do as they say not as they do

Q. — As a general rule, what industry (as a whole) has the worst web sites?
A. — Ad Agencies.

I’ve noticed most agency web sites have a few common characteristics:

  • Rule #1: Flash!
  • Staff / Management Bios: Wacky, fun, and meaningless. There is a über-creative photo of the person pretending to have fun.
  • Site Navigation: Not at the top, bottom, left, or right. In order to click around to the other pages on the site, you’ll need to take a bus to another location.
  • Contact Info: Phone numbers, emails, etc hidden on the most illogical page possible.
  • Office Pictures: Two ways to go here. 1) If it’s an “agency” of one guy with a Mac in his bedroom, then you’ll see some creative use of stock photography. 2) If it’s a real “agency”, the wackiness continues with pics of the foosball table, the aquarium, and the video game area to show potential clients how their billable hours are being wasted while creativity happens.
  • Philosophy: Starts off with “We’re a new type of agency.” and the rest is filled with meaningless jargon and buzzwords.
  • I don’t think we can say it enough: Flash!
  • Portfolio: Just a few logos. Maybe a shot of an ad. The ROI is never mentioned. This link is always called “the work”
  • Blogs: All staff members seem to take turns “writing posts” by copying / summarizing chapters out of the advertising textbooks they couldn’t sell back to their college bookstore.
  • Content: It seems everyone shot down everyone else’s ideas until there was no content left
  • Timeliness: Site is never updated. (except for every few years when the whole thing is torn down and replaced with something similar.) Rinse. Repeat.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Your thoughts?

UPDATE: I published this just a few hours before CP+B launched their new agency site. Looks interesting.

26 thoughts on “do as they say not as they do

  1. Steve Chandler

    You got it. Agencies have horrible websites. Some are starting to get real about themselves. CPB as always is always leading the pack.

    I’m a career ad brat. So I know. Agency websites stink. Lots of flash. Ooops that means no search engine results. At least it looks cool to the five people at the agency that see it.

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  3. Donagal McDonagalson Don

    Damn, right on. My work website makes me want to hang myself. One of my favorite things to do when we’re not busy is to go through and make fun of all the lies we tell. “The XXXXXX Region’s PREMIER POST HOUSE”. Give me a fucking break.

  4. Jonathan Green

    The whole “it’s Flash therefore it’s bad” argument needs re-examination (actually, it’s not even an argument, just an unsupported statement and saying it twice doesn’t validate it any further). It’s usually a description of Flash sites around 5 years ago, and let’s face it, there were some pretty bad HTML sites around then too before they all started looking like the same narrow selection of the WordPress themes. In the same way that HTML sites have evolved through the use of AJAX and libraries like JQuery, any decent Flash site these days will have addressed the problems that plagued the early days of Flash e.g. the back button works, search engines can access them, you can deep link, text is selectable etc.

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  6. James Kurtz III

    Ha! Hilarious and true. I know you mentioned flash several times, but also – Flash Intros! Ugh. I’m pretty sure ad agencies are the ONLY industry left still using these time wasters.

    Great insights.

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  11. Laura Bergells

    So, so, true! And sad…

    When almost every agency uses the same “see how different we are” approach to demonstrate why they’re unique… they all end up looking and sounding exactly the same.

  12. Clay S


    I couldn’t agree more! It amazes me that agencies pretend to be experts on the web for their clients when they can’t even do it right themselves. You’d think that when the client can’t figure out how to navigate the agency site, that might raise a red flag or two in regards to engaging that agency for a web project!

    I actually wrote a similar post to this a few months ago when McKinney launched their new “experiential” site:

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  16. Josh

    To be fair, I don’t the poor quality of many agency sites is related to the amount of time they have to spend working on their own materials. Agencies also have a very different (read: more focused) role than marketers do.

    And I definitely second the vote for auto dealers, plumbers, lawyers, dentists, CPAs and I’d like to add “almost any website targeting a local business targeting folks in the 25-55 demographic”

  17. Ricky Salsberry

    Laura Bergells :
    So, so, true! And sad…
    When almost every agency uses the same “see how different we are” approach to demonstrate why they’re unique… they all end up looking and sounding exactly the same.

    Amen. It’s like the kids who shop at Hot Topic:

    “I wanna be different, just like everybody else!”

  18. Michael Lynch

    I agree for the most part but I do have a few comments:

    I think office photos, although common and trendy, do serve a purpose (if done well): they show the client that a) they are ding well enough to have an office, and a pretty nice one too and b) they work in a comfortable environment, one that will lend to their production quality.

    Like the office photos, the company bios (again, if done well) show the client how creative they are. Obviously, creativity is important in such a competitive industry.

    I think the flash trend is dying and is being replaced with WordPress. Thank God.

    Other than that, I think you pretty much nailed it.

    Here’s an idea for your next post: Why all software websites are the same (i.e. liquid layouts w/ big colored stripes, big and bold typography, nifty icons, and sitemaps in the footer).

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