A new site for a top architect in Orange County, CA.
C.J. Light Associates is well known in Southern California as one of the top residential architects. As you travel the coastal communities you will find hundreds of homes they have designed. The brand is very strong, but they hadn't touched their website in 13 years. When you're buried with work, keeping a website current is low on the list.
What was wrong with the old site? Just showing pictures of projects is all you need as an architect, right? I mean, he is slammed with work, why bother? The simple answer is to get the right types of projects at the best possible price. A potential client will go to the C.J. Light website before picking up the phone or sending an email. Making the brand statement and setting the tone on initial contact is imperative.
Things that were wrong with the old site:
- Flash based
- Many browsers, and especially mobile, just will not run Flash anymore.
- Flash = not mobile friendly, per Google's definition, and the site will be pushed way down in search results.
- Flash is scheduled for end of life in 2020!
- The User Experience (UX) on mobile is very different than the UX on desktop. Not responding to the device really makes a company look bad.
- Google also sees non-responsive sites as not mobile friendly and pushes the site down in search results.
- No Content Management System (CMS)
- Dreamweaver and HTML5 are very powerful, but mere mortals cannot edit them.
- Updating content with new projects is so painful that it just doesn't happen.
- A stale website.
- No SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Geo Meta data was not used 13 years ago like it is now. This will drastically change how a local business is found.
- Alt Text on images allows all those cool pictures to be found.
- Image tags also help with SEO.
- Other keyword usage to improve results.
- Not listed with Google
New Site Goals and Assumptions
The primary goal of this site was to tell the brand story for C.J. Light Associates. The latent benefits of SEO and updated images are great, but the site is not really intended to drive new clients from out of the blue via a search engine. However, if a potential client is referred to the firm, then the site must show up in search results and then deliver the brand statement on any device.
Many sites are designed around hooking a visitor within 3 - 15 seconds, or the visitor is gone. This is true for many businesses. However, when an architect is being hired to design a multi-million-dollar home, the potential client wants to understand as much as possible before hiring them. Therefore, our assumption on this site was that we can tell a story and set the tone for C.J. Light Associates. We believe a potential client was referred to the firm and wants to learn, therefore giving the architect more time.
Chris Light is the principle architect at C.J. Light Associates. He has traveled the world and learned from many artisans, one of which was Frank Stella. Chris learned that designing an estate requires starting at the edges and then working towards the middle. Our story line is based around this experience. The story helps a potential client know that Chris wants a full understanding of the property, the goals, and how to build the "brand called me" for the client.
The Mechanics of Telling the Story
Video is the absolute best way to tell a story like this, but a video with audio really annoys website visitors. The very first thing a visitor will do is to turn off the audio or stop the video. We used a slider to transition images and text to tell the story. It was imperative to have very simple text with the right visuals and movement to make the home page tell the story. In just over one minute, 14 images with text are tastefully presented to tell the story. Most of the visuals are homes designed by C.J. Light Associates with menus and a logo floated over the full screen image. It works really well.
The technical details on the back-end requires a significant amount of work to address two major issues: speed and responsiveness.
- Even though we believe a visitor will give C.J. Light Associates more time than a typical website, it still has to load fast and run well. Speed requires tweaking many variables and utilizing various techniques to make it work. The resolution for the images had to be reduced almost to the point of looking bad to reduce the file size. It was a fine line to have great images that do not take forever to load. Below the fold on the home page are featured projects, therefore even more images to load. Lazy loading was heavily used to control the data flow. I use GTmetrix to benchmark a website's performance and shoot for less than 3 seconds to load based on a throttled broadband connection from a cable provider in Dallas, TX. This site hits 3 seconds and we get an "A" score.
- Responsiveness has to be every designer/developer's credo with electronic marketing tools. Half the traffic to a website will be on a smartphone. The images will be on a different aspect ratio screen than a monitor and it can rotate between portrait and landscape. Fonts have to scale and wrap differently to fit on the smaller screen. The tools I use for this give me an amazing amount of control of all the responsive layout issues. The results of all the responsive tools have delivered a great experience on mobile, tablet, and desktop in both portrait and landscape modes.
The Picture Challenge
Large pictures of great projects are awesome. Humans can look at them and tell exactly what is in them. Google cannot "see" the pictures like humans can. The result is a lot of content that has zero effect on SEO. I use a variety of image recognition tools to add Alt Text and Tags to images to help Google read the pictures. This site has hundred of pictures, all with Alt Text and Tags.
Meat and Potatoes
Beyond all the pretty pictures is the back-end configuration and processes. I will not bore you with all the technical details, but I will share some important issues.
- Collaboration - I always used a shared cloud based storage solution to collaborate on everything. The significance isn't just to share data, it is so my client is in full possession of all the content I create for them at all times. I have picked up the pieces on too many clients where they did not have all their files from the last project by a freelancer. Sometimes they did not even have their own logo.
- Security - WordPress is a great CMS, but it can get hacked. I install very strong security solutions and I personally monitor my client's sites.
- Multiple back-ups - I run dual back-ups for every project I manage. Each back-up is in a different location in case the other back-up storage environment fails.
- Project management - I use Zoho Project and can interact with my clients as necessary. My website project template is pre-populated with checklists and configuration settings so the development expectations are already set.
- Technical Writer - The last proofread of a site goes through my technical writer, who has not seen the site at all before she proof reads all the copy. A fresh set of eyes is important for that last look.
- Google - Just before the site goes live, Google my Business is connected to the site as well as Google Analytics.
- Soft Launch - It is important to do a soft launch with clients and industry friendlies. These are fresh sets of eyes that will point out a mistake and help make the site better.
I am very pleased with this site, the client is happy, and a new lead just contacted us via the site. This was not just some WordPress jockey throwing together a template to make a site. I spent a significant amount of time understanding C.J. LIght Associates and I also have a good understanding of the ultra-high-end residential design/build market.
If you have read this far, thank you and here is a link to the site.