Architecture Websites make fairly consistent mistakes in their design and implementation
Honestly, this could apply to a bunch of industries, but the offenses seem particularly egregious with architecture websites and construction company websites. I get it; these are industries that, traditionally, have not had to rely on the web for much, if any, of their business. These are very ‘word of mouth’ and ‘professional networking’ oriented industries. Every firm has a symbiotic relationship with subcontractors, and vice versa. It works. That’s not the issue.
The issue is that the vast majority of companies in that sector either consciously or unconsciously ignore a HUGE opportunity for new business by forgoing even the most basic of web marketing techniques. It has never been easier to connect with people in your target market. Sure, competition is high, and positioning matters, but when have those things not been true? So, without further chit chat, here are the top ten mistakes I’ve noticed companies like these make with their websites.
There’s no lead capture anywhere
It’s at the top of the list for a reason. I consider this the cardinal sin of web design. You can’t change the fact that well over 95% of your site traffic won’t be ready to initiate a project quote, much less put money towards anything on their first visit. What you can exert some control over is whether or not their first visit is their only visit. The flip-side of this coin is that many of those site visitors will be ready to spend money with a firm at some point in the future. It should be your absolute, number-one, indisputable priority to make sure that when they are ready to spend money, they’re doing it with you. The how of this is simple: dedicate your site 100% to getting strangers to sign up to give you permission to market to them…i.e. lead capture. Not having it these days is asking to be buried by the competition in the coming years. The ubiquity of CRM tools makes it inexcusable (if you don’t know what a CRM is, do yourself a huge favor and Google it immediately). Having a successful lead capture strategy allows you to directly communicate with prospective customers and keep your company in the top of their mind as they do their research. You can become a voice of authority on information they care about. You can build a relationship with WAY more than tiny fraction of site traffic that was immediately ready to pull the trigger. It’s super important on architecture websites, because the sales cycles can be long. It’s a great way to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers over time.
There is no clear navigational path for the site visitor to take
Cardinal sin number two. It stems from a lack of clarity on the overall purpose of architecture websites. This is a problem common to many website owners. There is a general sentiment nowadays that businesses are just supposed to have a website. Unfortunately, the exact reasons WHY businesses should have a website are not as widely disseminated. The results are clear: no articulated reason for the site = no clear purpose to its design. It’s a great way to lose a lot of business since you generally have about 4 seconds get someone to do something on a site before they navigate away. The only way to keep them clicking through is to interest them right away. So, you must know why you have a site (you know why I think you should have a site), and you must know your target customer. If you can speak to their interests in a way that compels them to take some kind of action on your site, you’ve just come that much closer to getting their business.
There is no clear way to initiate a project, get a quote or enter a sales cycle
This is kind of a re-phrasing of the second point, but not if you’ve taken to heart my philosophy behind web design. Primary purpose is always to get permission to market to strangers, because this addresses the bulk of your site traffic that isn’t ready to buy while they’re there. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it easy for the people who ARE ready to buy right away. Most sites I visit (that aren’t retail oriented (and alarmingly even some that are)) don’t have a clear way for people to give you their money…or even to initiate the process of doing so! Contact information is buried in the footer or on its own page that you have to navigate to. There isn’t a big fat button that says CLICK HERE FOR A QUOTE. Architecture websites would do well to learn from online retailers in this regard. Don’t make people work to give you their business. I mean, you want more business, right? Design your site (or pay an expert to design your site) in such a way that it is unmistakably clear what someone has to do to initiate business with you. Don’t make them call you, unless you’re trying to screen your clients (different story for a different time). Give them a way to do it right then and there, and make it as easy as possible.
The sites look old and the information is outdated
Fairly self-explanatory. Businesses that don’t rely on their websites to generate business frequently let them lapse into total obsolescence. Check your copyright info. Make sure it’s up to date. Make sure you aren’t running Flash elements that won’t work on some Apple Devices. Make sure it is designed to be easily navigable on mobile browsers. Make sure you aren’t linking to dead or broken pages. It’s easy to let that stuff go if it’s not your primary method of getting business, but…c’mon. It’s not OK to have a website that looks like it was built 20 years ago if you are a company claiming to be on the cutting edge of ANY industry. If nothing else, it’s inconsistent branding. It looks sloppy, and it’s time somebody told you to clean it up. Now off you go. Skooch!
