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AEC firms: Your website is one of the most important things you'll build

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AEC firms: Your website is one of the most important things you'll build

By Karl Feldman | Hinge | March 6, 2017

Today, an AEC firm’s website is the single most common source of information about the firm for buyers. 

Traditional sources of information like references have fallen out of favor, given the easy availability of information online. Now, buyers turn to your website, Google, and social media for answers. This is how they evaluate firms — and if you don’t pass muster, you’re going to lose ground to the competition.

Even a referral doesn’t always translate into new business. When a buyer receives a referral, they’ll do their due diligence online. And about 52% of the time, they’ll rule out the firm they were referred to before even speaking with them. Why? Because of the firm’s poor marketing and branding.

It’s clear, then, that your website is critical. So how do you know if your website needs attention, and how do you bring it up to speed so you can help your firm grow?



Is It a Five-Alarm Website Emergency?

Your clients are going to be evaluating you by your website. So it’s important for you to evaluate your website first. Look for the following signs that your site may be in need of an update:

  • An outdated look and feel. If your site’s design hasn’t changed much in three years or more, it’s probably time for a refresh. Your website may feel stale and stodgy to visitors.
  • It’s hard to update your site — so you haven’t. Is it a pain to change the content or add fresh new content onto your site? Are pages out of date as a result? No question about it: it’s time for an upgrade.
  • Your competition looks better than you. In the world of AEC marketing, looks matter. The simple fact is that if your competitors’ designs are crisper, more attractive, and easier to read, they will appear more credible to buyers. Their updated websites might allow their projects to look more appealing too. Are buyers, partners, and potential employees able to easily find what you’re looking for on your website? If you want to compete, you have to keep up.
  • Your firm’s positioning and messaging isn’t clear. Does your website communicate who you are — the truly unique qualities that set you apart from the competition? If not, then it’s imperative that you address the situation.

If any of the above qualities are true of your site, then alarm bells should be ringing: your site needs an upgrade for your firm to remain competitive. But an update can be a big project, and that means you need buy-in from other folks in your firm. So how do you build support for the project?


From Discussion to Action

How do you demonstrate to your teammates and firm partners that your website matters? One way might be to look at leading research on professional services marketing so you can quantify the opportunity before you. The data shows that firms that generate leads online both grow more quickly and are more profitable.

Another approach is to offer a direct comparison with your competitors. This isn’t just a matter of aesthetics. You can take a look at how your firm ranks in search engines relative to your competition and develop a strong sense of the challenge ahead of you.

With this data in hand, try to understand the resources you will need to execute a website upgrade successfully, so you will have the data necessary to make an ROI-based argument to your leadership or peers. To proceed efficiently, you might need to work with a third-party partner who specializes in websites and has a deep understanding of the AEC industry.


How to Choose a Design and Development Partner

As with any professional partnership, a website partner can deliver either frustration or powerful results. Fortunately, it’s easy to distinguish the legitimate experts from the pretenders.

Look for the following qualities in any website partner:

  • An empirical, research-based approach to website development
  • A deep understanding of both your audience and the technology
  • Reliable and timely scheduling — with flexibility
  • The ability to provide ongoing support, both strategic and tactical

Your website partner should provide more than technical expertise. They need to have a tailored, ongoing plan to help you connect with your target audiences and generate more business. And they should understand that effective website development is a science, not an art. The most successful, growth-oriented sites are the ones whose impact you can measure.


How to Measure and Demonstrate Value

How can you measure and demonstrate the value of your new website? There are several key metrics to which you should be attentive:

  • Search engine ranking. How do you stack up in Google searches for relevant industry terms and keyword phrases relative to your competitors? This has a direct impact on your firm’s overall performance.
  • Website traffic. Is your website traffic increasing? Decreasing? Which content types and topics seem to draw the most traffic? You should constantly evaluate this in order to adapt and improve your online presence based on what works.
  • Leads generated through your website. Ultimately, your site needs to contribute to the bottom line. How successfully are you generating leads?
  • Top talent. Your website isn’t just a vehicle for driving new business. It should also help your AEC firm to attract top talent.

By evaluating these metrics on an ongoing basis, you will maintain a strong sense of your website’s success. Your website doesn’t have to be a daunting project. Start where you’re strong and maximize the tools that you have. And by keeping an eye on these metrics regularly, you’ll be able to make regular and incremental updates. The fact is that you can never sit still when it comes to your online presence, but if you’re thoughtful in your approach, you’ll be positioned to surge ahead of the competition.


Karl brings over 15 years of insights to the Hinge team, with experience blending marketing strategy, execution, and creative leadership. His career spans retail, professional services and A/E/C industries. Most recently, he has held leadership positions at national brands including Director of Marketing at HITT contracting and The Healthy Back Store. Karl's open and inquisitive nature is balanced by a hands-on approach working with teams from concept to completion.

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