I am now inspired to re-design IOTA. I was looking for an excuse because I love to build new websites, and thought to myself if making the sites responsive could increase conversions on phones and tablets then that could legitimately give me reason to update them to a responsive design.

Responsive Design

Current Statistics

For the periods Oct. 1, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014, IOTA received 25% of traffic from tablets and 11.5% from mobiles with an ecommerce conversion rate of 0.05% and 0.02% respectively. Desktop conversion rate is 0.07%.

Ecommerce conversion rate for IOTA is low because most sales are done outside of the website shopping cart via email and phone. However, 99% of those originate from the website so the importance of a converting site is crucial

Additional IOTA metrics we can use are average time on site (currently 2.07 mins) and page views (currently 4.07)

These are not as specific as a $ amount and harder to quantify ROI but we can surmise that the more time people are spending on our site and more pages they are visiting the more engaged they are with the IOTA brand.


I did some research and the numbers looked very promising. For example, O’Neill Clothing’s redesign achieved some fairly spectacular results on iPhone/iPod:

  • Conversions increased by 65.71%.
  • Transactions went up 112.5%.
  • Revenue increased by 101.25%.

Similarly, on Android devices:

  • Conversions shot up by 407.32%.
  • Transactions increased by 333.33%.
  • Revenue increased by a whopping 591.42%.

Even if we could only increase conversions on tablets and mobiles by 50%, then the cost of a re-design would pay for itself in as little as three months.

The research showed that revenues increased higher than conversion rates which confused me at first, but I think it means that people were actually buying more at a time.

Still, there is only one way to find out and that is comparing the before and after, which means I have to actually redesign the sites.

The Process

These two sites will be a good opportunity to provide really detailed case studies for my audience. I can show the full design process that we go through and you can join the journey with us.

Over the coming weeks, we will take you through a step-by-step process that includes:

  • Business owner interview – filling out a questionnaire from
  • Problem Statement
  • Define business objectives
  • Existing Website Review
  • Mood Board
  • Typography
  • Style guide
  • Feature/Functionality list
  • Wire frame
  • Technology decisions
  • Final build
  • Revisions
  • Testing

We will start on IOTA first with an estimated time of about 6-8 weeks and then move on to GardenWare. Stay tuned.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage One: Defining Business Objectives

Before attempting any web design, a thorough analysis on the website objectives is vital. The website is a reflection of the brand and a channel for the business goals to be achieved. Who is the product or service is for? What is the business trying to achieve? And How can the website assist?

To answer these questions, a deep look into the owners mind is necessary.

This questionnaire has a lot of the questions I require to get to the meat of the project. The questionnaire can be found here.

It was a bit strange doing it for myself, but it proved to be a worthwhile exercise. It concludes with a problem statement and confirms the website objectives and scope of this project.

Name: Nicholas Jones
Company Name: IOTA Australia
Address:  14 Snook St CLONTARF QLD 4019
Phone Number:  0417 371 201
How many people in your company? 1-2
Annual Turnover: Less than $500,000
What does your company do? What are the products and services you offer? Supply garden planters for commercial and high-end residential projects
Who is your target market? Architects, landscapers, builders, interior designers, and other business customers that have specific requirements, often extra large sizes and/or custom shapes.
Private customers who are looking for something more elegant and longer lasting than the cheaper products readily available on the market.
Who are the decision makers for this project? Nicholas Jones
What budget have you allocated for this project? $5000-$10000
What is your annual budget for digital marketing? $20000-$50000
What are the top 5 business needs of your digital strategy? • Create awareness of the IOTA brand particularly to design professionals
• Build a dialogue (communication process) with this market informing them of the product benefits and USP of IOTA planters.
• Build trust within this market by presenting existing projects by their peers that have used the IOTA range successfully.
• Directing customers to the website and encouraging them to use the resources available of case studies, product specifications and CAD drawings to make it easy for architects to specify.
Is there anything about your current site that serves the business well and if so, why? Lots of great images, high level of detail on individual products including sizes, weights and volumes. Lots of content developed over a long period of time.
Tell us about your ideal customer. Who are they? They value the brand of IOTA and high quality materials IOTA use that will result in a highly prestigious look and feel. They also value the longevity of IOTA planters and have the budget to afford a premium product.
What are the top 5 reasons your ideal customer will visit your website? Build design professional researching for client.
Buyer referred by their building/design professional.
In research phase found IOTA by searching google
In evaluation stage researching details of specific size, shapes and pricing of the ranges to plan a project or create a detailed design plan.
Buying stage to place order.
Are the any other websites in particular that you like the design of? Why? nab – use it regularly and always impresses, starting to look a bit dated. – bought some business cards recently and just liked the design, especially the responsiveness, even though I bought from a pc.
What does success look like? Very similar site to what we have but a bit more modern looking and responsive in design. Would also like to see some usability issue looked at. The current site looks a bit busy to me and the text looks a bit small, I would like to see better use of white space, typography a bit more professional and result in a better flow.

