Everyone loves a good “Best of” or “Top 10″ list. You probably see a few online every day. Even if you don’t read them you certainly see their catchy headlines when your browsing articles on the internet. A good top 10 list can generate traffic, create discussion, and are sometimes entertaining. If I see a headline for “Top 10 Rock Albums of All Time” I might take a look and I might even comment. The same goes for “Top 10 Point Guards of All Time” (for my money it’s Steve Nash).
For mindless entertainment these lists are OK, but I don’t like lists that rank marketing agencies, experts, etc.
Issues With Agency Rankings Lists
Companies want to be associated with winners and they want to hire the best agencies if they can afford to. So it makes sense that small and medium sized businesses look at agency rankings lists when starting an agency partner search. The problem is that these lists are mostly useless.
They Are Based on Opinions
I won’t quote that metaphor we’ve all heard about opinions, but we know that it ends with “they all stink”. By nature agencies tend to be extremely protective of their intellectual property. This is especially true when you are talking about client lists, processes, and results. The websites that rank agencies simply cannot get all of the information needed in order to produce a true list based on client results or superior service.
Exclude the Little Guy
Some of the best agencies are small boutique agencies or they are relatively new. I have hired a few talented people over the years that later branched out their own and created their own agency. When an agency is new it is generally unknown and they slowly build a reputation over time. When I advise companies on agency selection I always recommend including a new ‘up and coming” agency to their short list. These agencies are hungry for clients, often provide above and beyond service, and most of the time less expensive when they are in growth mode.
Leave Out the Big Guy
There are some fantastic large agencies that refuse to promote themselves on top agency lists. Some of the time they simply don’t need the exposure. Much of the time they don’t want to be associated with the other agencies on these lists because the agencies are weak. Either way they are excluded from these popular lists and that sometimes means they become excluded from consideration by companies looking for agency partners.
Pay for Play (the dirty little secret)
The biggest issue I have with agency ranking lists is that most (if not all) are generated based on an agency’s willingness to pay in order to be on the list. The first agency that I ran paid a monthly fee to be on a couple of Top SEO ‘s lists. It was a tool that we used to generate leads because the sites were very good about hiding the fact that the agencies paid. The more we were willing to pay, the higher we got ranked. The higher we got ranked, the more leads we generated. The publishers encouraged heavy promotion of our inclusion and said it would differentiate us from our competition. It didn’t! We differentiated ourselves by being more thorough in our analysis during the pitch process and that is what differentiated us from the our competitors who also happened to pay to be on the list.
What Can Companies Use Instead?
If you’re like a lot of businesses that need help with digital marketing, you may not know where to start or how to know if you are making a good choice. So where should you start? The first place to go is your network. Talk to other business owners and find out who they use. A good referral at least starts the process of finding a reputable agency.
But don’t just rely on these referrals. Another option is to hire an agency search consultant to help you build a list of reputable agencies to to talk to and get proposals. Consultants can bring new perspective to your search and also will know the right questions to ask and how to filter out the marketing from the important information that prospective agencies present.
In summary, don’t pay attention to agency ranking lists when looking for an agency partner. Avoid using these sites when generating a lists of agencies to get proposals from or listen to pitches. Definitely filter out the noise when an agency touts their own inclusion on these lists and focus on the criteria that really matter.