Your 3-Page Agency Website is Crippling Your Visibility in Search

I have news for you. Your new flashy, interactive, 3-page website isn’t working out for you. In fact, it’s crippling your visibility in search. It’s time to face the facts.

I Think This is Officially a Trend

Something happened in the past year or so that caused a huge shift in how interactive/digital agencies portrayed themselves online. It really seems to correlate with the increasing popularity of HTML5 web design in early 2011. I’ve been seeing a ton of agency websites since then that are super flashy, which in and of itself isn’t a problem, and have super minimal content. I’d say “content poor” would be an apt description.

Simple website is lame

I’m not sure where the trend of not having website content came from, but I sense it’s connected to the ideas of “letting the brand sell itself”, “avoiding information overload”, and “making the website an experience”. All of those are good things, but I don’t think axing your content is the way to approach it. When it comes to SEO, taking these philosophies the wrong way can be a traffic killer.

Why 3-Page Sites Don’t Work for SEO

It’s an age-old mantra and you’re probably sick of hearing it.

“Content is King” – every SEO ever.

There’s a reason this mantra just won’t die. It’s because it’s true.

Where you rank in search boils down to two things: content and links. Content in any of its forms (on-site or off-site) determines relevancy; Links (be they social, followed, nofollowed, anchor-text-targeted, or contextual) establish authority. There are rare cases where a site can rank well (for a few terms) without one or the other, but those cases are by far the exception.

Google and Bing need content, on-site content especially, to determine what your webpages are about so that they can return them for appropriate searches.

Know this about competitive ranking: If your content is scattered, covers a lot of different topics, and ends up being rather broad, that’s the kind of stuff engines will consider your site to be relevant to; very broad topics. Go ahead and search for the broadest variation of what your agency does. Let’s say it’s “marketing”. Look at those search results. Can you honestly expect to rank among those sites? No. The all have incredible authority as well as good content and that’s why they’re there.

Why Hosting All Your Content on One Page Doesn’t Work for SEO Either

On the other hand, I’ve also been seeing a ton of sites that have some content, but all that content is contained on the homepage. Each section is accessible via an HTML anchor that takes you to a different location on the page. I haven’t decided yet if this is better or worse. The issue here is that your page doesn’t have a specific topic and focus is, well, non-existent. What works in search is ONE URL to ONE topic. Let’s explore an example.

digital agency website rankings

To demonstrate, I ran rankings on four agency websites for 155 highly-relevant keywords. The numbers above represent the percentage of those keywords that the site ranks for in the given classification.

All of the websites I used here should be relevant results for a search engine to return (especially geographically targeted searches; these guys are local). Site A is a client we are currently working with who started just above the “3-page agency website” class. They also had a ton of great high-authority and topically relevant backlinks, so that gave them some ranking power despite being low on content. Sites B, C, and D are have 3-5 pages in their sitemap (aside from blogs) and site D has all their content hosted on their homepage (excepting the blog). I’d really hope that all of these sites someday have at least 50% of their keywords ranking in the top 30 results.

How to Win SEO

On the other hand, let’s imagine you have content that is laser-focused and explores a singular topic ridiculously well. We’re talking a one-to-one, URL-to-topic set up. Let’s do a little happy dance and assume that your content is so good and so focused that your clients can link to your page when they want their friends to understand what “web lingo” like “digital marketing strategy” means. That’s what we in the industry call a “resource”; users love it and, therefore, search engines love it. Content doesn’t always have to be a resource, per se, but it should always say something meaningful or have a unique perspective to offer.

This is the kind of sitemap you need to rank competitively in organic search.

this digital agency website is much better

Bottom line: If you have ample content on your website that’s focused on a concise topic, you win. You have the relevancy; you have (or will get) the authority.

In short, your 3-page site may be fancy and fresh, but if you cut your content to achieve that, search engines don’t have what they need to determine relevancy and you won’t rank competitively. On the plus side, we may be able to make it so that you have this guy’s problem…

Why can't I hold all this win?!

What’s Next?

Now hold up before you nuke your site and build something new from scratch. First, think about just how adaptable Google is; crawlers and algorithms evolve.

Just because your 3-page agency website is the lame joke of search right now, doesn’t mean it will remain that way forever. Google wants to adapt to how real people are using the web. That includes how searchers use the web and how webmasters use the web. If this minimalist approach of having only a small handful of pages and thin content becomes a huge part of the web, maybe Google will adapt and find a way to attribute appropriate relevancy to your site without looking at the same things it has traditionally.

