An Agency Rebrand
How search specialists embraced a comprehensive organic digital approach
Every successful start-up reaches the point when they are no longer the new kids on the block. For us, this happened a while ago. We had transformed from a small yet dynamic technical search outfit into a full-service digital marketing agency solving sizeable organic digital challenges. We were working with global clients, producing outstanding work and maintaining an impeccable client retention rate of 95%.
Things had been going rather well for quite some time, yet our own brand presence reflected neither the brilliance of our people nor the work of which we are capable.
This story will be a familiar one for many, so we were keen to do two things:
We hope that this acts as both a guide for any business looking to do the same and a long form description of our ‘organic digital‘ concept.
How do you reinvent your image for a wider audience without diluting your original USP or risking your relationships with existing advocates?
This quandary lay at the heart of our agency rebrand project. While SEO remains very much at the centre of the business, our agency has changed markedly over the years to adapt to the dynamic landscape of digital marketing. As algorithms change to better cater for user intent, so too has our remit as trusted experts. By experimenting with new formats and narratives for online media coverage, social, link building and content marketing, our skillsets and offering have inevitably expanded.
Builtvisible still champions technical SEO, where we are known for paving the way as industry leaders. We simply recognised that solving client requirements for visibility, reach and relevance across multiple organic channels demanded a broader range of expertise than a purely technical approach.
By late 2015, we’d acquired and developed an array of talent in design, development, creative direction and strategy, all of which helped us to better solve our clients’ business-critical needs. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t coming through in our digital presence.
The challenge, as such, became four-fold:
In short, the company had evolved, but our perception in market had not – at least not to a degree we could be content with. It was time to fix that.
Our approach took inspiration from pureplay branding authorities and adapted these for a digital first approach with a particular focus on user experience. The most important manifestation of our brand is our website, so the tangible outcome of our agency rebrand is represented most clearly through the transformation of this central brand asset.
To achieve this transformation, we followed a process inspired by UX best practice:
We began this process by turning to one of the greats for inspiration. Creative powerhouse Alina Wheeler defines a brand by asking these four questions:
These questions guided us throughout the entire project, which began with an interrogation of who we were as a company.
The very first step we took towards really understanding who we are as a company took the shape of a simple anonymised staff survey: We asked everyone to describe the agency as if it were a person. Along with admirable qualities to be proud of, such as being fun, light-hearted and innovative, we were faced with a rather awkward reality. We, collectively, were Tarquin:
“Tarquin… An intelligent yet slightly nervous chap. He understands the tech world and loves Star Trek. Tarquin wants to be more creative but doesn’t know how.”
“Creative, honest and loyal guy in his early thirties. He has glasses and likes a bit of football. He’s funny but not too funny.”
Clear trends appeared in the responses, split between our creative, positive and professional selves and our somewhat dull self-expression. It was Tarquin, however, who best highlighted the key challenges raised by staff, leadership and our position in market and became the emblem of our old self.
Tarquin needed to shake off any nerves, take his creativity by the horns and step away from the comforts of his gadgets and Star-Trek-plastered bedroom into the big bright world of creative opportunity.
Identifying Tarquin and sensing how he needed to grow was a simple but valuable first step. It demonstrated a company-wide sense of dissonance between the persona we were portraying and the confident, adaptable individuals we all were.
From there, we knew it was important for us to drill into the details of that dissonance, and understand exactly what key stakeholders wanted from the rebrand.
We organised and recorded interviews with the senior management team and conducted a focus group with consultants from across teams. We also spoke to a number of our existing clients to understand how they saw Builtvisible, as well as their experiences of interacting with our website.
These sessions were incredibly valuable. From them, and with the aid of many a Post-it note, we uncovered and formally established the core values of the company; fleshed out our history and personality; identified perceived strengths and weaknesses; learned what both we and our clients expected of us, and painted a clear picture of where the company was heading and the role this initiative played in getting us there.
We also used these interviews to pin down precise goals – soft and hard – for the project, which included to:
The research from these interviews and conversations was intellectually poked and prodded until the history, people and work ethic of the company was distilled into the five fundamental values of Builtvisible:
It quickly became clear to us that accomplishing a number of the agency rebrand goals would be a matter of harnessing these values and expressing the qualities of the people who make the company what it is. Like any agency, our people are the most valuable assets we have, and they’re really something to be reckoned with. While we naturally had a strong idea of what our colleagues are like, these qualities were also easily teased out of our conversations and discussions, in-house and with clients:
We’re intelligent, curious, ambitious, innovative, professional, approachable, fun, trustworthy and constantly evolving human beings.
