Do's And Don'ts Of An Architecture Website

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: May 7, 2020

We generated an architecture website checklist just for you. Over the past couple of months, the Isotropic team has been hard at work identifying and analysing hundreds of websites across the industries we serve. Our findings have been pretty helpful in isolating the industry-specific do's and don'ts of websites and web presences. Over the next few months, we'll be publishing these findings to our blog here at Isotropic.

We took a look at 308 random, US based, architecture portfolio websites and came up with these do's and don'ts. We'll attempt to categorize these recommendations by website function.

You can download a PDF checklist of these do's and don'ts here.

Introduction

Aside from architects, there are few industries in which a well designed, responsive website is an absolute essential part of your business. Your clients are contracting you for design services, and in many cases your website is the first impression her to get of your firm. Up to 308 random US based architecture portfolio websites we surveyed, we were surprised to find that 57% of the websites scored lower than a 5 out of 10, based on the a collection of several Awwwards evaluation systems, namley the Dev Award Guidlines and Mobile Guidelines.

From the poorly designed websites, we isolated a collection of standard elements that needed to be improved upon - these are listed as don'ts. Likewise, from the well designed websites, we isolated a collection of standard elements that benefited the respective firms web presence and listed them as do's.

CMS/Framework

Don't use Adobe Flash

It was pretty interesting to note that several architecture websites were still built with Adobe Flash, and hadn't been updated in several years. Of the 308 surveyed, 36 were built with flash -- that's over 10%. Additionally, the majority of our architecture web design clients are coming from and Adobe Flash website, which means that a fair amount of firms still use this platform.

Adobe Flash is an out dated, insecure, unsupported content management system. Websites built with it have that distinct 2008 design style. Adobe, the maker of the product is discontinuing their support for it in 2020, and major browsers such as Chrome and Safari block the website and display an insecure content warning.

An Adobe Flash Website

That's the main reason you shouldn't be using a website with Adobe Flash. It destroys the credibility of your firm, because when clients go to your domain, they get a warning that this website might be trying to steal your information. We reached out to several firms with Adobe Flash websites, and the 2 major reasons that they still had it live was:

  • 1, they were unaware that it was up and running, and hadn't recently checked/updated the site. The browser warnings are a recent development, so an Adobe Flash website that may have been fine 2, 3 years ago no longer is.
  • 2, they knew that something needed to be done, but had no idea of how to address it.

The answer to both of these reasons is to move the website to a simple, open source, expandable content management system.

Do use a simple, open source, expandable Content Management System

Any website should use a simple, open source and expandable content management system like WordPress or Drupal.

Because these frameworks are open source, they're free. The only ongoing costs for open source platforms would be hosting, so you can keep your monthly overhead low. Furthermore, you can achieve massive ROIs on your web presence because of this. For a one time fee for website design + $5-40 per month, you could be generating hundreds of actionable leads per year.

There is immense usership, support, and development communities surrounding WordPress and other open source solutions. From these communities, developers create plugins that drastically increase the features of WordPress. For example, for page speed you can install a plugin that automatically optimizes your portfolio, for SEO you can use a plugin that generates Sitemaps, Markups and more... and the list goes on.

The final benefit that we find is great for architecture firms is the expandability aspect. If you need to add new pages, features and functionality, WordPress allows for this quickly and simply. For example, if you expand your firm to include construction services, you can easily add a new page to reflect this in your digital appearance. If designed correctly, this page will automatically optimize the content for search engine placement, generate schema markups, and follow the overall design guidelines of your website, including color schemes, typography, and layout.

Responsiveness

Don't neglect your mobile website

According to Satista:

Mobile accounts for approximately half of web traffic worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2019, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 52.6 percent of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50 percent mark since the beginning of 2017.

16 of the websites we surveyed didn't have any mobile version, and 23 failed the Google Mobile Friendly Test. That's not good for two reasons:

  • The majority of your web traffic comes from mobile, which means your bounce rate is probably higher.
  • Google takes mobile web design into account when placing your site on it's search engine. In fact, they state that they predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Those with poor mobile versions are heavily penalized.

Do focus on a mobile-first design

Not only does Google rank your site based on it's mobile version, and not only do the majority of your visitors view the site from their cellphone, but it also circles back to credibility.

If you or your website designer focuses on building a mobile first website, rankings and conversions increase.

Mobile Design
Source, https://www.uxpin.com/

Mobile first design needs its own blog post to fully introduce it, but the methodology behind it is pretty simple. Traditional web design dictates that the desktop version of the website is designed first, then the tablet, then the mobile. As the screen size gets smaller, elements are stripped away from the viewport or reordered to display correctly on mobile.

Mobile first design works in the opposite direction. Instead of starting at the desktop, we start at the mobile level. Designing from the mobile to the tablet to desktop allows the website to primarily be mobile oriented, which is what is important to focus on in 2020 website design.

