When is the Right Time to Redesign a Website?

By Katie Sanner

Redesigning a website is a big undertaking. And as your brand’s window to the world, you want to make sure it is visually compelling, user-friendly, and built with the capability to capture leads online. Our research found that 80% of high growth AEC firms redesigned their website within the past year, compared to just 40% of average growth firms. If your firm’s goal is to be on the fast-track for growth, it might be time to think about redesigning your website.

Many firms in the AEC industry will say that the design and look of a website is the most important thing to consider when looking to redesign. Wrong. You need to take a look at the big picture and think about making your website work to meet your business objectives. The most successful AEC firms are redesigning their website into lead generating websites. Nearly 80% of high growth AEC firms claim online contact forms to be the #1 way leads contact them. Taking advantage of online lead generation with offers to prospects and fresh content is absolutely vital to not only your strategy behind redesigning your website, but also your firm’s growth strategy.

Content Marketing Drives Inbound Leads

Redesigning your website goes beyond just the look and feel – incorporating a content marketing strategy is also an important element. Content marketing is a central part of every lead generating website as, many times, it is content that brings people to your site. Think about those in the early stages of the buying process. These folks search online to find the answers to their questions, and your content will be there to educate.

Nearly 60% of high growth AEC firms update their website on a weekly basis to keep people coming back. For many, this means producing a blog that will keep your website and content fresh, continually offering more to visitors. Once on your website, you have the opportunity to offer users a good experience and more educational content. A longer, more substantial piece of content means that a visitor might be willing to exchange their email address in order to download. This will enable you to build up a list of emails to market to.

As your firm focuses on producing consistent and educational content marketed to your email list, your prospects will return back to your website allowing them to get familiar with your brand, until they are ready to work with you.

You Can’t Forget Social

You’ve now got a new lead generating website and a content strategy on your plate, but in order to do those successfully, you need to have a social media strategy in place as well. Social media can help you reach out to your target audience and showcase projects that your firm is working on. Social channels also give you the perfect platform to promote your content to new viewers, who will then be enticed to visit your website. And once on your website, they enter that lead generating funnel.

SEO’s Importance

The last element  – we promise – to redesigning your firm’s website is search engine optimization (SEO). In order for people to find your website, you need to appear in search engine results. This means optimizing website pages and your content for specific keywords that your audience will be searching for. Nearly all research online begins with a search engine – so this is not a piece to forget.

If you complete all of these steps, congratulations! You now have a powerful online marketing strategy. You may have thought that all you needed was a new look and feel to your website, but in today’s changing market for AEC firms, it is critical to have a solid digital brand presence.

There are lots of great resources out there to help you along this process, I would recommend reading Hinge’s Lead Generating Website Guide to start. Now stop thinking about it and start making your website work for you by bringing in leads online.

About the Author:

Katie Sanner, Associate Account Director at Hinge. Combining Katie’s design, advertising and marketing experience, she is able to consistently assist her clients in brand building, improve their brand strength, and increase marketability. Prior to working at Hinge, Katie was a marketer for a Washington DC Top 25 Engineering Firm, Gordon and the Creative Manager for a nationally renowned advertising agency, Arnold Worldwide. Katie is an active member of the Society of Marketing Professional Services where she currently sits on the DC Chapter’s Board of Directors.


Google Sketchup 8 Versus Photorealistic Renders

3D Illustration Comercial Office BuildingWhen getting to grips with using SketchUp 8, it seems only natural that users should become curious about 3D rendering their model. Here we’re going to take a look at the difference between rendering software and SketchUp.

What is SketchUp?

SketchUp is 3D a modelling software program, which can be utilized to create and position 3D objects in order to create an expression; for example, a landscape, building, or park. The unique aspect of SketchUp is that it partially renders the models the user creates, and in turn presents them with a non-photorealistic render, AKA an NPR.

However, if a user wishes to create photorealism from their model, they need to use a different type of software, which is where photorealistic rendering programs come in. For example, imagine the latest 3D blockbuster movies – these special effects are created via high-end rendering programs. The objects are usually modelled in one software program, before being rendered in another.

