September 30, 2014

Use SEO Strategically to Raise Your Firm’s Online Visibility

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This month we’ve heard from guest bloggers Brad Feinknopf on investing in good photography and Jessica Wyman on tips for designing an effective website. Now that you’ve got a great website with gorgeous photography, how do you actually get visitors? The answer is SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) improves a website’s visibility in online search results in order to increase the number of visitors to that website. Search engines like Google match users with the businesses and services they are looking for. In order to do this, they employ “crawlers,” special algorithms that read through the Internet, index each website, and rank it for different search terms. These search terms are known as key words (a single word, like “architecture,”) and key phrases (a group of keywords, like “architecture design firm”).

The goal of your SEO plan should be to make your expertise more evident to Google and other search engines, in order to increase its exposure and number of visitors. Once you place focused keywords strategically within the website’s text, the website’s ranking in search results will improve. The higher the website’s ranking, the more visitors will find it. In fact, a 2013 study found that 83.6% of searchers visit one of the top seven Google results in a given search.

In order to achieve this goal, you will want to select keywords that closely align with your firm’s signature services. Then, integrate these focused keywords throughout the text of your website in order to maximize your SEO. An effective SEO strategy encompasses several steps:

First, identify the terms that best represent your firm’s identity and services. Identify three or four key words and phrases that concisely convey your firm’s identity and services. These should be general search terms that someone might use to search for you such as “landscape architect” or “interior designer” or “project management.” It may seem like you’re stating the obvious, but for search purposes that’s exactly what you want to do. Once the user visits your website, you can demonstrate how you are different from all of the other landscape architects, interior designers, or project managers out there.

Next, research your chosen key words and phrases. Using a suite of SEO tools like Google Analytics, explore how often your chosen keys words and phrases are searched for. You should also determine if other, similar terms are more popular search terms – such as “corporate interior designer” or “workplace interior designer”. Further, you need to find out the level of competition for your chosen terms, i.e. how often a phrase appears on other websites. Google Analytics can help you find all of this data.

Then, evaluate your research and develop a plan. Once you’ve done your research using Google Analytics, take a look at the resulting data for each word and phrase you’ve chosen and prioritize a targeted number of final SEO keywords or phrases. Determining the most effective SEO keywords and phrases is a qualitative, not a quantitative process. In evaluating each key word and key phrase, you should take into account the following:

  • Value to your firm: All of the keywords and phrases you choose should reflect your firm’s principal services
  • Search volume: A higher number of monthly searches for a term brings more exposure to your website
  • Specificity: Being specific when choosing key phrases ensures that visitors who discover your site through a search will find what they are looking for
  • Competition: The fewer competitors there are for a key phrase, the higher your website will rank

Finally, optimize your website. Place your SEO keywords and phrases frequently and prominently within your website’s text. The “crawler” algorithms that Google uses to scan websites during searches take not only the keywords into account, but how often the keywords appear and even their proximity to one another. Be sure to work these keywords into your text as much as possible without overdoing it or ruining the overall narrative.

A top priority for every business is to direct the right kind of traffic to its website. A well-defined, effective SEO strategy will augment your online presence and ensure that more potential clients find your firm online.

September 29, 2014

Impact + Beauty: Top tips for designing compelling portfolio websites

Photographed by Sabrina Ahern

Photographed by Sabrina Ahern

Jessica Wyman is principal and creative director of Wyman Projects, a graphic design and web development consultancy based in New York City. As a graphic designer with a degree in architecture, she has ten years of experience collaborating with architects, interior designers, engineers, and A/E/C consultants, to create meaningful print and web experiences that communicate professionalism and integrity. Jessica is currently art director for Oculus, AIA New York’s quarterly publication; and she regularly presents at the Chapter’s annual Fellows Workshop for FAIA candidates. 

By Jessica Wyman, Wyman Projects 

Have you ever visited a website where the copyright or blog posts date back to 2006? I have, and it saddens me to think that those companies spent a small fortune designing a website that quickly became stale and forgotten.

Thankfully, website development has come a long way since then. With out-of-the-box Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal, building dynamic online experiences that are easy-to-use and easy-to-manage is within every design professional’s budget.

Still, building an effective website that will showcase your portfolio, communicate your expertise and get you new projects requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Before you begin designing your new site, here are some things to think about:

Design Smart. One of the first things you should determine before designing your new website is its purpose. Who are you trying to reach with this new site? Potential clients? The media? Fans? All of the above? For most AEC professionals, a website is a tool to communicate your expertise and to convince prospective clients to take action and connect with you.

While your new site should reflect your firm’s personality and culture, its format, content, and design will need to appeal to prospective users. Unfortunately, design professionals often make the mistake of designing a site that they like rather than designing one that will be effective in reaching their target audiences.

So how do you do this? Understanding your company’s mission – and which clients you want to serve – is key to pinpointing the needs and habits of your target audiences.

