As an agency or freelancer, your website is your digital storefront. It’s where you show off the goods. Here are 7 things to keep in mind for when you design, or redesign your agency’s website.
That so many freelancers and agency websites are terrible is ironic. After all, the very same agencies and freelancers are offering their clients excellent advice but fail to heed the same. The expression “cobbler’s children” comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be that way if you do the following seven things.
1. Write About the Problems You Are Solving for Your Clients Instead of Your “Services”
Why: By not writing about services you provide, instead focusing on problems you are solving for your clients, you walk in their shoes and also get better buyers.
In an interview with us last year, consultant to agencies Karl Sakas made a very compelling argument about why agencies should stop talking about services. Instead, Karl argues, they should talk about the problems they solve for their clients. This in order to put clients, and the problems they experience, first.
In our interview, Karl said:
“From 2013-2017, my website primarily featured the services I provide—consulting and coaching for agencies. In 2017, I redesigned the site to focus on the problems I solved: agency business strategy, managing clients, managing teams, and attracting your ideal clients. This radically changed the sales inquiries I received—including less self-diagnosis from prospective clients.”
Karl said it’s not about eliminating the services section from your site but to realize that “services” attract prospects who have self-diagnosed their problem. These buyers tend to be implementation-oriented and not interested in strategic advice. Implementation services are seen as commodities, for which one agency is just like any other.
This sounds so obvious you’d think everyone was doing it by now.
The Bizarre Popularity of Services Pages
I did a quick Google search for “web agency” and visited the websites of six of the agencies that showed up in the search results on the first two pages. This is what their navigation menus look like:
Strategic insight clearly isn’t a strength of many self-described strategic digital agencies…
The challenge of making this change is that you need to decide what problems you are solving for your clients. You can’t help everyone. If you are serving everyone, you don’t actually have a strategy.
To decide who your clients are, you need a clear idea about positioning and a value proposition, which is next on the list.
2. Present a Compelling and Differentiating Value Proposition on Your Agency Website
Why: Without a strong value proposition, prospective buyers see you as one among many. They will not get hooked or become interested in learning more about you.
Wikipedia defines a value proposition as:
“A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value (benefit) will be delivered, experienced and acquired.” – Wikipedia
In other words, a value proposition convincingly explains:
How Your Services Solve Your Clients’ Problems and Improve Their Situation
What does your service actually do for those that buy it? Many agencies I talk to have never reflected much over that! We have covered ways and methods to discover the value you create in our 3-step article to value-based pricing.
How You Deliver Value to the Client in the Form of Benefits
The benefits are the improvements your clients see as a result of hiring you. This is what we often call value. If you’re used to thinking in terms of features (what you deliver) to how that benefits the client, making a feature-advantage-benefit table for your services might help:
How Your Services are Different the Competition and Why They Should Buy From You
This is called differentiation and it’s about discovering what makes you uniquely positioned or capable of delivering value. Our differentiation comes from our personal unique skills and experiences, or access to tools no one else has. Ideally, your differentiation is hard to copy, giving you an enduring edge over the competition.
A Value Proposition Is Not a Tagline
A value proposition isn’t a slogan or tagline and it’s ideally written the way your clients talk. The short the better, but it doesn’t have to be a single sentence.
Writing a Value Proposition for Your Agency Website
To begin with, does your company even have a defined value proposition?
If it doesn’t, it’s time to write one. A clearly written value proposition will simplify everything, from how you do your work to whom you market and sell to.
An article by website ConversionXL recommends checking your value-proposition against this list of questions:
- What service is your company selling?
- What is the client’s end-benefit of using it?
- Who is your target client for this product or service?
- What makes your offering unique and different?
You cannot lead with a big chunk of text so most settle with a sentence that creates curiosity in the reader to draw them in. The rest of the page is used to communicate the rest of the value proposition using, preferably using easily understood graphics.
Two Examples of Websites Leading With a Value Proposition
Stripe, which offers payment solutions, has quite a bold statement at the top of their front page. The rest of the page is used to justify the claim.
French agency Belle Epoque makes a more interesting statement, using the word “persuasive” in the English language version of their agency website. However, they fail to back it up as you scroll down.
3. Provide Easily Accessible Contact Information and Don’t Force Prospects to Use Contact Forms
Why: If it’s one thing that has to be easy, it’s buying from you. It’s all about reducing unnecessary friction.
In an attempt to keep websites “clean,” many agencies keep footers clean and free of contact information. This is self-defeating.
You need to let prospective buyers contact you the way they prefer. Some would like to call, others email while others will want to meet in person. Don’t make them jump through hoops just to have a word with you.
