

Organized Roadmap

Marketers who draft and report on their strategy can be up to 538 percent more successful. But this strategy is more than just a few timelines and a general idea. Enter: A roadmap, or a clearly defined guideline of your goals.

Unlike a process or agenda -- which details the who and when of a digital strategy -- a roadmap outlines how you’re going to achieve your goals. Because digital agencies initially take time to understand your users, online presence and general business goals (and have a team of experts at their disposal) their roadmaps will likely be much more detailed, significantly more actionable and, thus, provide better results for your brand’s bottom line.

Focused On Concrete Goals

In the 1960s, Dr. Edwin Locke performed a study that challenged one group of individuals to “do their best” and another to “beat their best time.” His research found that people who had specific, concrete goals performed better 90 percent of the time.

The idea of implementing actual, numbers-based goals should be utilized in business as well -- and a digital agency can help. Through research and expertise, an outsourced team of experts will be able to hone a set of progressive yet achievable goals for your business. These objectives, coupled with a strategic roadmap, will breed success for clients.

How Digital Agencies Stay On Top Of The Latest Trends

Access To Top Tools

Digital agencies have direct access to top tools that allow them to acquire information, conduct research, design amazing products and produce marketing campaigns. By staying privy to this information, the best digital agencies can stay on top of what customers crave, and ultimately product user-centric and personalized projects that will improve a business’s bottom line.

Many of these tools, such as Buzzsumo, give them real-time insight into content that performs well online, trending topics and social media influencers that consumers are following closely. Others allow experts to analyze those trends to determine the ones that will be the most lucrative for a client’s particular needs. These tools prove beneficial to businesses, as 88 percent of marketers saw measurable increases with personalized digital marketing efforts.

Constant Collaboration

People who work at top digital agencies are surrounded by intelligent and talented colleagues, and this culminates in unique and compelling ideas for all clients. Whether it’s an individual team, department, or the firm at large, teamwork is constant and evokes innovation.

With a large mix of designers, marketers, business professionals and industry experts, digital agencies have many people contributing to an ever-growing pool of ideas, trends and general best practices. What’s more? These experts also work directly with many clients, resulting in additional collaboration on several similar projects. This enables digital agencies to research and cultivate new ideas, observe the trends other big businesses are implementing, and utilize them in other projects.

Searching For Inspiration

Team members at top digital agencies are always actively searching for inspiration, whether it’s scouring the Internet for the elements of top performing website designs or noticing movement in the real world that may inspire a highly-converting digital animation.

“Living in New York helps to find inspiration,” says Jen Epstein, art director at Showtime. “There's so much amazing art and culture immediately accessible to me the minute that I step outside my door.” Epstein uses the inspiration she acquires in her daily life to inform her team’s designs at the major television network.

Digital agency employees can also find inspiration and modern trends through trade magazines, exclusive networking events and even by following leaders that are well-known in the digital marketing industry, but that external clients are unaware of. With motivation at every bend, agencies will inevitably discover the latest trends… or create one themselves.

Focusing On Users

The best trends are those that focus on users. Whether it’s a functional website or a cohesive brand identity, keeping the customer’s wants and needs at the forefront of every decision is the best trend any digital agency can follow.

“The main thing for both designers and the client to remember is that we aren’t designing for ourselves. Businesses and designers need to talk to consumers and learn as much information as possible from them — how they shop, how they look for products, and so on,” says Tatyana Khamdamova, head of design at Blue Fountain Media. “They need to create the best user journey possible to achieve the goals that the company has.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Digital agencies stay on top of the latest trends because they work non-stop in the digital space. Many top agencies also offer special in-house seminars, career growth workshops, and information on the latest courses, certifications and conventions that update any employee’s working knowledge.

So, inevitably, digital agencies and their employees will learn about the newest tools or experiment with the latest trends that are set to innovate the digital space and improve their clients’ bottom lines.

Just like the way to get to Carnegie Hall is “practice, practice, practice,” the same mantra rings true for any professional service. The fact is, the best digital agencies are constantly working with new and exciting clients of all sizes and various projects across multiple channels, and this practice propels them closer to perfection.

Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Digital Agency

Success Story

Have you done a similar project that matches my goals?

To make your partnership with a digital agency as valuable as possible, they need to be able to demonstrate the ability to identify and solve business problems. This skill doesn’t have to match your exact brand or industry -- just a particular professional objective.

Before you hire a digital agency, ask targeted questions that will unequivocally prove whether or not they have a success story that directly speaks to your needs as a business, such as:

  • What clients have you worked with and what services did you provide?
  • How do you identify the areas that a business can improve in?
  • What tools, tactics or strategies will you utilize to reach our target goals?
  • Please share a specific client example of a project that solved a similar business problem to ours and the results you achieved.

