Is Your Website Helping or Hurting Your Firm?

By: Nick Cafferky

In today’s world, having an internet presence is an absolute necessity. But just HAVING a site is no longer the bare minimum; having a GOOD one is. Here are a few things to look at when evaluating your  website.

Overall attractive layout

Your website is the store front of this century; how it looks impacts what people think of you and whether they want to do business with you. Just how important are aesthetics? An Adobe study found that 38 percent of people will leave a company’s website if they think the website’s layout is unattractive. And having people leave your site before they even learn about you is the last thing you want. Speaking of which…

“About Us” page

Once on your page, over half of all visitors will want to go to some sort of “About Us” page. Things like your firm history and personal bios are a great way to help your visitor learn about you and feel more connected. Contact information should also be readily available, as well (either on this page or a separate one). Email addresses, phone number, social media accounts — providing as much information as you can is a great way to distinguish yourself from other websites. In fact, over half of the respondents in a KoMarketing study said that “thorough contact information” is the most important thing missing from many websites.

How does it look on mobile devices?

The average adult spends 5.6 hours on the Internet, but over half (3.1 hours) of it is on a mobile device of some kind. So to them, it doesn’t matter how gorgeous your site may look on a desktop if it looks like trash on a mobile device. If you have fancy bells and whistles on your site, make sure they don’t show up as broken links and poorly scaled images on a phone or tablet. Beyond how it looks, it’s important to also remember that sites are now becoming penalized by major search engines for not being mobile responsive. If your firm’s web strategy didn’t include mobile before, it should now!

How easy is it to navigate?

If you have a logo at the top of your page, does that double as a “home” button? If not, then it should. How about your tabs/dropdown menus? How easy are those to use? Internet users are incredibly fickle, and if your site is hard to navigate, people will leave. Remember, just because something seems easy to find to you, that doesn’t mean it is for everyone else. After all, you did make the site. Try asking a friend or close client to find information on your site and see if they find it just as easily.

How Marketing Delivers Loyalty

In a recent marketing presentation on metrics, I opened with a slide titled “We Don’t Deliver Pizza, But We Do Deliver Loyalty.” Coupled with a few bullet points and a screengrab of a popular pizza delivery app, the slide drew some chuckles and it began an important dialogue. The purpose of the slide was to say, that while A/E marketers can’t offer coupons and BOGO specials, we have much more in common with consumer marketers than many people think. This may be hard to imagine, but let me explain.

It is incredibly common in our industry to assume that repeat business and referrals have nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with great service, top-notch design…pretty much anything on the billable side. I like to call it the Word of Mouth Myth. This myth basically says that word of mouth is not related to marketing and therefore cannot be influenced by marketing efforts. Either people will refer you or they won’t, and it’s solely based on performance. I’d like to use the pizza delivery industry as an example to show why this is wrong.

My family likes pizza. We have ordered it more than once of course, and when we do there are a number of options for us to choose from. Now, if I apply the thinking that many people in the A/E industry use regarding marketing, I would only order based on my prior experience and the advice of my friends. No amount of marketing from a new pizza company would change my mind. Additionally, and more importantly, no amount of marketing from my current, favorite pizza company would make a bit of difference either.

However, we know this isn’t true. Brand awareness, repetition and ongoing marketing campaigns are all incredibly powerful drivers for our decisions. Email marketing, branded boxes, mailings, commercials, car signs and more are not just ways for us to learn about other pizza places, they are ways to keep us thinking about our favorite one, over and over and over again. Every ad or flyer aren’t intended to get me to order right away, but they are intended to for me to make the right choice when I’m ready to order!

There are a few reasons why it is difficult to see marketing in the A/E industry in this same light. One of them is time. The buying cycle is far, far longer for an architecture client than it is for a hungry family. Therefore, it’s easy to dismiss marketing efforts as ineffective in driving action when in actuality what’s really happening is that firms are not keeping up the campaigns long enough. What may seem to be a failure was actually just ended too soon.

Another reason is a lack of comprehensive metrics. Consumer marketers kind of “have it easy” in that way. If they run a BOGO deal, they can tell quickly if people start buying. In the A/E world, we have to develop more ways to track success throughout the sales funnel because we don’t have many opportunities for a direct response and purchase to occur simultaneously. Simple calls to action to download, read more or join our list need to not only be measured individually, but also tied together so that the overall interaction with a particular client is captured over years instead of one email or event at a time. It is great that John Q. Client opened our last email, but effective marketing metrics should let me know that John opened three of our last six emails, showed up to both of our events and downloaded our whitepaper on IPD. Is this realistic to keep up with for every client? No, but that’s why strategic direction comes into play when it is time to prioritize our efforts!

When we start viewing A/E marketing from this perspective, one where our efforts aren’t just designed to drive new contracts but to engage all audiences and build loyalty, we start to see just how important marketing is. Marketing then becomes a complementary activity to project work, because the entire firm becomes responsible (and gets credit) for repeat business and referral generation.

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!