Google SketchUp Pro logoPhotorealistic Rendering Programs

When it comes to photorealistic rendering programs,  there are many to choose from. Users will generally find that these programs provide a sharper learning curve compared to SketchUp. A lot of rendering programs attempt to streamline the learning process, but in order to produce the best quality photorealism, it will take some time.

Photorealistic rendering programs usually function around the same basic principle, which is the surface of the user’s 3D model receive a texture, which is then “baked” via the rendering program. This baked texture will be able to reflect sunlight, and can be adjusted to give the impression of texture depth and grain. The user can experiment with lighting to illuminate the model accordingly from different directions, and different environments can be added.

Various different software rendering programs are available, and some of them even double as modelling programs (such as 3D Max). Others exclusively create renderings (for example, I-Render, Maxwell, and Podium to name but a few).

SketchUp is a recommended starting point for users who wish to learn how to render, and it’s generally suggested they take their time to learn how to model effectively in SketchUp before moving onto more complicated rendering programs. One of the techniques it’s more important to learn, is how to apply textures, as users will find later that this becomes important in terms of adjusting, editing and including textures once their model is imported into a rendering program.

ZBrush 3.5 LogoPlug-Ins

A lot of rendering programs include plug-ins which can directly interface with SketchUp. An example would be the recent V-Ray SketchUp plug-in, which can provide the user with the ability to add and adjust textures and start their render in SketchUp, which some may be more comfortable with as opposed to moving on to more complex rendering programs.

Using Photoshop

It may come as a surprise that many users actually render their SketchUp models and then adjust their scene using Photoshop. Actually, most professional photorealistic renderers commonly use Photoshop to adjust their rendered images – it’s not cheating. As an example, one of the best ways to include vegetation to a previously-rendered scene is using entourage 2D trees in Photoshop.


It’s no secret that rendering takes up a lot of time, and there are many nuances to learn when getting to grips with photorealistic rendering software. It can take years, and many people go to classes to learn how to do it properly.

However, not all rendering programs are created equal. Some of the more complex ones are known to produce the crisper, photo-real effects, and it really is an art form. Want to learn more? Check out our work.

A/E/C Social Media wk 5

The Value of LinkedIn for Architectural Firms
By Kelly Steckel

LinkedIn is similar to Facebook but designed for the purpose of building professional relationships. As of August 2011, it is the largest global professional network with over 120 million users in over 200 countries. It has members from all 2011 Fortune 500 companies, and its corporate hiring solutions are utilised by 75 out of Fortune 100 companies. More than 200 million companies currently have company pages on the site (www.LinkedIn.com).

What does this mean for architectural firms? Just like any other company, an architectural firm benefits from an increase in visibility, reputation and brand recognition. The more connections that are added, the more likely people will see the firm profile when searching. LinkedIn provides a firm the ability to position itself as thought leaders to potential clients and hires. It enables a firm to seek out talent and perform market research by way of polling tactics, etc. Most importantly, it allows a firm the ability to establish professional relationships with existing and potential clients and link those clients back to the firm website, blog site and to other sites profiling the firm and global projects. It also obtains a higher PageRank in Google than other sites, making the firm more accessible to more people.

Called ‘connections,’ users can invite anyone, on or off the site, to become “linked” for the purpose of establishing a network or contact list. Direct connections, second-degree connections and third-degree connection can be established to assist in job finding, creating business opportunities, sourcing talent, etc. Users can follow different companies, establish relationships with employees of those companies and receive notifications about open positions within that industry. They can save job listings they have applied for and receive alerts about new job postings and new members joining the organisation (www.LinkedIn.com). Firms hiring can list jobs or search potential candidates. What is unique to LinkedIn is that in order to create a connection, one must have a pre-existing relationship to the person they are wishing to contact, or be invited. This helps to maintain professionalism on the site.

Because it is a professional association it also provides a firm the ability to gauge the market, individual market segments in addition to the people in them, although if interested in other geographical segments, is would be beneficial to also establishing profiles on sites more dominate than LinkedIn in other regions, such as Xing, more predominately used in Europe than LinkedIn. During a short search, it appears that only a few international firms have a profile on Xing despite having employees that work for them there. If looking forward architectural firms in the U.S., you get nothing but a two universities and one reality group. If wanting to establish market presence, wouldn’t it be beneficial to create a profile on Europe’s largest professional site?