Team Members

Who are the team members working on my project and what is their personal expertise?

When you enlist the help of a digital agency, you aren’t actually hiring the firm. Instead, you’re hiring the experts who will be working on your project. Thus, you need to feel confident in the skill set and expertise of every member of your team before you sign a contract.

The following questions will give you a strong idea of the expertise each potential team member has and what they can bring to your project.

  • Who will be working on our project?
  • What is their personal expertise?
  • What aspect of the project will they be focusing on? (analytics, design, branding, marketing, etc.)
  • What successful projects have they worked on and what was their role in the project?

Organization

What process will you use to ensure the project is completed well and on-time?

When you outsource a project to an agency, you’re entrusting them with your business. So, you’re well within your rights to question them on their process and organization, both internally and with clients (i.e. you).

Asking the questions below will ensure that the agency you choose can complete every task in a timely and reliable manner.

  • Who will our point of contact be at the digital agency?
  • How often will we have meetings?
  • How much of our team’s professional time will be dedicated to our project? Will they be working on other projects as well?
  • What is your process for determining a roadmap, deliverables, and a progress yet achievable timeline?

Results

How are you going to measure results and how often?

At the end of the day, a digital agency has to deliver great results that grow your business. While some firms have struck a strong balance of creative campaigns and goal-oriented business focus, others may not be so skilled.

So, when you’re choosing the best digital agency for your company, don’t be afraid to put them to the test with the following questions:

  • How will you determine the goals of the project?
  • What is a reasonable timeline that this goal(s) can be achieved in?
  • How will the goals be measured (traffic, conversions, SEO ranking, revenue, etc.)?
  • What numbers can we expect in our measured category?
  • How often will you track and report on results?

Project Price

How Are You Going To Price The Project?

It’s tempting to ask about pricing immediately, but the cost of a project with a digital agency should last on your list of questions. The price of their services isn’t rendering a specific product or good -- instead, it’s the cost of expertise and a return on investment. While a lower upfront cost may sound tempting, a larger ROI from a more lucrative digital agency could be better for the business in the long run.

To secure a better understanding of how an agency prices their expertise, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • Is the project a flat rate cost or by hour?
  • If the project is paid by hour, whose expertise are we paying for on the team?
  • What deliverables are included in the cost of the project?
  • Does the pricing include meetings and phone calls to touch base on the project’s progress and questions?
     

How To Choose A Digital Agency

Business Needs

Ultimately, the point of hiring a digital agency is to fulfill a specific business need. Therefore, before you ever begin searching for agencies or setting up meetings, you need to assess your own company goals.

“If you're looking to improve your brand’s social media presence, for instance, working with a company that only deals in web design might not be the smartest move,” Anshul Sushil, founder and CEO of Boring Brands, said to Entrepreneur. Once you have a strong understanding of your business’s current standing and where you hope to go, you can find the agency that will compliment your brand identity and help you achieve your objectives.

Primary Strength

Although digital agencies have a wide variety of expertise -- including marketing, design, analytics, and more -- many agencies excel in one or two areas over the others. Therefore, when you’re searching for a top digital agency to work with, always take into account the expertise of a certain team and company as a whole.

You can identify a digital agency’s primary strength and service by doing your homework. Look at their portfolio, case studies and clientele and examine the work that they have done for them. Then, be sure to ask them which areas of a project excel and why. This will allow you to determine if their skill set matches your needs.

The Process

The way in which a digital agency operates and communicates with its clients is just as important as the end results. After all, you’re paying for a long-term service, and you deserve to feel comfortable with the trajectory and timeline of any digital project.

What’s more, ensure you’re in the loop on how and where the digital agency team finds inspiration and cultivates a successful and creative campaign. “The design and advertising industry are in danger of pointless banality and an ocean of blandness from designers pulling the same references to the lack of provocation,” says Apple Art Director Stanley Chen. “It’s important to ask the question "why" before we get to ‘how’ and ‘what.’”

Fair Contract

An airtight and comprehensive contract is the most crucial logistical element when forging a partnership with a great digital agency. After all, results aren’t always guaranteed, but deliverables and disclosable information can be.

Work with your legal department or applicable representative to draft (or oversee) a fair, legally-binding document that outlines important information such as the project’s time frame, any applicable deliverables, who your team members and point of contact will be, and what information is under non-disclosure. This will protect you AND your business down the road.

Trust

Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to trust the digital agency. Essentially, you are handing over the keys to your company and depending on your outsourced team to maintain a strong brand identity while improving the overall business.

