With all the lists out there that show you how to select a great digital marketing agency, we thought you would prefer a list that went a step further: Here’s a list that tells you what the very best agencies do, mostly without you telling them. This is the definitive list that can help you gauge if your agency is a contender, or one of the thousands of digital marketing pretenders.

1) The agency stays up-to-date on all of Google’s changes

The agency should also anticipate these updates, effectively positioning your company online and protecting it from precipitous search engine referral drops. You may have heard about Google’s Penguin (attacking link spam), Panda (attacking poor content), and Hummingbird (ranking more sites with in-depth, accurate answers to users’ questions) updates and algorithm changes. While no digital marketing company can know every criteria that Google uses to rank a site, the best agencies have developed insights due to their experience working on hundreds of SEO campaigns for dozens of verticals. What an effective digital marketing agency will do is always manage your campaign so that no matter what Google does with its algorithm, your site will not be punished due to the use of trickery or black hat strategies.

2) The digital marketing agency will always be able to tell you where your campaign stands

This means you know how the campaign has grown since the benchmark. They will also have a plan to get you to your future goals. At campaign inception, your agency should provide you with a benchmark report. This shows you where you stand online before the marketing campaign begins. Next (with your input) they should create a marketing plan that clearly describes the strategies and tactics that will be used to reach campaign milestones. Regular meetings should be scheduled to keep you abreast of campaign progress.

Bonus points: Your digital marketing company scores even higher if they provide specialized reports. Sometimes these are very important because you may need to present specific data to boards of directors or others who require it for decision-making.

More bonus points: Talk with your agency about this, but it is at least partially their job to help you understand the data that they present. They can either use tools you are already using and feel comfortable with to report this data, or you can rely on them to select reporting tools that create easy to read and insightful reports.

3) The digital marketing company understands the function of creating and distributing quality content.

They know the difference between fluff and quality content. They know how often website pages, blogs and social media accounts should be updated and position clients well in search results and throughout social media with innovative and fresh content that satisfies humans and search engines.

The campaign should include a content audit. The agency will recommend content formats and frequency of creation and publication. Content can take many forms, including website copy, blog posts, images, video, email newsletters, press releases and social media posts. Copy creation and management is only one part of the equation. A top digital marketing agency will also provide strategies for engaging with customers who interact with content; i.e., helping you understand segmentation of email lists, social media engagement, blog comment replies, and more.

4) A good agency provides a connected team of professionals to manage client campaigns.

From the campaign manager to each member of the team; content creators, social media specialists, HTML coding experts, etc., all of these individuals act in unison with one goal in mind: expanding their clients’ online visibility. In today’s online marketing there cannot be any silos — everyone on the agency side must work seamlessly with each other. For example, when key phrase research is performed, it should be shared with all members of the agency team, who then need to make it a priority to optimize for those keywords in all of their content creation.

5) The digital marketing agency spends considerable time educating its clients.

It makes a point of creating insightful but easy to understand position papers, slideshows, PDF fact sheets and more educational materials to help clients understand the search landscape, and their campaigns’ positions in it.

A great example of this is when the Hummingbird algorithm change came down in 2013. The very best digital marketing companies spent considerable time educating their clients on what Hummingbird was and how it would not only demote poor websites in the Google search results, but present opportunities for those marketers who created in-depth, quality content.

6) Immediate Notification if Anything Goes Wrong

 If something goes wrong (sudden drop in search traffic, social media blunders or disasters, reputation management issues, etc.) a good digital marketing agency reports it immediately to the client upon discovery and rapidly develops an effective plan to deal with it.

Here’s a great example: Someone heavily criticizes your company on social media, and your agency sees that more people are quickly joining the criticism, causing it to begin spiraling out of control. The agency informs you, and you tell them that there is a mistake, the persons complaining are incorrect; the issue is just not true. Instead of going back on social media and saying that the individuals were wrong, and perhaps inflaming the situation further, the agency should ask you to make a statement, and publish it on your website. The agency should then write a social media post, linking to that statement. As professionals, your agency should not engage individually with posters. The agency should point them to the statement on your website and mention that any further concerns can be addressed by calling a special customer service number set up for this issue. In this way the problem is diffused and continued debate is taken offline, where individual resolutions can be provided, if necessary.

7) The best agencies always have new ideas to push the marketing campaign forward.

Contests, unique content development and distribution ideas, games and more methods to engage customers continually flow from a top digital marketing company’s brain trust. These need to be tied into the main marketing game plan and be tightly integrated with the themes that matter most to target audiences.

It is a common issue for companies to ask their agencies to drop everything to copy the latest gimmick that a competitor is offering. There is a place for competitive research, and it belongs as a component of the overall campaign. This well-reasoned approach does not mean that pivoting during a campaign is unwise — it does however mean that snap judgements need thought before resources are allocated to new initiatives.

8) Top agencies know what they don’t know.

They know when to call in partners who can deliver the necessary expertise. They have connections with many of the top web designers, paid search advertising specialists, graphic designers and other stars in the online industry. The addition of these ad hoc teams can take marketing campaigns to the next level.