Dear Architect, Your Website Sucks

Dear architect, would you like more of the ‘right' kind of clients? Well, if you are hoping the web will help you with this goal, let me give you a tip: your website sucks.

I know, it isn't a very polite thing to say. But I'm helping architects here, not trying to be the best-liked blogger on the Internet.

The Mistake 0n 99% of Architect's Websites

Architect's Websites Suck
Oh Yeah – And Don't Use Flash!

Many architects affirm that websites do not produce leads. And the leads that do come through don't turn into paying clients. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

By nature architects are visually inclined; we like images. We assume our prospects are similar and that our best chance to catch their interest is with eye-popping pictures. This is where architects go wrong with web design.

Architect's websites have a predictable format: a prominent portfolio page, a services page, and an about us page. As architects we have worked hard to win commissions and design buildings. We are rightfully proud of our work and want to display it to the world, especially to our prospective clients. We think our work is what differentiates us from other architects. We think that if our prospects like the buildings we have designed, they will take an interest in our work and hopefully choose us for their next commission. Mistakenly we assume that the best use of our website is to focus on our work.

For our purposes, sites that follow this format are called brochure websites. Brochure websites, as the term suggests, don't offer more than what a prospect can get from a physical brochure.

Ok, So What's the Problem?

Nothing really, if your goal is to showcase your projects. If however, your goal is to generate viable leads- your website needs a redesign.

The problem is that 99% of architect's websites are not designed to capture new clients. They are designed to showcase the architects' work. Architect's websites look like they were designed for architects!

In other words, the problem is that your website is all about you. It is about your work. It is has your bio. It even has your name on it! Let's be realistic here – unless you happen to be Zaha Hadid or Steven Holl, the prospect doesn't care about you and much less your work. They don't care about your firm, where you went to school, your cat, your current work or all of the past projects that you've done- although I'm sure they are great.

Potential clients care about themselves, their needs, and their wants. In their search for an architect, what the prospect cares about is simple: finding an architect they like and trust who can meet the goals of their project.

How to use the Web to Become the Prospect's Architect

So how does one become the architect the prospect likes and trusts? Aside from face-to-face networking, your website is the best tool to make this happen. And here is the secret sauce: become an educator. I'm not talking about a know-it-all, in-your-face, I am the expert type of demeanor. I refer to a more subtle, cooperative kind of sharing. The goal is to shove so much value towards your prospects that they have no choice but to choose you as their architect.

When a new visitor lands on your website, they should be engaged with useful, educational content.

Here is a simplified outline of how to take your website from sucky to killer:

  1. Step one: Bring visitors to your website. Use social media outreach, search engine optimization (SEO), and advertising. Keep up your local person-to-person networking.
  2. Step two: Add content to your website focused on fulfilling the needs of your prospects. This is done through blog posts, articles, white-papers and webinars that are hosted on your website. For example, write a blog post about “local building costs” or “how to select the right contractor”. Your portfolio section remains. However, focus is shifted to client-centric content.
  3. Step three: Provide a call to action that gets your prospect to interact with you and your website. Provide an email newsletter sign-up form, a blog comments section, or a link to your social media profiles. This is the critical step of engagement.
  4. Conclusion: As the prospects filter through this process, they will be pre-screened. The prospects who make it through are the prospects who have chosen you to be their trusted adviser.
While this format works best for architects courting residential and small commercial work, it also has applications for capturing institutional clients, but we can cover that later!

Here's the Take-Away

Get past a pretty portfolio brochure website and turn your site into a lead generator. Add user-centric content.  Make one change today on your website meant to engage with prospects. This may be something as simple as a link to a social media profile.

Finally, if you are thinking of getting a website redesign, ask a prospective designer these questions:

  1. How will a social media strategy be included in the website? This is the key to bringing fresh prospects to your site.
  2. What is the lead generation strategy? This how prospects are converted from browsers into buyers.
  3. Lastly, what metrics will be used to measure the lead generation strategy? If it isn't measurable, how can it be improved?

If the designer is clueless about the answers to the above questions; move on. Remember, prospects want information first, design second.

How One Architecture Firm Gets 90% Of New Projects From Their Website (Good Projects, Too)

Here is one firm that is doing it right. Access this case study of one modern architecture firm that gets 90% of new projects from their web presence, and the one change that has turned their website into a source of new projects. Create your free account on Business of Architecture and I’ll send the link to this case study straight to your inbox:



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

68 Responses

  1. Enoch, I just discovered this post. I have been looking to update my website which is weak to say the least. I really couldn’t agree more. I was just discussing this last night over drinks and I stumbled upon your post today. Architects tend to make websites that try to impress other architects and your post summarizes what I have been slowly learning via my sharing online. I have to work on the “subtle” part of the equation but some of my sharing has lead to real projects which I would not have been considered for unless I demonstrated my knowledge. Now I just need to refine my technique and update the site of course. Thanks

  2. I made this decision at the beginning of the year when I launched my business. It has taken me time to refine the system and I am working on implementing the final parts this month.

