How to Choose an Ethical Marketing Agency

It may not come as a surprise to you that there are a LOT of shady digital marketing agencies in business today. Maybe you’ve even been burned by one in the past. Some agencies just don’t have the experience or an advanced enough approach to digital marketing to produce good results for their clients. However, these marketing agencies can still be ethical. The key is to find a marketing agency that can produce results while being ethical and transparent. There are a million blog posts out there about “Choosing the right Digital Marketing Agency.” We would like to focus on how you can go about choosing an “ethical” marketing agency. It would be nice to be able to trust your agency, right?


Any agency with a good sales pitch can make their agency sound like the best thing since sliced bread. But how can you know if what they are saying is true? You want to believe that an agency will be honest when sharing their capabilities and experience with you. However, many unethical agencies will do anything to get a deal, even if they know it’s not a good fit. Here are some ways to identify the dishonest sales person:

  • Does the sales person have hands-on digital marketing experience? A flaw of many agencies is that they have sales people with no actual hands-on experience in digital marketing. They can promise the world but may not have the knowledge to set realistic expectations for what their team can provide. One way around this issue is to ask to meet with the team members who will actually be working on your campaign. Be sure to ask the production team lots of questions to determine their skill level.
  • Is the sales person asking thoughtful questions about your company, needs and goals? If they are focusing solely on their pitch and selling you on their agency, they might not be a good fit. You want an agency that asks questions about your challenges and goals before presenting solutions. If they do not ask these questions it may also be a sign that they do not customize their approach to each unique client. They most likely just have a single process and approach that they roll out for every client.
  • Is the sales person pushing keyword ranking as a goal? This is usually a huge red flag. If someone is talking about ranking more than your true business goals, that is often a sign of inexperience.


Budget is always an important conversation. However, you should fight any urge to let budget be the driving factor in your decision. There is normally a reason why an agency comes in at the lowest price, and it’s generally not a good one. If you are really dedicated to increasing your digital efforts and seeing real results, cost cannot be the #1 factor in the decision. Here are some things to look out for:

  • If one agency has a significantly lower budget than the others, eliminate them from consideration. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. Good digital marketing takes time. With a very low budget you don’t have significant time to push performance. This indicates that the agency does not have an advanced approach to digital marketing or a realistic expectation of what is needed to hit your goals.
  • Did the agency give you a detailed breakdown of the costs? Look for an agency that is transparent with their pricing structure and costs. This doesn’t mean they need to show a break down of every tactic in an SEO campaign. However, they should be willing to show you the breakdown of their time vs. click costs for a paid search campaign.


This is probably the biggest indicator of an unethical agency. If you ask for something to do with your campaign and they refuse to show you, it’s time to move on to the next agency. There is never a good reason for hiding things from a client. Even if they try to feed you some garbage about “proprietary secrets.” Here are some areas where you can test an agency’s level of transparency:

  • Will they give you access to everything? You should be allowed to login into Google Analytics or Google Ads to see the numbers for yourself. An ethical marketing agency will give you access to your data.
  • Are all of your accounts set up in your name or do they set up clients under their accounts? Never give up ownership of your accounts. An ethical marketing agency can set your accounts up under your name and still login and work with them. If you allow an unethical agency to control things like your domain, hosting, analytics, Google Ads, etc. it can get messy if you ever end the relationship.
  • Ask for case studies and referrals. The only catch with this is that they can hand select what to show you and who to tell you to talk to. However, if they do not have case studies or positive results to share with you, that in itself speaks volumes.
  • One last thing to keep in mind if you are already working with an agency. Are they always right and do they only ever communicate positive news? Every campaign has ups and downs. Some strategies may not work, websites get hacked, errors can happen. A transparent marketing agency will share all information with you so that you can discuss as a team and determine next steps. If it seems like the agency is always spinning everything so that everything is perfect, they are probably not being 100% honest or they are not aggressively pushing forward with new strategies and goals.


This might take more expertise to figure out. An ethical marketing agency is going to build real value into the work they do for you. An unethical agency may use “black hat” tactics to get results quickly and easily. This type of work could harm your reputation and even put your website at risk of getting penalized. Here are some things you can do to gauge the quality of their work:

  • Check their other client websites. Read through the content and look at the page titles. Does it seem over-optimized? Is there a lot of unnatural keyword stuffing?
  • Look at the links pointed to their SEO clients’ websites. You will need some software to do this. We recommend An unethical agency will use tactics that could get you in trouble. Study the anchor text (the text of the actual link). Does the majority of the anchor text include the brand, logo image or the word “website?” If so, that is a good natural backlink profile. If the anchor text ratio is heavily weighted for their keywords then you can identify that the agency uses risky tactics that can put their clients’ website at risk.

Agency Culture

An agency that does not treat their employees well will not treat you well. It does not take long for word to get out about a marketing agency’s reputation. Asking around could get you some opinions and insight into the culture of an agency. There are some other signs to look for:

  • Overall employee attitude – Are the employees at the agency passionate and excited about what they are doing? Sometimes you can see it if there is not a general sense of happiness.
  • Employee Turnover – There can be a lot of reasons for an employee leaving an agency. Sometimes it’s the agency’s decision, too. But if you see an agency swapping out employees frequently, there could be a reason for that. Check out LinkedIn profiles to determine how long the employees have been at the agency. You can also look to see where past employees went. Look to see if they actually went to a job that promoted them or just a lateral move.

We hope these tips will help you find an ethical marketing agency that has the best interests of your business at heart. Before hiring a new agency, don’t forget to do your research and always follow your gut.