11 Things To Remove From Your A/E/C Firm’s Website

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As A/E/C websites continue to evolve to become more user-centric and growth-focused, it’s imperative that your firm’s website features the right content and design elements.

This means that some elements that have been long-time staples are simply no longer relevant to the needs of today’s user. Here’s a list of 11 items that you should consider removing from your website now or as part of a future website redesign.

1. Social media icons in the header

When social media was relatively new, firms wanted people to know that they were part of the social conversation. To highlight their participation, A/E/C firms placed high prominence on their social presence by placing icons with links to their social profiles in their website header. But today, social media is no longer a shiny new object. And it’s generally assumed that a firm will have a presence on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. Plus, your goal is to drive traffic to your website and then keep them there. So immediately inviting them to leave and visit your social profiles is counterintuitive.

Do this instead:
Place your social icons in the footer. Much like contact information, users are trained to look in the footer if they want an easy way to find your social profiles.

2. Advertising for the web design/development agency in the footer

Many firms have “website created by” text in their footer that links out to the website of the agency that designed and/or developed the website. While this free advertising is advantageous for the agency that created your site, it can detract from your firm’s credibility. Footer advertisements are much more common on small “mom and pop” business websites or pro bono sites—not on big brand websites or leading firms in the A/E/C industry.

Do this instead:
Politely ask your web partner to remove that text/link from your website—unless they plan to give you a nice discount in exchange for the advertisement.

3. Home page sliders

Home page sliders are incredibly popular with clients, but not necessarily with users. In theory, sliders make sense, as a firm has the ability to highlight multiple messages, images and calls to action in the same spot. But in practice, research (and your analytics) shows that most users land on a homepage and immediately start to scroll, and so important messaging, images and calls-to-action on those 2nd, 3rd, and 4th slides are not seen by the vast majority of users.

Do this instead:
Lead with a strong hero image (or a randomized image) and key message that highlights who you are and your unique value proposition. Today’s web users are accustomed to scrolling, so plan for the scroll and design your homepage (beneath the fold) to highlight things you would normally put in the slider.

4. Cliché, overtly stock or unprofessional photography

Photography is a powerful medium for communicating with your website visitors. An image is worth a thousand words, right? But many A/E/C websites contain photography that doesn’t necessarily communicate the right message to users. Avoid using the cliché’ photo shots that are commonly seen throughout the industry (and on your competitors’ websites). While stock photography can be a valuable resource for backfilling your photography needs, it’s important to select imagery that won’t look familiar to users. And while amateur photos snapped with an iPhone may be great for blog articles or sharing on Facebook, they’re not likely high enough quality to be used for “hero” shots or project case studies.

Do this instead:
Invest in high-quality, professional photography for your website, especially for large “hero” images that will make or break the aesthetic of your website design.

5. Copy written in third person

While it was once customary for business-to-business firms to write about themselves in a very formal, third person style, today third person copy can come across as stodgy or off-putting to users. Visitors are browsing your website after all, so they naturally expect for your copy to speak to them much like one of your employees would.

Do this instead:
Write your copy in a sophisticated first-person, yet conversational tone that is consistent with your brand voice. Your copy should come across as both inviting and relatable to the user reading it.

6. Long blocks of copy

Speaking of copy, if you look around the industry, there tends to be no shortage of copy on A/E/C websites. While it’s important to have enough copy on the page (Google recommends a minimum of 300 words if you want that page to get indexed), having long blocks of straight copy will negatively impact the user experience.

Do this instead:
Consider paring down copy to be more easily consumed by users. You can also use subheaders, photography and graphics to break up long blocks of copy into shorter, more digestible paragraphs.

7. Ambiguity around leadership

Some firms are hesitant to put their leadership team on their website for various reasons, including the fear of giving recruiters and competitors easy access to your people. But research shows that the leadership or people sections of an A/E/C website receive some of the largest share of traffic. It makes sense, professional services-based firms sell people not products, and clients, teaming partners and potential employees have an interest in learning more about your firm’s subject matter experts and leaders.

Do this instead:
Always include a prominent people section on your website with bios of at least your firm’s top leaders and subject matter experts. If your firm is small, showing your entire team might make sense.

8. Testimonial pages, awards pages and affiliations/associations pages

Take a look at your website analytics. These pages are often some of the least trafficked pages on the website. While the content of testimonials, awards and affiliations/associations has value, it’s not content that users typically seek out. Most firms serve multiple markets and offer multiple services, and lumping this kind of content in an isolated section doesn’t provide the context or relevance that a user needs.

Do this instead:
Instead of putting client testimonials on a “testimonial” page, place those in the proper context, such as a project case study, a particular subject matter expertise or specific market. Highlight awards on the case study for the project that won the award. Same goes for affiliations and associations.  Highlighting your firm’s membership to the AWWA on the water treatment expertise page is much more relevant to a user than on a page they’re likely to never visit.

9. Press Releases

Unless your firm is publicly traded, posting press releases that are written in a very specific and formal way to appeal to the media just doesn’t make sense if you hope for them to be consumed by users. Whether you copy and paste on a page, or provide a PDF download, analytics show that press releases are simply not the kind of content that users are looking for.

Do this instead:
Users may not be interested in press releases, but many (especially potential employees and job candidates) are interested in learning about what kinds of things are going on at your firm. So instead of regurgitating press releases, repurpose them into user-friendly news articles that are conversational in tone and easy to skim (and add photos when possible).

10. YouTube branded video embeds

Video has become a powerful tool for storytelling and demonstrating your firm’s expertise, culture and approach, and so embedded videos have become much more common on A/E/C websites over the last few years. But while embedded videos are a great idea, avoid using YouTube branded video embeds if possible. This is not only bad for aesthetics (the YouTube logo and branding clashes with your own), it also simply lacks sophistication and advertises other videos when its paused and/or reaches the end of the clip.

Do this instead:
Consider investing in a more customizable website video solution such as Vimeo, Wistia or Vidyard. These video platforms allow you more control over the video player, can be customized to better match your brand, and also have much more advanced analytics. Feel free to keep using YouTube and/or Instagram to share video content on social media.

11. Confusion and/or unnecessary clicks

At the heart of a great user experience is a website that is intuitive, easy to navigate and helps users find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible. You should remove any barrier on your website that prevents or delays a user from finding what they are looking for. Things such as complicated multi-level menus, overly simple menus (when there are several layers of pages under each section) or confusing firm-centric labels should be avoided. Additionally, don’t make a user waste a click only to find a page with minimal content that could have easily been incorporated into the previous page.

Do this instead:
Make sure that your site architecture (the structure and organization of the site’s content) is well-organized and makes sense to the user. Create navigation that allows users to find what they want, quickly and easily. Use labels for pages that will be intuitive to the user.

Out with the old, in with the user

The modern A/E/C website needs to be planned, designed and developed with the user at the center and should point towards a goal of supporting a firm’s growth objectives. While many of these holdover practices from the past are still prominent, it’s time to take a fresh, user-centric look at your firm’s website.

Vice President & Director Of Digital Innovation

Tim is a syndicated blogger and sought-after national speaker, providing keen insights on modern marketing and an uncommon perspective gleaned from more than 15 years of B2B and A/E/C experience.