Problem Statement: site needs a redesign with a review of the current typography, colour scheme, content, structure and layout with a view to making it more modern, usable and less cluttered. The redesign needs to be responsive to any size device that visitors view it on.

The success of this will be determined through analytics metrics of ecommerce conversion rate, time on site, page views, newsletter sign up, catalogue downloads, and trade account sign up.

Pre and post design statistics will be compared to see if these metrics have been improved on all devices but especially mobile and tablets.

Website Objectives:

To be a visually elegant representation of the IOTA brand while making it very easy for visitors to use the site and find what they want on any size device they may be using.

Define Audiences

  1. Architects, landscapers, builders and designers that are researching and recommending for their client rather than themselves
  2. Business customers that are purchasing for their place of work. Restaurant and resort owners, local councils
  3. Private customers who are looking for something more elegant and longer lasting than other products available on the market.

Define User Needs and Tasks

Since IOTA is very focused on planters, all these customers come to the site with needs that are relatively similar. They all want to research and/or buy planters and need to know specifics such as shape, size and price.

Unlike some web sites like technology sites where the audience has varying levels of expertise in the area and different language needs to be used to cater for the different segments, IOTA is pretty straightforward.


This project is a redesign only and we are not looking at the quality of content, copy, images, SEO, etc. While these areas of digital marketing are equally if not more important than design, we need to focus on the task at hand and they are out of the scope of the project. Any obvious problems that we notice in development will be recorded and addressed in phase two once the design phase has been finished.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Two: Mood Board

A mood board is a collage that assists the designer and client in visualizing and experimenting with design concepts and ideas prior to committing to specific colours, fonts, images, and layouts.

For this project, it will be a collection of images and text samples organized in a method that helps explore the desired overall look, feel and tone of site.

It’s good to have some fun with this and ask the following questions.

If the brand was a biscuit/famous person/motor car what would it be like and why?

IOTA is a Mercedes Benz – regal, stylish, classy, reliable and elegant without being flamboyant.

I have also added an image of a couple of the projects IOTA is ideally suited to being the outdoor public spaces. IOTA UK always told to me I need to get the planters in the landscaping of the Opera House so I have added that images as well.

Finally, I added some examples of typography that I liked personally but also thought was suitable for the brand.

IOTA Mood Board

This sets the tone and helps us move onto specific colours, textures and typography.

We don’t want to change things too much so we will stick with the two base colours of light and dark blue that are used for the logo.

Subtle variations of these blues can be used and I would like to introduce one more colour that is a bit brighter and contrasting with the current blues that will liven up the site.

I am thinking maroon, but we can use adobe Kuler to see what a good contrasting colour is mathematically.

These are the colours from the logo.
Light blue #8da5aa
Dark blue # 005293

IOTA ColoursWithout going too much into the details of how Adobe Kuler works, the end results speak for themselves. When I enter base color dark blue # 005293, the complimentary colour was a brown.