Basically, brilliant people who get stuff done in a smart, enjoyable, and forward-thinking manner.
We spent time evaluating these traits, alongside our approach to work and client relationships, defining a select number of brand attributes that would play a central role in the design of the visual identity.
Armed with this newly surfaced information, it was time to look outwards and embark on answering our second brand question:
Who needs to know?
The primary aim we had from the start of this project was to attract and engage the right kind of people with the right sort of content. To do so, we needed to understand exactly who we wanted to approach, what matters to them and what journey they’re likely to take when they engage with us online.
Traditionally, our client-side counterparts have been SEO Managers who don’t necessarily get overly involved with creative, content-first digital marketing. We therefore needed to discover who were the right people to talk to about the wider organic digital landscape.
We’d already spoken to a number of our existing clients, who reflect an audience that we know well enough to develop into a persona. Where we lacked insight and needed to dig deep was the wider role of Digital Marketing Manager and the more senior roles of Marketing Director and Head of Digital. These are the new target personas and a relatively new audience for the company.
We approached this with three different types of research:
Through this research we were able to paint a picture of the target audience segment, who we named Marketing Mary, to accompany our other key audience segment, called SEO Sam.*Our secondary targets were drawn up as (Marketing) Director Dina and (Head of) Digital Dave.
Sam and Mary are admittedly very broad personas, but they were nonetheless important in addressing the task of catering for two significantly divergent audiences. Focusing in on them separately, we workshopped user journeys, appropriate tones of voice and made considerations on style and format for each.
The output was critical for the furthering of the agency rebrand project as a whole and a clear steer on UX considerations and content strategy for the new website — the next part of the puzzle.
When it came to crafting our content strategies for SEO Sam and Marketing Mary, we weighed up what we wanted to achieve from a business perspective and how we wanted to help the respective audiences.
When it came to SEO Sam, we already had a great deal of legacy content to leverage and build upon. We wanted to reinforce Builtvisible’s position as a source of industry-leading SEO insight and advice, while helping SEO Sam to:
This represented a slight shift from tactical content to strategic solutions and an increased focus on thought leadership, making the most of our founder and SEO veteran Richard Baxter’s knowledge and experience.
As for Marketing Mary, we were starting with far less of a content legacy, and with a greater need to prove our expertise and relevance. We want Builtvisible to be recognised as a reliable source of inspiration and guidance on how to succeed at content marketing. We also want to connect with our audience in an authentic way, using content as a springboard for discussion.
To accomplish this, we want to help the Marketing Marys of the world understand how she can shape her own successful strategy and how to then go about implementing it in the most impactful way, bridging the gap between theory and practice.
By pinning down these internal and external objectives for our content, we could then undertake one of the more tedious but essential elements of the project: a content audit. This is part of the functional scoping element of any digital branding exercise.
As perhaps one of the more complex parts of the process, we find that the research phase for client projects often falls victim to time or budget restraints. This is understandable when answering to internal priorities and the desire for tangible progress, but can be an extremely costly compromise in the long term.
The less time spent on research and strategic evaluation before scoping a digital project of this scale, the more you’re punting in the dark and at risk of making decisions limited by the perspective, understanding and cognitive biases of the core project team.
A strong strategy depends on accurate insight from all stakeholders and a clear understanding of objectives and context. This means casting a wide net and focusing on what really matters, both to you and to your audience.
To recap, our research & strategy phase resulted in the following outputs:
Scoping is an important phase as it sets out the core requirements of the project. These are based on the brand strategy and the limitations imposed by content and development. The first step was to come to grips with the existing web content and what we wanted and needed to carry over to the new site.
Content audits are the equivalent of clearing out your attic; You can find forgotten gems worthy of re-introducing to your mantel piece (after a quick polish), but you’re more likely to be spending your time rummaging through mountains of outdated and purposeless paperwork in an attempt to conquer chaos. This is especially true in an industry like ours, where the rules change with the seasons.
With a clearer understanding of who we are creating content for and why, the next task on the list was that of evaluating our existing work, organising it according to audience segment and improving or binning irrelevant stuff. At over 500 pages of content, this was no mean feat.
