When we set out to build the new Fresh van Root website we browsed the web at first (a lot). If you do so on your own you will soon discover that every agency or consulting business has basically the exact same needs:
- A landing page making the pitch: Communicate clearly what the agency should be known for, what it can do for potential clients
- Case Studies / Portfolio: See what we have done for our clients
- Services overview: A list of services provided
- Blog posts or articles: We share our know how or talk about projects we worked on
- Call 2 Action: Now you know you need us to work for you to get the same results (contact section, workshop offering, etc.)
Most agency websites follow this blueprint when defining a layout for their front page. Sections are moved up and down, but the blocks of content are more or less the same.
But before rushing into defining the sections and content elements of your front page you will, of course, need to have a clear business strategy. What business areas will you tackle? Who is your target group and how does the ideal client look like? These are obvious questions you will ask yourself before launching your business. Your website is positioning your agency on the market. (If you are currently in the process of thinking about that question I can recommend the book “Positioning“)
I was involved in many website projects which were kicked off with layout and design questions before even knowing how the business wanted to be positioned (“We need a website up now”).
How “different” should your site be?
Things are of course different if you call yourself design or creative agency. You won’t win new clients if your site looks like every other website. Two examples of websites I think are inspiring and not following the classic blueprint of agency websites are metalab and thinko.
Clearly, both pages have been designed from scratch to meet their needs. Creativity in building digital products is at the heart of their business. You can’t communicate that with a website template bought for 50 bucks. Are you a social media or Google Ads agency? These designs may not suite your needs.
This article argues that all websites look the same. Box by box on a grid layout. In the article, you will find many examples of web designs that do not follow any blueprint. Students were asked to come up with different designs for well-known websites. The results are amazing, but also hard to navigate and consume. As a user, you really need to figure out how to find your way around on those sites.
This brings us to the next question: Should you go with a classic grid layout and the most common structure for your front page? Or should you come up with your very own concept and design for your website?
Let me answer this with a simple number: New visitors spend about 10 to 20 seconds on a website (the article is from 2011, I would assume the time spent has gone down, not up, since then). If you, as an unknown agency, come up with a crazy design idea, keep that in mind.
Is your agency a well-known brand and people will want to check your site out anyway (aka do you call Slack and Google your clients?), or are you the new kid around the block? Depending on the answer you might wanna put simplicity over design extravaganza.
Relaunch or completely new site?
Are you using Google Analytics on your existing website? You can take a look at how much time a first-time visitor spends on your site.
The average session duration for new users on freshvanroot.com is 42 seconds. You can further filter this to only show the average time spent on your front page by new visitors.
If you have a site online take a look at the existing numbers. How long do visitors stay on your front page, how many pages are loaded per session, …
You can also use a tool like Hotjar to create heatmaps and user recordings for your site. This way you get also visual feedback on how website visitors experience your site.
How are you building traffic?
Another question to ask: Is your website a front page with attached portfolio pages, or are you planning to publish content on a weekly schedule?
If you go with a front page and a few subpages, most people will land on your page via a direct link, they will click a link in your social media profile or you will put some ads online. That means you can plan for visitors to land on your front page at first.
If you are going to start a blog you might rethink how your front page incorporates your recent posts. Usually, after writing the first 50 posts you will get way more traffic on your blog posts compared to your front page. You then have to decide if and how you want to cater to your blog readers.
What page should you start building first?
Should you start with the structure of your front page first? Your front page is representing content elements from subpages in most cases. I would argue it is better to start creating the actual long-form content at first (write the customer case study, outline the services you provide), and then extract the information from that pages that you think need to be on your front page.
Where can I find great agency websites?
Is there a directory of great agency websites? There most probably is, but I recommend to start your own research by looking for agency websites via a search engine.
I collect elements of websites as screenshots in Microsoft OneNote. Screenshots are categorized in header, call2action, blog post design, etc.
At some point, you have to stop looking at other websites. You may end up having imposter syndrome and you are not getting any further.
This post is really just a teaser to get you started in your process when thinking about your agency website. I recommend the following articles to go deeper: