Today’s A/E/C firms can no longer rely on the brochure-style websites of the past. A/E/C marketing is evolving—and now leading firms are using their website as a platform for thought leadership and a tool for both business development and talent acquisition.
But many websites in the A/E/C industry simply weren’t designed and built this way. So whether your website is in need of an overhaul, or even recently launched, chances are it could be lacking some critical features that are absolutely essential for building a growth-focused A/E/C website. Here are 12 key features for you to consider.
1. Unique value proposition
The emphasis here is on unique. Firms in the A/E/C industry typically use the same words and ways to describe their business. Yes, your website must address the who, what, and where of your business, but don’t forget about the why and the how. What do you stand for? How do your services, solutions and people add value to the lives of your clients? And how is your approach different than your competitors? These are the questions that a strong value proposition should answer. Once you’ve identified and crafted your messaging in a compelling way, it should be front and center on your homepage and sprinkled throughout the content and messaging of your website.
2. Client-centric copy and content
While many firms think of themselves as client-centric, you wouldn’t know it by the copy on their website. Copy across many A/E/C websites is incredibly firm-centric, speaking more to what a firm wants to say to their audience, and less on what their audience wants to read, see and hear. Flipping the script, client-centric copy is laser-focused on appealing to the target audience’s interests and makes the client the hero of the story. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.” In other words, it’s not about what you do and how great you are, but rather it’s about how you can help.
3. Thought leadership blog
While blogging is such a crucial content marketing component, there are still many A/E/C firms who either don’t have a blog, or their blog is primarily populated by the wrong kind of content. I specifically titled this key website feature a “thought leadership” blog because that is exactly what the purpose of your blog should be.
Your blog isn’t a place to discuss your latest project win, share philanthropic contributions, spotlight employees or show photos from your latest company event. Your blog should be the place where you publish frequent, educational articles that inform your target audience, answer their questions and put your firm’s subject-matter expertise on display. And be sure to include the ability for readers to subscribe to your blog to receive regular updates and communication from your firm.
Note: Whether you actually call it a blog—as opposed to insights, thoughts, ideas, perspectives, or resources—is inconsequential. What matters is that you have a place to publish educational content. I’ve been asked by several people in recent months, after hearing other voices in the industry saying that blogging was an outdated practice, whether or not blogging is still in vogue. While the term “blog” may or may not be what you or others choose to call it, publishing articles that demonstrate your firm’s subject matter expertise and promote thought leadership is still a very powerful (and massively underutilized) modern marketing tool.
4. Client and employee proof
One of the easiest ways to give your firm instant credibility with visitors and prospects is by showing “client proof” on your website in the form of testimonials. But don’t treat testimonials the way they are typically treated—lumped together on one long (and boring) testimonial page. As we have previously pointed out, testimonial pages are often some of the least trafficked pages on a firm’s website. No visitor arrives to an A/E/C website on a mission to visit the testimonial page, but that doesn’t mean testimonials don’t have a purpose.
In fact, they can be quite powerful when they are nested in the context of other content the user is looking for. A testimonial pares nicely with a project case study when the client is referencing specifics about that project; or on a service or market page when the client is speaking about your expertise in that market or service; or on a careers page when the employee is talking about their experience working at your firm. Context is crucial to the impact of a testimonial. In addition to context, format is also a key factor. Consider adding a photo of the client or employee to bring their words to life. Even better, invest in some brief video testimonials from key clients or employees and display them individually or edit them into a longer video.
5. Case studies and client success stories
Notice I didn’t mention “project profiles.” Nearly every A/E/C firm has project profiles on their website and they typically include details on the scope of a project, services performed, photos and other project-related information. Project profiles are useful to showcase the depth and breadth of your project experience. But case studies go beyond project profiles and tell a compelling story using specific examples, statistics and client testimonials to highlight the project success.
Part of the story might be about how your firm solved an unusually difficult challenge, reached an otherwise unattainable deadline, incorporated some groundbreaking technology, saved the client money or provided exceptional client service in a very specific way. Case studies don’t just showcase your firm’s expertise—they also showcase your firm’s differentiators.
6. Video and visual content
Video content represents a majority share of internet traffic and is forecasted to grow to 82% of all internet traffic by 2021, according to Cisco’s annual Visual Network Index (VNI) forecast, so it’s becoming central to a website strategy. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand pictures. And that’s because 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. A/E/C firms can benefit greatly from using video content to tell their story. Imagine taking a written case study and creating a compelling video, complete with client and partner testimonials, on-the-ground commentary from subject-matter experts and persuasive video, visuals and motion graphics.
In addition to video, there are endless opportunities to use illustrations, infographics and visual content to showcase what you do, why you’re different and how your solutions have made a difference. As an example, infographics can be used to take a complex process such as stormwater runoff calculation and turn it into an educational and visually stimulating graphic that represents complex information in a more impactful way. Infographics can also take statistics, facts and figures and bring them to life in a more powerful way. Don’t just bury this compelling information in the body copy, ensure they reach and engage through visual content.
7. Robust careers section
The talent war in the A/E/C industry has been raging for several years now. And one of the primary weapons to win (or lose) the war is a firm’s website. According to research from CareerArc, upon hearing of a job opportunity, a majority of the job seekers visit a firm’s online properties first to learn more about the employer’s brand identity and company culture. I’ve heard numerous HR professionals tell me that students at career fairs will literally stand at their firm’s booth and pull up their website to learn more about the firm. With few exceptions, the careers page is one of the top three most visited pages of an A/E/C firm’s website. But a job seeker’s expectations for what a firm’s career section should offer have grown and your employer brand hinges it.
