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.

5 Questions to Whittle Down Your Portfolio

One of the biggest struggles that firms seem to have with their website is where to draw the line with the portfolio – specifically, determining how many projects should be included. Designing and building a website should result in a site that can “scale up” easily, allowing firms to add projects as time goes on. That doesn’t always make it easy to decide what gets included at launch, and it also leaves very loose expectations on when/if things should get REMOVED from the site (yes, I said it – you should actually be deleting your older work).

Here are some quick thoughts to help you determine what gets cut.

  1. Was the work done for this firm? If it wasn’t, cut it. The only time it really makes sense to include projects from a prior firm is when you’re first starting out. Otherwise it is too easy to come across as a firm that’s trying to bulk up your portfolio artificially.
  2. Are you creating an “other” category? (Hint: Don’t!) If you have a beautifully organized portfolio of work, divided by your major target industries, and then find yourself adding an “other” tab, you’re doing your work a disservice and diluting your marketing message. How would a potential client feel if they found themselves to be called “other”? Who searches for “other”? Who knows what to expect when navigating to “other”?
  3. Would you want another project just like it? Part of what you’re saying with your portfolio is “I’m/we’re proud to have been involved with this project and I’d/we’d love to do it again.” Be honest with yourself and your potential clients; do you actually want to do another similar project?
  4. If a potential client only saw 4 pages on your website, would it be ok if this was one of them? If you look at your website’s analytics, you’ll probably notice that you average between 2 and 4 pages per session. Ask yourself “Is this project representative enough of the firm that I would spend half of my first impression on it?”
  5. Has this client heard from our firm in a while? Remember how dynamic the web is and how well-connected people are these days. If you show client work and a web user happens to know that client, you can bet they will reach out if they are a serious lead. If you aren’t sure what the client will say, it’s best not to open that door.

Our policy when advising clients is ALWAYS quality over quantity. It’s better to have a streamlined, more valuable portfolio than a huge directory of scattered work!

Three Tips for Mobile Architecture Firm Websites

How Important Is Your Architecture Firm’s Mobile Website Presence?

Responsive design. Boom. It’s the biggie these days and boy is everybody asking for it. It feels like it’s becoming the new “we have to get on social media because everybody else is” in many ways.

Truthfully, responsive design is important, just as social media is. The basic concept behind it is that you want your website to deliver information in a way that makes the most sense for usability based on the device it’s being displayed on. But the focus on responsive design also puts a heavy emphasis on the types of content being consumed – it’s important to know what content and how much content people are viewing when they come to your site on their phone.

Often the highest priority for an AEC website is photography – the portfolio! The work should shine. Add on a layer of focus on strategic marketing goals like SEO around certain target markets, inbound marketing, etc. and you’re putting together a good list of priorities for a website. But, pump the breaks – I need my entire website to be responsive! What is responsive when it comes to your portfolio? How much time, effort and money should be invested in reorganizing your entire website for mobile users?

I decided to take a look at the Google Analytics for every client website that we have access to and see what kind of data we could pull when it comes to mobile use. The aggregated results look like this:

  • Average % of mobile visits – 13.64%
  • Average pages per visit – 1.87
  • Highest number of pages per visit for any site on a mobile – 3

So, when we look at how much content the average person is consuming via mobile device in our industry – the answer is less than 2 pages! This doesn’t tell us that responsive design isn’t important. In fact, it tells us the opposite. It tells us that if you want to maximize the usability of your website to clients and potential clients visiting via mobile – you would DRASTICALLY simplify what you’re delivering.

Here are three tips I would pull from this data to improve your AEC firm’s mobile-friendly aspects.

  • Make contact info available on the homepage, immediately. Also, ensure your contact info is text-based, not an image. Mobile users only viewing less than two pages are probably trying call you or find you. Make it easy for their built-in phone and tablet functionalities.
  • If you have a blog, and want people to read it – make sure it’s styled well for mobile. If you are very active on social media, a high percentage of your mobile traffic is probably driven from there. If you want people to keep coming back to your blog (or stick around on it), make sure the content is easy to digest.
  • Responsive Web Design is just one piece of the puzzle. Don’t be afraid to consider that the majority of your website may just not be relevant to mobile users at all. Monitor Google Analytics, see what you can find out about your mobile users and don’t be afraid to design a mobile experience that is focused on their content needs instead of your design skills.