By gathering performance metrics and content details for every page on the site, reviewing the content manually and pivoting the data, we uncovered some pretty juicy info:
The audit processes helped to highlight and validate the changes in content needed to cater for Marketing Mary. From it we created a clear action list that helped the team ensure everything carried over to the new website was of high quality and relevance.
It also pointed to the new content we needed to create, in particular a set of service pages that better reflects our content offering. When combined with the user personas and strategy already defined, we were able to pull together content requirements for the new site. Here’s a glimpse of the sort of thing this included:
These requirements, formally defined in our content requirements document (CRD), helped us frame our information hierarchy, allowing us to piece together the puzzle.
Alongside the content requirements came the need for formal functional requirements. These encompass the technical needs to be fulfilled during the build of the new website – crucial information for the development team. These requirements are gathered through conversations that marry website objectives with strategic insight – ideally identified through the user and stakeholder research undertaken during the strategy phase. For instance:
An understanding of how your marketing team is tracking user data (for instance through Google Analytics) on the current and future website is important at this stage for including details such as the need for a contact confirmation page to trigger an analytics event.
A Functional Requirements Document (FRD) is a formal statement written after the requirements have been collected, and is a technical explanation of how those requirements will be fulfilled. It is essentially a contract – the developers agree to provide the specified functionality and the client agrees that the product is satisfactory if it matches the description in the FRD. It will therefore also inform and shape the testing process because it defines what should be tested.
The FRD is essential for the developer as it defines exactly what should be built and prevents that specification from changing during development. While it’s understood that specifications can change – especially during wireframing – it’s important that the FRD is updated accordingly before development is launched.
The FRD is also essential for the client as it confirms that the developer is building the system that they want. Finally, it provides a clear definition, for both developer and client, of when the system is considered complete, informing both an estimate of how long the work will take and milestones during its production.
With the scope defined for both functionality and content came the start of the structure phases, where the information architecture and the possible interactions with the site are laid out. To steer this part of the project, we needed to apply our research to the task of crafting user journeys.
One of the key challenges we faced was creating a website and messaging that catered for two very distinctive audience types – one significantly more ‘right-brain’ than the other. Marketing Mary and SEO Sam needed separate content strategies and clear user paths through the site to reach the content most relevant to them. This is where user scenarios came in.
Based on the paths indicated by our website analytics data, we came up with a variety of situations that catered for the different reasons someone would come to our site, and what they would be looking for. Here’s a few examples:
These scenarios helped us to decide a number of things for the website, including priorities for the navigation and information architecture, service pages and what we wanted to surface on the homepage. It also helped us to make decisions about our internal linking strategy – from a user journey perspective.
It was during this phase that we could weigh up options for presenting our services in a way that introduced a greater balance in our offering, a delicate problem that we are solving iteratively.
The outcome of the workshops and meetings focused on IA and user journey through the site gave us the following hierarchy:
With the information hierarchy in place and interactions mapped out, we were ready, at last, to design the wireframes – the skeleton of the website.
Wireframes are about 90% thinking and 10% (digital) pen to paper. By this point in our process, a lot of thought had been put into defining scope, user journeys and IA. This all needed to be coherently translated into the final layout, navigation, and content structure for the site, defining the technical features on each page. The wireframes are where everything really comes together, leaving just the aesthetics of the site to consider in the final phase.
Getting the wireframes right takes time and collaboration to make sure everything is considered. Once completed, a developer should theoretically be able to take your wireframes and build the website skeleton, with all the relevant functionality in place. Here’s how our’s manifested:
Completing the wireframes is a momentous milestone in the agency rebrand project. The new website finally had a visual content structure and navigation system. It could be built there and then, and while it would lack any kind of style, it would be a fully functioning website with an intuitive user journey. Our development did, in fact, begin at this point, building the backend of the website in anticipation of the completion of the next and final stage of the process: aesthetics.
Designing the look and feel of the website – essentially skinning the wireframes – is one of the most exciting stages of a rebrand, as it’s where the personality and style of your brand takes visual shape.
We had outlined the brand attributes we sought to convey during the strategy phase of the project, and it was time to bring them fully into play. This was a matter of exploring different visual styles and user experiences until identifying the right solution for us – something that differentiated us in the right way from our competitors.
