LEAD: 10 Ways to Make Your AEC Website a Destination for Knowledge & Learning

May 05 2022

Did you know that blogging is a key component that should be part of your overall AEC public relations plan? Utilizing your firm’s blog can be a powerful tool for helping architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms drive website traffic and establish your leaders as experts. The key? Build thought leadership by publishing educational content online.


One of the most common conversations we have with our clients is emphasizing the importance of including a blog feature when designing a website. The blog is a big commitment. It requires consistent, educational-based, client-focused, high-quality content. If structured right, it can be a critical component of an effective marketing program.


The most challenging part? Understanding what kind of content should be created to attract and engage target and existing clients. To help overcome this challenge, we’ve outlined ten key principles that will help you create the right kind of content:


1. Avoid the sales pitch

You may feel the easiest way to develop content is to use your company’s sales pitch. Your blog should not exclusively be used to share company news, your latest project win, highlight services, spotlight employees, or show photos from your latest company event. However, most AEC firms populate their blogs using this low hanging fruit. If you focus your content on what your firm is interested in writing about, you will miss the opportunity to address topics that are of interest to your target clients. And it’s also not the right place to feature project information unless there is a case study or educational story behind the photos and an obvious benefit to the reader.


It can be said that your website can feature your projects or people in the appropriate area. But your blog is not that place. Instead, the blog is where you demonstrate your thought leadership and demonstrate the value your team brings to projects and clients. It’s time to redirect your focus from selling your firm and focus on sharing the kind of information your audience needs to do their jobs better. Think of ideas that your audience will find valuable. Consider your blog as a resource that exists for your audience to consume, not an advertisement to promote the firm.


2. Create a resource for AEC client-based knowledge and learning

If you focus on sharing relevant information that educates, answers questions, informs and guides your prospects and clients, you will add value to your AEC relationships. Make a blog the destination that your audience will return to for interesting and relevant topics. Content creation focused on best practices, industry trends, and innovations will bring your prospects back often.


3. Focus on thought leadership unique to your target market sectors

The purpose of your AEC blog should be based on thought leadership. Remember, your blog should be the place where you showcase your company’s subject-matter expertise and educate your prospects and existing clients. Strategize the content based on your target market sectors and rotate through those sectors consistently. Each target market audience has unique and specific educational needs. Every post should be created through the lens of thought leadership and the audience’s unique interests. Topics should be as educational and client focused as possible.


4. Don’t be afraid to give away the secret sauce

Many AEC marketers and seller/doers are worried about “saying too much” in brainstorming blog topics. They fear competitors will learn from or potential clients won’t need them. Don’t be afraid! If you don’t educate your audience, someone else will and that competitor will receive the benefit of return visits to their blog. Most likely the topic is not an exclusive piece of information, but your choice to teach your audience that they need YOUR FIRM to perform the service can be. The more useful your information, the more your prospects and existing clients will trust you. Trust means relationships and relationships mean ongoing projects. That’s a powerful competitive advantage.


5. Mine your team for content ideas

It is difficult to think of topics that meet the needs of your clients, prospects, and even potential employees. The best way to achieve this is to ask them. Your staff, consultants, contractors, prospects, and clients likely have many unanswered questions and topics about which they would like to be more knowledgeable.


Take the time to talk to your project managers, engineers, architects, superintendents, business development reps, and firm principals for topic ideas. Ask them what they are asked most often such as:


• During an interview
• In the field and on project sites
• At a conference
• Topics in industry-focused publications
• At a project kick-off meeting
• At the beginning, middle and end of a project


In addition to answering questions, you’ll also want to address the problems or potential problems that your audience faces. What are their key issues? What risks are they facing about a project? Share how how your firm will address these types of challenges and the solution you will provide.


This targeted research narrows the kind of content that is important to your target market and type of topics that will elevate your firm’s website as a trusted resource.


6. Allocate the appropriate resources

Why don’t firms always provide the “right” type of content on their website? Most of the feedback we have received is they don’t have adequate staff to assist or staff with the right skill set. Under-resourcing the content generation and promotion function can be detrimental to the success of your online strategy. There are at least four crucial roles involved in the process:


(1) Management level strategic guidance
(2) Content production expert
(3) Editorial oversight and experience
(4) Content promotion


Consider in-house and outsource experts to assist with these four areas.


7. Leverage your AEC employees, clients, and industry partners to create content

You have the resources you need at your fingertips when recruiting help to create content. Knowledgeable staff, leadership, and management have years of expertise and lessons learned. Consultants, contractors, and vendors can provide insight into industry trends. Your client base can tell you what they need to know and have a perspective to consider. Your content does not have to just include architecture, engineering, or construction information. Consider industry specialists in law, insurance, cost estimating, real estate, economic development, and so many other areas that affect the AEC industry.


8. Prove yourself

There are many avenues in which a client can come in contact your firm and team members. Clients are responsible for doing due diligence before hiring or considering any AEC firm. It is our job as AEC marketers to make this easy for them. There may be different reasons and different timeframes in which a client might review your website so take this into consideration in your content planning.


After a business development meeting, a prospective client may review your site as they look to familiarize themselves further with your projects and team. Once you’ve submitted a proposal or even conducted a shortlist interview, most clients will come back to your website for further “proof” that can help them choose between seemingly equally qualified firms.


Content creation is a form of pre-positioning your firm and influencing the final selection. Your website content and blog should guide clients to the information you want them to review and demonstrate your firm’s qualifications and expertise in ways that a meeting, proposal, and interview do not.


9. Use visuals to tell the story

Visuals are key to leaving an impression and include photos, infographics, charts, graphs, video, and more. Good visuals elevate content and demonstrate your point more succinctly. Visuals make your words more compelling (and less boring) and will help to break up the text and add interest to the scroll.


Video is a powerful way to tell your story. The videos would be embedding into the post (using a platform such as Vimeo) and ideally should also include transcription copy for those who prefer reading. This strategy will also help with SEO.


10. Write to boost SEO

Every piece of content on your site is another chance to be indexed in search engines. For instance, if you write a post called “How to Hire an Architect” and someone searches Google for “how to hire an architect,” that person may end up on your site.


Refreshing your firm’s website with a client-focused blog can elevate your firm’s overall marketing strategy. It will:


• Build trust
• Attract new prospects and new employees
• Provide “proof” in the qualification process
• Educate them in what you do and how you can solve project challenges


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