Do Understand Access

A massively overlooked aspect of  any type of website,  from both the designer side and the owner side is website access. Like mentioned above,  the open-source PHP based content management systems are extremely powerful, and offer tons of features. This is really helpful when you want to build a completely custom website, be able to manage the content visually and easily. However, the depth of features can get quite confusing, especially if you're delegating website maintenance tasks to somebody who's not familiar with the technology behind it.

If a user is going to only update portfolio entry, then there is no need to give them access to advanced page/code editing tools. This helps your employees make the most of their time,  as they will not get distracted by unneeded features.  Typically when building a WordPress website for clients, we create two logins --  One that gives administrator access, which can control every aspect and feature of the website,  and one that gives editor access, which if users a stripped-down version of the backend that only allows them to add, delete, and edit portfolio entries.

Another benefit of restricting access and partitioning your site is security.  Even if a hacker manages to bypass the firewall protecting the back end of your website, if the individual login is partitioned and restricted, they won't be able to do much damage.  Instead, they would need to hack an administrator account or the server, which is a more difficult task.These security benefits don't just apply hackers, they apply to previous employees as well.

Conversion/Lead Gen

Do Focus on Visior/Lead Flow

A website is a primary digital asset, but there are several other digital properties that feed into this asset. If you think of it as a sales agency, your social media, Houzz profile page, and local directory are the associates. They generate leads, and pass them up the ladder to the Closer.

Your website is the Closer, but without the associates there would be no leads. That’s why its important to focus on the holistic lifespan and user flow of a visitor. 

You then need to focus the design of the site to not only include your portfolio projects and good design, but implement a structured funnel design, created to convert your visitors into leads. For most firms, this involves building credibility with your portfolio, sealing the deal with an about page that showcases talent, experience and expertise, and then moving the visitor to the contact page which is conditionally generated for their specific needs.

This is an extremely important aspect of your digital strategy, which the majority of the websites we surveyed neglected.  Again, design is really important -  it builds credibility with your user and subconsciously makes them think “ this architecture firm’s website is good, and stands out from the 4 others I have open in new tabs. If their website reflects their workmanship, and it probably does, these are the guys I want to work with”. However, design won’t do anything if your visitor is greeted by a site that dosn’t move them to the end goal of submitting a project inquiry/contact form. 

As with anything, you need to merge design with practicality and interface. 

Do Include Modern Techniques That Help You Make More Conversions

We will be making an in-depth tutorial regarding conversion techniques on service-oriented websites (which is perfect for Architects), so keep an eye out for that. We also have a dedicated facebook group to boosting digital conversion rates, and I invite you to join. In this section, we'll will attempt to point you in the right direction to research modern conversion techniques in websites further, and implement the correct solutions into your new architecture website.

Technique 1: Offer Something To Have Them Come Back

You're an authority in your field and offering something that shares your knowledge with visitor is super helpful when it comes to nurturing visitors and converting them into leads. By offering a checklist or PDF report that prominently displayed your brand and pushes customers back to your website, you have a higher chance of converting that visitor into a lead, even if they leave their website. The key to making this work is to offer something that is so valuable, it will be referenced multiple times.

You can also run a variation of this where you offer a free, but super valuable product to your customer in return for an email address (ie. Hey, want this? We'll send it to your email...)

Technique 2: Use Abandonment Popups

Also called an exit intent popup, this will display if your user makes a quick movement with your cursor to the top of the screen which typically signifies that they are about to leave the website.

You can choose to display a free but valuable offering in response for an email, show testimonials or case studies and then point your them to them or your contact page, or do something else entirely. For architecture firms, the second option works well. It is important that you do absolutely everything in your power to give your visitor the chance to become a lead, and this is your last chance to do so.  

Technique 3: Do anything mentioned in this guide

This is a guide on how to improve your architecture website -- So that means implementing any of these changes could be extremely beneficial to your company. Specifically focus on the design aspects that we will discuss in the next section, and make your website more usable.

Do Focus On Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the highest return-on-investment marketing strategies that service companies, like architecture firms, can employ. By establishing yourself as a dominant “ expert”  in various subjects, potential customers will remember your firm, and reach out when looking for related services.

This style of marketing generates inbound leads, which convert higher than leads generated from paid advertising, and also boost your firm's credibility in numerous ways. Not only do you define your firm as a leading expert in the topics that you write about, you rank on Google, and show website visitors that you care about them because you are willing to offer them high-quality free content.

Now, there are some caveats with content marketing. The major caveat is whether your visitors will actually see the content. If your site is not optimized for search engine placement, and local SEO, then you might be wasting your time with content marketing. Investing in quality SEO services that target both keywords and locations is absolutely essential when establishing your architecture firm online.

