Weaving the Construction Web (Website Trends)
Original Source – AGC Constructor Magazine November 2013
The web is an ever-evolving space, and it is impossible to guess what the next few years will bring from a technological or innovative standpoint. For many, it is difficult to remember a time void of iPhones, Facebook or Twitter, or to recall when the Internet required a dial tone. Today, there is GPS-enabled equipment, BIM modeling, and iPads in the field. One of the biggest web evolutions is the transition of the company website as a showpiece item to a sales and operations business tool. This includes the transferring the ownership of the website from the IT department to the marketing team’s domain. IT teams are critical, no doubt, but a company’s website is a vital sales tool, and the public-facing side should be controlled by marketing.
Many of the trends listed below require the talents of both the IT and marketing team to research, select, and implement the right strategies. Here is how the web is changing specifically within the construction industry:
Everything is mobile, and companies also need to be mobile in order to compete and survive in today’s 24/7 world. Waiting days before responding to an email is no longer acceptable, and many subs are now texting bids and work change orders. More people are accessing the web on mobile devices. As tablets replace desktop computers, experts suggest that that number of mobile traffic will at least double by 2015. This includes potential customers and employees that are researching companies without their knowledge. The mobile traffic includes busy executives searching for their next contractor between meetings, or sitting at home on a tablet while watching television. People are handling more business outside of the office these days, and many times that includes researching large purchases, like construction, after hours.
If a marketing team is driving traffic online, especially by using QR codes, social media, or email marketing, then a mobile-friendly website is necessary. Here’s an example of a poorly executed mobile site: A cruise company recently distributed an email, and when accessed from a phone, users were correctly directed to a mobile page. However, ease of use stopped there. When users attempted to access additional information or make purchases, they were unable to do so. There were restrictions on the mobile site compared to the desktop version. Result? Lost sales for the cruise company. It’s critical that companies be thorough when developing their mobile websites.
Ideally, a mobile strategy involves more than a mobile page or a separate website. It is a responsive-designed website, meaning it responds to the user’s screen size and adjusts accordingly. Whether accessing a site from a desktop, tablet, or smartphone, the website works for the device and allows users to access the entire website. This gives visitors the best experience, and it gives a marketing team only one website to maintain instead of separate desktop and mobile sites. This is also as “future proof” as a website design can possibly be, as it allows for flexibility with future devices, such as the fairly recent launches of the larger iPhone 5 and the small iPad mini. A separate mobile website generally has a specific size, leaving a gap on the iPhone 5 screen and adjustments to be made on the iPad mini’s. No one wants to modify a website every time a new device hits the market.
Everyone has their personal favorite apps. They entertain, connect, and make people more efficient. The construction industry has many great apps for the workplace, ranging from the field to the office. Several companies have built their own proprietary apps, many of which tie into databases and systems. Good apps aren’t cheap to develop, and they can be difficult to maintain as technology evolves, but they can also be a great investment with a strong ROI when looking to replace redundant and manual tasks by creating efficiencies.
Because everything is mobile and most people live app-to-app nowadays, much of the content and knowledge resides in the cloud. This means that data is stored on a remote server, instead of on a physical server in an office or on a desktop computer. The move to storing a company’s data in the cloud has made work on-the-go a possibility because it does not require moving data from computer to computer. This has created virtual workspaces in which a jobsite trailer or even a pickup truck has as much firepower and data as a regular office, which saves time traveling to and from the office for files and empowers project managers to make intelligent decisions in the field. Collaboration within a company from different locations with partnering companies and subs is a dynamic result of cloud technology. As the construction industry continues to evolve and become a technology powerhouse, the cloud will continue to be a huge asset and aid to the industry.
The quality of website design in the construction industry has increased dramatically in recent years. The industry is beginning to recognize the importance of stellar websites, and companies are realizing they are central to word-of-mouth referrals, as it builds credibility and showcases a company’s talents. Good design converts to a faster sales cycle, more clients, and better job applicants.
