Blogging is a powerful tool for helping A/E/C firms drive website traffic and build thought leadership by publishing educational content online.
It’s a critical component of an effective content marketing program, and it requires creating consistent, client-focused, high-quality content.
But many firms (and their marketing departments) find it challenging to understand what kind of content they should be creating to attract and engage their target audience. To help with this challenge, we’ve outlined some key principles to follow to help create the right kind of content:
Avoid firm-centric and “sales-y” content
Unfortunately, many A/E/C firms populate their blogs with content that is focused on what the firm is interested in writing about, not necessarily what the audience is interested in reading. Your blog should not be used to share company news, your latest project win, highlight your services, spotlight employees or show photos from your latest company event. And it’s also not the right place to showcase photos of your projects unless there is an educational story behind the photos and an obvious benefit to the reader.
Here’s the simple truth: your blog is not the place to talk about your firm’s qualifications; it’s the place to demonstrate them. So you have to stop selling your firm and start sharing the kind of information that your audience is seeking out and will find valuable. Consider your blog a product that exists for your audience to consume, not an advertisement to promote the firm to your audience.
Focus on thought leadership instead
Based on our observations of many blogs and websites from firms throughout the industry, many are not focused on thought-leadership, or at least not entirely. But if your firm is serious about content marketing, demonstrating thought leadership is exactly what the purpose of your blog should be.
Remember, your blog should be the place where you showcase your company’s subject-matter expertise and educate your audience. No matter what you write about, always make sure that you approach the topic to make it as educational, and client-focused as possible. Every post your firm publishes should be created through the lens of thought leadership and the audience’s interests.
Create a destination for knowledge and learning
Content marketing is all about adding value by sharing relevant information that informs, educates and guides your prospects and clients. So by writing blog posts that are relevant and interesting to your audience, you begin to provide value for them, as opposed to just talking about your firm, the services you provide and the projects you’ve worked on.
You should think about your content creation in terms of establishing a destination for learning—a place where prospects and clients come to learn about the latest best practices, gain insights on certain topics of interest and stay abreast of the latest and greatest in the industry. Just like ESPN wants to be the destination for sports news, your firm should strive for your blog to become THE destination for industry knowledge for your target audience.
Answer your audience’s questions
So how do you create a destination for learning? Your prospects and clients likely have many unanswered questions and topics about which they would like to be more knowledgeable. Start by answering the questions your audience is typing in their favorite search engine.
If you want an endless supply of blog topics, talk to your project managers, superintendents, business development reps and firm principals. Ask them to tell you what questions they are asked most often by clients and prospects:
- at a first-time meeting?
- in shortlist interviews?
- in the field and on project sites?
- at the beginning, middle and end of a project?
This is the kind of content that your audience will want to read and the type of questions that your blog should proactively answer.
Address your audience’s challenges and problems
In addition to answering questions, you’ll also want to address the problems or potential problems that your audience faces. What are their pain points? What issues are they dealing with? What potential problems keep them up at night?
Think about your own “Googling” habits, and how often you research problems online looking for solutions. Likewise, work with your subject matter experts to uncover some of the common problems that your clients face. Then, write about your firm’s solution to the problem.
Aid their due diligence
When it comes to selecting an A/E/C firm, clients are on a journey and they’re doing due diligence at every step along the way. Think of the buyer’s journey as a series of questions that must be answered and boxes that must be checked. At different stages of the journey, they’re going to have different objectives, needs, questions, and interests. They’ll also be using different search terms.
Before an RFP is issued, many clients are pre-qualifying and familiarizing themselves with the competitive landscape — increasingly online. And, once you’ve submitted a proposal or even conducted a shortlist interview, research shows they’re coming back to your website to do more digging and look for anything else that can help them choose between seemingly equally-qualified firms.
Think about content creation in terms of both pre-positioning your firm and influencing the final evaluation. Your blog should help prospects conduct their due diligence and demonstrate your firm’s qualifications and expertise in ways that a proposal and interview do not.
Write quality, error-free, conversational copy
Writing about the topics that are of most interest to your target audience is foundational to creating engaging blog content. But to create truly remarkable content that people find valuable and are willing to spend time reading and sharing, you have to also have quality copy. Poorly written copy or copy that hasn’t been properly edited or proofread will ultimately erode the credibility of the blog (and your firm) and keep visitors from returning.
Quality copy is well-written, conversational in tone, has substance, and is in-depth but not too overwhelming. Needless to say, it’s also free of spelling and grammatical errors, avoids overstuffing keywords and is consistent from post to post. For best results, make sure you always have at least two people proofread each post before it gets published. It can also be helpful to establish your own style guide or follow one of the popular styles guides.
Work in visuals and video
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so don’t publish a remarkable article without also supporting it with remarkable visuals. You can use images with captions to better demonstrate your point or showcase what you’re describing. Infographics and diagrams are incredibly helpful to illustrate a process that you’re explaining. Simply put, visuals just make your words more compelling (and less boring) and will help to break up the text and add interest to the scroll.
Likewise, video is a powerful medium for storytelling and can also be used to put your thought leaders and subject matter expertise on display. Vlogging (video blogging) could be in the form of “whiteboard” style explainer videos, or on location at a construction site or completed project. The videos would be embedding into the post (using a platform such as Vimeo) and ideally should also include transcription copy for those who prefer reading and also to help with SEO.
The right content is critical to success
Developing the right kind of content is essential to the success of your firm’s blog and content marketing. And while it’s arguably the most critical aspect of content marketing, it’s also one of the most challenging. Hopefully these ideas will help you get started on the path to success.