The number one mistake architects when with their websites is usability. As a profession we have a tendency to test what is possible and be creative. With websites that means looking at new ways of how we might use them. Unfortunately we often just confuse our audience and we don’t give the reader the value and information they are looking for. This is becoming so widespread that architects are actually getting a bad name online. There’s a site called Websites That Suck, and there’s an entire section dedicated to architects!
Here’s a quote from it,
Poor Zaha, she’s probably devastated to know someone doesn’t like her site. But what does Vincent Flanders, the author of Web Pages That Suck, have against Zaha’s website? Well he explains that pretty clearly in his video review of her site here.
The main issue is what Mr Flanders describes as Mystery Meat Navigation. This is when people design sites which look incredibly cool and have some amazing animated graphics that lead the user in a stunning and innovative, but often obtuse, way through the site. Pretty cool right? Well yes, but more no.
Let’s start off by understanding the value of what architects achieve (or attempt to achieve) by using this type of Mystery Meat Navigation. It’s really about trying to say “look at this amazing website design. Our firm is so innovative, we can do the same thing with your building.” This is what I call an emotive response website. It attempts to wow the user not by its content, but by its immediate impact. Unfortunately this only works the first time a user comes to the site, and often it frustrates rather than being inspiring.
Check out architects websites that amaze and confound to see more examples of this type of mystery meat navigation. These types of sites also tend to be visually rich, but text poor. This focus on the visual and the novel is what drives almost all of the following issues.
To be able to create the visually animated and highly esoteric sites described in mistake #1, many websites for architects are built using software called Flash. This is software that Adobe owns and it became very popular 10 years ago when it was new and groundbreaking. The ability to be more animated may make you think that it’s more advanced, but it has some serious limitations and in my opinion should be avoided at ALL cost.
This is a common issue with Flash websites, but I am starting to see it in other dynamic content sites too. What happens is that when you click through to different pages on the site the URL address at the top of the browser isn’t changing. This is because Flash is running like an interactive movie, not like a multi paged document. The problem with this is that people can’t link to specific content on your site like your projects. This results in two problems. Bloggers and social media users can’t include a link to your work in their posts or tweets. All they can do is link to your front page and let their audience hunt around. For me this isn’t good enough. The last thing I want to do is send my audience a link that is going to frustrate them. So the first issue is that you prevent people from sharing your work. The second issue is that because people are not sharing your work then you end up with less “backlinks”.
When someone links to your content that is called a backlink, and the more people who link to you the more valuable Google thinks your content is. So if you want a better chance of being at the top of Google search results you need as many people as possible linking to you. That’s why in the introduction of this web-book I said the best thing you could do is share this site with your friends and at the end of this web-book I’m going to invite you to contact me and tell me about a site you’ve built using this guide so I can link back to you. By each of us linking to one another we both benefit. More on back linking later. The point here is that Flash sites with one URL really train wreck this whole process.
Architects often just present images of their projects – and lots of images. Sometimes an entire page full of picture boxes. Lots and lots and lots of images. The problem with images is that unless you’re embedding text into the image Google won’t know what they are about. By adding a healthy amount of text on the same page as images you give Google lots of reasons to link to you. Good text that includes information about the project and the story of creating the building is also essential if you want journalists and bloggers to talk about your projects. An image doesn’t make a story, a story makes a story. Bump up the value of your text and you’ll increase the audience of people viewing images. It’s all about getting that combination right.
Too many images also make it hard for people to navigate. My view is that it’s better to give people one beautiful image that you absolutely want people to see straight away rather than over whelming them with too much choice. You can of course use sliders to get more images from your website real estate, but at the end of the day communication is key. What is your message and how do you deliver it as simply as possible?
Architects websites tend to be one hit wonders. They’re beautiful to look at the first time, but you never go back. They are static calling cards and lack any interaction or community following. Successful websites, however, tend to provide value to their audience on a regular basis. They see their website as a media stream and realize that any longer than 2 weeks without change is probably too long. If you’re updating your website once a year and updating your projects in bulk then you’re in the first group. You would have been better off doing small, but regular updates. The second aspect of this approach is having some way of connecting to your audience. That’s where social media and email “opt-in” forms come in. While we’re talking about building a community you should subscribe to our newsletter below. That way you can keep reading when we post new content.
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I didn’t realize this until someone pointed it out to me, but almost all architect’s About pages are identical. They almost always go along the lines of being a multidisciplinary, award winning practice with a wide range of successful projects. That tells the reader almost nothing and has failed to provide Google with any keywords that can be used when people search for specific needs. There is a whole page dedicated to this topic later in the web-book here.