IOTA ColoursThat didn’t suit the objectives of livening the site up so if we look at the triad relationship I can see the magenta colour I was originally thinking of # a01410.

And if we look at how these colours look together touching each other and apart you can see Kuler’s maths have not let us down. These colours look great together.

IOTA Colours





Now we have our base colours we can go create a pallet of shades and variations of these.

IOTA Colours

Now to experimenting with fonts.

Currently the IOTA site is just in Arial font. We want something slightly more modern but not noticeably different. Here is a shortlist of some fonts that might be suitable.

IOTA Mood Board

I have used Arial as a control just to compare the others to. Ozwald is becoming very popular, but perhaps a bit too modern. I like Futura and it is what the IOTA logo is made from, but lean away from this as you have to pay for it on an annual basis, which would be ok, but since Google is offering over 100 fonts for free and storing them on their server for websites to use, it is very hard not to confine my selection to only Google fonts.

A Google font that is similar to Futura, at least in all caps is Josefin. I’m not convinced with this one until I see it on the site, however it is a strong contender.

Open Sans is a very easy font to read and a good balance of modern vs function. However, the lead contender at the moment is Roboto. Roboto also has the added advantage of having a Slab variant which is just little slabs or feet (serifs) on the ends of some of the letters. Roboto Slab can be used for sub-headings and offer a nice contrasting effect while still matching and without being too bold.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Three: Existing Site Design Review

Before we go any further we need to look at the existing assets we have and what needs to be changed. There is no point in recreating the wheel and there are some strong design elements already in place that we don’t want to lose.



All the elements of good site design are here but the layout could do with some tweaks and could be updated to reflect more recent devices such as phones and tablets. The site can be made wider so that when viewed on a large monitor makes better use of space. This is where responsive can be made for larger screens as well as smaller ones.

Some Issues

The phone number is essential to be seen on the home page, but no reason it should be bigger than the other text.

Gradient background fading to light blue doesn’t look too dated, but it probably will in 6 -12 months so advisable to go with a flat colour or a more subtle gradient or pattern.
Similarly, the top nav bar will look dated before long and should be modernised.

The header needs be made larger to allow for more space between the elements. Overall, the header is too squashy and the logo is too close to the main navigation. There was strong support from web design usability experts for squashing content up the page to get as much content “above the fold”, being able to be seen by the user without scrolling. There is now growing evidence to suggest that users are more willing to scroll and the sacrifice of space as a design element is greater than the return of condensing the content.

Calls to Action: Trade Customer? Download Catalogue and Shop Online and Tagline Designer Planters and the Address on the slider make good use of space without crowding anything and will be implemented in a similar fashion.

The font of the whole site is just variations of Arial. This was once good practice, but these restrictions are no longer necessary with the development of web typography and the huge range of fonts now available.

Home body.


All the elements are ok, but a bit dated. The large H1 welcome message was good for SEO years back but doesn’t have much benefit now that Google has gotten smarter. Similarly, the descriptions of company, customer, products etc. are jammed with keywords and probably don’t offer much user benefit. There is almost enough space to distinguish the various elements, the newsletter form and some information on the company and best-selling products.

The only thing needed here is a little more space, slightly modernised design, and revised fonts.

Top Level Categories.

IOTA Top Level Categories

The big chunk of text at the top describing the category could be broken up to allow users to scan the text as is what is normally done on the web. It could also include some of the call to actions that the home page has; Trade Customer? Download Catalogue and Shop Online.

The image grid of sub-categories works well for users who like a visual choice and there is also the left column where users can search by range, type, shape etc. These are the same options represented for different personality types of users and works well. Heat map tracking from suggests that users use the images more often, but the text links also get a lot of clicks.

The shipping estimator is a useful tool and feedback from phone inquiries shows that customers use this regularly.

Sub Categories

IOTA Sub Categories

There are no major problems with this page. All the features that are needed are there and will be carried over to the new site. The only items that need changing have already been covered, including increased white space, updated typography, and responsive layout.

