Website Best Practices for Architects: How to Build a Lead-Generating Website

Most architects believe their work speaks for itself. They create beautiful portfolio sites that showcase their impressive designs. So why aren’t their sites helping prospects make hiring decisions and generating leads? The simple answer is that the site was built for the firm, not for their prospects. Before a prospect will engage with a new design firm, they want to go to their website to see how the firm will help solve their problems. Beautiful portfolios fail to deliver the meaningful and relevant content prospects value.

Lead-Generating v. Branding Sites:

What’s the difference, and why does it matter?

The Digital Brochure

You’ve seen hundreds of these. A branding or ”portfolio” site is essentially a digital brochure. It lists a firm’s contact information, services available, a collection of recent work, and a bit about the employees who work there. Portfolio sites are typically accessed directly by visitors who already know the brand and serve as a sales-reinforcement tool. And unless your target audience is primarily offline, your website could be hauling more weight for your firm.

Enter the LGW

A lead-generating website is designed to capture information from visitors in exchange for targeted, valuable content such as blog posts, white papers, insiders’ guides, webinars, and the like. Why give away intellectual property in exchange for a name and email address or phone number? Two words: thought leadership. Today’s web is a client’s world. With a few keystrokes, one client can compare 10 different firms online in a matter of seconds; a lovely portfolio, well designed though it may be, might not be enough to get you on the shortlist.

To develop a website that generates leads, you need to give your potential clients what they’re looking for—one-of-a-kind expertise. Your potential client provides a small amount of information, such as a name and email address, and in exchange, you provide access to a bank of valuable content that sim¬ultaneously demonstrates your expertise and educates your audience. This kind of content attracts new clients, encourages content distribution (“You’ve got to check out this blog post!”), attracts new talent, and most importantly—it builds trust in your brand. And that trust will help guide your new leads into your sales funnel.

The Sales Funnel

This is the term we use to describe the process by which a lead becomes a client. The sales funnel works hand in hand with your LGW. There are four main stages:

Stage 1: Strangers 

At the widest portion of the funnel—the very top—lives the world of strangers who may or may not know of your firm. Before we can generate leads, we need to generate awareness and traffic by casting a wide marketing net. A great deal of web traffic will come from strangers using search engines to find trustworthy firms in their area. A well-established online presence will help boost your rank, making you more visible to that stranger who just noticed you.

Stage 2: Strangers Become Leads

Not all strangers will become leads, so the funnel begins to narrow at this stage. Of the strangers who visited your site, some will be genuinely interested in your services and qualified to hire you. The stranger is now an early-stage lead, actively invested in vetting your firm. At this stage, building a relationship through trust and thought leadership is crucial.

Stage 3: Leads Become Prospects

As your early-stage leads become more invested in the vetting process, the funnel narrows even tighter. You’ve demonstrated expertise, thought leadership, and impressed your leads. Your leads should be perfectly primed to hear all the reasons your firm is a great fit for your new prospect. The stakes are higher, and at this point, you’re likely to be interacting directly with principals, CEOs, and other high-level executives who like what they’ve seen, but want to mitigate any risk from a bad hiring decision. Carry the trust and thought leadership you’ve built throughout the sales funnel into the relationship you’re forming with your prospect and close the deal.

Stage 4: Prospects Become Clients

The funnel ends with a successful commitment from a new client. Congratulations! Now the real work begins. New and existing clients, as most firms know well, are a valuable source of word-of-mouth marketing. Their evaluation of your firm’s execution during the project will determine whether or not they’re likely to recommend you in the future. Don’t falter. Do your work, do it well, and your clients will become an invaluable source of digital and word-of-mouth marketing.

If you build it, they will come.

The first step in establishing a successful LGW is getting traffic to your site. To do this, you need to follow two cardinal rules:

1. Create content that’s worth trafficking.

2. Push out that content consistently.

These rules work in tandem; it’s not enough to do one without the other. Creating great content may lead traffic to your site, but without consistency, your audience will lose interest. On the other hand, quantity is no substitute for quality. Padding your site with sub-par content might look good on the surface, but your audience—especially those who are most likely to become prospects down the road—will quickly spot a lack of substance and your brand will suffer as a result.

