4 Functions AEC Websites Must Serve

Attract, Demonstrate, Connect, Convert

If you have this nag­ging sense that your AEC firm web­site could be more than an online brochure, you’re right. The mod­ern web­site doesn’t sit idle wait­ing for the arrival of a vis­i­tor to sim­ply con­firm what they’ve already heard about your firm. When com­bined with nar­row posi­tion­ing and content/inbound mar­ket­ing, a good web­site becomes a busi­ness devel­op­ment tool.

Here’s an exam­ple:

A city plan­ner wants to know best way to gath­er pub­lic input for a new park being con­sid­ered years from now. She search­es for “pub­lic input meth­ods for city parks” via Google. A blog post titled What Works: Pub­lic Input for Pub­lic Parks is one of many search results. Google likes to return local results so this blog post writ­ten by a local land­scape archi­tec­ture and plan­ning firm (Firm X) ranks high­ly. The plan­ner knows that her city will even­tu­al­ly need to hire a firm to design the park, so she’s curi­ous about the per­spec­tive of Firm X. The Plan­ner clicks the link and is direct­ed to the blog sec­tion with­in the Firm X’s web­site. The blog post offers sev­er­al insight­ful sug­ges­tions that make the plan­ner look good when she rec­om­mends these ideas to her Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. At the end of the post, there are links to sim­i­lar arti­cles. She is too busy to read them now so she book­marks the links. Know­ing that she will for­get about these book­marks, she sub­scribes to the firm’s newslet­ter. Now she won’t have to remem­ber to go back to the firm’s blog because use­ful arti­cles will show up in her email in-box. Her con­tact info auto­mat­i­cal­ly gets entered into Firm X’s CRM. The park project is put on hold and a year goes by. The city now plans to cre­ate a walk­ing trail and puts out an RFP for design. Since she reg­u­lar­ly receives free valu­able advice from Firm X, the city plan­ner sends them a link to the RFP. Firm X wins the job in the pre­sen­ta­tion inter­view because the selec­tion com­mit­tee felt like they knew and trust­ed Firm X after hear­ing a Prin­ci­pal speak on Trends in Trail Design at a recent con­fer­ence.

The best professional service websites attract the unaware, demonstrate your expertise, connect personally, and convert visitors into prospects.

Attract
If your firm is clear­ly and nar­row­ly posi­tioned to attract a spe­cif­ic audi­ence, then your web­site can reach and engage the unaware. These vis­i­tors may be poten­tial clients or employ­ees. Both are impor­tant to the suc­cess of your firm.

A ben­e­fit of know­ing your tar­get audi­ence is know­ing what keeps them up at night. Search­able and opti­mized con­tent on your web­site that soothes client pain points will increase your odds that unaware prospects find you. Once they find you, they will devour your con­tent because it seems like it was writ­ten just for them.

A main oppor­tu­ni­ty is to attract the unaware: those who need your exper­tise but are unaware you exist or not con­sid­er­ing you.” –Mark O’Brien, Author of A Web­site That Works.

By reg­u­lar­ly adding unique, exper­tise-based con­tent to your site, you will boost SEO. You begin to con­vey to Google who you are, which helps Google send the right vis­i­tors. The vis­i­tors like your con­tent because it feels cus­tomized for them. Then vis­i­tors start link­ing to your con­tent. Google notices this and increas­es your search rank­ings.

Demon­strate Exper­tise
A good web­site can allow some­one to get to know (as described above) to like to trust your firm. This hap­pens by demon­strat­ing your exper­tise in writ­ing. This can be blog posts, white papers or month­ly newslet­ters. Make sure the con­tent is index­able (not a PDF), so Google, and vis­i­tors, can find it.

