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An architect’s website will have several different audiences and each will want something slightly different. The important thing to understand is why each audience is on your site and what they want. Your job in designing a website is to make their path to what they want as user friendly as possible, which is in stark contrast to stereotypical architects website which attempts to wow the user with a beautiful, but difficult to use interface.
New clients are probably getting to your site in the following ways.
In all of these scenarios it’s likely that they’ll enter your site through the front page. Their path from here can go in two obvious directions, the first is to view your projects and the second is to read the about page. The big thing that I see architects neglecting on their site is explaining why they are different. We’ll examine about pages in more detail, but the take away message here is that client want more than just your projects, they want an experience, they want to feel safe and avoid risk, they want to be involved in a creative journey. All of these things are not explained by a photo of a completed project. They are all explained by stories and text.
I want to explain existing client behaviour through a quick story. One of the first websites I built was for myself and at the time I was a sole architect working out of my bedroom. My website obsession then was to create some form of client portal. I wanted all their drawings and renderings and photos to be online during the complete design phase. I know some of you are freaking out right now with me saying I was putting my drawings online and privacy issues and all of that. I’m going to tell you it was one of the best things I ever did and my prediction is that architects who embrace this form of open sharing will become the next starchitects, while those who lock their work away will be ignored. Why was this such a good idea? Well I noticed that I was getting a lot of visits to the site from one source. I could see this data because I was using Google Analytics. What I couldn’t see at the time was who it was, but I took a guess that it was my primary client and I asked them about it. They explained that when their friends came over for dinner they would inevitably talk about the project and go online to show them. Now I ‘m not a marketing expert, but I think this is what you call one of the best referral programs you could ever ask for. You existing client, walking a potential client through your site.
So what does the path of an existing client using your site look like. It’s probably going to be either a direct link to their project OR Front page > Projects > Their Project
I’ve asked a couple magazine editors if they like it when an architect puts their projects online before being published in a magazine. The response is varied. Some worry about the content now being out there and old, while others say they actually use an architect’s website to find potential projects for stories. I’m an advocate of the later approach. I say get everything you can online as soon as you can. My rationale here is that the online architectural audience is bigger. Magazines are small fry compared to blogs and social media. I’m not sure if the magazines have figured this out yet, so they keep trying to do it the old way and lock you into an exclusive.
So what do editors want from your website? They probably want a couple things:
The new online media is very different to print media. The speed of the internet and the way things are shared changed the game. For example, many architectural blogs need content on a daily basis. It’s like feeding the fire. They have pressures and deadlines to get content. Where do they find all this content in a global world? It’s not like they can visit 99% of the projects they are talking about. Obviously they find it on the internet via other websites, blogs and social media. The word syndication is key. The information is less “owned” on the web and acts more like a hot potato being passed from one person to the next. The most important thing to understand is that if your projects aren’t on the web, then it can’t be part of this process. It’s out of the frenzied sharing loop. So the number one rule is to make sure you have content online including images and lots of information for someone to write a new story right now. Give them everything a journalist would potential ask for and make it easy for them.
For want of a better word I’m going to call this last group fans. This word for me is slightly problematic because it makes me think of football teams, but it will have to do. So this group is the everyone group. It’s you, it’s me and anyone else who has access to a social media account. It’s this last aspect that makes fans incredibly powerful. Before social media was around anyone could check out your website and love your work, but they had far fewer ways of passing that onto others. There was little action they could take, which meant having fans didn’t affect you in any great way. With social media however this has changed, everyone has the ability to keep sharing your work. When they post your architecture on Facebook they are sharing your work with their friends and those friends can do the same. What’s different between this group and what I called editors of new media is that fans are not as professional in their content curation. They see something, they share it. It’s a simple like-and-respond action. They are not looking for a story per se, they are just passing on what has already been created. They love amazing photos, witty quotes, and cartoons. They like the easily digestible, but at times will share things they find important or useful. Here are several things architects can share with this group