7 Rules of Contact Forms that Don’t Annoy Visitors
Some people cannot email you so a contact form is great. Just make sure it’s optional and there’s an email address just in case.
Keep the form itself usable and non-annoying, meaning:
- The fields are the appropriate size for the intended content.
- Labels aren’t placeholders (disappear when you start typing).
- You don’t ask for more information than you absolutely need.
- There’s no idiotic validation that requires visitors to type in their details using a format they do not know (hint: don’t require a format).
- The message field allows the visitor to write as much as they like.
- There’s no time-consuming CAPTCHA requiring the visitor to click the pictures with cars in them.
- There’s a super clear “We got your message” confirmation.
In addition to the contact form, be generous with other ways to contact you. Put your phone number in your email footer while you’re at it.
4. Clearly Showing Company Address, Incorporated Name, and Location on Your Agency Website
Why: Lack of clarity regarding the company behind your agency website looks fishy and undermines trust.
If there’s something screaming bogus at me, it’s agency websites that don’t have a clear owner or sender. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, all websites are required to have an “Impressum.”
You don’t have to speak German to be clear about who operates your agency website. Just make the simple change of putting your company’s full name, the city and the country where your main office is in the footer. More detailed address information can be provided on a “contact us” page.
5. Provide Genuine and Trust-Building Information About the Members of Your Team
Why: Buying is about relationships and we want to know who we’re dealing with. By withholding that information, your company comes off as not trustworthy.
Imagine you were looking for an agency or freelancer to solve a problem. You’ve tried to fix it yourself but have given up. It’s simply too hard or takes you away from the things where you can really make a difference. So you decide to find some candidate agencies or freelancers to hire.
They all make bold claims. So how can you tell which ones are actually the real deal and which are just bragging and bluster? Easy! You read their bios. Just like when you hired your new office manager, you carefully read their resume and checked their references to ensure they were what they claimed.
When you as an agency don’t list information about your team, your prospective buyers cannot do due diligence and grow suspicious.
You Can’t Fake Having a Great Team
Some agencies, in an attempt to look bigger than they are, use fake profiles. The owner of one such agency applied to join a meetup group for agencies that I run. I make sure to vet anyone who joins and naturally, I checked out their agency website (it has since been changed).
Their agency website didn’t have much information. Which isn’t strange in itself, many agencies are busy and don’t keep their websites up-to-date. However, since they claimed to be an agency (not a freelancer, for which there’s a different meetup group), I was curious about the team. I got suspicious when the photos looked like taken from a stock photo website and the descriptions sounded generic.
I confronted the owner and he admitted, no, they weren’t real staff. He didn’t have employees so he worked with freelancers and couldn’t use their real names. But he didn’t like having an empty team page so he made up profiles!
What About Other Agencies “Poaching” My Team After Seeing Our Agency Website?
I hear that some agencies are hesitant to be open about who’s on their team out of fear for key members being “poached” (aggressive and hostile recruiting) by competing agencies. To me, this behavior sounds controlling. If your staff wants to leave, they’ll leave regardless of what’s on your agency website. Dogged recruiters will find your staff anyway. Have you heard of Linkedin?
Being featured on your agency website can, in fact, have the opposite effect for members of your team. Knowing that your employer values you and recognizes your unique competencies will instill loyalty, not undermine it. It will make them want to stay with you.
You Don’t Need to Provide Much Information to Be Convincing
You don’t need to write lengthy descriptions about each person, 50-100 words are more than enough. Focus on what skills the team member has that benefit your clients. Mention what they have studied and where they have previously worked.
Add awards and achievements if relevant to the job. Include some personal details for flavor. Make them seem like a person, less like a cardboard cutout.
Contact details such as phone and email aren’t necessary. This isn’t to avoid “poaching,” but to keep your work manageable. You don’t want clients to write to the staff directly, instead, you want them to use the right channels such as sales team, project and account managers.
A Photo Brings Out the Person Behind the Words
Make sure you get a good picture that captures some of their personality. If you can, find a way to standardize your team photos so they’re shot in the same format (portrait or landscape), puts the subject at the same distance from the length and use the same background.
You can set up a small “studio” in your offices cheaply by buying a large sheet of colored paper and using professional lighting (which is relatively cheap now).
Avoid group photos. People come and go. It’s frustrating to have to constantly re-take these photos. Editing people out of them isn’t a nice practice either. It has some unfortunate historical precedents.
6. Present Strong Case Studies and Testimonials on Your Agency Website Using Video
Why: As humans, when in doubt we follow the herd. Among all the other options your buyer is considering, you can stand out by showing how you solved similar problems for other companies.
