Judge an Ad Agency's Website On Content Not Creative

October 29, 2009

ad agency website content creation

As advertising has moved further online and into social media over the past few years, it’s no surprise that clients have expected their agencies to be able to help them navigate and leverage this unfamiliar territory. 

However, while virtually every agency claims to have the capabilities to help their clients in this space, few top agencies actually demonstrate that proficiency on their own site. 

When judging agencies, you should judge the site on its content rather than its creativity.

Just about everyone I know wants their website to serve as a source of leads and to bring in new business.  With that in mind, why would you hire a firm that has not even shown the ability to do that with their own web presence?

As a technology partner for advertising agencies, we have worked with many agencies to build their own sites.  On each agency site, we place a premium on content and using the site as a lead generation tool.  However, looking through top agency sites, it’s impossible not to notice that most agencies ignore the very advice that they give to clients.

This post looks at three very important content-oriented criteria on which to judge ad agency websites: blogging, optimization, and social media.

The Importance of An Ad Agency Blog

In today’s culture, no agency should have a website without a blog.  It’s a proven inbound marketing and lead generation tool, an opportunity to promote work and news, and an educational resource for clients and prospects.  Not to mention, they’re probably going to try and sell you one, so how can you trust them if they don’t eat their own dogfood?

Not only is it important to check that they have a link to a blog, but it’s also essential that you read the content and hold the firm to it.  Is it thoughtful, helpful, and a priority?  It’s important to ensure the firm is actually using their blog to engage, educate, and attract an audience rather than just somewhere that they post company news.

A great example of an ad agency blog is the DraftFCB blog.  First, the firm demonstrates a rather rigorous posting schedule by adding new content nearly every day.  Furthermore, it instantly caught my attention that management is responsible for much of the content.  It’s not just a group of interns who had the summer job of writing posts. 

My only complaint about the DraftFCB blog is that they host it on a separate domain from their main site, which is a definite no-no when setting up a blog for your business.  Overall though, the top to bottom commitment and great content demonstrate that this agency really believes in blogging and its benefits for the firm and its clients.

Is the Content Optimized?

It’s true that major agencies don’t need to be focused on optimizing their site and content to an obscene level, as local targeting isn’t too important to them if they already have a national reputation.  However, their site should still demonstrate the fact that they understand the basic tenets of optimization.

Perhaps the most common mistake among agency websites is that the content is totally invisible to search engines.  If the site is built in Flash, then it is almost certain that its content is invisible to search engines.

If their site is readable by search engines, you should browse through the rest of the site and ensure that they have a basic understanding of SEO.  Check to make sure they have clean URLs, place relevant title tags on pages, use web-safe fonts and not just images, and show an understanding of header stylings.

Again, most ad agencies aren’t going to take their SEO efforts to an extreme, and that’s completely fine.  However, they should use their site to demonstrate that they understand how to make a content driven website in a way that’s easy for Google to index.

Social Media Usage

One surprisingly lacking element of top agency sites were their integration of social media into the site.  Very few allowed you to easily share their news, blog posts, and other content across media such as Twitter, Facebook, Delicous, and others.

Furthermore, most agencies don’t have prominent links out to their social media presences.  If they don’t make an effort to integrate social media into their site, that should be concerning to you. 

However, that still shouldn’t stop you from actually making an effort to go scope out their presences on social networks.  I would recommend looking for the presences of the general agency, the managing partners, and the account reps for your brand.

Look at how they use the medium.  Are they engaging others and making a genuine effort to connect?  Do they publish useful content?  Have they been in the medium for a meaningful amount of time?  These are all important things to analyze. 

I’ve seen agency execs set up a Twitter account literally the day before a presentation, because they were pitching Twitter in the project.  How can you trust them to advise you on using a medium if they hardly do it themselves?


An ad agencies site should be much more than a TV ad online – they should prove that they understand the medium and the responsibilities that come with it.  If an agency is pitching you an overall online strategy, it’s essential that you take a hard look at theirs, too.

Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and be willing to put some time into the research.  What has been your experience with agencies that talk the talk but don’t necessarily walk the walk?  Are there other things to look out for on agency sites?


Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member


Great comment, thanks for weighing in. The one thing I would say is not to necessarily judge someone from *when* they start using a technology, but on *how* they use it.

There are so many services being released everyday, that it is hard and rather pointless to be an "early adopter" of everything under the sun.

If I see value and potential in something, I will definitely try and be one of the first users; however, sometimes we initially miss the boat on something and do not start using it until it has demonstrated value for others. That does not mean we do not "get it," it just means we were not the first signed up. And that understanding should be demonstrated by the manner in which we use the technology.

The opposite is also true -- an ad agency might have an intern in charge of registering for every new product that issues a press release. Just because they have had a Twitter account since 2006, you still need to look at how much they have actually tweeted and the manner in which they interact in the space.

Just some thoughts. Thanks again for the comment!


David Petherick's avatar
David Petherick

Great insight here - too many agencies who profess expertise in 'new media' (What will they do when it's grown up media?) do not practice this at all.

I've watched from the sidelines for over ten years as agencies have added in 'digital' as a cynical bolt-on, and it's always their clients who suffer from their lack of expertise, and simple lack of honesty. One simple trick to look out for on Twitter is the date an account was created: If it's 2006, maybe they get it. 2008, or even 2009, and they are very late to the party.

If an ad agency, and the individuals who work within it, have a poor digital footprint, it's very unlikely that they are going to be capable of making much impression on yours.

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