Will your visitors be using a computer or mobile device to view the site? Is there anything you can learn from your current website’s analytics, such as pages with the highest bounce rate? What information does your target audience need most and how will you shape the user’s journey to satisfy those needs?

Think Big. Gone are the days of table-based layouts and small browser sizes, which resulted in small-scale images on the user’s screen. You are a design professional with beautiful project photography; so don’t be afraid to go full bleed. Consider using a full browser slideshow on your home page or project pages to make an impact and to define a mood.

Less is More. The impulse to feature or list every single project on your website is a mistake many design professionals make. A website should have enough curated content to communicate expertise and personality, while leaving the visitor curious enough to contact your firm for more information.

Cross-Pollinate. Create relationships between content and pages on the website to engage visitors. Curiosity keeps users clicking and strategies such as suggesting links to “Related Content” or crosslinking press items or bios will retain visitors and improve site analytics.

Don’t hide your contact information. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many company websites hide contact information under submenus. Include a phone number and email address on the home page; and consider designing a special splash page with contact information and a map for mobile visitors.

Launch Strategy. Once you’ve designed and launched your website successfully…now what? Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Create a content strategy that includes a schedule for updating your new website with new projects, news items, blog posts, and links to your social media platforms.

Clients and prospective employees want to work with design professionals who are active and innovative thought leaders; providing these visitors with fresh content monthly, if not weekly, is key to engaging, and ultimately working with, your ideal clients.

September 18, 2014

Image ROI: When you invest in good photography, you invest in your future success

 

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This month, we’re giving AEC industry professionals tips on the best ways to improve their websites. In our first installment, nationally recognized architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf offers insight on investing in good photography. The Columbus-based photographer has been shooting architecture and commercial related images for over 25 years. His images have been published worldwide and over his career has done a wide variety of work for many of the world’s well-known architects and designers. Brad was recently selected by ArchDaily as one of the Top 13 Architectural Photographers in the World to Follow.

By Brad Feinknopf

We live in a visual society. People gravitate to the image. In Eric Bricker’s 2008 documentary film, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, narrator Dustin Hoffman quotes the renowned architectural photographer saying,

“Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images alone are what people see. For every one person who visits a private house, there may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo.”

This quote – which I’ve proudly attached to my e-mail signature – was made before the advent of the Internet and those “ten thousand” people to which Shulman refers could now easily number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions when one considers the multitude of Design and Architectural blogs that publish imagery.

Digital newsletters and alerts from top architectural blogs like ArchDaily or Architizer show up in your inbox, largely as a series of images, and only when you click on them do you get the words. Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Stumbledupon and other image-driven social media platforms are growing exponentially. Even Twitter, which is a text-based platform, has become a popular vehicle for disseminating links to videos and images.

Would you maintain a subscription to Architect, Architectural Record, Interior Design or Contract if there were no photography? How many periodicals do you read that contain mere pontifications on design and present no images? Obviously, imagery is important and it’s not just important, it’s paramount.

I am an architectural photographer and I should know. When someone visits my website, I have one chance to grab their attention. I have tirelessly gone through my galleries to make certain that each one shows depth. I constantly update my online portfolios so they maintain their freshness, and I try to make sure my descriptions are strong, cohesive and grammatically correct. But in the end, it is the first handful of images – and these images alone – that will either compel the viewer to delve deeper into my website or move on.

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As you market your projects, your challenge is exactly the same as mine. When a visitor lands on your website, you need the right photography to draw the viewer in or they will click away to someone else’s homepage.

The same is true for competitions and the press. I’ve spoken about the importance of imagery to numerous editors for prominent architecture and design publications, as well as jurors for AIA and other major competitions at every level. They all say the same thing: “The first cut is made entirely based upon photography. If the photography isn’t good, we move on. If the photography is good and the project looks interesting, we look deeper.”

Regardless, whether the material is your website, an awards submittal or a package for a print or online publication, it is the photography you are using that will ultimately move you beyond the first pass.

In light of this, try viewing photography not as an expense but as an investment. Like any investment, good photography should provide a return: it should garner you new work, help you win awards, and, hopefully, even get your firm and your projects published.

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The way I see it, if my clients get new commissions, win awards, or get published, I have, in some small capacity, helped them to succeed through my photography. I’m not so arrogant as to believe that their success is solely due to my work and my images, but I will say that a good project with great photography will often go much farther than a great project with poor photography. Likewise, if you have a great project with equally great photography, the possibilities may be endless.

So, when you’re looking at your website and thinking, “How can we do things better? How can we win that next commission, or that next award? How can we get ourselves published?” You will almost always find the answer by looking to your imagery. Is it up to snuff? Could it be better? Investing in the right photography could very likely be one of the most critical factors in determining the level of success your firm may enjoy in the years ahead.

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