Before the advent of the digital agency, online services were divided into tight areas of specialisation. That meant that a business might have to deal with one partner to design and build their website, another one to handle their online advertising, a third party for email marketing and further outsourcing was possible for statistical analysis and other ancillary services.
Of course, while individual agencies might have had great expertise in their respective fields there was inevitable tension between their respective goals. The design agency's latest ideas for an amazing visual layout might clash with the search engine optimiser's need for a great deal of textual content. Or perhaps the site's ecommerce functionality doesn't have the level of tracking detail that the site's marketers require. These differing demands on the website can cause tensions between the different agencies involved, and lead to the client acting to manage these disputes without a full understanding of what the priorities should be.
Increasingly, the industry is moving to the model of the Digital Agency: a one-stop shop, much more in line with the model adopted by marketing agencies who might handle print, broadcast, branding and design.
Digital agencies bring together the disparate skill sets to design, build and market a website in a co-ordinated way under one roof. This means that the website is designed and built with the many different functions it might have to support in consideration from the outset.
It also means that debates between the different teams to establish the priority needs of the website happen internally - within the digital agency itself. That means less time for a client to manage this debate and be relaying conflicting messages from one agency to another. A single point of contact means that goals and performance metrics can be agreed with one set of people so that all those involved in creating and promoting the site are onside from the beginning.
Full service digital agencies also develop a healthy internal culture of inter-disciplinary learning. A company solely concerned with the design and build of websites may develop a huge, deep understanding of this need, without ever coming close to 'getting' the business aspects that the site must also serve. Likewise, a company that is solely concerned with raw sales figures may be blind to the need to establish effective branding through great design.
Having designers work alongside developers and marketers ensure that best practice spreads among the project team and that everyone's voice is heard. That makes for a far more holistic approach to a web project.
So when you begin your next online project, look for a digital agency.