IOTA Product Page

Similarly, the page level template above and other pages have all the right elements and just need to be re-styled into a modern theme.

Any other design flaws we will address as we build the new site.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Four: Site Navigation and Wire Framing.

Site Navigation

Now that we have the overall look and feel for the site from our mood board, experimenting with typography and colour pallets, and reviewing the existing site, we can move on to site navigation, and wire-framing.

In the site navigation, we can decide what the website visitors are going to want to do when they get to the site and how we are going to lay it out so that they can complete the tasks they want to achieve.


A common way to do this is by using personas. We can invent some individuals that are reflective of our target market and imagine them coming to the site and trying to find what they want.

Jane is a landscape architect…

Landscape Architect…that is drawing a plan for a shopping center. In some of the paved areas, they require planters so she goes online and googles extra-large planters and finds IOTA. Jane has a specific need for extra-large planters that can either be fixed to the ground or are heavy enough to be immovable.

She wants to know the dimensions, weights, price and contact details. She also has a few other needs; however, she has not consciously identified them as clearly.

Jane is going to be specifying these and it is her name on the plan, she wants some level of comfort in knowing that they will do the job required of them.

In designing for Jane we need to make the following very easy for her to find:

[list style=”style1″]
[li]Ranges available[/li]
[li]Product specs[/li]
[li]Contact information[/li]

And to give her some social proof to make her want to specify IOTA’s planters, we need to offer her some evidence by way of images and case studies of previous projects.

John is a restaurant owner…

Restaurant Design…and needs a barrier between his outside tables and the road. His gardener has recommended IOTA Planters to him.

John is not as sure what he wants and Jane so will be looking to browse a bit more. He is also not ready to make a decision right away so may want to print a catalogue he can take away and look at and/or sign up for updates.

He also likes to see some social proof and wants to get a feel from images and case studies how some of the ranges may look in his establishment.

In designing for John, we need to add a few things such as easy to find catalogue and newsletter subscription.

Real User Needs

While these are fictional, they do offer a perspective of a potential client and addresses what the users actually want to do. When we take the time to really think about what users want and walk in their shoes, even if for only a few minutes, it enables us to check our own thinking; and while recognising business objectives are important, it is the client that we are building the website for.

You will notice these users did not want to see the mission statement or an endless diatribe on how good the company is and what wonderful service they will get. It’s not that these things are not important, and not that the client won’t read that sort of company information, and may even look for it in making a final decision. However, it’s just not has high a priority as the details of the solution we are solving for them.

Site Architecture.

Here is a list of all the elements that the existing site has on the home page. I have marked them in order of priority.

Top Priority
Medium Priority
Low Priority




Phone Number

Utility Bar: Help | Login | My Cart


Garden Pots | Furniture | Planting Products | Resources | Wholesale | Contact | My Account

Product Image Slider
Call to Actions: Trade Customer | Dowload Catalogue | Shop Online
Welcome Message
Social Icons
IOTA Top Selling Ranges
Our Company
Our Customers
Our Products
Our Services
Quick Links
Contact Details
Facebook Block

Mobile First

Mobile DesignSince the explosion of mobile devices there has been a growing philosophy of designing for the smallest screen first. The idea behind this is that it makes you really prioritize given only a small amount of real estate to work with begs the question what do you want to see first and what is most important?

This focus on getting priorities right carries over to the larger desktop screens and the question must be asked if this item is not important enough for mobile then do we want it cluttering up our desktop site and potentially taking the focus away from the things we have deemed most important.
This is a new method of design for me and has been quite revealing. What do the visitors first want to see when they come to the site and as the business owner what do I want them to first see.

There are few standards like logo, contact and product search. After that I decided that the 4 core ranges IOTA provides was what I wanted visitors to see and what would ultimately give them the quickest way to find what they wanted.


Wire FramingWire-framing is the process of removing the design elements from the layout to get a clearer understanding of information hierarchy of a design, making it easier to plan the layout according to how you want your user to process the information.