    Having a website, however, is not enough. You have to drive traffic to the site for it to work. That still means networking, advertising, networking, doing a great job for current clients, and, did I forget to mention, networking. The website is just one part of a marketing effort. But the keystone to marketing is networking.

    Sadly, I suck at networking. I’m working on improving my networking skills (using and actually, stepping away from the computer to talk face to face with people).

    It’s a challenge!

    1. Hi David, I have a small winery project in Niagra Ontario (I also worked on Jackson Triggs with KPMB years ago) and I liked some of your comments online so I added you Linked-in a few weeks ago. I think you might remember. Your sharp comments and wine knowledge just made me think you could be a good contact for the future. I agree face-to-face seals the deal but get your knowledge out there and some people may find you. Try and share your new site on Linked-in as well because you never know who may need your expertise.

      1. Thanks, Chris, I appreciate your comments and your having linked up with me on LinkedIn.

        I finally got all the pieces in place and launched my new marketing effort last week. Marketing is not a one time event and there is more I need to do to get my current campaign up to full strength, but the kernel is in place and operational. I’ll be sharing my site EVERYWHERE as well as getting out to network on a regular basis.

  3. Hey Enoch, Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I am in the throws of setting up a new practice in Sydney Australia and had just about signed off with a web designer when I researched a little. Although slick, the site lacked something. Yeah, who wants to impress other architects? They never hire us! I just like to drink wine with them 🙂 So I am keen to read your book and have already changed my approach to what the web site will do. I will probably talk about the process from sketch design through to the handover of keys. How to select a builder… whether the client needs an architect…..provide some hot tips on choosing an architect (maybe)….. working with an architect and other professionals… Very exciting stuff. I feel I have direction in all this now. Cheers Craig

  4. Hi Enoch,
    A great post and one that is relevant and helpful to those of us running a small firm. A good web site should really be a way to generate leads and work but it can also be a useful tool to share advice and expertise to a larger community of potential clients. Thanks to your helpful book we have spent a lot of time revising our web site and making sure that our blog is more than just an online portfolio.
    One lesson I have learned as an owner is that the business side of design is still an deeply personal and time intensive process but having a strong online presence is a key component in building a firms brand.


  5. That was good insight and no matter how we architects try we can’t let go off the fact that ‘we wanna show what we do’ than ‘we need to show what we can do and how we can do it’. Guess its the architect’s ego in question here vs his marketing strategy. We have been brain-storming about marketing strategies in this field and also using the web as an effective tool. Ended but with a brand new website with a lot of learnings from our previous one- but have to admit it still requires a lot of material to get it working for us a a lead generator. Am looking forward for further post from your end.

    1. Sagar, thanks for the great comment and dropping by. Sounds like you have it figured out!

  6. ~Thank you-very interesting
    i am just building my site and i will try to implement your advise.

  7. Too true, Architect have a sense of pride that can’t be matched, the client who reaches out to an Architect they want to work with is likely to see a mass amount of excellent work and a lot of self promotion. Architects could focus more on educating the client on their process, design value, and how they can contribute to the project.

  8. Hey Enoch –
    Great post. PLEASE offer more examples of great sites beyond Modative. In process of redo with client and we’re already moving to fewer photos/more text – – and text that is from a client perspective. Have to say that I’m not finding many examples on my own and I think I’m a prodigious researcher.

    It is EASY to fall for all of the eye candy, minimalism and creative expression. But these may not always speak to the customer’s needs.

    At the same time, here in a mountain resort community where homes are wealth showcases, it seems almost impossible to break through with a “value” message.

    I’ll try to send a link when we’re done. Meanwhile…. help!

    1. Hey Robin! Great to meet you. I hear you loud and clear. I do have a great post in mind to give some more examples. I’ve just been swamped with the launch of Business of Architecture TV and the podcast. Stay tuned, and yes, please send the link when you are done.

  9. Thank you for sensible sound advice. We are not architects but a small building firm in the early stages of our website development. I was pushing in the direction your article suggested but “advice” from web developers is all anout gallery of previos work – which can deter new client not encourage unless shots worthy of glossy publications!! You have given me the determination to stand my ground.

  10. I’m guilty as well. But at the moment I’m a little confused. don’t know if I want to put up a site like Modative. Of course it’s more customer friendly but in the inside I’m an architect…..

  11. You show your work because that is the product. If you have to talk about your design work rather than show it you have more problems to deal with anyways.

    What you suggest sounds like a realtor or builder’s web site.