Don’t just rush into a partnership with any old agency. Instead, take pitch meetings. Ask in-depth questions. Fully understand exactly what you can expect from your team and know how they plan to protect their business as if it were their own.  

Top Value Propositions and Differentiating Factors of the Best Digital Agencies

Top digital agencies invest in meaningful partnerships

For many top tier digital agencies, a key differentiating factor is the agency’s willingness and ability to partner closely with their clients. These agencies promise that by taking the time to immerse themselves in the client’s industry, culture, and business practices, they’ll become more than a replaceable vendor, they’ll be an arm of the client team. This type of relationship enables the agency to develop greater insight into the needs of the client, and to plan more effective projects and digital marketing campaigns as a result. These deep partnerships also better position the agency to act autonomously and proactively, without relying heavily on internal client resources for oversight.

Agencies like Huge, Big Spaceship, and Red Antler emphasize their collaborative approach to client relationships. This approach has clearly helped the agencies attract many desirable clients. Huge has worked with brands like Nike and Audi, while Big Spaceship has done work for YouTube and Samsung.

Leading agencies promote a global presence

In today’s hyper-connected world, many businesses need to work with a digital agency that has a global presence. Many top digital agencies count a global presence as a key value proposition. Having offices around the country and around the globe means that, by definition, the agency has a diverse range of talent in their employ. These employees bring a range of skills and perspectives to the table, and can contribute unique ideas to clients’ digital campaigns. A global presence also means that an agency is able to work closely even with clients that aren’t based out of design hubs like New York, London, and San Francisco.

Among the marketing agencies that position themselves as having a global presence are Digitas and R/GA, which both have locations in many U.S. cities, and in key countries abroad.

The best digital agencies attract passionate talent

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: an agency is nothing without the talent that powers it. Attracting and retaining exceptional creative talent and managers is a key objective of any agency, so it’s no surprise that the agencies that do it well position their people as a differentiating factor that sets them apart. Agencies that emphasize the caliber and passion of the people who work there are confident in the skills of their team, and this is a good indicator that clients can feel similarly confident in their abilities. Agencies with standout talent won’t be afraid to introduce clients to creative team members during the pitch phase. They know quality creative talent can help close the deal.

Fantasy Interactive, a digital agency based in New York, is one example of a company that prides itself on talent, calling themselves “A human-centered design agency that pioneers.”

Respected agencies are award-winning

Winning awards isn’t everything, but awards are a great indication that an agency is well-respected by leaders in the digital media industry. Top awards are only given out for exceptional and innovative work, so clients can feel confident that agencies who win these awards are likely on the cutting edge of the industry.

Agencies that win prestigious awards are rightfully proud of their achievements, and will often cite awards as a differentiating factor, knowing that doing so helps build trust and authority. Key awards to look for are the Webby Awards, Awwwards, the D&AD Awards, and the Cannes Lions.

Cutting edge agencies are digital-first

Many modern digital agencies pride themselves on the fact that their approach to their work and their clients is “digital-first”. Digital-first agencies have deep knowledge and experience in all aspects of digital, and as such, they’re well-positioned to help brands that have struggled to adapt to the modern digital landscape. You can expect an advertising agency that positions itself as digital-first to be able to execute a full-scale, multi-faceted digital transformation of your company.

New York-based agency, Razorfish, sums up why being digital-first sets them apart: “Most ad agencies claim to be full service, but their digital integration is just an afterthought. Razorfish Health has been digital from day one”

Great digital agencies focus on results

Gorgeous creative is one thing, but at the end of the day most companies want to be assured that their digital agency is going to achieve real, measurable results for their brand. There are many digital agencies that position themselves based on the fact that they are results-driven, and focused on driving quality traffic that converts. Beyond flashy design and eye-popping visuals, this value proposition is all about the cold hard facts of what the agency can achieve for their clients. You can expect agencies that pitch themselves this way to be proactive in developing a marketing strategy, setting goals and milestones, and to maintain focus on consistently fine-tuning campaigns to hone and improve their tactics.

Grey is an agency that positions itself this way, promoting its ability to be creative and move the needle for their clients.

Service offerings of top digital agencies

Top digital agencies usually offer a range of digital services. If the agency is truly full-service, they should be able to handle all of your company’s digital marketing needs, including web design, branding, and digital media, in-house with a high level of technical skill and experience. You should expect to either have your agency devise a holistic, custom digital strategy for you based on an assessment of your brand’s particular needs, or to be able to request an engagement based on an a la carte selection of services.

Some common services you can expect to be available from full-service digital agencies include:

●     Branding and logo design - Brand identity for new businesses, re-brands for existing business, and logo design or refresh work including multiple iterations.

●     Digital strategy - All-encompassing strategy designed to establish a foundation of research used to craft a campaign execution plan.

