You might have put in an ad on the Yellow Pages once upon a time. You might have thrown a few thousand at the local radio station once. Maybe even splashed out on a TV ad. They’re pretty simple. You know where to go to advertise with them. But where do you go when you want to advertise online?

To start advertising online, you go directly to the website of the place where you want to advertise. And 80% of the time that will be on Google or Facebook’s network of apps. But they’re confusing to approach the first time. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, is there a local option you can turn to?

There is. And they’re usually called digital marketing agencies. But as you’d expect, it’s not always simple to select one based on where you want to advertise. In fact, if you’ve never advertised online, you might not even have the first idea of where it is that you do want to advertise.

Unfortunately, the way that digital marketing agencies are set up, it’s even harder to work out who does what, or what any of the jargon on their websites even means.

SEO. PPC. Adwords. Branding. SMM. SMA. The list of buzzwords and acronyms are endless. And this is where you can narrow down the kind of digital marketing agency you might choose.

First up, look for an agency that actually makes sense to you. Who can explain to you how the various options work in a plain English way. Not using jargon. Not using buzzwords. And when they’re doing it, they don’t make you feel dumb… and they actually encourage you to ask questions along the way… not grunt at you for interrupting their sales spiel. In fact, if someone starts on a digital marketing sales spiel with you from the outset, politely excuse yourself. They’re never going to listen to what you have to say. This kind of approach might even mean that you need to try and see someone who is local – or who at least bothers to visit your town even once. Whether they’re selling radio ads or Google ads, nothing beats being able to sit in front of someone and talk with them face to face.

Next up, talk with an agency that has multiple options. Not just a one-size-fits-all. Do they only work with Instagram? Or only LinkedIn? Do they only offer packages on Facebook or Google? The advantage of digital marketing is that there is no reason for an agency to favour any one platform over any other. Unless they are being incentivised by that platform (if so, run!) or they simply don’t know how to work with anyone else (again… why?) Some agencies may like to think of themselves as “boutique” or “niche” however, digital marketing is not a one-solution-for-all medium. It’s not even one medium. This is not TV or radio. The agency doesn’t own any of the platforms, so it’s not like they are selling their competitors. If they only offer one option, it’s probably because they actually made a choice not to learn that platform. These agencies are easy to spot, because they will spend more time rubbishing the other platforms than selling the one they actually know.

Another way of choosing a digital marketing agency is to look at who their existing or recent clients are. If they only work with one or two businesses, then they are probably either very new and untested; or they don’t have very much capacity. Both attributes are worrying. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if they are starting out with you, you are paying to be their testing ground. If you willingly step in to a situation like this, ask for a discount. Or perhaps negotiate to only pay on results. If they only have a couple of clients at the moment, or have only had a couple of clients listed on their site, then you’re probably looking at a freelancer. And while there is nothing wrong with freelancers (heck, I have been one myself at one stage!) they tend to hit their capacity really quickly. There is only so much that one person can do. If they are truly boutique and niche, and the work you’ve seen them do is of a high quality, they are possibly already at capacity, but need to take on more work because the work they have isn’t building a sustainable business. Both situations are not ideal. Look for agencies that are either working with, or have worked with businesses that are a bit like yours. If they’re all big names, then they may not be very experiences with the concerns of a small business. Likewise, if all their clients have been small businesses, then they may not have any experience with scaling up their capacity to work with larger clients.

So, how do you get started on advertising online when you don’t have any idea about the how? Talk to an agency. Good ones will gladly answer questions, or can refer you to places that can assist you with the info you need. They will never make you feel dumb of say something like “you can’t afford me.”