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.

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.

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 Architecture Marketing Trends that Won’t Change in 2015

It’s a new year and that means it’s time for content creators all across the world wide web to forecast what the new trends and expectations will be for the architecture and design world! If you haven’t seen all of the posts, here’s one, here’s another on construction growth, here’s a color forecast, and well…here’s one about chunky knitting in interiors.

What does that mean for us? Will it be more of the same in 2015 or a brave new world? We decided to create a post about trends in architecture marketing also – but not in a “we’re predicting the future” kind of way. So, here are:

Five Architecture Marketing Trends that Won’t Change in 2015

  1. Your Marketing Will Require Time from Senior/Billable People
    Marketing for your firm can’t sit on cruise control and it can’t rest solely on the shoulders of ‘others’. Regardless of the size of your firm, effective marketing for architecture and engineering firms requires the involvement of senior team members with technical or design background. This is because marketing in 2015, just like in 2014, is not about a catchy headline and pretty picture, nor does it rely on proposals – it must come from authentic knowledge and expertise that is then packaged, presented and disseminated to a particular client-type.
  2. Chasing Funding Will Leave You Out of Breath
    This is a tough point to argue for many senior professionals. However, if the last few years of industry activity have told us (and our clients) anything, it has been that building a focused marketing platform on the basis of your expertise, your passion and your strategic goals is much more successful than chasing market trends and budget projections. The same will be true moving forward. This is not to say you should ignore market forecasts, but chasing a big budget all the way to a client that you’ve never talked to before is rarely effective.
  3. Data Is STILL Important
    Marketing decisions can no longer be made based on what used to happen or what we THINK used to happen. Perhaps one of the best things about marketing in 2014 was that the data got even better! SEO is more accurate and authentic than ever before. Increased online efforts mean increased metrics of everything. Advertising can be purchased for $20 and we can be sure that it’s seen by 1,000 people before we spend the next $20. Views, visits, followers, downloads, leads…pretty much everything we do can be tracked as we kick off 2015. The challenge moving forward for architecture and engineering firms is to continue to refine the data and make the connections between data sets more sophisticated.
  4. So Is Your Website
    We can’t talk about marketing, we can’t talk about data, we can’t talk about getting press, we can’t talk about referrals…without talking about your website. In 2014 we finally started to see a drop-off in firms and new clients saying, “We’re embarrassed by our website. It’s something we put together ten years ago just as a placeholder and it’s been limping along ever since.” The same will be true this year. Your website is crucial and DOES in fact lead to new business, help close the deal with referrals and much, much more. 2015 will continue to be more of the same – clients will use the web to inform their buying decisions.
  5. Competition Will Continue to Increase
    …but not really. Firms are trending smaller and a large number of professionals started their own firms/design businesses over the last five to ten years (for a variety of reasons – layoffs, lack of career advancement, design control). This trend will stick around in 2015. However, there are a few factors that make the increased number of firms irrelevant when it comes to your firm winning work. First, the more focused you are on the appropriate target market, the more clear the buying decision will be for your clients. Your messaging, your marketing, your portfolio and your SEO will all eliminate a majority of the clutter from being seen as legitimate competition if they’re all done in concert. Additionally, what we’ve seen in many of the new firms is a break from the traditional “architecture-only” service model. A lot of new architecture firms aren’t necessarily practicing architecture at all, but are looking to apply their expertise as consultants, property investors, industrial designers, etc. This means the concept of who is and is not a competitor has been completely reframed within the industry.

So what will it be for your firm in 2015? How will your marketing improve given the ever-changing landscape of the rest of the industry?