Top Five Myths about SEO in the A/E Industry

Long ago, SEO had a mystique. It was new and technical and allowed anybody to take the lead in search results. It sometimes even led to deceptive practices like hidden keywords in the background or in the footer of your web pages. My how times have changed though, and having an optimized website isn’t about chunking a bunch of metadata into your source code any longer. Search engines are smarter and our understanding of SEO has evolved, especially for service firms like those of us in the A/E industry. In order to help clear up some confusion, we pulled together a Top Five Myths about SEO in the A/E Industry for you!

Myth 1 – SEO can be done in a bubble

It can’t, not well anyway. Search Engine Optimization has ties to almost every major question at the foundation of your business and marketing plan when it’s done properly. In order for it to be successful for any sustainable amount of time, there has to be a strategy behind it and that strategy has to rely on other marketing efforts, social media and valuable content. That’s why when firms ask us if we do SEO, our answer is typically a bit complicated.

Myth 2 – SEO requires no effort from staff

This is a great follow up to the point above. Often firms hire an SEO company thinking, “All I want is to be at the top when somebody Googles best architecture firm. Done, send me the bill.” Firm leadership later gets frustrated to find out it isn’t that simple and realistically, that’s not even what they need. At a minimum, significant time should be invested up front to determine what terms are even relevant for the firm. Beyond that, however, the to-do list for firm principals, subject matter experts and marketing staff could continue to grow because if you multiply any number by zero, you still get zero. You can’t optimize what doesn’t exist, so firms with small websites and very little content will always struggle to outperform others who invest time in writing.

Myth 3 – SEO is a silver bullet

Many firms contact us with the hopes that if they achieve the Holy Grail of SEO status – First organic result on Google – that their work is done and the leads will just roll in. Unfortunately, neither of those is true. The work is not done, because rankings change every day. Leads also don’t just roll in because of your Google ranking; potential clients have to find what they’re looking for after they click through to take the next step.

Myth 4 – SEO winning = First place

Who doesn’t want to be number one? But we’re not talking about “also ran” or participation trophies. Increased traffic, improved awareness and eventual conversions are the ACTUAL goals behind any SEO effort. Seeing your A/E firm show up in the number one spot may feel great, but looking at analytics and monitoring your traffic are the only way to know if your efforts are successful. And then what? Increased traffic doesn’t equal a new contract for your firm unless you convert – which isn’t about SEO, it’s about marketing and BD.

Myth 5 – SEO firms are a rip-off

I’ve honestly lost count of how many clients and potential clients have called us to say they paid an SEO firm for nothing, zero results. This post may sound a little anti-SEO, but that’s not at all the intention. The point is, you wouldn’t take your car to the shop to get the brakes fixed then be upset with the mechanic for not putting gas in your car every week or two afterwards. Search Engine Optimization is a task you can take care of on your own or pay for (one-time fee or ongoing retainer), but it should only be one portion of your architecture firm’s marketing strategy and without putting a little gas in the tank yourself, your car is only going to get so far.

Five Things to Know About Your Competition

While helping architecture and engineering firms develop their marketing plans, we look at a number of factors that determine the tactics we will use – target audience, budget, business goals, etc. For the record, I always say ‘tactics come last,’ and quite honestly they’re easy to determine if you’re able to do everything else that comes before them.

One topic of discussion that brings a great deal of uncertainty to the conversation is competition. On the surface, most firms know who their competitors are, but have very little idea what that really means. ‘Great, we have a list of people we kind of don’t like that may or may not be poaching our staff…and…then what?’ Well, here are five things to know or pay attention to when it comes to the competition.

  1. They’re probably not your competition.
    Just because they’re local, doesn’t make them your competition. Likewise, just because they show up higher than you on Google search rankings doesn’t either. Your competition is based on your target audience and the firms they may have been interested in, not any practicing architect in your state.
  2. They aren’t you.
    How is your firm different than every other firm out there? And don’t say your people, because guess what…everybody says that! (and your people leave eventually) Your brand is what makes your firm unique. Look inside to see why what you do is different – your process, your passion, your portfolio, your pricing. There are plenty of ways to distinguish your firm.
  3. They’re the least important people in your business world.
    If you’re like every other busy principal, marketer, architect or insert title here…you don’t have a lot of free time. While it’s not a bad idea to know a little bit about your competition, with limited resources available, they are FAR less important than your staff and your clients.
  4. If you’re doing it right, they don’t matter.
    I am a firm believer that your competition CAN’T win a contract that was meant for you. (bureaucratic issues aside for public market folks) If they win a project because they were cheaper than you, you would have lost money on the job. For any other reason, the fact of the matter is that you weren’t the right choice or you didn’t understand the client well enough. If it’s the former, move on. If it’s the latter, spend more time understanding the client.
  5. They’re good for something
    Superficial metrics used for benchmarking are just about the only thing I would recommend paying much attention to when it comes to your competition. An example might be social media growth. It’s easy to tell if your competitors are getting more action than you on social. Are they growing? Are they engaging? It’s all out there in the open. If you want to know whether or not you’re working hard enough to build awareness and communicate with your target audience, then you can look at your competitors to see how they’ve done.