A com­mit­ment to reg­u­lar­ly adding valu­able and search­able con­tent to your web­site demon­strates your exper­tise and works to pre-posi­tion your firm as a leader before the RFP comes out. Con­tent mar­ket­ing is so crit­i­cal for pro­fes­sion­al ser­vices because we are “sell­ing the invis­i­ble.” Buy­ers can’t see, touch, or test our ser­vices before they buy. Con­tent mar­ket­ing is a no pres­sure, non-sales man­ner for prospects to under­stand how you think, what you believe, and how you’ve solved pre­vi­ous prob­lems.

Cre­at­ing engag­ing con­tent is hard to do. Most will give up after a few months. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stand out.

I rec­om­mend start­ing with writ­ing a blog. then grad­u­ate to:
• quar­ter­ly webi­na­rs
• white papers
• speak­ing where your clients gath­er
• videos & pod­casts

Con­nect
The mantra I  hear repeat­ed is: A/E/C mar­ket­ing is a rela­tion­ship busi­ness. Peo­ple do busi­ness with peo­ple they know. Yet, I’m shocked how many firms are unwill­ing to high­light firm lead­ers on their web­site out of fear that this tal­ent will be poached. Guess what? Your com­pe­ti­tion already knows who your lead­ers are. If your lead­ers’ loy­al­ty is so frag­ile that an email from a com­peti­tor will cause them to jump ship, then you’ve got big­ger issues.

While there is no sub­sti­tute for meet­ing some­one in per­son, you can begin a rela­tion­ship by mak­ing an emo­tion­al con­nec­tion online. No, not online dat­ing. Do this in the Peo­ple sec­tion of your site by show­ing some per­son­al­i­ty. We recent­ly designed a site where we asked mag­a­zine style ques­tions to the lead­ers. You could also use a video of some­one telling a client sto­ry. Avoid the cold bio with only facts. Avoid the stiff head­shot where every­one looks the same. Give web­site vis­i­tors a rea­son to like the peo­ple that they may even­tu­al­ly work with.

ARUP Videos

ARUP lets vis­i­tors get to know lead­ers in their own words using video.

Con­vert
The sales cycle for pro­fes­sion­al ser­vices is long and involves mul­ti­ple steps. Nobody is going to vis­it your site and won­der where your shop­ping cart is so they can pur­chase your ser­vices with Pay­Pal. How­ev­er, in exchange for your valu­able con­tent, vis­i­tors are will­ing to give you their trust and atten­tion in the form of their name and email address.

You may be reluc­tant to place sign-up forms on most of your pages, because you feel it is too “sales-ey” for a pro­fes­sion­al ser­vice firm. Get over this con­cern. Vis­i­tors won’t go to all the pages on your site so you don’t want to miss a con­ver­sion oppor­tu­ni­ty by only putting a sign-up form on your Con­tact page. If you are offer­ing valu­able con­tent, you are help­ing vis­i­tors by allow­ing them sign up for your e-newslet­ter. Then they don’t have to remem­ber to go con­sis­tent­ly return to your site.

Con­ver­sion should be accom­plished through a clear, con­cise and com­pelling call-to-action form (see below). The form should include Name and Email (no more) and a link to exam­ples of the type of con­tent they will receive. Keep the form con­cise to min­i­mize resis­tance in the sign-up process.

CTA

Sign-up form for Ran­dall Lamb

Since the sales cycle is long, it’s crit­i­cal to get some­one into your CRM and put them on a con­sis­tent drip of valu­able con­tent. When they become ready to buy your ser­vices, your firm will remain front of mind.

No sin­gle piece of con­tent, no mat­ter how excel­lent, will be as suc­cess­ful as a steady, long term flow of qual­i­ty con­tent.” – Chris But­ler, Author of The Strate­gic Web Design­er

Con­clu­sion
Web­sites have evolved from pas­sive brochure-ware to active lead gen­er­at­ing tools. Here are some A/E/C indus­try exam­ples of sites doing this well:
Ran­dall Lamb Engi­neers
Array Archi­tects
DPR Con­struc­tion
ARUP

 

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