For high-growth firms that are actively seeking to attract top talent, a single page no longer cuts it. Instead, an entire section with multiple pages and a variety of content is needed. A potential employee is seeking to understand a number of specifics: what it’s like to work at a firm; who they will be working with; what opportunities exist for training and upward growth; benefits the firm offers; a sense of the firm’s culture and values, as well as the firm’s missions and vision; the firm’s social responsibility and community involvement; what is the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion; and last but not least, what current job openings are available.
Through words, photos, infographics and video, a job seeker should be able to have a window into these and other priorities and concerns. Specifically, employee spotlight videos— representing a wide-range of staff—are a powerful way to convey the culture of the firm and what it’s like to work at the firm. Lastly, job listings should be easy to find and filter and the online submission process should intuitive and user friendly.
8. Compelling calls-to-action and lead capture forms
Marketers understand the importance of driving traffic to their firm’s websites, but once visitors get there what do you want them to do? Your website should contain different types of calls-to-action (CTAs) using links, buttons and banners throughout the website in order to engage your visitors and get them to perform specific actions. Do you want them to learn more about a particular service? Download a whitepaper? Subscribe to your blog? Request more information? Register for a webinar or event? View a case study? An effective use of CTAs will encourage your visitors to take action and will lead to more conversions.
9. Geotargeted content
A/E/C firms with multiple satellite offices spread out geographically have always struggled to make their website relevant to local audiences. Because if you’re a prospect based in Georgia and the projects featured on a firm’s website are predominantly located in the Northeast (where the firm is headquartered) there is going to be a disconnect. This is where leveraging geotargeted content—delivering different types of website content to users based on their geographic location—can be a huge asset.
For example, imagine if the featured projects on the homepage varied depending on the location of a user. The above scenario would mean that a user based in Georgia would see projects in Georgia or somewhere in the South, as opposed to your firm’s marquee projects up in Boston. As your firm tries to expand in new geographies, geotargeting can help you “look” like a local firm. And this is just one of many examples of ways to leverage geotargeting to personalize the user experience.
10. Website visitor tracking and heatmap analytics
Most A/E/C firms have Google Analytics installed on their website. And while that information is helpful, your business development team would like to go beyond pageviews and unique visitor statistics and get real intelligence they can actually do something with. Everyday there are unknown prospects, potential teaming partners and current clients visiting your website and you aren’t even aware of it. Who are they? What pages are they looking at? How did they get to the website? How are they interacting with your content? How far down the page are they scrolling?
Using website visitor tracking provided by marketing automation software (e.g. HubSpot, Act-On, Marketo, etc.), you can determine the companies visiting your site before they even fill out a lead capture form and target likely prospects at those companies. For identified leads, you can gain a wealth of intelligence on their level of interest and engagement and arm your business development team with critical information that will guide face-to-face interactions. Heatmap tools such as HotJar and CrazyEgg provide a visual way to understand users in a much more insightful way than tradition analytics. They help marketers understand user intent and behavior by visually representing their movements, clicks, taps (for mobile) and scrolling which are strong indicators of visitor engagement and UX performance.
11. Website security hardening
The need for improved security measures has dramatically increased over the last couple of years as there have been high-profile security breaches and consumer demand for greater security and privacy. This has led to the need for A/E/C firms to take a more proactive and deliberate approach to security. This includes converting your website to HTTPS, as well as implementing security hardening measures.
Hypertext Transport Protocol Security (HTTPS) websites use an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to protect a site connection through authentication and encryption. While once only found on websites that involved the exchange of sensitive user data (such as banks, e-commerce sites, insurance, etc.), HTTPS is becoming more popular across the board. Unsurprisingly, Google is leading the charge for making the entire web more secure, even launching an HTTPS everywhere campaign. As part of their ongoing push for improving user experience they have also started including HTTPS as a ranking signal, and now give indexing priority to secure pages over unsecured pages.
To protect your website and ensure optimal performance, it’s now critical to implement a number of website security hardening measures. This starts with hosting your website on a professional-grade server, in order to provide a safer, faster, more reliable environment for your website (as opposed to an inexpensive grid platform that shares the space with many other (likely unsecure) websites. Nightly, full-site, incremental backups of your website files and database are also critical to ensure that you can fully restore your website at any time and all updates from the previous day will be safe and secure.
Lastly, a robust Website Application Firewall (WAF) and Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) should be implemented to protect your website by intercepting and inspecting all incoming HTTP/HTTPS requests to your website and stripping them of any malicious requests before they arrive safely at the server. You should also leverage a real-time detection and security monitoring platform that includes automatic virtual patching and hardening engines that offer real-time mitigation of threats. In other words, a simple free plugin is no longer sufficient to protect and monitor your website.
12. Page speed and performance optimization
Having a rapidly loading website is an increasingly crucial factor of both user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO). Today’s user expects a website to load quickly, and those that don’t will likely experience negative consequences as a result. The Aberdeen Group conducted research that found a one-second delay in page load time yields 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and an 7% loss in conversions. Google has also indicated that site load speed is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages.
As websites continue to evolve to become much more complex and content-heavy, it’s important to make sure page speed and performance optimization has been performed on your website to reduce page load speed as much as possible. There are numerous factors that affect page load speed with many requiring the aid of a proficient web development partner.
Build more than just a digital brochure
As marketing in the A/E/C industry is evolving, one of the primary cornerstones of your overall marketing strategy should be to develop a robust, growth-focused website. These features outlined are just some of the “must-haves” needed to make your website more than just a digital brochure, but a tool for business development and audience engagement.