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Search Engine Optimization Basics for Project Based Firms

Posted by Lindsay Diven on April 20, 2022

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The primary goal for the AEC digital marketing program is to get a firm found online. This can be done through creating content highlighting the firm’s expertise and subject matter experts. However, it’s not enough to just publish this content on the firm’s website or blog. To have the right potential clients find that content, the content needs to appear in searches. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.  

According to HubSpot, the definition of SEO is techniques which assist a firm’s website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). This makes a firm’s website more visible via search engines like Yahoo!, Google, or Bing for those who are seeking solutions that a firm’s brand, service or product could offer. 

This article is part of the Driving Growth with Digital Marketing series and will provide an introduction to SEO techniques AEC firms can utilize when building their digital marketing program.

How SEO Works

Search engines crawl the internet to scoop up tidbits of phrases and key words to index them. Then when a user types in a phrase, question, or key word into the search engine, it provides results to the user based on those indexes. Search engines are searching for the websites, webpages, blogs, etc. that the firm is publishing.  

Search engines also look at the firm’s website structure and design, visitor behavior, and mobile optimization. So, it’s not just about the content that is being published, but the framework in which it’s published too.  

The Elements that Can Increase Organic Traffic    

Organic traffic is what most AEC firms are aiming for and includes the unpaid visitors (or traffic) that comes to the firm’s website through the search engines. The firm isn’t paying for any of that website traffic.  

There are elements of the website, structure, webpages, and even the firm’s social media channels that help or hurt getting organic traffic. Some of the elements that have the most impact are described below. 

Consistent Content Creation 

The website needs to be updated on a regular basis. Publishing genuine content that interests the targeted personas greatly improves SEO. The more often producing and updating content, the “fresher” it appears to search engines. Make the content easy to read or skim by using small paragraphs, descriptive headings, lists and bullet points. Also, link to internal and other external pages throughout the content.   

SEO Friendly Webpage Structure    

Each webpage has a built-in structure that is universal no matter what program the firm is using for its website software. Each page usually has a hierarchy of headings that tells the search engines the importance of the content. For example, the heading tag called H1 is the main header tag. This is typically reserved for the title of the page. Then there are heading tags H2, H3, etc. Just like in a printed document, these should be used to help guide the reader (and search engines) through the webpage content.  

When creating new content, don’t cram it full of all the keywords. Make sure the keywords, topics, and phrases are spread throughout the piece and flow naturally into the content. Be sure to use keywords in the title tags (H1, H2, etc.). Also, make sure that the content is easy to read and/or skim by using many small paragraphs, descriptive headings, lists, and bullet points, for example. 

Image Optimization 

Another SEO component is how fast the webpage loads, and images are the biggest culprits when it comes to slowing down webpage load times. Since AEC firms tend to have very visual websites, it’s easy for the websites to be slowed down dramatically due to the number of images. Make sure that every image on the website is compressed and is the right image format for the screen (as opposed to print-level quality).  

Meta Descriptions 

A meta description is the text that appears in the search results underneath the page title. See the screenshot below for the example that appears with the search of “Deltek Vantagepoint Upgrade.” Meta descriptions can be added to the backend of the firm’s website builder and should be written to include keywords and phrases. The meta description should also be relevant to the content that is on the page, so keyword stuffing will actually hurt the results. Also, the meta description length should be between 150-300 characters. 

Screen Shot 2022-04-19 at 1.09.05 PM

URL Structure 

Did you know that URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator? Just like the webpage structure and meta descriptions, search engines display the URL on the search results. Consider following these SEO best practices when creating URLs: 

  • Use clear, descriptive words in the URL as opposed to random numbers and letters. For example, www.fullsailpartners.com/fspblog would be better than www.fullsailpartners.com/453=?45659. 
  • Try to use shorter URLs whenever possible. There is some research that shows that shorter URLs perform better because URLs that are too-long will be cut off in search results. However, it’s just as important to be descriptive in the URL so don’t cut the URL length just to cut it. 
  • Use keywords in the URL. If the page is targeting a specific term or phrase, make sure to include it in the URL. But don’t go overboard or appear too spammy. The search engines know it and will penalize the content. For example, a spammy URL might be www.fullsailpartners.com/vantagepoint-partner/upgrade-to-vantagepoint/vantagepoint-upgrade-services. A good way to test this is to look at the URL through the eyes of a searcher and ask if it looks natural or like a robot wrote it.  
  • Use hyphenations instead of spaces. Every search engine interprets special characters or spaces the same. Use hyphens to separate the words in the URL.  
  • Use geographic location names, if applicable. If the content is about a specific location or a project in a specific location, use that location name in the URL. This can include city names, neighborhoods, or other regional descriptors.  

Off-Page SEO  

Some of the secret sauce to improving SEO happens off the firm’s website. Search engines like Google rank how popular a firm’s website is. If the firm’s content is popular, it sends a signal to search engines that it’s the best content, making it more of an authority in that topic area, thus a higher ranking. So, what makes a firm’s website popular? Let’s introduce a few strategies. 

Authority Building Through Backlinks  

One way to build authority in the search engines is how popular they rank a firm’s website. One factor they use is called ‘backlinking.’ Backlinks are links from other domains that points to a firm’s website or particular webpage. Each backlink is considered to be a “vote” of confidence for the content that’s being linked. Other websites should also be linking back to the specific firm’s website. Even better is if the backlinks are from higher authority domains such that end in .edu or .org. 

Think about the various ways in which the firm’s website can be backlinked. Some might include: 

  • Sponsoring industry conferences and events. Ask the host entity to place the firm’s logo on its website and link back to the firm’s website. 
  • Write articles for industry websites. Then, make sure the article has a link back to the firm’s website. 
  • List the firm in online industry directories. For example, Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) has a rather established one. 

Google My Business 

This is probably the easiest task to improve SEO is to make sure the Google My Business is set up for every office location for your firm. Make sure that the firm’s name, address(es), and phone number(s) are correct on the firm’s website and that they are also the same at what’s displayed on the Google My Business page. It sounds so simple but can be quite complex especially the more offices the firm has and how often the offices move locations.  

Getting Started with SEO 

There is no exact science or formula to rank first, or even on the first page, in a search result. Basically, if the content provides value to the people searching for it, it will rank better. Here are some best practices to keep in mind as content is developed for the firm’s digital marketing program: 

  • Research for the key words, phrases, or questions that the firm’s personas would be searching.  
  • Conduct those same searches on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing to see what pages and content is already ranking high.  
  • Review those pages and content to identify what qualities, format, content type, etc. that those pages possess.  
  • Make sure to create content that is better than those! 
  • And, if some of the firm’s content ranks high with those searches, evaluate those pages and content to see what’s working. Repurpose that specific content in new ways and create new content like that. 

Driving Growth with Digital Marketing 

SEO is just part of the overall digital marketing plan for AEC firms. Other components include identifying the persona, setting goals, and developing a content strategy. To learn more about each of these components, check out the entire Driving Growth with Digital Marketing series by clicking the link below. 

 

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