Anatomy of an agency website

Written by Verne on November 4th, 2007

My team and I have been hard at work building our agency’s new site (which explains my lack of posts lately). Just like the evolution of our business cards, the next evolution of our website is a reflection of the growth and maturity of our agency. It’s funny how much can change in a single year, but I think it’s absolutely critical to keep your company’s website up to date and always in line with what you’re trying to achieve. The ironic reality is that most agencies get so caught up in the work they’re doing, that they often neglect their #1 marketing vehicle. I’m guilty of this as well.

If you run an agency (or any company for that matter), you’ll know how commonly your potential clients or customers ask “where can I see some of your past work or learn more about your services?”. That question alone should be reason enough to keep the content on your site up to date. But the content isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to your agency website. From design to tone to architecture, there’s quite a bit of thought that goes into building something that effectively represents your agency on the internet. Now engulfed by the magic and wonders of this process, I thought I would share with all of you my perspective on the anatomy of an agency website.

Design & Style

The face of your agency lies within the design and style of your website. More importantly, if you’re an interactive agency, this website represents your skill set and everything you’re trying to sell to your visitors. Hell, if you’re in the design industry at all, you can bet that your visitors will have greater expectations from the aesthetics that greet them. Not that visitors will be forgiving of an ugly website – and that’s the thing: sometimes the design and style of your website will say more than your content ever could. You may have the most intriguing and insightful copy in the world, but if it looks like crap, your visitors won’t buy it. Literally.

Consider this:

  • Is the style of your website consistent with the style of work you produce?
  • Is it easy for your visitors to find out information about your agency? Usability, usability, usability!
  • Is your website branded consistently with the rest of your materials? Colors, fonts, look, feel, etc. (More importantly, do you have a brand?)

Voice & Tone

Your website is a communication tool. And when it comes to communicating, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Imagine your website as if it were the front desk receptionist in your office. What does she sound like? How does she greet your visitors? This same concept applies to the voice and tone you choose to use to communicate your message to your audience.

Consider this:

  • Are you a “we” company? Decide whether you will communicate from first person or third person. The perspective you choose dictates how personal you want to get with your visitors.
  • Is your tone corporate, business casual, casual, or flat-out web 2.0? The fashion in which your content is written speaks again to the relationship you’re offering. A very corporate tone will allude to a more transactional relationship. A casual tone says screw the corporate BS, let’s be pals. You may find your agency’s tone somewhere in between.

Content & Architecture

Okay, now we’re talking about what you’re saying. For the most part, new visitors to an agency site follow a simple pattern when attempting to learn about your agency. Here’s a ranking of the must-haves on your website that also reflects the typical order in which a new visitor browses your agency’s content.

  1. Portfolio
    It’s no surprise that visitors looking to see what you can offer will first check out what you have already offered to others. Plus, for the visual learners, a portfolio will say more about your capabilities than the copy of your services section will. Which brings me to…
  2. Services
    A portfolio is a great way to wet the lips of your visitors. Typically, after seeing what you’ve done for others, they’ll be on the look out for what you actually offer to do. As such, your services page should be prepared to clearly outline everything you can do.
  3. About your company
    You may have convinced your visitors that you’ve done great work and that you offer the services they’re looking for, but if you’re a crazy group of axe murderers (as some agencies may be…), then chances are the sales cycle stops there. Tell them a bit about your agency and reassure them that you’re not that crazy group of axe murderers. Or if you are, then try not to mention the murderers part. Or the crazy part.
  4. Contact
    If your visitor has made it this far, you’re in good shape. It means they’ve been convinced enough of your agency’s abilities that they’re even considering speaking with you. Make sure the contact options are clearly laid out and as easy as possible for your visitors. The harder it is to contact you, the more reluctant they’ll be to actually do it.
  5. News/Blog
    Here are the rules for this section, as I see it: if you have a lot of great news, share it in a news section. If you don’t have news worth mentioning, use a blog instead. If you don’t plan on updating the blog that often, don’t include this section! The use and importance of this section varies across different agencies of different sizes.

These are the basic sections to cover when it comes to the content on your agency website. Many agencies opt to offer extra features as well in hopes of adding value to the user’s visit. Remember folks, value is the keyword.

Consider this:

  • Does the content you’re offering provide the answer to the questions your visitors would be asking?
  • What do you want your visitors to do after interacting with the content on your site (i.e. what’s the call-to-action)?
  • Does your content offer reason for your visitors to come back?

* * *

Remember, I’ve only discussed the main areas of an agency website here. There’s clearly much more to consider when it comes to building out your site. But, if you don’t know where to start, this should give you a nice blueprint for your first few steps. If you’ve already started, I think it’s still important to review some of these points as a checklist just to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

As I write this, my team is still working hard at building the next instance of our online face. Looking back at the current site, I can’t help but see how many things need changing. It suited us a year ago, but so much has changed since then.

Is your agency site up to date?

5 Responses

  • Renata23

    I recently finished my own web site (www.rbreytmandesigns.com), and can honestly say that it is a pain in the ass… the worthwhile kind that you spend forever torturing yourself with, and it’s never done, but it has to be up there, and it’s a labor of love and hate and sweat and coffee and… you get the drift :). I started out with a site that was created in FrontPage, then made one in Dreamweaver, and this latest incarnation is hand-coded, W3C-compliant, and table-less. As usual, I’m very proud of it — until I learn some new skills, and realize I have to re-do the whole thing all over again :).

  • Verne

    Hi Renata – I can totally relate to the feeling of your own work never really being completely done! I’m sure it’s a disease that many designers suffer from when it comes to making something for themselves. Though I’m not sure if anybody’s looking for a cure..

  • shane

    hey Verne!

    Nice post dude. We are going to have to do a minor update to our to include space for wp pluggins and cmsms pluggins and other open sourcy stuff. Curiosity – on the firm site or on the blug. The blog probably gets more traffic.

    And yes, I see them as somewhat slightly seperate.

  • Verne

    Thanks Shane! We’re looking to do a few open sourcy integrations ourselves as well. So many open sourcies.. so little website.

    Our team had the same discussion with regards to the main site and the blog-to-be. They definitely can be essentially separate entities, and I really think that they attract a difference audience who arrive with different intentions.

    Is it safe to say that you’re posting from your magical iPhone? ;)

  • John Taylor

    Great blog. Do you know of any relevant marketing forums or discussion groups?

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