There are several international sites to choose from, but the value translates depending on how the platform is used, the content, the updates and the analytic tools applied. As with Facebook, it is about how you are communicating with your audience. This audience is interested in knowing you on a professional level, your employees and perhaps how they would fit into your organization. If you have a profile and it’s weak, your company looks weak. Make sure that for anyone spending time connecting to your company, or your employees, comes away with a positive understanding of who you are and where you are going.

LinkedIn has grown into the largest networking site. Why couldn’t it help your firm grow as well?



A/E/C Social Media wk 4

The Value of Facebook for Architects

By Kelly Steckel

Now dubbed “Zuckerberg’s Law” by New York Times writer Saul Hansell, Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg was quoted in 2008 at the Web 2.0 Summit having said, “I would expect that next year people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and (the year after that), they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before”. Though I don’t have statistical data to support this claim, though I am sure it is out there, I do know that Facebook has grown from 100 million active users in August 2008 to 750 million as of September 2011 (source: www.facebook.com, Sept 2011).  In addition, every month, more than 250 million people engage with Facebook on external sites.  So it would seem to me that there is an awful lot of sharing going on.

And who is doing the sharing? According to www.insidefacebook.com, it’s persons within the age group of 18 – 25 that account for the largest group of Facebook users (2011).

Ages       13 – 17  account for 20.6% respectively
18 – 25 account for 25.8% respectively
26 – 34 account for 21.65 respectively
35 – 44 account for 14.9% respectively
45 – 54 account for 8% respectively
55 – 64 account for 4.6% respectively

This information is particularly relevant because according to some, an architectural firm’s target market tends to fall into the 35+ bracket, or the Baby Boomer generation, verses Generation X (and Y) that most frequently use it. Of course, this is not always the case, and as technology and social media advances it will become the norm, not the exception, to utilize social media for everything from search, research and database creation, to lead generation, sCRM, brand awareness and exposure, recruitment, etc. Architectural firms have always relied on word-of-mouth, referrals and relationships to obtain projects.

Why can’t this be achieved using social media, and in this case, Facebook?

Used by companies to connect, engage and build long-term meaningful relationships with existing and prospective clients, Facebook also provides a platform to drive word-of-mouth and referrals. When clients share news or project related content on Facebook that story is shared within that client’s Newsfeeds and their friends’ Newsfeeds. Imagine the impact when the average user has 130 friends (source: www.facebook.com, Sept 2011). One way this can be achieved is by implementing the Facebook ‘Like’ button on your website. Doing so will build connection and drive referrals to your website. To obtain the maximum benefit from the ‘Like’ button, firms should track these interactions, how they lead back to the website and how many result in conversion. Using Facebook Insights can provide demographic profile insights of visitors and clients that interact with the Like button.

The challenge is to create content of value for your fans to maintain dialog and interest. The messages, video posts and newsfeeds require constant updating. Creditability will decline if you are only posting once a month or even once a week. Remember the goal is to create/extend a value proposition that attracts, engages and connects clients to your firm (Jeffery Gitomer, Social Boom), which needs to be established in strategy before ANY type of social networking is performed. Everyday postings might be difficult, but if manageable is the best way to maintain a consistent presence in the minds of your audience. They will know to look for you. And if you’re not there, they might go somewhere else – to your competition.

And to this point, which is an important one, social media is here to stay. It has changed communication and it has changed marketing. If your potential clients or recruits, etc. cannot find you, but can find your competition, on Facebook, LinkedIn, and whatever new platform(s) will emerge in the future, you are at risk. Remember back to when the website was a new marketing tool. It took some firms years to get on board. Surprisingly, there are still some that maintain there is no need; that their reputation alone brings them enough business. Well, can’t argue with that. If it works, it works. But for those firms intent on truly growing their business, it is now all about social media. And better to be ahead of the game, or at least in it, then left behind, all the while potentially losing clients and brand equity.








Twitter Analytics

Every wonder how much traffic comes to your website because of your twitter posts? Twitter Web Analytics, a new tool announced on 9/13/2011 will most likely give us some answers.