As website design in construction evolves, images are getting larger. This is because screen sizes continue to grow, and digital cameras are becoming more affordable, giving construction firms access to phenomenal images. With a faster Internet service, downloading a full-screen image takes only a few seconds. This must be balanced with the rise of the mobile website. With responsive-design websites, firms can give mobile users a fast website for their smaller screen and still showcase high-quality images for desktop users with their expansive screen real estate.
As the recession has brought about more competition for less work, the need for differentiation has never been more important. Contractors must demonstrate their unique brand personality through the great designs mentioned earlier. The construction firms with the best hit rates work smarter, not harder, because they understand their own differentiation and align their personality with the clients and projects they seek.
Social media is not just for consumer brands. It is also for business-to-business companies, including construction firms, but it’s important to implement a strategy at the outset. Whether targeting prospective clients or potential employees, planning allows companies to find the best platform to give them access to that particular audience. LinkedIn can be a very powerful business development tool, and YouTube can showcase a company’s safety program and innovation to potential employees. Establishing rules and protocol for social media marketing and usage is important prior to launching a campaign, as well as clarifying a company’s brand personality and establishing that knowledge among all employees, better known as brand ambassadors.
Content marketing is developing thought leadership for a company in specific industries such as medical, multifamily, or performance centers. Contractors can choose to focus on a target audience, such as a geographical area or a niche, and own that market. This tactic includes blogging, article writing, presentations, sponsorships, and other traditional PR and marketing techniques, then utilizing social media to disseminate these resources. Firms want to become the trusted knowledge center for their clients and prospects, and doing so will move them out of low-bid work and enable them to become highly sought-after and well-paid consultants.
A recent study from Harvard’s Corporate Executive Board stated that 57 percent of the buying decision for professional services is made before any contact is made. This means that if a website doesn’t sell a company for it, it’s missing the mark. Prospective clients are often ready to buy; they’re doing their homework, so it is vital that contractors do theirs, as well.
Something not yet seen in the construction industry, but expected in the coming years, is an automated website that tailors the user’s experience to his or her individual wants and needs. This means that each time visitors go to a website, they see different calls to action, from downloading a white paper to registering for a webinar or signing up for an email newsletter. As they do this, the website learns more about these visitors and scores this lead so that a business development team can reach out to them at the perfect time, when they’re ready to buy. This technique takes some serious planning and can require a large amount of strategic content, which is why it’s not common in the industry just yet. Buyers want more than just a brochure website, and they crave relevant knowledge to make their decision easier.
One of the biggest trends in the industry right now is the integration of business tools with a website. The automated website is usually an integration between the marketing team’s customer relationship management (CRM) and the website. On the operations sides, many apps tie in multiple systems such as scheduling, ordering materials, and accounting for a seamless experience that houses all relevant data in one place and creates easily accessible, usable metrics.
DEATH OF FLASH
As much as the construction industry has evolved in the last 10 years with technology in the field, many contractor websites are still 10 years behind in one key area – Flash. Flash is a program that creates amazing animations and graphics. Although the graphics are stellar, they do not work on Apple’s mobile devices, meaning that anyone searching a website with an iPad or iPhone sees a blank screen with a question mark. Flash is rarely seen on business websites nowadays, but in a recent review of more than 500 large construction company websites, an excess of 100 incorporated Flash. Not only does this negatively affect a visitor’s mobile experience, it gives a website minimal exposure in Google and Bing because Flash is not searchable. Furthermore, it is very hard and costly to update. Nearly every tactic and technique previously mentioned in this article is null and void if a website is in Flash, because instead of staying ahead of the technology curve, a company is 10 years behind with Flash tying its hands behind its back.
New technologies like Google Glass will continue to change this ever-evolving game, so contractors should try to align themselves with the latest trends and make every effort to stay on the right side of innovation so that a company is not left behind. The web is not about being fancy and having the newest gadgets; all of these new techniques and tools are about efficiency, increased sales conversions, growth, and ROI.