Who Owns Your Digital Marketing Data?

May 23, 2024 | Google Analytics / Tracking

Too many marketing agencies are black holes when it comes to client data. How can you make sure you have the access and permissions you need?

A cartoon showing someone evaluating their digital marketing data

This column was written by John Osako, president and CEO of Informatics Inc.

Too many marketing agencies are black holes when it comes to client data. They’re pulling in massive amounts of information, but it essentially disappears, invisible to the client’s naked eye.

As the owner of a data-focused marketing agency, I often hear versions of this scenario from prospective clients and fellow business leaders. Is it normal for an agency to retain full control over the different accounts needed for digital marketing? Should I have to ask for reports on the performance of my paid search ads or SEO?

No, it isn’t, and you shouldn’t.

Why agencies handle data differently

Unfortunately, some agencies try to control access or even withhold data that is rightfully yours. Why do they do this?

At best, an insecure agency believes controlling that information gives them power and importance—the thought is, if they reveal the keywords targeted in an ad campaign or outline the precise metrics they measured, their client will leave to do it themselves. At worst, an agency will hide or withhold data to obscure the fact that their work is not delivering the results promised.

This is unacceptable for a few different reasons, some philosophical and some pragmatic.

As I’ve written before, your business data is an incredibly valuable commodity, just waiting to be unlocked through analysis. Outsourcing that task is one thing; completely abdicating control and ownership of that commodity is another. You would not hand your payroll to a processing company and give them complete control over how they proceed or report things out to you—why do it with something as essential as your customer data?

It's also a matter of access. In business, and especially the agency world, relationships are growing increasingly temporary and transactional. It’s been reported that the average length of a client-agency relationship is now three years. You need to know you have access to your data before your agency contract ends, otherwise you may be left floating alone in space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

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If you’re concerned about the status of your marketing data, start asking some questions of your marketing partners. If their teams can’t or won’t share the numbers underlying these data points, you don’t truly own your data:

  • Website Traffic: You need to know who’s visiting your website and how they found you.
  • Conversion Rates: This metric tracks how many visitors are taking a selected action, like downloading a white paper or making a purchase.
  • Website Engagement: How long do visitors typically stay on your site? Which pages do they visit and how do they interact with your content?
  • Social Media Metrics: Every social media platform, from the Meta suite to TikTok, LinkedIn, and more, provides businesses with a range of detailed performance metrics to measure the effectiveness of both organic and paid campaigns.

The good news is, there are a handful of easy ways to reclaim your business data. First, make sure all your accounts, such as Google Analytics, Google Ads and your social media profiles, are built through an account owned by your business, not your marketing agency.

You will eventually need to provide your agency team with access to those accounts, but ultimately you will be able to set up permissions, and you’ll have a route to recovering the account if an unethical partner decides to go full-Klingon on your data.

While you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to establish a protocol for controlling access to those platforms internally.

You should also enshrine expectations of data ownership in the service contract with your agency. (You do have a contract with your agency, right?)

You can’t put your data at risk of falling into a black hole. Failing to secure your data doesn’t just suck up your information—it destroys time, energy, and, of course, money.

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