    1. Jason, thanks for visting and your comment. Perhaps we architects can learn something from realtors and builders.

  12. I’m guilty. When I ask the designer for what I wanted for my web page I made all those mistakes, however I consider the facebook page more successful on bringing in the clients. Thanks for the info.

  13. Hi! I’m a marketing consultant working on a proposal for a new client. I want to recommend a new website…does anyone have a good example of even one website that has the characteristics mentioned in the blog?

    1. Hi Betsy! I can recommend There are others that I will post in the next few weeks. The key is offering an incentive (info pamphlet etc) and collecting an email. Check out Modative and come back here to let us know what you think!

  14. Your comments are excellent. I like the idea of engaging the client with a blog, newsletter, articles. I have the time and interest in putting together the articles, but I find writing painful. Something about the architects brain…most of us can draw well but can not write a concise clear sentence. I think the solution is practice, practice…so I will get started. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for your analysis of what not to do with your website. I’m setting-up a new website for construction professionals and will template it on your sound advice.

    Follow me on Twitter – @sellbate

  16. Thanks for the insights. You have put to “paper” exactly what I’ve been realizing for these past several months. It’s like walking the fence and putting in the effort between writing knowledgeable/researched blogs, social media, SEO, website redesign etc. and having the time to also be an architect. One needs many more hours in the day or marketing staff!
    It’s a whole new world.
    I’m anxious to see your next steps, Enoch!

  17. Great post. It’s amazing how many architecture, planning firms are still obsessed with glamorous flash-based sites that can barely be searched by Google. I actually had to restart my Mac yesterday as it became somehow disabled by a flash architecture site.

    My career has always been about communications for architecture / land planning and I’ve added web design and internet marketing to the mix to keep up with the world’s communications pace. If any architecture or planning practices would like to update their web presence with the kind of search optimized sites and strategies that other professions are using (and coming from their own perspective as my background is landscape architecture) my site is at:

  18. Wow, I was so excited to find this blog, and I’m going to go ahead and apologize now for what be a long comment, but this article, along with the Marketing Ethics one have really resonated with me.

    Another beg for forgiveness, I am not an architect. I work in the A/V integration industry – the digital signage displays, audio systems, etc. that go into the wonderful structures you all design . . . and I’m looking for a job (but not here!)

    This week I interviewed with an integration firm for a project manager position, one which was a little out of my scope, but that’s how you grow, right? During the conversation with the VP of Operations, the subject of marketing came up, and he said what he really needed was someone smart to head up their marketing, with the website being the first thing that needed fixing.

    Now, I won’t bore you with my background, but marketing shows up on the resume, along with project management, design, operations, and sales. Foot-and-a-half deep, mile-and-a-half wide, that’s me.

    Anyway, the Ops VP asks me to take a look at their web site and write up a couple pages on what I would do to fix it.

    I would really like to work with this firm – world-wide clients, cool projects (theme parks, retail chains, casinos), and great people I already know. So I say sure, and go about dissecting their site.

    Its atrocious, at best. I go through it link-by-link, and give a constructive/critical evaluation, then start some recommendations to show that maybe, just maybe, I’m as smart as I think I am (I’m not, but don’t tell these guys!)

    One of the things I think to myself is “this company should market themselves the way architecture firms do – thinking about the project primarily from a client-centric focus”.

    I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, but it sounded good, and I started doing a little research to back up my hypothesis. In fact, I found one of the top A/V industry publications had a blog article saying basically that very thing.

    Then today I stumble across Enoch’s post about the ethics of marketing for architects, and I realize I may be on to something . . . make this company’s marketing plan the way architects SHOULD be doing it.

    Now I just have to figure out what that is.

    Once I’ve gotten the job, of course.

    Turned in my synopsis this morning. Wish me luck.

    1. Scott, best of luck! Thanks for visiting the community here and sharing your awesome story. I’ll speak for other architects when I say that we are flattered that you thought of us when you thought about “client-centric focus”. That is definitely what we aspire to!

  19. Very nice article Enoch. I am launching a website now and your comments are surely appreciated.

  20. Thank for this very informative article! I guess I need to re-do my website! 🙂

  21. Some great thoughts about how I can improve my website. I hadn’t ever considered actually making my website a tool to qualify new clients…

  22. Good timing on this article! We are in the process of designing our website. I could not agree more on the insight. Bill

  23. Great article, Enoch. I totally understand how we all have to wrap our minds around leading the client to our website with what we can do for them, via SEO, blogging, direct mail, cold calling, newsletters, writing simple to understand articles and beyond. My website is “chock full” of product but we are constantly changing copy, updating landing pages, etc., etc. We are slowly getting off the bandwagon of who we are, what we did, who we know and back into doing what’s best for the client. Thanks for a great piece.

    1. Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your input and strategy. It is definitely about what we can offer the client and not “who we are”. Ha!

