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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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