Think of the internet as a virtual, visual phonebook. If you want your phone to start ringing, you have to stand out.
Because architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry firms rely on images to highlight their stories, the internet is a particularly effective marketing tool. There is no question that, in the digital age, your firm must invest in an outstanding website. Think of it as the façade of your building.
But, unlike buildings, which have hardstop completion dates, websites are dynamic. As your firm evolves and as technology changes, your website has to keep up. Otherwise, your firm will risk looking outdated and out of touch. But even the best website may only have a shelf life of about three to five years.
If you think that’s inaccurate, consider the fact that social media didn’t exist a
decade ago and neither did smartphones. How do you create a compelling presence on the Internet that conveys your expertise and makes your firm get noticed? I’ve summarized the best practices.
Use strong visuals. A website is all about visuals. You need to show your work to best advantage. Above all, invest in good photography of your projects and people; there’s just no substitute. Make your photos big and prominent—no thumbnails! You may want to incorporate graphics that are understandable to a non-technical
Keep the graphics simple. Your website is an integral part of your brand. Make sure that it matches your corporate identity, such as your font, color scheme, and logo. Complicated graphics with too many visual elements on a page will obscure your important content. You also want to choose a readable font. Dark text over a light background is the easiest to read; never put yellow text over red! Icons are becoming more commonplace, so don’t be afraid of using them for greater visual impact. Opt for clarity over clutter.
Incorporate clear navigation. People are busy, and the last thing that visitors want to do is hunt and gather the information they’re seeking. Above all, your website’s navigation must be intuitive. Potential clients will click off your website if it’s too complicated, and editors will get frustrated trying to find what they need. Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, editor-in-chief of ArchNewsNow.com, recommends
that A/E/C firms incorporate search functions on their websites so visitors can get directly where they want to go. She adds that “editors don’t want to have to roll their cursors over graphics to find menu bars. Anything that requires chasing with a cursor is a curse!”
Speak to your audiences. You don’t have just one audience—you have many. Each potential client or visitor will be seeking specific information about your firm and its people. According to Jessica Wyman, owner of Wyman Projects, a graphic design and website company, there is often a difference between what “a firm needs versus what its principals think they want. The biggest challenge is to put A/E/C professionals in the mind of the website user, rather than designing a gorgeous site that doesn’t speak to its visitors.”
Tell your story. A website is a great opportunity to tell the story of your firm—the things that make you tick and the things that differentiate you from your competition.
Use your website to build your influence and highlight your expertise. Enliven your project descriptions by talking about the stories behind your work and people.
Use technology to your advantage. No website is complete without links to Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other social media. However, the best sites today incorporate video via a YouTube or Vimeo channel that engages visitors. In the future, websites may even incorporate advanced interactive technologies. We all know that the greatest constant is change. Build your website with an eye to the future.
Design for mobile.“‘Responsive’ is the industry word for a single version of your website that reads well on all devices,” explains Roberto de Alba, founder of Spliteye Multimedia LLC.“Clients might dismiss your website if it’s not optimized for smartphones and tablets.”
Integrate SEO. If you build it, they will come. Well, not always. But you will have a lot more potential for attracting the right audiences if you incorporate the right keywords into the content of your website. Use search engine optimization (SEO) to guide potential clients to your firm.
Maintain it. A website is a living, breathing creature that needs constant care and attention. It’s an ongoing commitment. “When your new website is up and running, remember that it needs to be managed and remain current,” notes Jennifer Ganley, Marketing Director at Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers. “I enjoy reading website posts like firm news and announcements,” adds Richards. “But if you decide to include news items, make sure you maintain your site.” Update your site as often
as your can—weekly or even daily, if you have enough content.
Last but not least, whether you’re refreshing your existing website or creating a new one from scratch, you need to create a reasonable schedule, says Jenna McKnight, digital editor at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. McKnight, who recently lead SOM’s overhaul of its award-winning website, cautions that you “have to anticipate that designs might change during the process. A lot of people underestimate how long it will take to generate good content.”
About the Author: Tami Hausman, PhD, is president of Hausman LLC, an integrated communications firm. She partners with A/E/C clients to customize outreach programs that raise their visibility and build influence. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @HausmanLLC.
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