●     Marketing strategy - Among many marketing services available at digital agencies, creating a marketing strategy is the first step in executing a marketing campaign.

●     Web design - Start to finish custom website design, including strategy, design, development, and post-launch support.

●     Mobile app design - Start to finish custom mobile app design through a process of strategy, prototyping, development, testing, and iteration.

●     Search engine optimization - Also known as SEO, search engine optimization is Tthe process of helping a website appear in organic search results through a series of onsite technical edits and in-depth content marketing.

●     Social media marketing - Engaging with a community of fans and advocates through content creation, active social media participation, and community management.

●     Email marketing- Increasing engagement and encouraging sales and conversions through a series of targeted, custom, personalized email campaigns.

●     Digital Advertising and other paid media - Increasing brand awareness and recognition through paid digital advertisements, including display, search, and social media.

●     Content marketing and content creation - Developing a custom content strategy to effectively reach a brand’s target audience. Creating high quality content according to the strategy and promoting it across applicable marketing channels.

How the best digital agencies market themselves

When evaluating digital agencies, it’s useful to take a look at how they market themselves. As digital experts, you should expect them to practice what they preach by executing engaging, cutting edge campaigns.

All reputable digital agencies will have best-in-class web properties, including an effective and visually-stimulating website that is equally functional on all devices. Content marketing is also a major component of marketing a digital agency as the in-house knowledge accumulated by these companies makes them natural thought leaders in the industry. Look for agencies that consistently share expertise and demonstrate a commitment to staying on top of the ever-changing digital landscape.

Top digital agencies will also use social media marketing to promote themselves, maintaining an active presence on the main social channels, where much of their content will be shared and promoted. They often run paid media campaigns, particularly paid search, and are conscientious about investing time and effort to appear in organic search results for key terms.

Takeaways

In order to attract quality clients, top digital agencies search for ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. All of these agencies have many qualities in common, but they each bring a unique perspective and approach to the table.

The key attributes to look for when evaluating digital agencies include:

  • Investment in meaningful partnership - Does the agency express a willingness to develop a deep partnership with the client in order to work more efficiently together?
  • National or Global presence - Is the agency able to serve you wherever you do business? Do they have an office that is accessible from your headquarters, or are you willing to travel to meet with them?
  • Passionate talent - Does the agency invest in hiring the best and brightest in their field? Do they put these people at the center of what they do?
  • Award-winning - What industry awards and accolades has the agency earned for their work? Are their projects regarded as cutting-edge and effective?
  • Digital-first - Does the agency put digital at the center of their approach to their work, or is it only a secondary concern?
  • Results-driven - Is the agency driven by the desire to achieve real, measurable results for their clients?

Understanding which of these attributes your company values most in an agency is key to finding the best partner for your project and establishing a relationship that will benefit you both.

Top Features of the Best Digital Agencies

Collaboration

Top digital agencies have teams of experts working on each project to ensure its success. A combination of the talents and skillsets of many different team members ensures a higher quality of work that makes each project more likely to stand out from the competition. A collaborative environment that encourages the comingling of ideas and opinions results in the most effective digital projects, with the promise of business growth on the horizon. Collaboration also includes the team on the client side. As the client, your relationship with the digital agency you select should feel more like a partnership and less like a business deal.

Full Service Offerings

Full service digital agencies should be capable of handling every aspect of a brand’s digital presence, and be ready to provide the essential strategies, tactics, and execution to generate online growth. From advertising campaigns to website design, a top digital agency will offer a 360-degree approach to digital growth. When all digital marketing services are handled under one roof, the level of cohesion and consistency is unmatched.

Relevant Qualifications

The best digital agencies will have credentials and qualifications that are both impressive and relevant to the project at hand. Expect qualified agencies to showcase award-winning work and highlight their employees as thought leaders. Working with an agency that has the appropriate credentials is critical to driving your brand’s success. In a field that is constantly evolving, it’s essential that the experts you work with stay on top of digital technology and industry trends.This ensures that the agency’s work is always cutting edge and innovative. 

Results-Driven

The best digital agencies put forward ideas and strategies that are focused on observable business growth. They will share a plan to track and measure results before beginning work on any given project. Each strategic recommendation should be made with a brand’s core objectives in mind, and each platform should support the digital growth model at hand. Digital projects that look flashy but aren’t effective at driving sales or leads, are ultimately a waste of marketing dollars.

Customization

Every brand is different. The best digital marketing agency for your brand will customize the strategy  to meet the unique objectives and goals of the business. They will tailor their approach to meet the specific needs of your target audience. The most effective digital strategies are unique to the brand, not cookie-cutter solutions duplicated from previous projects.