What Would Ogilvy Write?

We’re in the middle of redesigning our entire Web site (I don’t wish the experience on anyone). To get an outside perspective on things we’re very close to, we asked for feedback about our existing site. Our advisers recommended it could have a “more professional look.”

Consequently, we’ve been busy compiling all our research on professional design for business-to-business (B2B) Web sites and all related elements. Part of this involved looking at other complex-sales B2B sites to see how they present a persuasive and professional appearance. Given the feedback from last week’s reference to Ogilvy’s Web site, I thought I’d share some of our observations.

You’d imagine the best place to find a marriage of brilliant, persuasive copy and professional design would be the Web site of the most famous and established ad agencies. If anyone understands how to write and present good copy, it should be these guys. But I’ve had trouble finding that good copy.

David Ogilvy wrote:

Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

The Web is a medium of words. Today, this great man’s legacy is a site that also suffers from muteness. Why is it the people who should understand this best seem not to understand all?

Leo Burnett’s site is under construction. Words right off the landing page:

Welcome to the digital home of Leo Burnett Worldwide. We’re currently updating our website to ensure that it gives you the best, most current information about our company. Truth is, it’s taking us some time because, well, we’ve been putting the art of promoting our clients’ brands and products ahead of the art of promoting ourselves.

Why should this take them time? Is the process something new to the company? I hope not.

How long does it take to put up a Web site? Shouldn’t a B2B company striving for a credible Web presence, even if it’s under construction, at least create a temporary home page that offers more relevant information than job postings?

This maybe a little unfair as the site is under construction. Let’s look at some “complete” Web sites.

The Grey site has this on its home page: “All global marketing communications holding companies are not created equal.” It might as well say, “blah blah blah.” In my head, I hear Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Should you make the mistake of typing “www.grey.com” into your browser’s address bar, you end up on a splash page with no copy at all. You’ll only find links if you move your mouse around.

www.grey.net” also has a splash page, but the company alone understands it. The home page reads:

We believe in the big idea. An idea so simple, everyone understands it. So surprising, everyone reacts to it. So convincing, everyone buys it.

And while we offer mass advertising, direct, interactive, PR and media buying services, we aren’t particularly loyal to our divisions.

We consider ourselves a think tank. And our loyalty is only to the big idea.

Does this copy persuade you to do anything? Will you use the company’s services? Does it sound credible? It’s not talking to its customers, it’s talking to itself.

J. Brown’s home page reads, “Helping you win the marketing game,” and not much else (a pop-up window takes you deeper into the site). J. Brown is one of the better ad agencies, but it doesn’t understand anything about how to market itself on the Web.

Most ad agencies don’t take the time to understand the medium. They try to blow prospects away with clever design in a text-driven medium. It’s like challenging Shaquille O’Neal to a homerun-hitting contest.

Advertisers must show a portfolio — just not on the home page. Take a look at Max-Effect.com. The company is a small yellow-page-ad design agency, yet it doesn’t need to prove its design worth on the home page. You can click on design samples to see its portfolio.

I’m not picking on advertising agencies. It’s just that I had such hopes. Back at our own drawing board, we charged our design team with cosmetically improving our site. We gave them seven criteria:

  • The site must be optimized to rank well in the search engines.
  • It must load quickly, 7-15 seconds per page on a 56k connection.
  • It must be readable and printable and offer visitors the capability to adjust font size for legibility.
  • The HTML must meet W3C standards well enough to validate and properly render in all major browsers and OSs.
  • The site must contain different entry points depending on visitor need and buying-process stage.
  • It must follow persuasion architecture principles, specifically persuasive momentum, with strong copy and excellent navigation. It must help people move along with no hindrance toward a buying decision.
  • It must look credible enough to support a six-figure client engagement.

This is a remedial step. Our full redesign will take into account several previously untargeted personas, influencing the architecture and copy. The new site will be much larger in scope than the current one.

When you’re on the Web, you’re in the business of words. You can’t count on design alone to accomplish the complex persuasion process. My client services team and research analysts pinpointed over 100 advertising- and marketing-oriented sites that should know better.

Know any Web sites you’d expect to write good copy that actually do? Tell me about them.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in New York, March 1-4.

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