Here you can see a visual representation from our site navigation that starts to give some structure to the way we will present the elements.
We have our logo branding at the top and then easy access to contact info and phone number. If the client is out and about and needs to contact IOTA that may be the only information they require.

Then we have the navigation menu which is one button that will drop down and offer almost every link on the site.

Then the core product categories. The calls to action are items like PDF catalogue, wholesale registration and newsletter signup. It is debateable whether to have the calls to action or the core product categories first, but as the design progresses whatever is the most practical and usable will result, so these could be interchanged.

Then we have our company information, social icons and footer links. It doesn’t matter too much how long the page is as long as the important items are at the top and are easily accessible.

Now we have a clear understanding of what our site needs at it’s most basic structure we are going to move to prototyping where we can make this interactive and viewable in the web browser.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Five: Prototyping



Now it’s time to build a basic version of the site where the key focus is a functional design over visual design.

There’s not much point making the prettiest website in the world if users can’t find what they are looking for.

Often this process will be done in grey scale with images and text unrelated to the site. This is useful as it takes away a lot of the visual design aspects and forces you to focus on functional design.

It’s probably a limitation of my design ability and conceptual thinking process, but I find it much easier to think of the business solutions for the web when I am looking at images, text and concepts that remind me of and immerse me in the problem. So for that reason, I have added some colour, images and text related to the IOTA business.

I have been unable to find a prototyping tool that I find much easier to use than WordPress. Also the team and I are very familiar with WordPress and although we haven’t decided on a technology platform, if we were to decide on WordPress then we would be able to use a lot of the work already done in this prototyping exercise.

Watch the screencast

Mobile First.

IOTA MobileStarting from the top of the page, we have the logo, drop down menu, product search, tag line “Designer Planters” and just the beginning of an image which will invite the user to scroll.

Next we have our series of branded images that will slide, contact details and 3 calls to action buttons followed by the products. All these calls to actions and products are available in the dropdown menu so they are really only more obvious visual representations of what is already there. We have evidence that these more visually appealing links are used from our statistics in that show where visitors have historically clicked.

I think it is also useful for people to browse down the screen and see what we offer even if they don’t click anything just yet. At a glance they can see that we sell online, have a pdf catalogue, offer wholesale pricing and can then see our 4 core ranges.

Beyond that is the company information to get a bit more of a feel and trust in IOTA and then finally down the bottom to sign up for the newsletter if they want further updates.

Expanding the view

As the screen gets bigger we have more room to play, but also more design challenges to solve. The original site highlights the product categories on the slider. At first glance we have duplicated that experience, however there is a subtle difference and the copy to the right of the image tells a story more about the solution the planters solved than the product. It gives an insight into what others have used them for and offers the social proof that we identified earlier in our personas exercise as important.

The menu has expanded and moved to the top right of the logo and the product search feature has moved into the call to action row.

I also feel it is more appropriate to have a newsletter subscription box in this this section of the desktop site, whereas it felt a bit premature in the mobile version to be so high up in the content flow.

There are four core product categories so a four column layout for this section made sense. The different shapes of the product boxes are just experimentation and think the circle will win over the oval.

We have then added the rest of the content in a two column and three column layout and added additional contrast by changing the background colour of the “Welcome to IOTA Australia” Section and the footer to distinguish them as sections and make for easier reading.

Prototyping 2

Inner Pages

The next pages we want to look at are the inner pages that the call to actions and product images link to. Shop online links to a page which shows all the products categories available followed by some descriptive text. We had the option here to add the images or the description first and I opted for the images.

For the desktop version we have the option of a right utility column which is pretty standard on most websites for good reasons. Firstly, it’s more comfortable for the human eye to read content that is not too long, hence why newspaper articles are broken into chunks rather than across the whole paper, and secondly it is useful to have some aside information that relates to the main content such as additional navigation or items specific to that users visit like recently viewed products and cart information.

