SEO for AEC Firms

SEO for AEC Firms

SEO for AEC Firms

When we develop websites for AEC firms, the topic of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) usually comes up in the project kickoff meeting. Our client, the Director of Marketing or CMO, needs to respond to the CEO, who has asked, “Can we get to the top of page one of Google search results with this new website?” Probably Not. For most generalist AEC firms, spending a lot of time and dollars on SEO doesn’t make sense.

Your clients don’t search for: “architecture firm,” view the search results, go to a website, select your services in a shopping cart, and then click “buy” at check out. But if your firm has specialized expertise and a content marketing program (it should), then SEO makes sense. This post shares how adding valuable, unique content, and then optimizing your pages, can help you attract searchers that arrive at your site already hungry your firm’s expertise.

“SEO only works for Professional Service firms when combined with a narrow focus and regularly adding expert content that is helpful to your target audience. A modern website requires a commitment to specialization and a commitment to writing.” ““ Mark O’Brien, CEO of Newfangled and author of A Website That Works.

Note: I use Google in this post as the defacto search engine because they currently have an 84% market share. While Bing is gaining momentum, if you adhere with Google SEO practices, you will be well positioned with Bing and others.

What To Do

  • Add unique, valuable content informed by your expertise to your website blog
  • Optimize each page of your website
  • Google indexes this content, and brings interested searchers to your site
  • Searchers arrive impressed with your helpful expertise
  • They sign-up for your newsletter or RSS feed, and tell their colleagues about your site
  • Colleagues start linking to specific pages in your site
  • Google indexes more frequently, and increases your rankings

What to Avoid

  • Hiring an expensive “SEO Expert” promising to put your firm at the top of page 1.
  • Trying to outsmart Google. You will not.
  • Trying short term tricks that could get you “blacklisted” from Google.
  • Developing a “magic keyword list” assuming it will automatically drive your listing to page 1.

How To Optimize Your Pages
Here are the six items you should pay attention to when optimizing your web pages.

1. URL – Uniform Resource Locoator or Page Link


Appears: Title Bar (see red arrow above)
Length & Format: As short as possible to describe page
Concept: friendly, english (not code), concise, keyword-rich
Best Practices: Have developer give you ability to customize URLs through your CMS
Avoid: Code URLs like this:


2. Page Title


Appears: Browser Bar & link text in Google results (see red arrow above)
Length & Format: Up to 70 characters
Concept: Keyword or Phrase, Keyword or Phrase, Keyword or Phrase
Example: Grateful for Great Clients
Best Practices: Accurately describe page content, unique for each page, More important keywords towards front, think like a searcher
Avoid: A single tag across all your pages, long confusing titles


3. Meta Description


Appears: black text in Google results (see red arrow above)
Length & Format: Up to 155 characters
Concept: Compelling ad copy that inspires user to click
Example: Home: LecoursDesign is a brand strategy firm serving the AEC Industry. We help clients tell their story to win new business.
Best Practices: Accurately summarize page content
Avoid: only keywords, generic descriptions, quotes


4. H1 Tags


Appears: Headline title on each page (see red arrow above)
Length & Format: No more than 1 line, could be 1 word
Concept: Compelling headline that ideally contains primary keyword for that page
Example: Contact
Best Practices: Every page needs a unique H1 tag
Avoid: making H1 tags exact copies of page titles


5. Keywords

Appears: n/a
Length & Format: 5-6 words or phrases comma separated -or- 1 primary keyword (there are differing beliefs on this)
Concept: primary keyword, secondary keyword, etc. if using multiple keywords
LecoursDesign Example: Brand Strategy, Branding, Logo, Web Design, AEC Marketing
Best Practices: Think like a searcher. What words would they use to find you. Unsure about which words to use? Use For example, I was unsure about which keyword is searched for more frequently: brand or branding. Below are the results:

Google Trends


6. Body Copy
Write compelling content that is helpful to your audience. Speak directly to your reader by identifying their pain points and offering solutions. This post is an example. I heard from several clients that they were confused about SEO so I wrote this post to help them. Use keywords in your body copy but only when they make sense. In other words, don’t keyword stuff at the expense of good writing. You want incoming links and nobody will link to your copy if it isn’t readable. In short, if your content isn’t good enough to attract natural links, it doesn’t matter how “optimized” that content is. Finally, make sure content is indexable, not PDFs, movies, image files, etc. A quick way to test is to place your cursor over the text and try to select it. If successful, then it’s indexable.

The Opportunity
The main opportunity with search is attracting potential clients that value your expertise, are unaware of you or your current services, or are considering hiring someone else. It’s unlikely that you’ll convert them on the spot to become a client. But, a relationship with this potential client must start somewhere. Content Marketing + SEO can be the first step in moving this searcher from prospect to client by getting to know you, to like you, to trust you, and eventually hire you.

Want More
A Website That Works by Mark O’Brien

How To Create a Sticky Website

One way to measure the success of your website we is to monitor visitor’s length of stay. The longer a visitor “sticks” on your site, the greater the chance they are making an emotional connection with your brand. Using principles from the outstanding book, Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Dan and Chip Heath, here are three key qualities of a sticky website.

1. Simplicity
Before redesigning your website, review your strategic and marketing plans, analyzing your current site, and prioritizing what you want site visitors to do on your new site. This gives you a creative brief, or target, to compare design solutions against. Next, create a Site Map which is a clear outline of proposed content. Again, measure against brief.  Now a clear navigation system can be designed which allows the visitor to easily find what they need. In a site we recently designed for KTU+A, we determined that viewing projects by market sector was a priority. So we designed the main navigation system to always show all market sectors. With the custom Content Mangagement Sytem we created for KTU+A, they are able to maintain their own site full of current content. Our goal for this site was to keep the graphic design simple so it serves as a frame, supporting their projects as the art.

2. Unexpected Personalization
To capture and hold a visitor’s attention, your site needs to surprise and delight while delivering meaningful content. With the KTU+A site, a goal was to weave their positioning of “balancing human activites with elements of nature” into the site in an enexpected way. So the visitor gets an option to choose their own background image and sound (elements of nature). This infuses the inorganic activity of using a computer with unexpected elements of nature. We created the Project List to allow visitors to sort projects in a way most meaningful to them. Visitors can sort by title, location, market sector or service with the ability to get more information on all projects and detailed information and imagery on featured projects.

3. Stories
Your brand is a story made true through personal experience. It’s critical that your site tell the story of your firm, your projects and your people in a compelling way. Invest in professional project photography and show it off at least 600 pixels wide. Here’s a great example of how impactful photography tells stories. Video is another great tool. Don’t expect your video to go “viral” on YouTube, but do expect to connect with visitors on an emotional level. Here’s a great example from NBBJ. When introducing Principals, use great photography or video, and wording that humanizes the person beyond impersonal resume bullet points. People hire people they know, so let site visitors get to know your key staff.

Your website is the new “front door” to your firm. It’s the first place prospective clients go to learn about you, or confirm what they’ve heard. Use these 3 tips to make a positive first impression “stick” in your client’s mind.

What other web site features, would you recommend to make a site sticky?
Does your website provide compelling content to make visitors stick around?

LecoursDesign is a branding and digital marketing agency helping A/E/C* firms attract clients and talent.
* A/E/C = Architecture / Engineering Construction (but you already knew that)
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