Top 10 AEC Firm Website Mistakes

Some of the most successful business entrepreneurs have learned the best lessons by making costly, never to be repeated, mistakes. When broaching the topic of Website development, we found it far more valuable to share common mistakes, lest you find your firm heading down the same path and potentially pushing away prospective clients. If any of these top ten mistakes sound very familiar, admit it to no one, and contact a Web professional immediately.

#1: “We’re an office complete w­ith creatives and designers.  If we can design architecture, creating a Website should be very easy.”

Consider Website design an art, or at the very least, a very specialized skill-set. In much the same way you would never hire a graphic designer to be your lead architect; you should never assume that your firm has the relevant experience to design your Website. Allow your firm to focus on what you do best – Architecture, Engineering and/or Construction – and leave the Website development to those who are most experienced. After all, the creation of a Website is not just about the design, the copy, the layout or the features; it is a carefully constructed combination of all of these.

#2: “We have some graphic designers on staff, so we’ll let them run with this Website thing.  They work on a computer all day, so they must know what they’re doing.”

It is perfectly acceptable to enlist the help of your on-staff graphic designers; however, they should work hand-in-hand with a Web designer, particularly one who is familiar with the needs of your industry. The navigation, layout and technology are just as important as a great design. While graphic designers can handle the creative approach to the “look” of your Website, they most often do not have expert knowledge of the best industry practices and procedures.

#3: “Websites are simply visual.  There is no reason to have very much written content.  No one even reads that stuff.”

This is a huge misnomer, even in the design industry. The best Websites, even of some of the most recognizable brands, include a very inventive combination of content and design. While all of the visual aspects are very important, potential clients are going to learn the most about your company by reviewing the content. Simply put, content is king, and always will be.

#4: “We’ve created our Website, now we just wait for people to find us.  It’s not really important to bother with all of those statistics.  What can they really tell us, anyway?”

Refusing to believe that you can get something from reviewing your company’s Website analytics is a major mistake. Unfortunately, the companies that do not utilize analytics software most likely do not understand how the tracking can be useful. Simply put, Web analytics help you track your Web site traffic. Utilizing the statistics helps you to understand more about how people find you, which pages are most viewed, the search engines used and even when and from where they are accessing your site. This information can be used to not only improve your site, but enhance your business and focus your marketing efforts.  Think of Website analytics as a built-in, daily, market survey.

#5: “Surely all Web users are so Web savvy by now that we need to really show off our Web 2.0 skills.  We will seem so cutting edge if we have an elaborate design and clever navigation.”

There is nothing more frustrating to a potential client than an overly elaborate site design and confusing navigation. Clients may have trouble finding even the simplest of information, including your company contact information or your previous experience. Oftentimes a “clever” design can result in disaster. Remember, clients are visiting your site for information about your company. If they can’t locate even the simplest of data, they will probably leave your site and search for another comparable firm.   Don’t chase your potential clients away because you think you are too clever for the average user.

#6: “Using all Flash makes our site seem so dynamic and lively.  Let’s design the site in 100% Flash and forget the rest.”

This mistake often goes hand-in-hand with mistake #5 - an overly indulgent design. While Flash design can show a creative side, there are also drawbacks to designing a Flash-only site.  Most Web professionals will recommend a combination of Flash and other non-Flash supportive accents. Designing the site at a ratio of 80% Flash to 20% non-Flash elements is a combination that will not only show the creative side of your firm, but will not eliminate the practicality necessary to navigate the site.  Remember, it is not the cutting edge effects that will win over your clients, it is the perfect combination of winning design, content and ease of navigation. More recently flash also does not always run on all smart phones and tablet computers in particular Apple-based devices.

#7: “Our company has a long history.  Surely, we can use the content we wrote 10 years ago for our brochure on our Website; it shouldn’t ever have to be changed.”

We’ll let you in on a little Website development trade secret: a Website’s content is outdated as soon as it is posted on the site. Your Website should be consistently maintained and updated. Copyrights must be current, new projects should be posted and new staff should be added. Inconsistent maintenance or very little maintenance translates into a company who does not adjust to change, keep up with the changes in technology, or the cyclical changes of client needs. Just the same as architectural, engineering and construction technology changes and alters the way you do business, so should your Web site. The cost to maintain your site is very minor related to the number of potential clients that you could lose by seeming dated or, dare we say, archaic.

#8: “Know your audience, what does that mean?  Who are we really creating this site for?  Surely no one else would want to visit our Website other than potential clients.”

When creating your site it is important not to overlook a huge segment of your secondary browsing audience. This segment could include everyone from members of the press to future employees. While these segments are not your primary focus, it is important that they are not overlooked in your Website construction. Relevant content such as press kits, open positions, and bids for freelance work should all be considered when developing the content for the site. The best candidate for an open position may not ever be found, if your site does not truly “speak” to their needs.

#9: “I am not a model.  Why would I post my photo on my site?  I can’t think of one person that ever hired me for my looks.”

It is a very common practice to post pictures of a firm’s principals on its Web site. Most potential clients need to develop a relationship with and even want to identify with a firm and its principals. The principals are no longer a mystery; in fact, they become an identifiable reality matched with their area of expertise. Most individuals seeking certain expertise often want to put names with faces and see that there are actual people behind the fancy designs. A man with a beard and bow tie is synonymous with fried chicken. Need we say more?

#10: “We’ll just send our interns to take a few digital photos of our latest projects.  As long as there are pictures for our portfolio, any photo should do.”

Underestimating the importance of having high quality, professional visual images on a Website and in the project portfolio is a very common mistake. Amateurish photos send the wrong message and even misrepresent an otherwise amazingly well-designed project. Always make sure that any photos used for the Website are of a high caliber and present the project at its best. Clear, professionally photographed images will go a long way toward sending the proper message about your firm, all the way down to final product.

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