This sidebar is also a more appropriate place for the product search function in the full-sized site whereas on the small screen, we keep it right up the top. In the mobile version, everything in the sidebar becomes its own column below the main content. Again, taking a mobile first approach, this makes us question “what is the most important?”

Prototyping 3

Product Page

There is a bit more going on here as there are product options like size and the format goes to a three column layout in full size and single on the small (mobile) screen. We have been able to import the product specs and images from our live site for this exercise. Most of the styling here comes from the WordPress extension “Woocommerce” I am pretty happy with the Woocommerce interface and don’t feel much needs to be changed. The way in which they have ordered the elements like Heading, price, description, details etc. looks fine to me and I don’t feel any changes I was to make here would achieve a better result for the time invested.

Prototyping 4

Now we have a working prototype, it’s time to finalise the choice of platform we are going to use. We have narrowed it down to Magento which is what the current site is on and WordPress what we have built the prototype in. Stay tuned to see how we look at both platforms and decide what will give us the best return.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Six: Technology Decisions


At this stage we have not finalised on a platform. Currently the IOTA site is on Magento. Magento is a great platform offering a host of e-commerce solutions out of the box and endless customisation options. This does however make it complex and this complexity brings it’s own challenges.

Magento Store

Two stand out challenges for me are site speed and cost of development. Attention has been brought to site speed and SEO by comments from Google that site speed now plays an important part in how high your site is ranked in their search engine.

Amazon has also claimed many years ago that they see an increase in revenue of 1% for every 100ms their site is faster.

The 2nd issue is cost; as Magento is more complex it requires more skilled developers that have experience in Magento and any significant changes to the site need this level of expertise.


WordPress on the other hand is much easier to manage; for example this site is in WordPress and that annoying pop-up that tells you we are redesigning the IOTA site and asks you to subscribe cost me $20 and I installed it myself and had the whole task completed in under an hour.
I then attempted to do the same thing on the current IOTA Magento site. The extension cost me $50 and in the end took an hour and a half of my time and 2 hours of my developer’s time.

WordPress Dashboard

At this stage I am leaning towards WordPress and sacrifice a bit of flexibility for the reduction in expense. Also, IOTA only transacts 10% of business through the online shopping cart. The nature of the product often calls for a quote, decision-maker’s approval, followed up by an invoice etc. A heavily focused e-commerce solution is not the highest priority. on the other hand is and I think the additional expense of Magento may be worth it for that case.

Business Requirements/Costs

web-design-budgetBefore making a final decision I need to look at what the business requirements IOTA uses that already come standard with Magento and/or we have already configured from the existing site and what it will cost to add these on to WordPress.

If the additional expense of beefing up WordPress will be less than the extra development time needed for ongoing maintenance of a Magento site then we will change to WordPress.

After a thorough analysis it was a lot less than I thought. We needed a freight calculator and shopping cart integration with NAB with a combined estimated cost of $300.

We imported a few products from Magento into a WordPress install and estimated that entire process to be under $600.

The blog was already in a WordPress install that was integrated into Magento, so that was a 10-minute export/import process. There will need to be a manual review to make sure the formatting fits into the new theme – $100.

The forms and static pages like the About Us and Contact Us page are labour intensive to convert; but in WordPress I am able to have these done by one of my Philippine staff rather than highly paid Magento developers so can keep that down to under $300.

Getting Complicated

Customer accounts may be slightly tricky and we will need to purchase a plugin that will enable wholesale pricing to registered trade users. That part is easy enough, but getting the customer data out of Magento into WordPress may prove complicated, especially since they have encrypted passwords and is not a simple export-import process. Worst case scenario is I have to email all customers and ask them to reset their password and/or when existing customers try to login in a welcome screen will display explaining that on upgrading our site we were not able to retain their original password for security reasons and offer a link for an automated email to be sent to them with a password reset. Estimated cost $300-$500.