Many years ago I was planning a redesign of my then agency’s website. We knew the website wasn’t performing as well as we’d like. We were doing fine thanks to referral leads and a strong presence in the open source space we were active in. But we wanted to grow and make the agency website a more effective marketing tool.
I decided to call up our clients to ask what they looked for on an agency site. Their answers were the same: we want to see case studies and testimonials on how you solved similar problems for companies like us!
Specific Social Proof is Incredibly Powerful
Testimonials and other forms of social proof are extremely convincing. There’s a reason why companies proudly list the logos of their customers. When you’re weighing several unknowns, the one option that most seem to gravitate towards is the one you pick. Herd mentality runs deep in us humans. It’s a way to minimize perceived risk.
If you have no social proof on your agency website right now, you are losing business.
The best social proof is specific. Our clients said that they wanted social proof by businesses similar to them. That means that you need to decide on a positioning strategy. You can’t be everything to everyone all the time. The more specific you get, the more believable you are.
Write a Case Study Today
Producing a simple case study doesn’t take long if you have a happy customer to talk to. All it takes is a phone call, some writing and editing and ta-da! You have a blog post with an interview with someone who speaks well of you. It can be done in less than a day.
If you wish to use pictures, take them yourself. Stock photos (particularly of people) risk ruining a perfectly fine case study. Any trust you’ve built up through your genuine interview is damaged by the generic nature of a stock picture.
If you cannot take a photo, use a screenshot of the website or app you made. Ask if you may use the Linkedin profile photo of the person on the client side you’ve been working with alongside it.
Graphics Are the Core of a Compelling Case Study
The best case studies use graphics to explain what you’ve accomplished together and are a joy to behold. They’re well written and full of interesting details. They’re the stuff people share just because they like it. Such case studies take time to produce and aren’t something I recommend an agency or freelancer to start with before they master the basics. It’s better to produce short and clear case studies consistently than making huge, and beautiful ones rarely.
Testimonials Are Strong Quotes Taken Out of Context
A testimonial can be as simple as a strong quote from the very same interview you did for the case study. If they agree to you using their picture alongside it, even better.
I sometimes see anonymous testimonials in advertising in the metro. I find that idea ridiculous, but I assume they work since they’re used so much. There’s clearly nothing rational about what statements from other people we choose to believe.
Video Adds Emotional Impact to Your Client’s Words
The most compelling form of testimonial or case study you can create is done with video. If you do, make sure it looks professional. A hand-held shot using a smartphone outside is better than a tripod-mounted camera in a poorly lit space.
Keep it short. The purpose of the video is to communicate emotion and make the viewer curious. Try to keep the whole video under a minute. Then use supporting content such as graphics and headlines to tell the entire story.
7. Keep Agency Website Content Scannable with Plenty of Pictures
Why: Most people don’t read, they scan. Your message must be conveyed in headlines and in illustrations. Only the most interested will actually stop and read your body text.
It’s easy to get carried away with words. You are rightfully excited about your work and there’s so much to tell. But for your agency website’s content to be effective at generating leads, you need to read your text with the eyes of your buyers. Write several drafts of the text you use and ask for help to critique and proof-read.
Get Better at Writing for Your Visitors Using Buyer Personas
To get an idea of what your buyer is looking for, make a simple buyer persona. It only needs to answer:
- What is this person looking for?
- Which specific problems are they trying to solve?
- Which are their goals?
- What questions do they have?
- How much time do they have at their disposal?
As always when writing personas, make them about behavior. Avoid demographic details such as age, gender or hobbies. Such specifics will only make your personas less effective as they’ll make your draw unwarranted conclusions based on prejudgments.
Now read your copy again from the viewpoint of the persona. Cut out anything that doesn’t help the buyer accomplish what they’re trying to do. Try to get to the point as early in the text as possible and be specific. This takes time but it’s worth it and has many benefits. It will help you become better at communicating your value proposition, even verbally.
Mobile First Is Not Optional Anymore
Assume visitors are using a mobile device and design your agency website mobile first. That is design with the lowest common denominator in mind. Mobile screens are the new default. Desktop and laptop size screens are icing and opportunities to take advantage of to provide rich, detailed graphics, when available.
Conclusion: Your Storefront, or Agency Website, Needs More Attention
Skimping on your agency website in order to prioritize your clients might sound noble. Some people do in fact reason that great services don’t need any marketing.
That’s complete nonsense!
By not paying attention to your own agency’s website, all you do is creating a marketing debt which might, over time, result in leads drying up. When you’re out of business you cannot serve clients at all.
Be kind to your website and give it time and attention, every week. In return, it will keep your business afloat with a steady stream of new leads.