Your website has to serve a number of important audiences, including the press and recruits, but my focus in this post is on optimizing your site for prospects – those people that need to assess you as a potential agency partner.

Think about the person typing in that URL. You hope it’s the CEO or CMO, and in some cases it may be, but it’s likely to be someone more junior who's been tasked with the project of looking at a bunch of agency websites and compiling key info into some kind of a report. Sorry, but it’s true. Will your website stand up to that kind of dissection? 

For every outstanding ad agency website, there’s an equally appalling one. That’s a darn shame because a website is such an important marketing tool.

Many agencies ask their websites to do way too much and, as a result, end up with a site that does little but frustrate and confuse the visitor. It’s easy to lose perspective and get carried away with designing the kind of website that you want rather than optimizing it for the people who will actually visit. But I’ve heard the frustrations of clients and search consultants when they’re faced with websites that are vague, circuitous or simply lacking the information they need.

Or it’s a search consultant (many of them have junior staffers doing this kind of stuff too). Making a poor impression means not only reducing your chance of being included in the review they’re currently managing, but in future ones too.

So, when designing your websites, keep two important ideas in mind:

1. Stay true to who you are

I’ve expressed this countless times – your positioning is indispensably useful as a filter through which to market yourself. Decisions about what goes on your website, one of the most prominent marketing tools you have, should be made through the lens of that filter.

2. Keep it simple

I looked at BBDO’s website as a good example of a big agency with a lot to say. In less capable hands, this could easily be a recipe for a dog’s dinner of disaster, but in this case BBDO’s website is so satisfyingly simple. It gave me all the info I needed and no more. Ahh…

I noticed that it offered me only five sections: Work, About, People, News, and Contact. Smart. Why muddy things up with other choices?

Then I decided to check out Droga5 and I found the exact same sections – they were even in the same order. For good measure, I also went to Mono, the Minneapolis hot shop. Yup, same five sections. Same simple structure.

But these smart agencies, and others like them, go beyond just a simple structure. They present their information in a way that is easy to engage with and, because of that, a delight.

If you were working with me on the content strategy for your website (and you can do that, you know - just contact me to get the ball rolling), here's what I'd tell you: 

The Work: Choose the work you want to show through the filter of your agency positioning. If you’re a financial services agency, think twice about including a case study on work you happened to do for a packaged good. Any benefit you derive by showing it is counteracted by the confusion of the visitor who is expecting to see proof of your financial services chops. 

About: Be consistent, concise and specific. 

I’m always surprised when I see agencies that purport to be one thing on the Home page and another on the About page. Don’t worry about repetition – no one is sticking around your website long enough to get bored. Make sure your About page extends the story you started from the moment the site loaded into the viewers browser. What are those things that you want your visitors to know in the brief time you have them there?

People: Here’s something that drives me nuts – arriving at the People section and finding dozens of pictures with no names and no apparent order or hierarchy. I imagine that this is done in the spirit of portraying an agency as one big happy family where all ideas are considered, no matter what the source. That’s a lovely sentiment and worthy of expression in other ways, but your prospect (or their search consultant) wants to know who’s running the show!  

Or they want to get a better picture of where the agency invests its resources by understanding the skills of the leadership team. Don’t make it hard for them to find that info.

News: Treat this section like a living organism. If you don’t feed it, it will die, and that death will be highly visible to the people who land on that page. Even if all the other areas of your site are kick-ass, visitors will feel deflated and maybe even betrayed when they get to a News section that hasn’t been updated in months. If you really have that hard a time generating news, better not to have a News section at all.

Or blow your own horn – start (or revive) your blog and populate your News page with new posts (that are all aligned to your positioning, of course).

Contact: Don’t make me fill out a form!

Always provide a phone number and an email address, preferably to a real person and not some genericdestination. We’ve all been there – filled out one of those forms or sent an email to “info@” only to hear nothing back. So unsatisfying.  Why put that bad taste in a prospective client’s mouth?

These are all commonsense rules, right? And yet I feel your pain. Designing an agency website is hard work – too many strong opinions, stakes that are higher than you’d like them to be, and a staff that has to stay motivated while working on an internal project that is going to drag on for longer than it should.

As you go through the process, keep these considerations close by and occasionally refer back them. Are you checking the boxes? Are you keeping it simple? Are you thinking from the perspective of your most important visitors, your future clients?