Contact information is hard to find or only in one place
Ok, so again, some redundancy on this one, but it bears repeating. Make it easy for people to get a hold of you! It’s like the old Gallagher one-liner about a hitchhiker wearing camouflage. Put it up top. Put it on the bottom. Put it on its own page and put it on every other page. You never know what will make someone decide it’s time to get in touch, so make sure that they don’t have to dig for how to do it.
There are no links to social media
…If social media even exists. Social media has an extremely low barrier to entry when it comes to talking directly with potential customers. People’s guards aren’t way up, like they are with traditional cold-calling. They are much more receptive to your message, and much more likely to share it with others who may also be interested in that environment. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with even more of your site traffic (not to mention up your site traffic in general). People who are rushed looking around your site on their phone are likely to click through to your Instagram or Facebook so they can be reminded about you when they have more time. It’s a good thing to have, and it’s a good thing to have prominently displayed on your website.
Images are either way too big or way too small
Newer architecture sites are usually guilty of the prior and older ones of the latter. By too big I mean file size. There is rarely any good reason to use an image that has a file sizer of more than 1MB. Even a couple years ago 1MB was considered way too big. I think you can usually get away with it, because connection speeds keep improving, so an image that size won’t give your page concrete shoes when it comes to load-time. You can also keep a pretty high resolution image at that size if you use compression tools like Kraken or Adobe Media Converter. I know you want to show off your work in exquisite detail. You can, but don’t do it at the expense of your site working for people with one or two bars on their phone, or who are trying to view it on a busy Wi-Fi network.
There is no clear goal for the website
This could arguably have gone at the top of the list, but I think you can still do a lot by addressing the symptoms of this problem without addressing the problem itself. Even if you disagree with my philosophy on web design, you can still take these recommendations without drastically changing the look and feel of your site (unless it’s guilty of #4). Add lead capture. Add appropriate calls-to-action. Create an easy path for someone to initiate business with you. Link up social media. Compress your images. If you do that, but still aren’t clear on the goal you have for your site, you will still get great results.
The site is self-indulgent instead of customer-centric
This is more of a marketing taboo than anything else. If the site is all about how cool you are and how awesome your work is, you might be missing an opportunity to convey the benefits choosing your firm will impart to a prospective customer. That’s why it’s crucial to know your target market: you can speak to their motives, interests, passions, and desires. If you attach a meaning for the customer to the way you show off your work, you have made it about them instead of you. This can be done very subtly, but it requires some thought.
What the hell is SEO?
Last but not least: what the hell is SEO anyway? Just in case you don’t know, it stands for search engine optimization, which means making your site friendly to the ‘bots’ that Google et al use to index sites and return search results. A lot of it is snake oil (beware companies that pitch this as a magic bullet solution to your business troubles), but there are some general principles that you may want to follow if you want your site to show up on Google when people do a search relevant to your industry. Again, you have to know your target market to do this well. Most keywords that people search for often have a huge amount of competition, so relying solely on this to drive site traffic is a potentially expensive mistake. It can be a effective part of a larger marketing strategy though. The basics of SEO are also good web design practices. This includes semantic structure of your code, so that the bots know what pieces of information get priority on your site. It includes finding a niche set of keywords that your customers use to find your site. It includes making sure that your company is registered with Google. It includes making sure your company name is included throughout the site. Lots of companies have names that are similar to something else lots of people search for, so when someone types your entire company name into Google they still can’t find your website! At least make sure you’re the first result if someone is looking specifically for your company! Getting on the first page of Google for other keywords may or may not actually increase your site traffic. Sometimes Pay-Per-Click ads are just as effective. Sometimes social media and blogging are just as effective. The trick is to use all the best tools at your disposal and build a coherent online strategy. SEO is a part of that.
So there you have it. It’s my two cents on the subject. I am by no means the last word on this, but I think a lot of you will agree with some of the points I’ve made because they hold up against the rubric of common sense. It’s very much a do this, get that sort of thing. Take it or leave it. I promise if you take it, you WILL see a difference in your business.