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Does any agency design its own website as if it were a client product?
What should an agency website do? And how do we know if it's worth the effort?
I might pose more questions than I answer in this blog post, but I'm partly trying to start a discussion about agency websites, using one in particular as a starting point.
The Code Computerlove rebrand
Code Computerlove recently rebranded and reset its website in the process.
You can see a few screenshots below, one of the ‘old’ site (taken from the Wayback Machine, so perhaps not entirely faithful), and two of the new homepage, taken a week or so apart, as the agency tinkers with the design.
Ultimately, the new website is not much more than a minimum viable product as it stands. In the current version (the third image), the homepage content is simply an agency intro above the extract for its latest blog post, including a button to 'read more'.
In the dinky header menu are links to 'blog' and 'jobs', and the footer menu contains basic contact details.
The site has lost its case studies, its social icons, its clients, its award winning boasts; basically everything you associate with a generic agency website.
The new site is distinctive for its nakedness, as well as its natty palette of colours and contrasting font. The use of a serif typeface for headers adds some style (symptomatic of modern web design).
I admire the seeming simplicity of the site, so I thought I'd ask you, the Econsultancy audience, what you think. Before you offer your own opinion in the comments, I've outlined what I think are the pros and cons of this MVP approach.
The 'old' Code Computerlove homepage, January 2016
The new Code Computerlove homepage, screenshot taken Friday February 12, 2016
The new Code Computerlove homepage, screenshot taken Wednesday 17, 2016
Lean and keen?
It’s hard for any agency to make time for its own website, so using lean and iterative methodology, through divesting extra responsibility to individual team members, should mean fewer unproductive meetings and less design by committee.
Cool for school?
Code's CEO has commented on his company's repositioning as 'based on the understanding that ‘experience’ is less reliant on the ‘big bang’ campaign and more about continual iteration, testing and feedback loops.'
As far as the agency website goes, this rethink amounts to a soft sell (compared to standard service delivery).
No reams of testimonials and percentage increases in sales is a bold branding move. It implies confidence and capability.
It’s what old school ad agencies do (e.g. Ogilvy).
Doused with nous?
Sorry, I had to continue the rhyming subtitles. Putting such emphasis on blog content is a way of bringing the ideas within the agency to the fore.
It's something many agencies do, and is done especially well here. I liked the length of the content and the charts and graphics used.
See this post on newpaper website load time for an illustrative example.
Stylish and thorough blog content
Forget the regret?
Another obvious benefit of an MVP is that you don’t end up with a costly white elephant.
Website updates are little and often, and although this may not prevent the site from becoming unfashionable in a few years, it should ensure its fall from grace isn't rapid.
Able not labelled?
The best thing about learning as the agency goes, updating content but maintaining a simple design, is the flexibility to quickly change or update agency focus.
The agency will not be easily pigeonholed into delivering one service, which can happen when case studies and service pages extol the agency's brilliance in one particular area.
This fits with Code's focus on product development and human-centred design.
No accounting for taste?
Though accounting for taste is undeniably difficult, there’s no doubt that tastes change in web design and agency branding. Conventions may last but fashions wax and wane.
Essentially, could it be that a text-focused site with a flat design, few images and a soft (hipsterish?) colour scheme is too polarizing?
Does that matter, or is it self-selecting for more forward-thinking, UX-focused clients?
No visible record of achievement?
Almost every agency website has a menu tab titled ‘Work’ or ‘Clients’.
As much as Code’s website may prevent the agency being pigeonholed, it could concern the prospective client who is risk-averse and on the hunt for some social proof.
This is the main problem, looking at the site through the lens of SEO. Agencies of this size (around 80 people) have traditionally advertised a variety of services.
Some may now see this as slightly outdated (succeeded by better integrated partners or in-house staff), but there’s no doubt that web pages about design, content marketing, UX, advertising etc. can often align with the customer need (e.g. a prospect Googles ‘good web design agencies in London’).
Of course, agencies go to market in a variety of ways, not just through search, but it’s still an important and competitive channel, where any loss of visibility is worth considering.
Though an MVP like this is simple, that doesn’t mean it acts as a calling card in perpetuity. It needs constantly updating and finessing.
That means Code must practice what it preaches, acting on user testing and analytics to improve the saliency of the site and hit whatever KPIs are eventually determined.
With blog posts such a major feature (The feature), they need to be both regular and high quality to have the required impact.
No data capture?
Many agencies are desperate to catch the hesitant prospect who isn’t quite ready to pick up the phone. They often do so with content downloads.
Code needs to be careful that playing hard to get doesn’t leave it without a date for the prom (sorry for crap analogy).
What do you think? Mad, bad, or both? Or simply progressive and impressive? Or am I making something from nothing?
Disclosure: I met some of the team at Code Computerlove's Manchester HQ and received a complimentary umbrella from the PR manager.
If you're looking for an agency, consult the Econsultancy Top 100 Digital Agencies report.