How Organic Search Should Influence Your Architecture Firm’s Website

Your architecture firm’s website is the product of a lot of decisions about design, photography, and how you want to portray yourself to colleagues, clients, and the world. For your website to truly be successful, organic search also needs to be a factor.

In this post, we’ll explain why allowing organic search criteria to influence the design and structure of your website is good for your firm.

What Is Organic Search?

The easiest way to understand organic search is by example: I open a website browser like Safari or Chrome and I type a word or phrase in the search bar. Let’s assume I type “rafael moneo” in the search bar and hit “enter.” The search engine for that browser will return a web page that includes photos of Rafael Moneo, photos of his projects, and a list of web pages that relate to Rafael Moneo. The pages will be ranked by the search engine so that the most relevant pages are at the top.

Each search engine (like Google or Bing) has a proprietary algorithm that it uses to determine what sites a person searching for something would most like to see. Search engines don’t make these algorithms public, so it’s the job of a search engine optimization specialist to determine how a site should be optimized to get a site to be ranked for the right searches, in the highest position possible.

When a person visits a website after searching for something online and clicking a link in the search results, that visit is referred to as “organic search traffic” or “organic traffic.”

Why Your Architecture Firm Should Care About Organic Search

Organic search traffic is usually the most valuable web traffic for an architecture firm. This is because the person coming to your site is looking for what you are, do, or sell. There tend to be fewer “random” visits in organic traffic; in fact, organic visitors tend to have much higher engagement rates with the site, meaning they stay on the site longer, consume more content, and end up contacting the firm more than visitors from other sources of web traffic.

Organic search only delivers high-value traffic to your site, though, when your site is listed in search rankings – and the rankings on page and 2 of the search results are much more likely to be seen than pages 3 and on.

Additionally, organic search is the tool of choice when people know what problem they need to solve but they don’t know the name of the solution:

  • “condo architect nyc”
  • “multi-family passive house architecture firm”
  • “transit facility design chicago”
  • “daylighting in elementary schools”

This makes organic search imperative if you’re trying to reach new clients, be included on RFPs, receive invitations to speak or contribute to articles, or attract qualified employee candidates.

If your site isn’t optimized correctly for search engines:

  • Your site won’t be found by people looking for what you do
  • Your site may not even be found by people searching for your firm by name
  • Your site may be ranked for the wrong terms (“home improvement near me”)

How Search Engines Judge Your Website

In order to rank your site’s usefulness to people looking for things online, search engines have to understand what your website is about and who the intended audience is. Even though the specific algorithms are secret, there are some known common criteria:

  • The content on your site and how it’s ordered
  • How your site’s navigation is structured
  • How quickly your site loads
  • Whether your site is mobile friendly
  • What language your content is written in

Search engines use bots, or spiders, to crawl your website. The spider can enter your website on any page and it catalogs everything it can access on your site, from written text to images to buttons to links on other sites. It follows links to go from page to page on your site, and if it encounters a broken link, it stops crawling. This means the search engine has to evaluate your site based only on what the spider collected before it was stonewalled and gave up.

Spiders – and therefore search engines – use a traditional, literal approach. They don’t understand nuance or cleverness, and design is relevant to them only insofar as it supports the website being easily usable.

Put another way, search engine spiders are a client with very basic taste.

Changing How You Think About Your Website to Make Your Search Engine Client Happy

Optimizing for search is usually where the rubber hits the road in architecture firm websites. Search engine optimization is often viewed as a design compromise that Google is trying to force you to make, and that’s not completely inaccurate. Some of the design moves you want to do may mean that the site will load slowly, or that search spiders won’t be able to crawl the site.

But rather than jettison any hope of being visible to search engines, we suggest thinking about how your design could be implemented while also supporting search engine optimization. This allows your website to be a business development tool for you instead of a really lovely object.

Architects are continually asked to figure out how to make the desired design work in a constrained space or with inconvenient site conditions. This can make working on your firm’s website seem like a design dream, one in which you can do whatever you want and really showcase your unadulterated design vision.

Instead, we recommend treating your website as a design project for a client. This means there will be immutable site conditions (search engines), and the development process will involve the familiar exercise of finding a way to achieve the desired design and function within a set of parameters.

What If You Don’t Want to Optimize Your Site?

Occasionally we talk with architecture firms who decide that they really don’t want to bother optimizing their site for search because they would never put up with a client like a search engine: basic, picky, and frequently changing their mind. Or they feel that they don’t need search traffic to get clients, press, or employees.

If your firm has a full sales pipeline for the next handful of years, is booked solid with projects that are exactly what you want to be working on for the fees you want, a steady stream of employment inquiries from dream candidates, and consistent press coverage and awards, then you probably don’t need to worry too much about search engine optimization. For the 99.5% of firms that aren’t in this situation, search engine optimization needs to be a consideration in your website design and development.

Patience Jones