In March of 2020, I booked an interview with CWG Architecture. No time like a global pandemic to start a new job, right? Just like any good candidate, before my interview, I scoured CWG’s website to find out who they were, what kind of projects they worked on, and tried to glean an overall understanding of what to expect. I’ve been accused of being a “James Bond” level internet sleuth before and this time was no exception. I knew who the owners were, learned about their recent projects, and researched the team. To be honest, the website gave me the impression that the firm was cold, stark, and “all business all the time”. When I sat down at the conference room table for my first interview, I met a group of warm and inviting people who were smiling, laughing, and having a good time. I was caught off-guard because I had formed an impression that was so off base. As I walked out of the office, I vowed that if I got hired as their Marketing Coordinator, that website was the first thing I was going to tackle. Fortunately, I was offered the job and began in April 2020.
Did you know studies have shown that over 70-80% of people will research a company on the web before making a purchase decision, usually by visiting its website. As business owners and marketers, a website is one of the most critical tools we have available to reach our audience. With face-to-face business transactions being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was even more critical that we improved CWG’s online presence to align with the company’s persona.
I was fortunate to bring previous website creation and redesign experience with me to CWG. Marketing is a strange world where you either work in large teams or as a one-man-band. At CWG, in regard to marketing, I operate as a one-man band and I get to do a little bit of everything. The culmination of my experiences has taught me that there are 5 major steps to developing an effective website. Whether it’s for an architecture firm, a restaurant, a gym, or any business, the steps in this process are applicable.
Step 1: Set your goals
This is where you decide the main purpose of your website and determine the call to action (goals) for the end-user. Are you selling a product and your call to action is to purchase the item online? Are you a photography business and your call to action is to have a client book a photoshoot through your website? In the case of CWG, we determined that our goal for the website was to market our services, generate leads, and build brand trust. Being in a service-based industry our goal was for potential leads to contact us to discuss their project directly. Once we determined this, it drove many decisions on the site such as having a contact form at the bottom of each page. As you’re designing your site, continue asking yourself if your decisions are promoting your goals. If the answer is no, then make changes to align with those objectives.
Step 2: Research
This phase is one that can often be overlooked, but it’s one of the most critical steps in the process. First, you’ll want to spend time looking at numerous websites from competitors in your industry. It’s important to analyze what they’re offering and think about what you can do better. Once you can identify your “unique selling proposition” it will help you clearly communicate why you’re the best choice. This will in turn help you gain clients who align with your mission. The research phase is also a time to get inspiration from the websites you’re looking at. As you begin to search across the world wide web, stop and take note of what features/styles catch your eye. I always take screenshots of elements I like and create an “inspiration” folder that I can refer back to or share with a web designer down the road. Having this mood board helps drive the creation of a new brand image. I spend a lot of time doing research and organizing my inspiration to save time and money down the road. For CWG, one thing we identified in our research was that a lot of architecture firms focus on their finished end products, AKA new buildings. Since we are offering a service, AKA design, we wanted to highlight the people within our firm that the customers would be working with. We felt this change in direction from our previous website better represented us as a collaborative, people-oriented company.
Step 3: Gather content
Gathering content is one of the most time-consuming phases of the entire process, but it’s arguably the most important. This is where you will pull together all your text and images that will be placed on the website. I take this time to map out each website page on a sketch pad. I use a pencil and draw boxes for things like the homepage, contact us, projects, etc. Then, within each of those squares, I’ll write down key elements or photos that I envision on those pages. Normally, I go through a few drafts on the sketchpad before I have a “wire-frame” or a general direction for the site as a whole. Once I have a general outline, I start creating folders on my computer for each page of the website and put any content I think will go on that page in the folder. This includes typing out the text that will go on each page. Assembling all of this will make it much more efficient for the web designer. It’s important to remember this is just a rough outline. The image you initially thought would be on your home page may not make the cut and that’s okay, but having it ready to hand over to your web designer will make the process go much faster.
Step 4: Find the right web designer
So, you’ve got your goals established, your unique selling proposition outlined, website inspiration, and your content organized. Now what? Well, now is when you decide if you’re going to hire a freelance website designer, a marketing firm, or do it yourself. My personal recommendation is to use a freelance website designer. In my experience, a marketing firm is very useful if steps 1-3 are something you know you’ll struggle with. If you need help on the initial steps, then reach out to a firm from the very beginning and they will help walk you through the branding process. If you’re comfortable doing those steps and just need technical help to build the site, then a freelance designer or DIY may be the best option for you. The process of DIY-ing your website has become much easier over the years and there are hundreds of websites with templates where you can easily plug in your own content. I have built a website before and I was happy with it, but personally, I like having the support and customization that working with a freelance designer offers. No matter what path you choose, my biggest recommendation for this phase is to clearly communicate your time, budget, and goals to make sure none of these drag on.
Step 5: Maintenance
You’ve got your website complete and launched. Now you’re done, right? No! A website should be a consistently evolving portfolio. Do you have new images, fresh content or better copy? Our website is something I work on at minimum once a month and make changes and adjustments to. Even doing small things like writing new blogs and adding them to your site helps give people a reason to come back. It’s my goal to work with our website designer on a few major changes every year to keep the site up to date and address any issues we’ve run into as our clients and team use it. This is all to say: an effective website project is never really complete, but once you’ve got it launched it will take much less of your time.
After 8 months and many lessons learned, the new CWG website was unveiled. We have received many compliments and gotten more cold calls from leads in 2021 than ever before. It is far from complete and I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly finished with it, but now our website represents CWG and its people in a much more effective way. It finally feels like an authentic version of us. CWG has 60 years of company history and as we continue into a new decade, we’ve had to think about who we are as a company today and make sure our image reflects that. At the end of the day “branding” isn’t about creating an image that you conform to; it’s about effectively communicating who you are as a company to the public.
Did you know that CWG offers marketing as an additional service to our clients? If you are thinking about starting a project, but aren’t sure how to effectively promote it, contact us and let’s talk.
– Cassidy Blanton, CWG Marketing Coordinator