    1. Hey Andrew! Thanks for dropping by! I enjoyed looking at your website – beautiful work. Love the “architect’s home”. A great contemporary design. Is that yours?

  24. Right, Enoch, right!
    People are not concerned about the architect. They usually search for solutions or answers to a certain problem or question. So it is a much better chance to get them searching for tips to build cheaper houses than searching for a glam architect.
    I wrote a few years ago an article called “The Secret Of The Cheap Houses”. The article were had an amazing success over the time. Many websites, magazines and newspapers shared it and even a television asked for an interview.
    After that article, the people used to call and start with “I’ve read your article! Congratulations for the valuable information! I will like to build a house, can I drop to your office and discuss about?”.
    Now I still try to write a new, better article.

      1. Look who’s talking! You started this!
        As for the article, the “secret” was a good design, nor the cheap materials or cheap contractors.

  25. Here is an example of an architecture firm that does a great job at generating leads by pulling people in through keywords and converting them with valuable resources:

    Here is a firm that does an excellent job with content creation with their Architecture Happy Hour series:

  26. Enoch-

    Terrific info, thanks. Do you know of example sites that you would deem highly effective and/or follow the 4 step process for reference?

    1. Hey Jason! Thanks for dropping by. As for your question about highly effective sites that follow these steps, I do know a bunch, but none in the architecture industry. As a matter of fact, I’m planning on launching an example site that architects can follow along with from start to finish. Sign up above for email updates and I’ll let you know when I start. In terms of architect’s sites that do all of this well, I haven’t found one that I’d set out there as an example…yet. There are many pieces to the puzzle and it is hard to nail all of them.

  27. Great article, I’m wondering if the same things can be applied to architecture student portfolio websites. Some interaction would be great.

    1. Hey Rahma- that is a great point. I hadn’t thought about that. That brings up some interesting thoughts….maybe a future blog post.

  28. OK, I’ll admit it! I have been involved in “if-come” projects. This is what I try to do to encourage clients to pay up front! I make sure the client understands that if we work together in a traditional way (you pay me!), the fee for my services is “X” , but if you want me to be at risk with you, my fee is X+y. The Scope of work doesn’t change, just my fee. Sometimes I win (really?) and sometimes I loose. Life is a crap shoot!

    1. Hi Sean, thanks for dropping by. I encourage all to check out Sean’s company Hinge Marketing, they specialize in marketing professional services. They have some great info over there.

      1. Thanks for the shout out Enoch. Your points on conversion and metrics are very strong. These vital pieces are often ignored when in fact they are the most important in marketing a prof services company.

  29. Totally agree with the article. Most architect’s web sites I have come across in the past were basically perhaps unintentionally to show off to other architects and not for the benefit of prospective clients.

    Back in the day of working for another practice I designed their web site, it came out well and was easy for a potential client to find what they were looking for, but my hands were tied to get a good search engine friendly format. The web page ranked but only just. What I was able to do was put more textual content in the pages beyond the home page, there were ranking better than the home page.

    1. Hi Darren! Thanks for dropping by and thanks for the comment. I also find it true that most architect’s websites seem to be designed for other architects. Just go view any blog post that reviews the best architecture websites. Most judge “best” by aesthetics, design, layout, etc, not making $$ as I’m advocating here.

      All the best,

  30. Hi Enoch,

    Great article – had a chuckle at the title.

    This is actually exactly what we’ve been aspiring to do with our website. About 6 months ago when we started doing research we found that most architects’ websites were almost exclusively online portfolios. Beautiful, but boring. Our challenge was how to ENGAGE with clients. As a medium-sized firm in New Zealand (way out in the South Pacific somewhere!) our website is a crucial tool to connect to others around the world.

    It does take a lot of commitment to keep the content fresh and up-to-date and we’re still learning, but we’ve had a good response so far.

    1. Awesome Catherine! Great comment! Its great to hear about firms that are taking it to the next level in web design. So for you, this is preaching to the choir. But thanks for coming along for the ride anyway – and reaching out to say hello. 🙂

  31. interesting article (linked thru from the linkedin group)
    it makes sense and is easy to see why it would work in theory, i would imagine it is very difficult to put into practice and then to maintain for any length of time.
    i am one of the many people made redundant and set up on my own, my website is exteremly simple, just a collection of images/drawings to show what kind of projects i have done (or am working on) with little or no text, it gives a quick graphical overview of what i do, which has landed me a few jobs. I also decided to put some of the production works on there which helps to pay everyones bills but no one wants to admit! which has definitely found me more small works, guess it depends what you want to work on…
    I am interested to see the real world examples of the strategy, maybe i can redesign soon!

    1. Bari, thanks for your interest. Stay tuned for real world examples coming soon. You can sign up to receive updates using the “Get Updates” form above. All the best, Enoch

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