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Five Best Practices for AEC Websites

Having designed hundreds of websites over the past 20+ years, we’ve seen significant changes in website standards and best practices. However, having looked at a large number of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firm websites, we’ve noticed that many are not keeping pace with these changes. If your goal is to attract and engage new clients, you can’t underestimate the role your website can play in this process. Whether potential clients find your firm through referrals, networking or online searches, your website is often the first (or close second) impression they have of your firm.

Whenever we evaluate a website, there are five best practices that we consider first:

1. Website Load Speed/Performance
2. Mobile Responsiveness
3. SSL Security
4. Search Engine Optimized Content
5. A Clear and Engaging Homepage Message

Before you say, “Wait a minute! What about design or style,” yes, of course these factors are also important. However, if your visitors leave your site before they have a chance to notice the design or style, what good is it? The five factors we focus on are directly related to the initial experience visitors have on your site. We also know that these are some of the same critical factors that Google uses to rank your website in search results. Let’s look at each in more detail.

1. Website Load Speed/Performance

What do we measure?
How much time does it take to load your homepage in a visitor's browser on their computer or mobile device?

Why is this important?
Research shows that many visitors will leave your site if it does not load within a few short seconds. A load speed of less than 3 seconds is ideal. We also know that Google considers load speed a critical factor for ranking websites in search results. Your website performance is affected by many factors, including the speed of your server, the plugins installed on your site, and other technical issues. For AEC firms, one of the most common problems is high-resolution, full-screen project images, which can reduce site performance to a crawl.

What improvements can you make?
Photoshop and apps like Squash help you resize and compress images before uploading them to your website. Large, full-screen images should be no larger than 1500 pixels on the longest edge, and file sizes should be compressed to less than 200 KB.

2. Mobile Responsiveness

What do we measure?
Does your website layout properly adapt to different screen sizes on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computer screens? 

Why is this important?
Nearly everyone has a mobile device these days. According to Statista.com mobile internet search traffic is outpacing that of personal computers and is forecast to continue growing. In 2017, Google recognized mobile responsiveness as a top criteria for search result rankings. More and more people work outside the office from their mobile devices. If your website is difficult to read or use on a mobile device, they are very likely to leave.

What improvements can you make?
Review your website on different sized devices. If you find it difficult to read or navigate, then it's time to consult your website designer to make some changes.

3. Secured Socket Layer (SSL) Security

What do we measure?
Does your website have a Secured Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate, which allows secure connections from a web server to a visitor’s web browser?

Why is this important?
Unsecured websites are more prone to hacking, malware, and other attacks. Starting in July 2018, Google began penalizing (i.e. lowering a site’s search ranking), and in some cases, blocking access to unsecured websites Imagine how potential clients might react to seeing this alert come up when they visit your website.

What improvements can you make?
Visit your site. Check the URL in the browser address bar. If your site is properly secured, the URL will start with https://. If you see http:// then your site is not secure and you need to contact your web designer to install an SSL Certificate.

4. Search Engine Optimized (SEO) Content 

What do we measure?
How well does your site rank for relevant search terms, compared to your competitors? This is your search engine ranking.

Why is this important?
Getting found online is critical for attracting new clients. When your website copy and content is properly optimized for search engine ranking, you appear higher in search results and get found more easily by potential new clients.

What improvements can you make?
Many factors can affect your search ranking, including the use of relevant keywords and properly written content on your site. Regularly update your site to continually improve your search ranking.

5. A Clear and Engaging Homepage Message

What do we measure?
Does your homepage answer the three important questions critical to engaging new visitors? Those questions are:

  • What does your firm do and who do you do it for?
  • What key "pain point" do you resolve?
  • What is the next step to move forward?

Why is this important?
Your website should introduce visitors to your firm and bring them to in-depth content that will answer their questions. If your homepage messaging does not convince them to go further, they will leave.

What you can do?
Take time to ensure that your homepage clearly and concisely answers The Grunt Test. (Could a caveman understand what you offer?) A clear message is your best opportunity to engage and convert new website visitors.

Ready to Take Action and Take Control of your Success?

It's important to have a website that connects and engages with prospective clients. The five essential factors we’ve covered are critical to your online marketing success! Following the best practices we’ve outlined, you’ll rank better in search, attract more traffic, and bring visitors deeper into your site.

Bryon McCartney
Chief Idea Guy & Managing Partner, Archmark Branding & Marketing
Bryon has been in the marketing and branding industry for more than 30 years and has worked with AEC firms for 20.  His past experience includes professional photographer and video producer where he completed assignments around the world.  When not working, Bryon enjoys golf, traveling, and building with Legos. If you’d like to know how your website measures up, get your own website evaluation, FREE for SMPS Arizona members by emailing Bryon at bryon@archmark.co. You’ll get a detailed review of your website and concrete steps you can take to improve it.

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6 Ways To Improve SEO Rankings In 6 Hours

SEO is hard, but there are some simple things that you can do to help improve your online presence. This article is about the simple things. Here are six ways that you can improve your SEO rankings in six hours.

