The Necessity of Transparency in Digital Marketing
Written by Chip LaFleur
The vast majority of lawyers approach digital marketing with great trepidation. Because of their dedication to learning their craft and the time-consuming process involved in just becoming a lawyer (not to mention all that’s involved in running a law firm), most simply do not have the time to become – and stay – proficient in the rapidly changing world of digital marketing. Even marketing agencies struggle to keep up with the seemingly daily changes in this industry!
It’s no surprise, then, that investing in this marketing channel is undertaken with some fear. Not all marketers are able to run successful campaigns, and some are simply not willing to be transparent about where the costs go. For example, you may not know how much you spent on an actual ad spend in Google versus what you paid the agency you’re working with to manage the campaign.
A good digital marketing partner should make it easy to see and understand where your funds are going. When done right, digital marketing can enhance every avenue of lead generation for your firm, from people who find you through a Google search to people who are referred from a former client or another attorney. But you, as a client, need to make sure you’re getting what you’ve paid for.
What are the risks of working with a marketing agency that lacks proper transparency?
First and foremost, your primary worry should be spending more than you should to get fewer clients. Beyond that, there are ranges in costs related to web development, paid advertising spends, managed chat, and much more. When these costs are not broken down for you in a way that you can understand, you are likely spending much of your budget on something that we’ll call the “black box,” which is to say, “the agency’s profit margin.”
Look on your invoices and compare them to the initial proposal you received from the agency. Review and ask yourself these questions:
- Do the charges add up?
- Is it clear what services you’re paying for?
- If you’re using paid advertising – like Google AdWords, display ads, Facebook promotion, LinkedIn paid ads, or other types of third-party paid campaigns – how many of your dollars are going toward management, and how many are going toward the advertising itself?
- Is your management fee a flat fee or a percentage of spend?
Are you receiving invoices or receipts from the third party platform to verify your actual spend?
If you’re receiving services that are not only paid advertising, making an assessment becomes a little trickier. Higher quality work is undoubtedly going to cost more. Still, there are some things to look out for. Ask yourself, and then your agency, these questions:
- Does someone at the firm have access to any of the project management tools related to your campaigns?
- Are deliverables independently verifiable by you or your firm’s liaison?
- Do you have logins to any tracking tools that the agency is using for reporting – like Google analytics, Moz.com, Raven SEO Tools, Majestic SEO, etc.? There are many available.
Beyond financial concerns, a second area of risk is related to ownership and control of your site, your domain name, and your deliverables. The principals at your law firm should own your firm’s domain name. It’s reasonable to provide access to the controls tied to your domain name, but many services provide you with the ability to add editors who are not administrators on an account. Should the agency you’re working with ever go out of business, change ownership, or experience another significant change – your entire online presence is at their mercy if you do not retain ownership of your domain name.
Hosting is another matter. A hosting plan with a reliable host is likely to cost less than $300 per year. So even if your marketing agency claims that hosting is “free,” you’re really paying for it elsewhere, and you’re giving your marketing firm more control over your site than they need to have. More importantly than cost, you’re giving yourself a false barrier to choosing a different vendor if you’re dependent on their hosting.
Generally, there are two safe scenarios with hosting that allow you to maintain your independence. The first is a self-hosted site. This means that your web development partner sets up your hosting environment in a way that your firm owns the hosting itself. You pay for the hosting and are on file as the owner of that hosting.
The second scenario is having your website hosted through something called a managed hosting platform, either directly or through your web development or marketing partner. In this second scenario, your site should be on a hosting platform like WP Engine, Pressable, Page.ly, Liquidweb, or a handful of others. In this scenario, you minimize your hosting costs by working through a partner, but you also retain the ability to quickly and easily transfer ownership of your site back to your firm without having to migrate the site.
There is a slightly greater risk with the second scenario, in that you still need to rely on your development or marketing partner to cooperate should you decide to leave, but the tradeoff is reliable, scalable hosting that remains secure and relatively adaptable.
With regard to hosting and your domain, you should ultimately ask yourself these questions:
- Do you “own” all domain names and your own hosting platform?
- Do you have access to all logins related to web hosting and domain registration?
- Do you have access to all of the graphics and files that are being used for your firm?
Many marketing firms will balk at the third point above, but the fact is that we live in a world where cloud hosting, guest accounts, and location-independent access are the norm. Especially if you’re on a monthly plan and are up to date on payments, you should be able to quickly access any artwork or content that has been created for you.
Especially if you’re on a monthly plan and are up to date on payments, you should be able to quickly access any artwork or content that has been created for you.
Perhaps the most obvious red flag is laid out above – if you do not have ownership of anything related to your site, bringing on a third party becomes an enormous hassle or becomes outright impossible. For example, if you don’t have sole ownership of your site – and you want to verify that something is done correctly – you will likely be unable to bring in a third-party developer, even to just verify that something was done as described, ensure that something was coded correctly, or to troubleshoot an ongoing problem.
