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.

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

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.

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.


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

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

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