1. Change Page Title Tags

Imagine you are turning in a paper to a professor. The title of your paper is what your professor will immediately evaluate to determine the contents of your paper.The same is true for websites. Each page on a site has a title, and Google is the professor who is grading your site. There’s not more of a lower hanging fruit in SEO than making sure that every page title tag is unique, accurately describes the content of your page, and targets a keyword that your potential customers are searching for.

Quick action item: go to your home page. Take a look the title that appears in your browser. Does it say “Home”? If so, change “Home” to “Your Product or Service” and you’ll immediately have more of a SEO optimized website.

2. Submit a Sitemap

Okay, another analogy. You’re on a roadtrip to Dunsmir, California. How will you get there? Instructions – Google Maps, GPS, or for some, Mapquest. Sitemaps are the directions you give to Google so that pages on your site can be discovered. Can Google discover content on your site without a sitemap? Sure, just like we can probably find our way to Dunsmir. It’s just more efficient for both Google and our backseat driver to have directions.

Quick action item: Go to Google Search Console. Create an account if you don’t already have one. Then, submit a sitemap to Search Console so Google can discover all the content on your site, including the new content you’ll be adding in the future.

3. Backlinks

Backlinks are the single most important SEO ranking factor. Backlinks are an incoming hyperlink from one website to your website. Google evaluates backlinks to help determine what your website is about, and how authoritative your website is on a given topic. The higher the quality of a backlink, and the higher relevance of backlink, the better. For example, our company typically ranks on the first page of Google for the term “digital marketing company.” If you type markitors.com into opensiteexplorer.com, you’ll see some of the backlinks we have from sites like mashable.com, adweek.com, and more. These are high quality backlinks that help us rank for our target search terms.

Quick action item: what website do you own, or what partners do you work with that could potentially link back to your website?

4. Page Speed

Google incorporates page speed into their ranking algorithm. Why? Because their job is to serve up the best resources, and if a page doesn’t load quickly, then people lose interest and leave the page. Most websites are built poorly, with large images not optimized for the web that significantly slow down their website speeds – and search engine rankings.

Quick action item: Go to Google Page Speed Insights. Type in your website. See what score is assigned to your website. Is your score in red? If so, cruise down to the recommendations and you’ll have actionable steps to take to improve your page speed. Most of the time, the easiest, quickest, and most impactful recommendations are in relation to reducing the file sizes of images.

5. Fix 404 Errors

People trust Google to serve up the best information in relation to their search query. What happens when Google serves up a result that leads to a page that no longer exists? Just like Meet The Fockers, that circle of trust is broken. Having broken pages on your website, technically known as 404 errors, is a great way to break the circle of trust with Google and lose your search engine rankings. This is especially common when launching a new website. The website developer creates something that looks great on the frontend, but ignores all of the backend urls that were previously driving search traffic to your site.

Quick action item: Cruise back over to Google Search Console. Take a look at the Crawl Errors reported on the dashboard. Are there any urls “not found?” If so, you’ll need to redirect incoming traffic from that link to a live page. These are technically known as 301 redirects. You can easily do this on WordPress by downloading a 301 redirect plugin and start inputting your 404 error links into the plugin, and redirecting to the right place. Warning: this activity is not fun, but totally necessary to keep the good graces with Google.

6. Improve Local Directory Info

If you’re a local business, the thing that matters to you most is getting visibility on search result pages for local searches. In other words, you want to appear on Google maps. The best way to do this is to ensure your business information – address, phone number, website – is consistent on all the local directories that exist on the internet. Google and Facebook are most important to have consistent, as well as your website. But after that, there’s a long list of other directories you can get listed on that will help improve your overall visibility.

Quick action item: Go to Moz.com/local. Type in your business name and zip code. See what score your business is assigned. If your score is pretty low, pay the $99 annually to make sure your score improves.

Hopefully after reading this you feel like this!


Brett Farmiloe
Founder & CEO, Markitors 

Brett Farmiloe is the CEO of a digital marketing company and advisor to an organizational leadership degree program. He’s in Old Town Scottsdale and frequently holds whiteboard sessions with anyone who will listen.

 

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Teaming Up - VDC & Marketing

VDC is extremely relevant in our industry today and has evolved over the last few years. Megan Conrad, Virtual Construction Manager and Mike Prefling, Director of Virtual Construction at Ryan Companies, will provide some valuable insight below.

What is exactly is VDC?

VDC stands for Virtual Design Construction. I believe there are two concepts to understand. First, we have a Building Information Model (BIM); which is a 3D model representation of a building scope, a MEP system or any other physical part of a project. Designers, contractors and vendors have mostly moved to BIM as it provides a more efficient way for them to design, draft and fabricate. I think of BIM as a noun, it’s the model & repository for information. On the other hand, Virtual Design & Construction should be thought of as a verb. It is how a myriad of models are combined, shared, evolved, leveraged and used for communication, conflict identification and resolution, and gleaned for information sharing to all stakeholders. VDC is a process driver. I’ve heard it described well as if BIM is the car then VDC is the driver. The VDC process includes software, hardware and people – ideally all in the proper configurations and locations to allow for cooperative participation, and enabled to deliver a high performing (i.e., optimized) constructed facility. 