With that said, I wouldn’t put any money on it. I especially wouldn’t put the future of my business on it (assuming that part of your business strategy involves getting leads without paying for them).

How do you imagine Google would determine that your site is a good result for “online branding and strategy” when your website mentions it once on your all-encompassing “Services” page? If your competitor decides to have a page dedicated to their “online branding and strategy” offering, what do you think makes a better result for a searcher?

A Potential Fix for SEO

Maybe there is, in fact, a way that we can still achieve that slick agency design and cover our SEO bases. You’ll still need the content though; there’s no amount of meta tags and SEO magic that we can throw at this to make the issue go away. Let’s explore.

Step One

Create amazing content. Create one compelling page of content for each of your core offerings (300 words). Describe your agency’s take on the offering and explain what sets you apart. It doesn’t have to be a wall of text; include rich media like imagery and video.

Step Two

Edit your “Services” page or “Work” page to include links to these new offering pages. Use plain text to make the links so that search robots can crawl them.

Step Three

Use JavaScript so that when a user clicks on these new links, the content comes up in a lightbox. You can also have Javascript pull in the content from the destination page and make room for it on the “Services” page. When the user clicks a new offering link, that original service content collapses and the new content expands.

The most important thing here is that you’re using JavaScript to work the content into your “minimalistic” site. By doing this, you’re providing your users with that clean experience (where they only get high-level info unless they drill deeper) and also providing search engines which what they need in order to rank you. Search robots won’t run your JavaScript (in most cases) and so they’ll just encounter your “raw” HTML links and crawl your newly created pages.

If you want an example of this functionality, look at the speakers page on the SMX website. Go there and click on a speaker and see what happens. Then turn off JavaScript (plug this, chrome://chrome/settings/content, into Chrome’s URL bar and select “do not allow”). Now refresh the SMX page and see what happens. Boom! SEO magic.

Don’t Worry. This is Totally Whitehat.

I can hear it now…

“Mike is doing shady stuff over at SwellPath! Call the Google Police!”

my white-hat seo is fabulous

We may have a misunderstanding here. This isn’t about Google. It’s about your users. Sure Google likes content, but your potential customers love it just as much. Is a “lead” supposed to just assume your know that you have a decent “Search Engine Marketing” program just because you list it as an unsupported bullet on your “Services” page? I think not. The content that we’re adding is, in the end, to inform website visitors. SEO benefit is secondary.

But won’t we get in trouble for doing crazy things with JavaScript and hiding links “behind the scenes”? No. We’re all good. When your average visitors lands on your site, they get the full interactive experience. They view your extra content, if they so choose, in a snazzy lightbox or whatnot. If a users comes to your site running a browser that doesn’t have JavaScript enabled, they see your list of offerings on your “Services” page and can click through to new pages (like on a traditional website) instead of having the JavaScript-enabled interactive experience. That’s the same conditions that search engine robots will experience your site under, so that works out pretty fine, doesn’t it?

When in doubt, always ask, “Is this SEO ‘trick’ helping a segment of my users or is it just for search engines?” If it’s the later, bad idea.

Closing Thoughts

An ultra-light website that delivers more experience than information may be all the rage these days, but it could be severely limiting your agency’s visibility in organic search. A 3-page site is just a glorified business card; it’s just enough information to start a conversation. Don’t make your users chase you around the conference tapping you on the shoulder in order to find out more about what you do. Who’s going to do that? Search engines aren’t, I’ll tell you that much. They’ll just rank someone else (who actually took the time to offer up what they do and explain how they’re different) on the first page of search for your targeted keywords.

Do you have a sweet 3-pager and you think I’m full of it? Let me know if the comments.

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Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen - Director of Analytics & Optimization

A diehard SEO and web analytics geek, Mike is the Director of Analytics & Optimization at SwellPath. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with SEO and analytics, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.

Watch Mike talk about his role and life at SwellPath

30 Responses to “Your 3-Page Agency Website is Crippling Your Visibility in Search”

  1. Kevin

    Great post, and something that I’ve been working on for my own website. Funnily enough I used the EXACT same meme (love the limes guy) for one of my latest posts designed to be a resource for fellow SEOs. If you feel like checking it out, here it is:

    Thanks again for the post and I’ve tossed the link around to a few friends of mine :)

  2. Johnny

    you get to a certain level and generally stop caring whether you rank for X keyword. Trust me. Enough business comes our way to not worry or get het up over we rank for “SEO SERVICES” etc etc


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