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Not all agencies are created equal

Matt Poepsel
Not all agencies are created equal Matt Poepsel
Companies and brands are increasingly focused on delivering positive online experiences for their customers and end-users. Many have turned to advertising and creative agencies to help them develop impressive marketing campaigns and other online offerings. Despite these best intentions, many of these companies have focused on the content behind an experience at the expense of its overall quality.
If an online website visitor finds pages with broken links or functions and media that are slow to download, they are more likely to abandon their shopping carts, complain via high-priced call centres, or take their eyeballs and their wallets elsewhere.
Savvy agencies realise that the entire experience -- creative, functional, and technical -- must be great. You might think that the experiences U.K. agencies are providing must represent 'best practices' in these areas. We decided to measure the experiences offered by various agencies to find out for sure. This included looking at the technical experience -- site availability and download speeds -- for the homepages of several key agencies. Measurements were taken from several locations in the U.K. and across multiple ISPs. The results provided here are representative of a typical day (7 May, 2008). Unfortunately, this evidence indicates that there are dramatic differences among the experiences being offered by U.K. agencies, even from their own sites.
To view the findings please click here
There were exceptionally strong performances from some agencies. The biggest success story comes from JWT, whose performance put that agency at the head of the class. The JWT homepage is very simple, and the agency lets an engaging, progressive Flash download movie do most of the talking. The download of the page was snappy, coming in at 0.271 seconds on average. Another success was the performance of BBH. That agency's homepage was almost as fast as that of JWT, even though the BBH website was twice as large in terms of page size.
Unfortunately, not all agencies fared as well. At first glance, Mindshare's performance for the day appears to be pretty good on average. Unfortunately, the user experience suffered during the working hours of 9am to 5pm, most likely a reflection of capacity limitations. Wieden + Kennedy was one of three particularly poor performers. The homepage boasts a very creative (but slow to load) Flash object, but users won't wait forever for cool content. They demand a positive experience in terms of design, functionality and technical performance.
Saatchi's poor performance was likely the result of a different sort of challenge. Global brands and companies like Saatchi often struggle to deliver great experiences to far-flung audiences. A quick test seems to indicate that the page is delivered from the U.S. That arrangement can cause delays for U.K. site visitors. TBWA London appears to exhibit yet a different type of problem. The homepage forces users to stare at a blank screen while behind-the-scenes logic prepares the page. Once the page is finally available, it does download in fairly short order.
In terms of user experience, all agency homepages are not created equal. While there are a number of positive examples out there, some key improvements need to be made by others. It's widely known that existing and prospective customers naturally consider an agency's homepage performance to be a proxy for how well that agency understands the importance of 'whole' online experiences. These results highlight the importance of being vigilant with regards to having a detailed understanding of all aspects of the user experience.
Matt Poepsel is vice president of performance strategies, Gomez.

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