What makes good content good? 

Good content is content your target market wants to consume. The material will naturally vary somewhat from firm to firm depending on your specialty, but there are some traits all good content has in common:

SEO 

When you search Google for anything from 3D rendering software to a brass-plated towel rack, Google uses its index of keywords and phrases related to your search term to return websites that fit your query. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but the basic principle is that the more frequently any given keyword appears on a website, the better that website will perform in a search for related terms (i.e., the higher that website’s search ranking will be relative to a given search term).

The process of streamlining your website’s content to include as many mentions as possible of relevant industry search terms is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

In order to keep your site competitive and well ranked, you’ll need to keep quality high and maintain consistency. Keywords aren’t enough to help your site perform well on search engines. Google in particular uses a complex algorithm to rank websites based on a number of factors, including how valuable your audience finds your content, how much traffic your website receives, and how many other sites link to content within your site.

Relevant Keywords 

Your content will influence the keywords associated with your posts and the keywords used to find your content. In other words, your prospects need to be able to find you, but more importantly, your content needs to be able to find them. Getting your content to your prospects starts with good writing on relevant subject material packed with relevant keywords. Those keywords can be divided into two intuitive categories: short-tail and long-tail. An example of a short-tail keyword would be: “built environment marketing,” while a long-tail keyword would be something like: “how to market your firm online that specializes in the built environment.”

Engaging Content 

Your site is competing with any number of other websites, articles, magazines, and social platforms out there, not to mention real-life obligations and distractions. For content to be good, it must be engaging. Engaging content can include images, graphics, illustrations, and an eye-catching headline. Remember, we’re still at the widest end of the sales funnel, where content should be broadly accessible. Good is more than useful—it’s interesting.

Connectivity 

Social media has created a whole new platform for word-of-mouth marketing. It’s essential to keep this in mind when crafting your content. Engaging elements like images play a huge role in making content social-media friendly. Take Facebook for example. According to a study from 2014 published on eMarketer, posts with images outperform links (4%) and even videos (3%) with a whopping 87% interaction rate.

The Information Exchange

Once you have content in place to attract visitors to your site, you need a strategy to capture enough information about them to help guide them further down the sales funnel, such as a name, email, role, marketing budget, and so on. This information will help you gauge the value of a given lead and suss out which ones are more qualified than others—a process called “lead scoring.” Of course, the way you request this information will have a direct impact on the likelihood a visitor will provide it to you. Here are some things to keep in mind when attempting to capture a stranger’s information:

Calls-to-Action 

Once they’ve arrived on your site, you can help your visitors decide what to do next using clear, well-placed calls-to-action. For example, “Download our new guide, ‘The Top 10 Interior Design Trends of 2016.’”

Landing Pages 

A landing page is where a visitor will end up after clicking on a call-to-action. This is where the information exchange takes place—the user provides a small amount of information in exchange for your downloadable content.

Subscriptions 

Newsletter or blog subscriptions are a great way to capture information in exchange for a steady stream of branded materials from your firm. The more useful your content, the more dedicated your audience will be. Make yourself an indispensable source of information by furthering your prospects’ knowledge of your expertise—not by filling their inboxes with details about the company party or this summer’s interns.

The purpose of all this data collection is to give your sales team a focused list of prospects they can now pursue using more traditional sales tactics. The days of a clear hand-off between the marketing team and the sales team are gone. A successful sales team will need constant engagement from their marketers, and vice versa.

The takeaway.

Having a web presence is necessary to be successful, but a static presence is not enough. As a marketer, it’s your job to educate your prospects and to be thought leaders in your industry. It may seem like a lot of extra work, and many have resisted this change for that very reason. An initial investment in content creation, automation, lead scoring, and data management will pay dividends when your site brings leads to your doorstep 24 hours a day. You’ll have more leads, and those leads will be more reliably primed to become clients, giving you more time to do what your firm does best—great work.

As founder and president of Epiphany, Susan Milne's career includes more than 20 years in the advertising industry. In 2012 she used her experience with big brands and complex sales chains to found Epiphany, a brand firm that focuses on helping A/E firms get awarded better projects, more often.