How are the VDC and the Marketing teams in your company similar? How are they different?

We have a lot of similarities between our VDC and Marketing teams. Both groups have to draw desires and vision out of people. We both have to force action, keep groups on task, and hold people accountable. We have strict design standards, even use some of the same software, and care deeply about helping our clients experiencing a positive, emotional reaction to their project. The biggest similarity is that we both tell stories; they just might be in different formats and for different reasons. Our VDC team is able to transform a design concept into an image, animation, or virtual reality that brings it to life, while our Marketing team is able to take our deliverables and form a cohesive message with text, branding, and formatting to deliver a complete story.

How do VDC and marketing team up for pursuits or even for current projects?

We collaborate on almost every pursuit and almost every project together. VDC and Marketing combined has become a powerful duo. Marketing really understands the overall vision, objectives and key messaging points for pursuits and interviews. VDC understands construction and is in the business of visually communicating scope, process, design, logistics, budget and schedule. During pursuits, VDC can help provide supplemental graphics or tools in order to help tell the story. We do that in a variety of ways:

  1. 3D building animations and renderings
  2. Cost and schedule summary infographics
  3. Site logistics
  4. Process maps
  5. Regional amenity graphics

Sample Schedule Sequence Infographic

The VDC team’s talents reside in bringing information to life, and combined with a marketing team’s overall vision strategy, it makes for a perfect combo for business development efforts trying to win work. 

How do you think VDC technology can enhance marketing efforts or what successes have you seen when combining VDC and marketing?

One of the greatest successes we’ve seen is utilizing Virtual Reality in marketing efforts, particularly in leasing and sales capacities. Ryan’s VDC group generates 360 degree views of apartment units for potential renters to tour via virtual headsets and even an interactive experience that allows the viewer to use a controller to explore the space virtually at their own leisure. Additionally, we provide design studio-quality renderings that can be used in a wide array of marketing platforms. This provides huge added value to our clients in order to accurately market the space well before the projects are finished for closing sales and leasing sooner.

Do you have any advice for marketing or business development professionals when it comes to interacting or utilizing VDC?

  • Sit down with us on a routine basis and map out upcoming deliverables, efforts and marketing initiatives. We have a deep perspective on the pulse of construction and can offer technical support and/or perspectives.

  • Give us at least twice as much time as you think we need!  We use as many as 10 separate software programs to craft our deliverables, which can mean a lot of importing, exporting, rendering, aligning and tweaking details to get it just right. These things take time, but they are well worth it in the end.

  • We need content, and the more we can get sooner, the better (building models, concepts, branding standards, design constraints, etc.)

  • Feedback is greatly appreciated, especially when it’s early and often. It is significantly more challenging to make changes when nearing the due date for our deliverables.

  • Let us know the mood, theme, and other non-tangible elements of marketing a project. We can add little things to convey these properties and give our content a lot of depth. Every little bit of information matters!

As a VDC Manager for Ryan Companies, a design-build firm that also acts as a developer, you must have a unique perspective on the value of technology for all stakeholders (designers, contractors, and owners.) Can you tell us more about the value that you’ve seen VDC technology bring to a construction project?

As a full-service real estate solution provider, I find that I need to communicate in different ways with a myriad of stakeholder groups. VDC processes have become a powerful medium from which to communicate. It is our conduit to facilitate the vision and plan intelligently. We have found that the more information we pass through our VDC processes, the more “unknown” factors get converted to “known.” This enables tremendous agility and confidence in decision-making and maintains trust for all parties. We like to state that VDC gives our construction teams certainty of outcomes.

Your role in VDC exposes you to some of the most interesting technology trends in the industry. What tech are you most excited about for 2017 and beyond?

We have been working quite a bit with Virtual and Augmented Reality at Ryan Companies. With more consumers using these technologies, we are seeing a surge in applications within construction. As I mentioned earlier, we’re creating immersive experiences to invoke a positive emotional response into the sales and leasing process. I’m hoping that within the next two to five years, VR and AR will merge further, unlocking even more opportunities within construction. I’d like to see this expand to on-site applications and safety uses with true simulation and rehearsal of high-risk construction activities where “game-like” scenarios can be practiced and fine-tuned, similar to what is done in the aerospace or military industries.


Megan Conrad 
Virtual Construction Manager, Ryan Companies US, Inc. 

Megan Conrad works in Ryan's Great Lakes Region as a Virtual Construction Manager. She has been in the industry for 10 years and with Ryan Companies for over two years. Megan loves her job because she is able to tap into her creativity and provlem solve by helping others visualize the best steps to move forward. In her free time, Megan loves to hike, camp, canoe, kayak and travel to National and State parks. 


Mike Prefling 
Director of Virtual Construction, Ryan Companies US, Inc. 

Mike Prefling has worked in this industry for 17 years and nine years at Ryan. He oversees Ryan's Virtual construction department out of the Phoenix office and interfaces with all 13 offices across the country. He loves that every day is a different and complex puzzle to be solved. In his free time, Mike enjoys time with his family and anything that is kid-related, especially outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, swimming and other sports. 

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