How agency websites are failing in their new business efforts

Agency website failures

We were recently engaged to assist a client undertake a search for agencies across a number of markets outside of our Asia Pacific base. Therefore we were unable to rely on the resources within our TrinityP3 Agency Register. Instead we undertook a comprehensive online review of agencies within the marketplace.

The results were, to say the least, appalling. It appears that advertising, media and digital agencies around the world are failing in the most fundamental way to embrace possibly the greatest opportunity to market their agency and their services to new business prospects.

Our brief

We were asked to identify advertising agencies that had strategy, creative, digital and media capabilities in each of 12 markets. The markets were smaller, single, well defined in geography.

The brief also asked that we identify if they have case studies or examples of the type of work the client was looking for, and an indication of the size of the agency to determine if they would be capable of handling a project of this size.

This is fairly straightforward information that a prospective advertiser or marketer would be looking for in their search and selection process. Although we delivered to, and in fact exceeded, the clients’ expectations, it was a difficult and protracted process because of the flaws in so many agency websites. Here are the main ones we identified:

Search Engine Optimisation – FAIL

SEO is the process of ensuring your website and webpages are visible to the search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu and the like. It is a service offered by many agencies, especially media and digital agencies, but it appears to be a service or capability often overlooked when they develop their own website.

Search on the most basic of search terms such as advertising+agency+<name of country or city> would yield broad but shallow results. Often the major network agencies were not on the first two or three pages of the search results, even though their global websites would state they had an office in that country or city.

Adding in capabilities such as media planning and media buying or digital advertising and digital marketing would deliver fewer identifiable agencies and more service providers to the agencies.

While it is understandable that a particular market may have a hundred or more agencies and therefore they cannot all be on page one of the search results this is not a reason to give up. One of the best ways for you to demonstrate your digital marketing expertise is to have one of the top spots on a search your prospective client is undertaking. And these can be broader, long-tail searches as well as competitive head phrases.

Page loading speed – FAIL

Many agencies clearly want their websites to be a showcase for their creativity and have designed a rich media or Flash site that requires megabytes of data to load just to see their home page.

Often it would go beyond their home page and you found yourself waiting for what feels like an eternity waiting for each page to load. What happens is you just give up because the thought of clicking on that link just to be greeted by the spinning wheel of death or one of his more creative iterations is mind numbing.

I know they think they are making a great creative first impression, but in actual fact you are demonstrating you do not care about me as a potential customer, which is why you insist on making me wait. If I walked into the reception of your agency, would you make me wait before someone from the agency greeted me? I don’t think so, so do not do it on your website. Give me what I want, when I want it, which to make it completely clear was ten seconds ago.

Intuitive navigation – FAIL

This is a classic mistake of form over function. The agency is so keen to show off how innovative they are in web design they break all of the rules regarding user experience (UX) in the process and leave you thinking that they did not know them in the first place.

Hiding the navigation so that I have to scroll the cursor all over the page hoping it will pop up or be highlighted may seem like a fun game to you, but it is a glorious waste of time to me.

Not providing clear, intuitive ways for me to be able to navigate around your site is also a sign you want to make my life frustrating and perhaps working with you will be just as painful.

One agency site, with a data heavy home page required me to return to the home page after navigating away from it each time before I could go on to another page. And yes, each time I did the thing reloaded from the start. This really adds insult to injury, especially when later the agency praises itself on their website design expertise (but they did not say anything about UX).

This is not a game, your website is a business tool, a marketing tool and a sales tool. Make it easy for me to find what I want and how I want it.

Relevant information – FAIL

Following on from navigation, I am not sure if many agencies simply don’t have the information I was looking for or I just could not find it in the labyrinth that is their site architecture. It appears to me that most agencies think the site is simply a folio of the work they do and that is it.

But there is essential information anyone interested in the agency needs to know including:

About Us: Tell me something about the agency. Agencies love talking about telling brand stories, why do none of them have their story on their site.

Clients: Who have you done work for or are doing work for? I know many agencies are paranoid that competitors will use this as a client poaching list, but really, you are known for the company you keep so why not tell me rather than have me wade through all of your examples of work to create my own client list.

Capabilities: I know you want to be all things to all people, but just tell me what you do and what you do well and what you are or would like to be known for, and let me take it from there.

People: One way to add personality to your agency is show me your people. I know you may think your competitors will use it to identify your best people for poaching, but isn’t that what LinkedIn is for anyway? Besides I want to know who I would be doing business with.

Contact: Let me expand on this further.

Contact details – FAIL

So I have persevered through your site and not really found what I want, so in sheer frustration I look for contact details so I can either email you or call you and start a conversation.

But then you make this hard by not giving me a name or an email address and instead provide me with a form to complete, which I know will go to no-one in particular and I will get no response.

It is a lot like when you provide that email address that goes to We all know that no one has looked at that account for more than a month and it could be another month before someone returns my email if at all.

We are possibly going to set up a business relationship here, so lets get it off to a great start and give me a name (so I can check them out on LinkedIn) and the best way to contact them – phone, email, Skype etc.

What to do next

If you are an agency, then I would recommend you get someone not involved in your website development to take this list and check it out against your website, and then fix all of the issues they identify.

If you are a marketer, then in that odd bored moment when you are waiting in the airline lounge for your delayed or cancelled flight, search for your agencies on Google and see if they even make the first page. Then navigate their site and see if the information there is even vaguely like the agency you know. And if they fail your expectation, then perhaps it is time to find a new agency, especially if they tell you they are digital marketing experts.