Monday, July 11, 2011

Time to Rethink Your Website?

The internet is a treasure trove of information and advice. Type about any question into the Google search bar and you can get answers on topics from health to home repair to hieroglyphics. Looking for insight into what product or service to buy? Most people use the internet for help in making purchasing decisions, not to mention making the purchase itself at many sites.

This applies to the A/E business as well. A survey found that buyers of professional services (including architecture and engineering) are increasingly influenced by the service provider's website. Indeed, 74% said that the provider's website had at least "some influence" on the ultimate purchase decision. This number represented a 23% increase from a similar study conducted just five years earlier.

So how much of an asset is your website in helping clients choose your firm? One way to assess this is to compare your site to that of your primary competitors. Does your site give your firm an advantage or disadvantage? In my own review of A/E firm websites, I've found very few that really stand out. What are some ways to make your website a more powerful influence in client purchasing decisions? A few suggestions:

Remember that first impressions count. One of the first things many prospective clients will do after hearing about your firm is to check out your website. What impressions might they take away from a few minutes spent there? Some firms design their websites in house, and it shows. Your website can quickly create an image of status and professionalism, or that of a bit player. It's worth the investment of hiring a talented web designer, if you haven't already.

Provide content of value to clients. The best way to promote your firm's credentials is not by telling potential customers about what you can do, but by demonstrating your expertise and insight through "content marketing." Seminars, speaking engagements, articles, white papers, and other resources form the core of this approach. Use your website to post content of value to clients, addressing their issues, concerns, and interests. Very few A/E firms do so. And if you update such material on a regular basis, it can encourage clients to return to your site.

Allow visitors to peek into the soul of your firm. Most A/E firm websites are rather lifeless, a dispassionate outline of basic facts, qualifications, and experience. Prospective clients need that kind of information, of course, but they need much more in making a purchase decision. They are looking for a comfort factor--"What's it like to work with this firm?" Your website should portray something about your culture, your values, your distinct way of doing business. Again, show it, don't just describe it (this firm does a pretty good job of this).

Make your site easy to navigate and skimmable. Busy clients (and which ones aren't?) aren't going to spend a lot of time reading your website (unless you've got some helpful client-oriented content). So make it easy for them to move from page to page and skim the main messages. Most A/E firm sites have relatively few pages, in part due to a lack of good content, but still demand too much reading for those simply interested in learning a little more about the firm.

Invite visitors to stay connected in some way. One of the great challenges of business development is engaging clients at the right time, when they are ready to begin the buying process. That's a key purpose of marketing, to keep your firm in front of the client on a regular basis so that you are "top of mind" when the need arises. Your website, obviously, is not effective in maintaining contact unless you are regularly adding content that draws people back. But you can also encourage visitors to stay in touch by signing up for your mailing list or subscribing to your blog, for example. Of course, this only works if you have something valuable to share!

There are some more ideas in this helpful white paper. You'll have to provide minimal contact information to download. Also, check out the great free resources available at HubSpot on various aspects of internet marketing.

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