If you had a mechanic come to you with a costly repair proposal, it would make sense to bring your car to another mechanic and get a second opinion. You can do that because it’s your car. Well, it’s your site too. So make sure it really is yours.
Some other red flags:
- Not owning the content or artwork that has been created for you (and that you paid for!)
- Having no delineation of spend between paid promotion and management (Pay Per Click, Facebook ads, sponsored posts, Display, etc.)
- Vaguely written invoices with varying amounts
- Minimal or no reporting
- Overly complex reporting that does not deliver actionable/meaningful data
- Lack of access to project management
- Not being able to readily access your artwork and content
- Requiring payment for access to your artwork or content that you already paid to have created
If you see one of these red flags, it may not necessarily be a serious issue, but it should be addressed. Multiple red flags should arouse suspicion and lead to at least a closer look, ideally by a knowledgeable third party. Ultimately, though, your judgment is usually a good guide when you are evaluating your digital marketing services; an agency that’s looking out for your best interest will rely on the quality of their work to retain you as a client – not make it increasingly difficult to move to a new provider.
How does LaFleur Legal Marketing approach transparency with their clients?
We’ve built our systems from the ground up to ensure that our clients have easy access to all aspects of their projects – from the initial stage of development to the finished product(s). Below are some of the key areas we focus on to make sure our clients remain empowered and informed.
1. Domain and Hosting Ownership
Whether we’re doing the web development or working with another trusted web developer, we make sure that our clients retain ownership of domain names and, if possible, hosting accounts. We understand that there are some circumstances where web hosting will happen through an indirect vendor, though we caution against it when possible.
2. Project Management
As a part of the on-boarding process, we set up guest accounts in Asana, our project management system, for however many users your firm wants to add. We firmly believe that the more our clients take ownership of their project(s) with us, the better.
The guest accounts in Asana have complete access to the full project or sub-projects attached to the firm we’re working with. That means our clients can view and offer input on project discussions, deliverables, drafts, the editorial process, and more. This gives our more involved clients the ability to weigh in and provide direction early in a project, which in turn helps us avoid wasted effort and helps us create a better end result. For clients who prefer to just receive the final deliverables, the option to review any project’s history (or jump in and get involved) is still available at all times.
3. Account Ownership
With regard to Google accounts like AdWords and Analytics, we make sure our client remains the primary owner. The same is true for social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others.
Certain accounts we use are sub-accounts of primary accounts. For example, our marketing automation platform allows us to host multiple client instances within our own larger agency account – so each account is autonomous from each other, but LaFleur Legal Marketing employees can manage the accounts they are assigned to from within one platform. In this instance, we make sure that the sub-accounts can, at any time via the client’s request, be split off from the primary account and assigned directly to them. Then the client takes over payment on the account, and all their data and content remains with them.
4. Data Ownership
Much of our client data resides on our marketing automation platform. That data belongs to our clients, and our clients have the highest level of access allowed on their individual client install. That means they can export their data, modify it, and do basically whatever they want with it. They cannot, however, view any data that belongs to another one of our clients. If a client chooses to part ways, their install of the marketing automation software is easily separated from our agency account, and we can seamlessly transfer ownership to them.
Because our systems are heavily cloud-based, archiving client data and files that are not contained in our automation platform is simple, and we routinely provide our clients with direct access to any content, artwork, etc. that has been developed for them or that is associated with their project(s). Additionally, we are happy to package and provide an archive of all client files upon request.
Our invoices are clear and reliable. We bill at the beginning of each monthly billing cycle. The scope of our work is clearly laid out in our initial proposal, and any changes are recorded in our project management software and client notes, both of which are accessible to our clients at any time. Requested changes or modifications are always documented, and clarification is provided whenever requested.
Because our clients are given direct access to our project management software, we rarely receive questions about our invoices. Many of our clients are surprised at the volume and comprehensiveness of our deliverables within the stated budget. They have a solid understanding of what goes into each deliverable because they can view all the different stages of their projects directly, and we find that this drastically reduces questions or confusion about invoicing.
If you’ve taken the time to read all of this, then clearly you recognize the value of transparency in a relationship with a marketing agency.
Let us know if you are interested in discussing anything we’ve laid out in this article or if you have any questions about digital marketing. If you are aware of more than one “red flag” laid out above with your current digital marketing business partner, we encourage you to give us a call so we can help you better understand what’s going on or provide you with an honest, straightforward evaluation of the services you’re being provided. In all things, we endeavor to be advocates, primarily for our clients, but also for digital marketing consumers in general. So give us a call at (888) 222-1512, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with any of your comments or questions.
Transparency is not just important for business-to-business relationships; it’s a quality that is recognized by your clients as well. In the future, we hope to provide more information about some of the systems we have built in concert with the lawyers we work with to help them maintain a greater level of transparency and increased, scalable communication with their clients.