The first step, therefore, was understanding exactly how our competitors and aspirational role models presented themselves. We then looked further afield for styles and experiences that reflected our affinities as a brand and could further inspire our approach. This translated into the key components of our visual identity, including colour palette, font type and logo.
On the search for a new colour palette that reflects the new brand identity and also works in the context of the wider market, we unpicked and evaluated our pre-existing blue-based colour palette, seen as cold, corporate and uninviting. Taking our newly defined brand attributes to heart, we happily went to the other extreme, channelling greater warmth, creativity, and openness:
Each colour was chosen for its relation to attributes and traits linked to those who work at Builtvisible, our client relationships and, most importantly, what our company stands for. A brighter blue was included to maintain a clear connection with our brand’s heritage, and a blue-grey for the extra serious stuff.
Drawing on the new colour palette and the desire to truly highlight the company’s creative edge, our visual design team fashioned bright new illustrations for each main section of the site:
This afforded us a greater opportunity for unique stylisation while avoiding the trap of awkward office photography or the use of stock imagery.
Keeping readers coming back for more is a massively important goal for our content, and we wanted to make sure that it would be as simple as possible for users to find the resources relevant to them, be that technical SEO advice or content marketing materials.
We decided to apply distinctive visual styles to steer users in the right direction.
Technical posts by their very nature do not lend themselves logically to expressive photography, and typically only feature images of web pages, tools, code samples and spreadsheets. We wanted to keep these appropriate in tone and style, without forcing them into an unnatural visual mould.
On the other side, content marketing and PR are all about appealing to the human – it’s behavioural, emotive, and vivid. In this instance, photography is a perfect medium for capturing and conveying the kinds of messages communicated by the content.
This thinking was carried through in the application of bespoke blue textures for technical posts and photography for all else:
This means that when our technical SEO audience arrives on the blog, they can filter out at a glance all the content targeting more general marketing practitioners, and vice versa.
In addition to the construction of the website, our agency rebrand called for the overhaul of our existing visual identity in all its forms – in particular, the logo.
Evaluating our existing visual identity in the context of current and aspirational competitors made it only too clear how much ours fell flat. Our logo simply failed to hold its own amongst its rivals:
Our logo was unbalanced, lacked personality, and felt corporate and outdated – nothing like the young, bubbly people working within our walls. It was essentially meaningless to our current self.
We turned to the market, including popular brands from other industries, and explored a variety of styles to get a sense of how different fonts, compositions, and styles captured the qualities we needed to reflect.
We painstakingly assimilated and compared endless examples, testing font types that captured the balance of warmth and boldness we were after. It was through this process that we eventually identified a winner: Neue Haas Grotesk. This became the basis of our logo and brand mark.
The result is a sharp and bold yet warm logo that holds its own in the wider industry landscape:
This, dear reader, is the new Builtvisible:
One of the most immediate results of the agency rebrand was the sense of pride the team could now feel over our digital presence compared with before:
More than the purely visual, we had transformed the site from a resource for search specialists into a comprehensive agency showcase we could be proud of.
To recap, we wanted the agency rebrand to help us:
The new look and feel immediately generated direct enquiries around our conversion offering – within three weeks of the agency rebrand launch, our sales pipeline contained more of this type of enquiry than ever before. Feedback from the SEO community was equally encouraging, with positive sentiment and genuine praise from people we respected in the industry:
The news was not all rosy, however. Our analytics stats tanked in terms of traffic, something we were expecting and had planned for upon the removal of certain popular pages that had no relevance to our core business. Still, it was hard to watch in reality. Digging deeper into our stats, however, revealed a more important picture than diminishing traffic stats.
Our year-on-year comparison 6 months after the agency rebrand showed that despite overall traffic dipping by as much as 30%, with organic down by over 46%, the numbers that mattered were excellent:
We’re also seeing diversification of engaged visitors.
Whereas the vast majority of newsletter sign-ups pre-rebrand had come from new organic visitors, they were now arriving via a broad range of sources. Four months on, sign-ups were diversified across referral, organic, direct, social and newsletter traffic. The total number of newsletter sign-ups had also more than tripled, going from an average of 35 a month to 118.
In summary, the agency rebrand and shift in content strategy has resulted in a higher volume of relevant traffic from a more engaged audience. That audience is also more varied, interested in a wider range of our content and spend more time exploring. All of this has led to the ultimate business-critical conversion KPIs: more newsletter sign-ups, more enquiries and, ultimately, more sales qualified leads.