Putting yourself out there: What to consider when designing your firm Web site
One reason to hire an independent Web designer is to get an outside eye. As aesthetically oriented as architects are, they still make basic design errors when taking on the design of their sites. There are many, including unattractive background colors with unreadable type, use of pointless animations that can’t be skipped and take forever to load, navigation that leads to dead ends, links that aren’t descriptive, and the use of frames—there are many elements that can make your site unwieldy and inelegant. Some of the worst mistakes come from overestimating the monitor size your viewers might have. Clarity is key, and if your site comes up and all the navigation is below eye level on a viewer’s screen, there’s a good chance they won’t try to find it.
One of the most common mistakes is that firms fail to post the name of a specific person who can be contacted by a potential client or a prospective employee viewing the site—and, even worse, some firms don’t include their phone number and address. This sends the message that either the firm is impersonal, or they’re so unsure of who will be running their business-development department in the future, they don’t want to commit a name to a Web site. It seems unlikely that a potential client looking to spend a million dollars or more on a building is going to send a query to a blind e-mail address.
If the name of your site doesn’t come up on the first page of a Google search, you’re in trouble, and one of the reasons one should hire a top-notch Web designer is because they’ll have strategies for getting to the top. In general, search engines are text based, not image based, so the more times you can insert the name of your firm and keywords about it in your Web site, the better your chances. Books like Max Hits, Building and Promoting Successful Websites, by Web guru Mike Slocombe (RotoVision SA, Mies, Switzerland, 2003), have plenty of information on the best ways to get prominent placement on search engines. And if other sites have links to your site, you should put that link on your page, too. For example, when a story about your firm runs in archrecord.construction.com, it will include a link to your site. Link to the story, and you’ve just added another chance for a search engine to recognize your site.
The Web evolves
Blank Mosseri has offices in New York City and San Francisco, and according to Blank, who was trained as an architect, he uses his firm’s own Web site to keep the two offices in constant communication with each other—a service he offers his clients. “We’ve found that daily comments posted to our internal forums keep us in touch, and we can allow clients to view certain areas to keep them up with our progress on their sites,” he says. As the world gets smaller and more communication occurs online, firms are also finding that marketing themselves to a broad, global audience can occur by way of a Web site. “Multilingual pages are complicated to create, but bringing that international marketing edge to architects can give them the exposure they need,” says Skokna. “Architects are great clients for Web designers because they have such keen aesthetics and an understanding of principles important to Web design—grids, simplicity, visuals. They can and should present unique experiences for people who come to their sites. The only limit is technology, and as that continues to evolve, so will the potential of the Web.”