Dave Sharp advises architecture firms on social media, communication and marketing strategy. More.
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Starting a blog for your architecture firm is a great idea (yes, blogs still kick ass in 2020) because it builds traffic, helps you to differentiate your firm, and can be a great way to start clarifying your thoughts on the important issues in your profession and society at large.
But, starting a blog and getting in the habit of writing is scary for architects (and everyone else, for that matter).
Blank pages are intimidating.
Picking your first few topics can be intimidating.
Building an audience from scratch is intimidating.
Thinking that you're embarking on a journey that never ends is intimidating.
Here's a few ideas to help you get the ball rolling.
Who is this post for? Early adopters. Architects looking to try something new, something different.
I'll be honest, blogging isn't a marketing tactic many architects are leveraging.
But that doesn't mean that it doesn't work.
Writing just isn't a big part of our professional culture once we leave architecture school - which is sad.
Phase one is all about being boring.
Start by looking at the documents you already give your clients when you first start working together. These are usually goldmines when you're on the hunt for topics that you could repurpose and turn into some good, informative, practical blog posts to put on your website.
This will get you in the habit of creating, posting and promoting content. It's just about changing your behaviour so that writing can become a part of your weekly routine.
So what kind of boring architecture stuff should you write about?
Usually it's related to professional practice, and the steps your projects take from start to finish.
- What is a brief?
- How does planning approval work?
- How does an architect stay inside the budget?
- What are the stages of an architecturally designed project?
- How does documentation work, and why does it take longer than expected?
There's a million things that you already touch on with clients when you start working together, and each of those can lead to practical, informative topics for a blog post.
Listen to your clients for blog topics
The trick is to think about who you are writing for. When I write blog posts, I'm just writing for my clients. I know what they know, and what they don't know. I know what they're curious about trying, and what puts them to sleep.
I know, or keep a list of the questions they ask me over and over again.
All of this stuff helps to refine a content strategy. Even something as simple as keeping notes of the questions I get via email or during consulting sessions means that I have a lengthy todo list of topics to reach for when I have a couple of hours free to write.
Another tip I've found that works great for me is to review my calendar at the end of the week, think back on all the meetings and consultations, and to try to recognise the patterns. Was there a theme of the week? Did I hear the issue come up a few times? Usually, it'll be a great starting point for a topic that other people need help with too.
The land and expand strategy
When I push my clients to delve into their boring stuff to find blog ideas, they typically come back with a very big summary post of the entire architectural design process - but it's good to go to effort to break your master plan down into specific components and write about them piece by piece.
This is called the land and expand strategy. You start by writing quite short, narrow articles where you explain a concept, how it works, and impart a bit of your professional expertise to the reader. When you create several of these posts, you'll be able to look back after promoting them for a few weeks and see what's getting traffic.
What's getting a bit of google traffic? What's getting shared on social media?
That will indicate to you what people are interested in. You'll want to go back to the posts with some amount of traction and start to upgrade that post and add more content.
Another thing to do with those topics is to actually google them and look for locally produced content that answers the same question. If there is already something ranking at the top of google, go check out their page.
- How much have they written?
- What's the quality of that writing?
- Have they used images?
- Does it work okay on mobile?
- Are the linking to relevant sources?
These are all important ranking factors that Google pays attention to. Studying your competition can give you an idea of how far you might want to take it when it comes time to expand your posts.
It's extremely important that there isn't already a post out there in the world with more detail, better images, more writing, better references, than what you're about to post. If there is, go back and make your post better until it's clearly the leader.
When I wrote my article on "Architectural Marketing Ideas: 70 Ideas That Work in 2020", I was acutely aware of the fact that businessofarchitecture.com was ranking with "21 Ways To Get More Clients."
Their article, however, was only 274 words. In fact, the "21 ways" were just dot points.
A 274 word list of dot points was ranking #1 in the world for "Architecture Marketing Ideas" and in the top ten worldwide for "How to Get Architecture Clients".
That's crazy, right?
My article, at 4,300 words with images, useful links and detailed description quickly rose above the competition - only beaten by autodesk.com "Marketing for Architects: 7 Low- or No-Cost Ways to Elevate Your Small Firm". I'm fine with that - I'll get them eventually, mark my words.
When it comes time to beat these articles, you want to out-do them across the board.
So often when it comes to a niche domain of expertise like architecture, where so few firms actually write about their process, something as simple as "How do architects fees work?" - the top example in Google may only have 400 words.
It's hard to give a detailed answer to that question in 400 words.
It might be from the Institute and not even available to the public without membership credentials. That's easy to beat.
Your firm can touch on these issues, which will help to drive high-intent traffic, but you can also show off this content to prospects as a way to establish trust and be seen as having a high level of understanding of the process you're delivering as an expert.
That's a really good place to start, then you can start getting into more opinion based topics that your clients will find more engaging as you build your audience.
Start a blog. If you keep at it, you'll get better, and start to see big results (and make a lot of wonderful, serendipitous connections with amazing people along the way).
Start simple, start boring. Think about what goes on in your practice. Each day, thousands of words spill out of you across conversations, calls and emails. Think about how a portion of that advice you're giving out on a daily basis could help others.
Study what's already out there. Aim to compete, to make something better. But don't worry if you aren't sure if there's someone out there who is looking for what you have to say.
And remember, a post is never done. Some of the most successful blogs in the world have as few as 30 posts - but their author is constantly revisiting, updating, and refreshing to provide better value.