Additionally, it takes time to create quality content that will rank. There's no point to writing a hundred words in 10 minutes, posting it on your website, and hoping that it gains traction. You need to offer your audience valuable content that they can take action on.  For architecture firms we recommend writing about design. A design journal or how to guide is a great place to start. These two styles of blogpost are perfect ways to push a customer into a funnel. For example, if you wrote a blog post on how to select the best colors, throughout the post you can intersperse call to actions… “ If you would like to consult with a design professional, please reach out to our firm and schedule a free consultation”. It is surprising how high the conversion rate for links / call to actions like these are.  Once the customer is in your pipeline, you can then attempt to convert them into a paying conversion --  with this example, if they're looking at paint colors, they might be considering an addition or alteration, which is a service that your firm could provide them.

We offer marketing and content marketing services for architecture firms and service providers. If you're interested, please reach out.

Do Give Visitors A Reason To Come Back

We just discussed this in one of the above segments, but it warrants another, closer look. Offering your visitors something that will make them come back to the website can be one of the highest converting methods to recapture leads. Because you're an architecture firm, you're an authority on housing, design, and related fields. This means that if you offer something that looks good and brings value to your visitor, though most likely take you up on it.  You can ask for an email address, and slowly nuture them into a lead like this.

Here's a quick list of things that you can offer on your architecture website to make visitors come back and become paying clients:

  • Ebook: "How to have a successful architecture project". Ebook are immensely powerful instruments at building credibility.
  • Checklist: This is the easiest and most effective offering on an architecture. Design checklists, home checklists....
  • A deal/special: This is a two way street because depending on the type of your client, it might make your service less valuable to them leading to no conversion.

Design

Do leverage your skills

You are a design firm which means you should leverage your skills and understanding of good design user experience for your website.  If you're working with an agency to build your website, and I recommend that you do so, Make sure that they will allow you to insert yourself into the project and be an active participant in shaping the design of your website.

Not only can you shape the project to look exactly like your design language, you can ensure that it simply looks good.

We find that the best, most effective web sites come out of projects where the firm had immense input into the creation of the website, and worked alongside us to get to the final project. In that type of project, we’ll typically focus on making the design as close as possible to what the client wants, while still following best practices, accessibility guidelines and SEO.  

The website is the extension of your firm and visitors know this. Make sure it looks good!

Don't overuse pictures or text, or be overly abstract

Now here’s the flip side of that. Some firms want to be super abstract – limited text, all photos, only text. Don’t do that – you don’t your website on any side of the extreme spectrum.  

If a website is sacrifices usability for design, then your designer has failed you. Yes, the site needs to look good, but if the visitor cannot get to an about page in 1 second or find a contract form, what’s the point? That’s why its important to work with a digital agency that can balance your design with best practices and web design standards.

Overusing pictures without giving them descriptions is another issue common on many architecture website experience we found this in 52 of the 308 surveyed. Obviously, photos matter. But if your website is all photos and no text/design, SEO and usability get slammed. The opposite applies too - don't go for a ton of text. Make it a balanced approach and include the needed amount of text and photography to effectively convey what your firm can do for the client.

Do focus on your portfolio entries

At the heart of your architecture website is your portfolio. Surprisingly, men firms don't put their portfolio entries. The 2 main elements that are neglected are the photos and the descriptions of the projects.

First, you need high resolution HDR images displayed in full resolution to your visitors. This is extremely important - using a 200 pixel wide photo will not effectively display to your visitor what you created. On 38 of the survey websites, photos were blurry and pixelated.

Many portfolio entries on existing websites didn't even have a description. Instead, they listed the title, year, designer and category. Crafting elaborate descriptions is a must for conversions and SEO.

If you're interested in looking at 2020's best architecture websites to figure out what makes them tick, read this blog post: https://isotropic.co/blog/the-best-architect-website-design-of-2020/

Don't mess up navigation

Content

Do focus on your about section

We talked a lot about content in other sections of this report, so we're only gonna focus on one major thing you should lookout for when creating content for your architecture website. That would be the About page. EVERY SINGLE architecture website has the same about page: "We are a multidisciplinary, award winning firm that's been around for x years".

Crafting a unique about page that gets your message across to your visitors on who you are anymore super important. After the portfolio, the about page is the most visited page in your site. That's your chance to give your 1 minute sales pitch and convert the visitor to lead.

Conclusion

That was our exhaustive list of the do's and don'ts of an architecture website. we hope this offered you insight into things that you should look out on when creating an architecture website, areas to improve on your existing architecture website, and things that you may be doing well with. I implore you to go type in your domain name now in a new tab, run through this checklist, and determine what your website does well and what can be fixed. Investing in your digital presence is a high ROI investment, and many of these are quick and simple fixes to implement. Good luck!

If you are in the market for a new architecture website, our digital agency specializes in creating high converting sites specifically for you. We have experience in this arena, having completed dozens of well designed digital sites for architects and design professionals. If you’d like to work with us (or learn more), please reach out!

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James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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