Designer Marketing 101 is a series of educational content target to the design trade on how marketing can be used to build your brand (and ultimately your business!) beyond your portfolio.

In a recent study of the current AIA San Francisco members primarily focusing in Single Family Residence, we found over 25% of firms are still using a Flash-based website. As of May, 2012, 20% of all North American browsing happened on a mobile phone. Apple is the dominant platform on mobile. And you know what? Apple iOS – the operating system that runs both iPhone and iPad – does not allow you to view Flash sites at all. So if you are an architect or interior designer, you really need to upgrade your site.

responsive web design
Other reasons to upgrade / factors to consider if your website is getting long in the tooth are discussed below:

01

HTML vs FLASH

A Flash website is costly to maintain. Often you have to go back to a web designer to make even the smallest change. Compare this approach with a website based on a content-management system, which allows you to take control of web updates, without having to add a web designer or coder to your team.

HTML and HTML5 can offer similar features and still allow for proper best practices in website optimization.

Speaking of HTML5 … be aware that HTML5 is still in draft format according to the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. As such investing in a site based on HTML5 may be premature. If you do invest, be aware that you may be forced to spend money later updating the technology as a final standard for HTML5 is ratified and comes into widespread use.

02

MEDIA QUERIES AND RESPONSIVE DESIGN

As a designer or architect, you want to put your work out there in big, glorious color. You want your images to scale up – if the user has a 24″ or 27″ inch monitor – and not get stuck in a little tiny window designed for viewing on a 15-17″ screen. But what happens to these big images when viewed from an iPad or iPhone?

responsive design templates

What to do?

Media queries to the rescue! Effectively, with media queries you develop one site with a layout and individual design components that responds to the size of the device.

03

CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM or CMS

The beauty of going with a CMS is that in many instances you won’t need a webmaster but can have someone on your team update your website whenever you conclude a new project, win an award, or get some press. Without a CMS, to do these updates generally requires having someone on your team who knows how to author in HTML (at least) and possibly also CSS, PHP, Javascript, MySQL, and LINUX or UNIX administration.

Our CMS of choice for architects and interior designers?

WordPress.

Initially utilized as a blogging tool, WordPress is the most popular Content Management System (CMS) on the web today; it runs 15% of Alexa’s “top 1 million” websites and 22% of new sites.

Other great CMS choices include Drupal and Expression Engine.

04

COPY

Architects and interior designers often like to go minimal, meaning a web design that is big on pictures and has little to no copy.

We love glorious images of the work our architecture and interior designers clients. Really we do.

Google — on the other hand — not so much.

As far as search engines are concerned, you need to put 300 – 350 words on the page and craft the copy for keyword density (the percentage of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on the page). Look for a web design firm that doesn’t just do design but will actually help you develop a web presence that will make you findable in search. Remember: if your prospect can’t find you when they search, they can’t hire you.

05

PORTFOLIO

Images of the work you’ve done persuades people to contact you, the first step towards hiring your firm.

Keep in mind the importance of developing your website so images scale based on the device that is being used. (These are those pesky media queries we discussed above). Without them your portfolio won’t look across all screens, including mobile phones and tablets.

06

BLOGGING

Yes, most designers don’t understand and value the point of blogging. Which is fine. We aren’t here to sell you on the value of blogging.

However, if you do blog, make sure your blog is hosted on your own domain. Don’t take the user away from your brand experience.

Blogging creates a ton of SEO currency. Why? Google wants new and unique content. Google spiders don’t care how pretty your pictures are or how expensive that custom fabric you hand-blocked on linen. Google only cares how frequently you’ve updated your website and in an industry that only photographs new projects a couple times a year, blogging helps fill the gap in new content. Okay there, we tried selling you on blogging. Did it work?

07

VISITOR ANALYTICS

If you’ve developed great content on your website, why wouldn’t you want to know who your visitors are?

Visitor analytics allows your firm to understand exactly who is visiting your website. Reverse IP address lookup is a great little technique that looks up the visitor by their IP address. So you can see exactly how many people from Facebook, Yelp, or Zynga (for example) visited your site.

While visitor analytics like this is not free, it is surprisingly low cost. Google Analytics does not do reverse IP look up to this level of detail but does provide a ton of detail about what happens when people come to your site. And its free. Free is good, right?

08

MORE THAN THE PRINCIPAL

Studies show that prospects find architecture and interior design firms … intimidating.

To reduce the intimidation factor, here’s something very simple you can do.

Add headshots and staff bios for your entire team, right down to the receptionist.

09

SOCIAL MEDIA

Your prospect spends time online. To reach them, you need to engage your prospects where they spend time while online and encourage them to visit your site and learn more about you.

The single best way to do that?

content-marketing-540

Content marketing.

Create content that shows off your firm to good effect and then place a link to that content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a visual that represents that content on Pinterest.

Many designers we talk to tell us they don’t need social media, that they get the majority of their business through referrals. Social media is how referrals happen today, both for Millenials (those born after the year 2000 who grew up with the web) and for older prospects (the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, for example, is those over 45. Who knew?).