Full service, “traditional,” ad agencies may claim to have the capabilities to build and support websites, but they rarely do. Sure, most have designers who can design the hell out of a site, but much like any other marketing tool, what good is an ineffective site, even if it looks great?
The biggest and brightest agencies, traditional and digital, have recognized the value of collaboration, and many have partnered or merged with agencies that complement their core value props.
However, some traditional agencies have stayed the course, offering full service advertising, including digital services. So be careful. Know the difference. Many of these agencies try very hard to be everything to everyone. When asked if they do XYZ, they will say “yes” even if they don’t know a thing about XYZ. Why? Revenue. And most AEs/Salespeople believe the “interactive department” will figure it out on the flipside. And let’s be honest: most times clients asking for XYZ aren’t tech savvy enough (so few of us are) to know exactly what they are asking for, so they trust an agency that makes a promise. But they rarely get what they pay for?
So be prepared to ask lots of questions and know, before you have a conversation, if the agency you are discussing your project with is poised to support it. A good agency will turn down business that is outside its wheelhouse, or it will have a good partnership with an agency who can jump in and do the work.
Here are things you will need to consider when building a website:
You want a good CMS – Content Management System.
Digital agencies recognize the advantage of building sites that can be managed, at least in part, by the client. The last thing you want is to pay for every change/update you want to make to your site. Oftentimes a traditional agency will agree on a project price for a website that will seem like a good deal, but when they run out of the estimated project hours, they will charge you for the changes you want to make. If your site is built with a CMS, you can easily go into the site and make your own changes. *Make sure CMS training is part of your contract.
Digital agencies will offer a maintenance agreement that will keep your site a priority if any changes or updates are needed. Traditional agencies may also offer maintenance agreements, but they don’t always define what that agreement includes. Agencies like the monthly income these agreements bring, but many don’t pay attention to your site until it requires attention (something breaks) and then it’s not always a promise that your site becomes top priority to fix.
Make sure you are dealing with an eCommerce expert.
If you want to sell products and accept money through your site, you want to be absolutely sure you are working with an agency that has deep experience in eCommerce site builds. Ask to see the agency’s website portfolio. Ask about the volume of SKUS. Ask about down time, and get a commitment that your site will have 24/7 attention. Digital agencies have developers and IT experts who know software and hardware. They aren’t “figuring things out on the fly,” they have the experience of many eCommerce builds and can answer your questions with ease.
Digital agencies can develop custom online solutions because they have developers who are ready to build according to your exact business needs. Traditional agencies usually have website designers who know a little HTML, but if you want a site that will truly be immersive, interactive, or integrated, you want geeks who can churn out code.
Digital agencies have a process that includes discovery at the beginning of any web-build project. This is so the agency can approach the project from multiple strategic perspectives to make sure it meets all objectives. The discovery process starts with brainstorming, where each department works as a team and with the client to ask questions about business rules, learn the target audience, understand the expected user experience (UX), plus define goals and measures of success. From a brainstorm, you should expect the agency to have detailed notes, sketches, direction, goals, business rules, constraints, strategy and creative ideas. Collectively, these will help establish a digital marketing strategy. Digital marketing should go hand-in-hand with any site build, and it includes developing the audience personas, creating a plan for acquiring audience, creating general messaging/content and defining your ROI.
You should expect physical takeaways from the discovery process that include:
- a technical document that defines use case scenarios, provides a site map, written functional specifications, designed wire frames, prototypes etc.
- a marketing document, especially if a brand is being created, that outlines a plan for the creation of voice/messaging/logo, has defined key words and a content inventory, as well as an SEO, social and media plan.
- an initial design for at least the home page and one other inside page that illustrates look and UX.
80% of Internet sessions start with a search. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential to the success of your site. Make sure the agency building your site is focused in SEO - this is must! And, because SEO can be a tech-heavy conversation, make sure you work with an agency who will regularly report back to you the results of SEO.
A good agency knows your site is only one part of your online presence, and a social media strategy is also essential to your digital success. It’s not a fad; it’s not going away. If you’re going to be successful, embrace social media. Choose an agency that has the expertise to execute a social media plan or point you in the right direction. Digital agencies will help you find the right social media mix, and will collaborate with you to create content and a voice that personifies your brand.
If you want to promote your site, you need an agency that knows how to buy media. Make sure they know how to:
- budget ad spend
- calculate cost per acquisition
- get the best possible cost per impression (CPM)
- always focus on your ROI.
They should know and have examples of, successful online advertising campaigns, and they should understand how to construct PPC and display/banner ads that get clicks.
It’s a lot to know/remember, but building a website is a big investment. It is one of those things that can make or break your business, so you should be smart about how to get it done. Don’t be afraid to ask your new digital agency a lot of questions. And make sure the agency you choose is as concerned about delivering measurable results as you are about receiving them!