The moral of the story…spend time understanding your firm, your business goals and your clients. The competition can’t be better at being ‘you’ than you are.

It’s All About the List

This post comes to us originally from Karen Nussle at Ripple Communications. Karen is a great friend and a PR dynamo working with lobbying firms and a host of other high-profile clients in and around the political scene. While this piece isn’t written specifically for architecture, engineering or construction firms – the message is right on target. It’s crucial to know who you’re communicating with and why. The more time spent understanding and segmenting your list, the more effective your communications will be.

Enjoy her post…

 

As a marketing professional I am constantly amazed by the vast amount of time and energy organizations put into developing marketing materials and tools only to spend little time considering who they will send them to. Hundreds of man and woman hours going into designing the company brochure — that sits in the storage room. Committees that get formed to design and create content for a company e-newsletter — and no thought as to whose inbox it will be delivered to. Regardless of your type of organization — corporate, nonprofit, government — and regardless of your expertise — legal, advocacy, political, policy, trade, business development — the key to success for your marketing effort, will be your list.

It’s all about the list.

Who is on your list? How did they get there? When was your list last updated? Who maintains it? What do you to do grow it? How is it segmented?Often businesses treat their contact list as an afterthought, a collection of names and numbers to glance over once the quarterly newsletter is ready to send out. It’s is by far the least glamorous activity in marketing – list management. Yet nothing matters more. Success is all about the list.

What’s the big deal about the list?

Regardless of the role you play within your organization –member recruitment, external relations, media relations, fund development, marketing, sales, government relations, social media –all rely on tracking key contacts and developing new ones. All rely on a LIST!

A solid, up to date, complete list of contacts ensures a reliable audience for your message. Reaching out to a known audience is the only chance you have to be successful and meet your numbers. All other marketing activity is random at best. The time and attention you spend on cultivating your list –current contacts AND new ones –is the key to your success.

It’s all about the QUALITY of the list

So you have a list, you say? Is it any good? Do you even know? How often do you review it? It’s important to make the list a part of your organization or department’s weekly routine. Someone should be assigned the responsibility of tending to it, keeping it updated and relevant. And once you have a master list, it should be broken down into relevant sub-lists based on your business goals and the types of communications you intent to send. Current clients are on a different list than prospective clients. Your media contacts may need to be segmented by issue areas. It’s fine if people overlap and exist on multiple lists, but you need to have the ability to send targeted communication to your contacts that will be relevant to their own interests. Otherwise, they will ask to be taken off your list!

Flex the list

Once your list is in order it’s time to use it. Determine a schedule of communication activity and the types of content the members of your list will find most relevant. Then get to work being a resource. We’ll be writing more on content in the future –that’s not the point of this post. The bottom line is figure out how to best put your list to work for you. How often to use it and with what targeted groups.

Grow the list

Once you’ve started using your list you will start to see its value immediately, so the next question is how do you grow it? Every day, every week you should be adding potential clients and other “important contacts” to your list to expand your reach and the number of people who are exposed to your smart thinking and solutions.

And remember to remind yourself and your team regularly – it’s all about the list.

4 Tips to Put Your Sponsorship Dollars to Work

The AEC Industry really doesn’t have a long history of “marketing” in a true sense of the word. Business Development is a little more prevalent than marketing in many ways – there are almost always expectations placed on principals or other senior folks.

However, the one marketing tactic that does seem to come up over and over, even in firms that don’t think they market at all, is sponsorships.

  • My son’s little league team – slap a logo on that shirt.
  • My spouse’s local charity  – absolutely, we’ll pay a few hundred bucks for an ad in the program.
  • Industry conference/convention – may be a little pricey, but what the heck, we get a mention in the print magazine AND the website, go for it.

What tends to happen, is that all of these sponsorships add up at the end of the year and management is looking at a $5,000 line item in the budget (often grouped together as advertising) and saying “What the heck happened? We spent 5K and didn’t see a single new lead from our advertising efforts!”

The issue isn’t that sponsorships aren’t worthwhile – it’s that money was put in the wrong place and not backed up by a solid commitment. Here are a few recommendations to make those sponsorship dollars have more of an impact on your firm’s bottom line.

Show up.

If you want to sponsor an event, don’t just throw money at it. Go to the event, volunteer with the team – do what you can to show that you and your firm care about the cause.

Stay on brand.

It’s easier to show up, when you actually DO care about the event, team or publication you’re sponsoring. With that in mind, choose to support things that make sense for your brand. Sure, it helps from a marketing perspective, but it also allows for greater buy-in and less teeth-pulling to actually get people to participate.

Stay on budget.

If you don’t have a marketing budget, you should. And if you have one that doesn’t include a line item to support sponsorships, it should. It’s inevitable that your firm will place an ad in a program or on a banner throughout the year, so track that cost and be realistic about how much you plan to spend.

Include your message.

I’ve written on the importance of a good name and logo countless times, but let’s just say that your firm happens to have an acronym of your principals’ last names. Placing your acronym logo on a banner, in a program or on a shirt does nothing to build awareness or even show your firm’s support for the cause if people don’t already know who you are. Be sure to develop a logo with some form of messaging included, if it isn’t already immediately recognizable what your firm does.