Your agency's website is awful!
OK, maybe not your agency's website. I'm sure your website is just great. But a lot of agency websites are really bad. In fact, they're disgraceful when you consider that those same agencies are selling their digital expertise to clients. After all, how can an agency honestly tell a client that it knows digital like the back of its hand when its own website wouldn't have even been considered sharp in the Web 1.0 days?
But what's a bad website, and how do I know it's bad?
Writing columns for iMedia, I regularly ask agencies to share insights on a wide range of topics in digital. At some point in the process, I usually spend about 15-20 minutes poking around on the agency's website. (Actually, if the website is really good, I've been known to spend about double that amount of time). Over the years, I've looked at hundreds of agency websites. Well, actually, the number is probably a lot higher if you count the hundreds of websites I ignored because they sent up a giant red flag that made me ask: Do these people know anything about digital?
But even if there isn't an obvious red flag, there are plenty of recurring offenses, even on the best websites. And by offenses, I don't mean subjective style choices like loading a beautiful -- but somewhat less than utilitarian --image without giving me so much as a clue as to how to actually "enter" the site. That, my friend, is art (if done well). Ditto for some of the other uniquely bold websites you see these days. Sure, those sites have their issues, but the fact that the agency's creative team "went for it" isn't one of them. No, my beef is with the sites that get tripped up on the basics, undermining the agency's hard work with some rather obvious goofs.
Note: While it's my preference to share information as concretely as possible, with as many specific examples as I can find, I've elected to speak generally here. Frankly, in this case, singling out a poorly executed agency website would be rude. Doing so would also be counterproductive, since the problems are common enough that focusing on one offender would likely miss the point.
Links break, and links die. These are facts of life online. But when those links are supposed to connect potential customers to your work, you've got a real problem.
OK, I know what you're thinking: No agency really has broken links in its portfolio, right?
I see this all the time. It's probably the most annoying thing you can have on your website. And while one broken link is bad, multiple broken links is a sign to move on down the web.
Now, that being said, I'm not without sympathy to the dead link problem. After all, most of those links go to campaigns that have likely run their course. That's only natural. But you don't have to rely on your client -- or someone else -- to host the campaign.
Assuming you had permission to use the campaign in your portfolio (something you probably should have run by the client before putting it up online!), you should be able to find a way to host the work yourself. Ideally, you can host it in a format that mimics the user experience. So, for example, if it's a rich media banner ad that ran on a major newspaper's site, you can host a mock-up of that campaign on your server so visitors can actually see the ad in action. Now, maybe that's not your style, or maybe it's not feasible (I've seen it done plenty of times), but at the very least you can put up screen grabs of your work on your site. Is that solution ideal? Probably not, because the visitor can't really get a full sense of the work. But screen grabs are preferable to the dreaded "page not found" when we click on what seems like it could be a cool campaign that really shows off your agency's chops.
Keep it fresh (and organized)
If the last thing in your portfolio was a campaign that ran during the Bush administration, it's a wonder you're still in business. Actually, maybe you're out of business and you just didn't bother to take down the website. But if you're still hoping to wow clients today, you should probably take a minute to freshen up your portfolio with more recent campaigns, and for goodness sake, make sure you have current dates on your blog or news section. If it's a blog, a month without posts can tend to look like it has gone dead. If it's a news section, you probably have a few months leeway. Either way, keep it lively or kill it.
If you're actively posting fresh content to your portfolio, blog, or news section, you're way ahead of the game. But now you have what we'll call a good problem -- too much content. If that's the case, please, please, please remember to organize it. Tags are fine for blogs, but portfolios often benefit from multiple categories that allow you to search by client and platform (e.g., mobile, games, Facebook, etc.). But remember, it's digital, so there's an endless number of ways to elegantly organize your work. And doing a nice job of organizing your content is just another way to impress a prospective client.
Got data? Give data!
While digital is well known for being able to give clients a seemingly endless flow of metrics for their campaigns, surprisingly few agencies include data in their portfolios. Sometimes that lack of data is because the client insists on confidentiality (fair enough), and sometimes it's because the result weren't all that great, which begs the question: Was it really the best example of your agency's work? But overall, even the most basic stats are often missing in action when you look at an agency's website.
While staying mum on a campaign's stats isn't a red flag in its own right, all agencies would do well to take a close look at their competitors. After all, there's a ton of great work out there, and all agencies will tell you their work is great. But if you step outside your own agency's website, you'll see portfolios start to blend together, and you can only hear phrases like, "we created a solution that..." so many times before you think to yourself: Prove it.