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.

The Two Times Marketing Should Be a Priority for Your Firm

Throughout the years, I’ve had countless conversations with A/E firms about the right times to market. I don’t mean on the micro level like, “What time of day is the best time to tweet?” I mean on the macro level like, “We are a little slow right now so we figured we should market our firm a bit.”

So, I thought a brief post about the best times to market would be helpful. Below are the two absolute best times to market your architecture, engineering or construction firm.

  1. When you’re busy.
  2. When you’re not busy.

Yep, pretty much always. Marketing should be a priority year-round for your firm. Your campaign direction may change, your media may change, but a focus on marketing isn’t something that should come and go when you get the free time. Marketing is a long-term business process that builds a foundation of awareness for your firm, your team, your expertise…it isn’t just a one-time lead generation exercise when work is slow. (Lead generation is a part of marketing, but it’s more like the end result of successfully doing a number of marketing and communications activities.)

Do you pay employees every once in a while, when you have the free time? Or do you process payroll regularly as a part of managing your firm?

Marketing is just as necessary as paying bills to run a successful firm, but may not happen if you don’t get it on the schedule and build your expectations around the time that has to be dedicated to it – time from yourself, your billable employees, or even your marketing team that may spend the bulk of their time responding to RFPs.

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.

The Importance of Social Media Analytics for Your Firm

Each firm is unique and their familiarity, experience, and expectations with social media vary as well. Along with an active social media presence, architecture and engineering firms have disparate goals, with some focused on an increase of followers or likes, while others want to see an increase in post frequency and activity. Either way, marketers within and outside of the AEC industry have finally moved on from the notion that you simply just had to have a Facebook or Twitter account. This is where analytics, and the type of measurements needed, become very important in decision-making for your architecture firm’s management and the marketing team.

Why Analytics Are Important for You As a Marketer

  • They act as a major driving force behind the creation of a new marketing plan, or simply adjusting a current one.
  • They drive action by creating benchmarks and allowing you to set goals, regardless of if they are activity-based or interaction-based.
  • They provide guidance on what has and hasn’t been so successful with regards to achieving those goals, allowing necessary changes to be made.

Why Analytics Are Important for Firm Management

  • Being able to justify an idea or strategy with concrete data doesn’t just allow your principals to see evidence, but it provides a foundation for communications moving forward.
  • Analytics allow you to set realistic goals with principals based on reports and even comparisons with competitors. At times, management may expect an unreasonable amount of followers within a given time and good reporting can illustrate what is possible and on par with benchmarks.
  • The frequency that analytics are run and what specific data is gathered is all relative to your management team – and that’s okay! Run reports and share data at intervals that make sense for your firm’s schedule, ensuring that at least monthly the team is looking at current data.

Social media analytics provide answers and drive well-informed dialogue. They allow a marketing team to see why a certain campaign worked or why some channels were more successful than others, just like Google Analytics does for websites. While their use will vary considerably from firm to firm, their importance cannot be overstated.

– Robert Purdy