At some point, any researcher looking for information on your organization is going to look through your website. I think that the focus of a professional firm’s website needs to be on useful content.
Many professional firms still have a “brochureware” site. It’s an online brochure, with information about the firm and its principals, maybe some project descriptions, and some client testimonials. These sites are put together without much thought beyond, “We’ve got to have a website.”
These sites would be useful for someone looking to find out something about your firm. They would answer the prospect’s question, “Does this firm do the kind of work that I want to have done?” They might also say something about whether the firm has people with appropriate paper qualifications and experience, and the project descriptions might indicate whether the firm is capable of doing the work.
But these sites miss the point that a site must be a convincing source of information. It must be a virtual online encyclopedia of solid, current, useful information that demonstrates the firm’s skills and knowledge. A site must be a convincing source of information. It must be a virtual online encyclopedia of solid, current, useful information that demonstrates the firm’s skills and knowledge.
If someone is going to consider a firm they haven’t worked with before, they’ll need a lot of convincing that you’re not going make them look bad, or turn their lives into a nightmare, through being out of your depth or outside your skill-set.
Consider an acoustic engineer I worked with recently. He works with construction companies, mostly those doing high-rise residential properties, to help manage the noise levels that will be experienced by the residents of the completed condo units. In too many cases, residents can hear their neighbors’ conversations (or yelling and screaming …), the rear-firing speakers on their home theater systems, the elevators, garbage chutes or the weight room or basketball court. His favorite -- the rooftop diesel backup generator, which must be tested monthly according to law, is often mounted directly over the penthouse suite, whose presumably well-heeled owners can presumably make plenty of legal noise of their own.
The engineer will review early-stage plans to see if there are any obvious problem areas, and later the detail plans. He’ll do spot checks during construction to see if the trades are cutting any corners. Then, he’ll conduct a test of the sound levels heard through the completed walls. Developers depend on him, and engineers like him, to protect them from the need to carry out expensive retrofits of their buildings, if sound levels are exceeded.
If you’re the property owner, what kind of information would convince you that this is an engineer with integrity, who’ll stand up to a drywall sub-contractor who’s leaving too much space where the drywall is supposed to touch the floor, a sure way to allow sound to pass between units?
If the engineering firm provides good information on how noise is conducted, updates on new sound-deadening materials, analysis of new regulations and standards, and suggestions on how to work well with an acoustic engineer -- wouldn’t that help convince you to call the engineer in for a meeting?
Yes, it’s a lot of work
Preparing a resource-rich site is a lot of work, and it must be sustained. It’s a big commitment, and it involves a shift in thinking for the firm’s priorities. But once the site is reasonably well-stocked, and there is an ongoing process for keeping it alive, the benefit comes in clients who contact your firm already convinced that you have what it takes to help them solve a problem.
It means less need to make prospecting calls, and when you do talk with a qualified prospect, it’s easier to convince this person that your firm is the one to work with.
I take this approach with my own business. Visit www.showyourexpertise.com (note -- a benefit-oriented URL) and you’ll find an extensive resource on content marketing for professional firms. I add to the content at least weekly -- it keeps the site up in search rankings and shows that I’m continuing to stay current in my thinking. I don’t find preparing new content to be a chore -- it’s a chance to relax from my billable work, to imagine and to dream. It also meets my personal values of providing helpful information at not cost.
But you don’t need to do it all yourself
Not everything you post on your site needs to be original with your firm. Of course, you can’t just lift content from another source without attribution.
Consider getting a lift from other content, and serving the needs of your community, through “content curation.” This means building an online resource that pulls together the best information available, so that your site becomes a must-visit source for what’s the latest in your specialty.
Consider the sound engineer I mentioned earlier. He could provide links to manufacturers of sound-deadening materials, to other writers’ reviews of new products, to best-practice how-to’s, to news of regulatory developments, and other information. It helps build traffic to his site, and he’s increasingly seen as a central authority in his field.
For content curation to work, it’s best to produce a summary of the content, and then a link that is as close as possible to the document in question. The trends towards unique URLs (each item has its own URL, and that probably won’t change) and particularly, descriptive URLs in which the URL itself contains the key words, help make the content you’re curating available.
Beware of link rot. That’s what happens when you click on a link and come up with “Error 404” or something like that. Links deteriorate when a document gets moved on the other site, or is removed, or is updated but a new URL applied, or for a host of reasons. A user who clicks on links in your curated content section, and finds too many dead links, is likely to go elsewhere. Guard against this through the deliberate, methodical testing of all the links on your site to see if they still work.
It’s easy to download this task to an intern on your staff, or commission a young person who needs some work experience, to go through your site and correct any links that have been broken, or remove the listing from your site.