The tool is currently free and in beta.  It should be released in a few weeks.  For those who are interested, check out this screen shot:)

Colonel Sanders

By John Eckhouse

I was reading this article from John and found it very interesting.  Here are a few take anyways

“Rather than focusing on social media ROI, the goals of the corporate social media team – which is managed internally – are:

1)  to connect and engage with KFC followers
2)  relationships
3)  respond to any inquiries
4)  have some fun – ex. asking questions on the KFC Facebook page, like “There’s one piece of chicken left in the bucket. What do you do?”

KFC fans are more than willing to respond, and sometimes even initiate brand interaction. Maynard said the Colonel – who passed away quite some time ago – receives marriage proposals and has been invited to weddings. While he could not make those celebrations, of course, the company sent buckets of chicken for the reception. Fans also tweet photos to the company showing off their Colonel Sanders tattoos.”

The orginal article in full is located here

A tip on Facebook Ads

Do you fall into either of these categories?

1) You advertised your business on Facebook and didn’t get any results
2) Thinking about Advertising on Facebook and don’t know where to start

Here is a quick tip that might help:  Use Location Targeting by City.  Yes it takes longer to set up an ad for each city you want to target, but your results will increase dramatically! Think about it from your customer’s perspective, if your clients live in Worcester MA which is more likely to catch your prospective clients attention:

a) All manner of Classic American & English furniture handmade in America! Custom pieces made weekly (Sent to everyone on facebook that lives in MA)
b) Attention Worcester Mass residents, We carry Classic American & English furniture handmade in Worcester! (Sent to Worcester Ma people on facebook who list “English furniture” as an interest of their’s)

This is just 1 small example for 1 particular business segment. Will this approach work with every business, no. But try and think outside the box and experiment with different ideas. If you are a business that sells products or services to consumers rather than other businesses, facebook will work. You just need to figure out what your customers will respond best to.

Blog summary,

Targeted Facebook ads get you better results, but take longer to research and set up.

inspiration – Black

These were not designed by PiXate Creative, but a source for inspiration.

“Black is not used as the main color very often in text content rich web sites. It can be used and is very popular by design related personal portfolios and photography sites, as you will see below. It allows the artwork to take center stage and be the primary focus of the viewer.” – http://smashinghub.com

Interested in some more examples.  Here is our source:

“company website” links

I made a quick video to show you how to customize your LinkedIn “company website” links. When you have more than 1 “company website” it can be confusing to your audience trying to view the different websites under your profile. Even if you only have 1 link, a custom link looks nicer.


Facebook for Business

Here are a few steps you should follow if your a business on Facebook

Optimize Your Landing Page
– We can set up a customized landing page to appear when someone lands on your page for
the first time. This is a great way to showcase specific products or services. We can set up
branding, email newsletter opt-ins, as well as links to your website.

Fill Your Page With Valuable Content
– Pictures, Videos and wall comments are extremely valuable to a visitor on your Facebook
Wall. We’ll upload this type of content and get the page ready to begin receiving traffic.

Share the Page with Your Friends
– Whether you’ve got 5 friends or 500 friends on Facebook, the first place to start is by asking your own Facebook friends to “Like” your new business page.

Ask Close Friends to “Share” Your Page
– Ask some of your friends on Facebook that you feel would be willing to become a “minimarketer” for you to go to your page and click the “Share” link at the bottom of the left-hand side informational column on your page.

Run a Facebook Ad
– Facebook Ad’s can be very effective. We can pinpoint a demographic for you and begin
running ads asking people to “Like” your Facebook page. You’ll be surprised with millions of impressions while your Facebook page grows.

Push Content on a Weekly Basis
– The next step is to consistently feed new content to your page that people who have “Liked” your page will want to read, and even share. Getting people to “post” something on your wall, or “comment” on a picture or video is extremely valuable. When someone does something like this it instantly notifies all of their “friends” on facebook taking the process “viral”. It’s a great way to reach a large audience.

Promote Your Page Inside Your Business
– We can design signs, window clings and bag stuffers for you to display in your office or
business promoting your Facebook page to your clients and customers.

Display the Facebook Logo on EVERYTHING
– Email Signatures, your website, marketing collateral, advertising; EVERYTHING should display a Facebook logo to let people know you are on Facebook.