The Verdict

All in all, the cost of transferring over to WordPress from Magento will cost $1600-$1800 and I estimate that can be saved within the first 6 months. More importantly, further upgrades will be much cheaper. The rate at which technology is changing, especially in the online space websites that are not significantly upgraded every 12 months will start to slip behind the technology of the devices they are being viewed on and potentially lose significant revenue.

Redesign of IOTA Designer Planters Stage Seven: Final Design Review

mobile-viewSo here we have our final design. You will notice it is very similar to our prototype with just some visual design changes. The fact that it is so similar is testament to the fact we got most of it right and the process of that prototyping was extremely valuable.

In the prototype, not being too concerned with the visual design, we were able to allow ourselves to satisfice and get the functional aspects of the design nailed. In doing so, we actually got most of the visual design right and the important thing is we didn’t get bogged down doing it.

Watch the Screen Cast


Some of the changes we did make were to simplify the top navigation, the decoration on the prototype I felt just didn’t offer enough value and therefore best to strip it out. I did however add some drop shadows to the sub-navigation so that it is better contrasted from the background and easier for viewers to read.

On the mobile we kept the navigation unchanged.

Who we are and what we do?

The tagline was made larger and the same length as the address. This is crucial as when people come to the site we want them to know 2 things straight away. Who we are and what we do. Hence Logo and tag line “Designer Planters”.

Normal View

Next, we wanted to guide the user’s eyes from the Search Products and Receive Updates and Info input boxes to our calls to action (CTA) of Shop online, PDF Catalogue and Wholesale Registration. This has been achieved by the maroon line. This was effective, however it made a bit too much of the maroon colour and made the site feel a bit lop sided in the prototype when the CTA buttons were also maroon to me so we changed them to a grey with just the maroon border.





Although the grey is usually pretty dull in the instance it contracts so well with the surrounding colours and stands out while not looking too bold.

On the mobile size, everything is reduced to one column so we don’t have quite the issue of leading the eye. However the added decoration does help distinguish the various sections.

Ohhhhh the luxury

The colour maroon was chosen earlier in our mood board exercise as it added a brighter colour which I felt the existing site was missing and matched nicely with the blues we were using. Maroon is also a colour known for it’s psychological effect to convey luxury, sophistication and authority which is part of the personality we identified as IOTA.

The Inner Child

IOTA Core Products

Some decoration has been added to the core products and when these are hovered over they appear to come out off the screen just a little. This resembles a looking glass and looks like we are offering a glimpse into the IOTA brands core ranges and is enticing the user to click forward and investigate further. For me it actually brings back powerful memories of Play School TV show and the square, arch and round windows, but maybe that’s just weird.

Small bites

As we go further down, we have added just a few more maroon lines on headings and between sections to both guide the users eye and distinguish the sections. This makes it easier for users to flow through the page and see the content in chunks and more easily distinguishable.


Making it easy and faster for users to move around the page actually makes them stay longer as they are more likely to engage with what they do find interesting.

Some of the colours in the footer have been modified to offer contrast and just a bit more visual appeal.

More is not always more!

If we now move on to one of the category pages, you can see just a bit of decoration on the products to help them stand out. I was tempted here to make the images circles like the home page, but thought it would just be too much and more is not always more!

Product Categories

The side bar we did decide to keep the CTA’s the maroon colour as it didn’t conflict with any other element on the page like it did on the home page and they certainly stand out in this colour.

Call to Action

When we go to the sub-category products there is a “view products” button. I didn’t feel this was really a call to action or needed to stand out more than the image which has the same link so just made this one match the background, but be a little darker offering just a hint of contrast..

Product Pages

However, the actual product page was appropriate to have the add to cart button our “luxurious” maroon colour because this is more of a call to action. Similarly the prices needed to stand out so that also got the maroon treatment.


All in all, I am very happy with the design and think it addresses all our original objectives of making the site responsive and more modern. I would love to hear what you think of the site. So please visit and be sure to comment on anything you see that is problematic before we go live and unleash it on the world!!

3 Ways to Manage a Digital Strategy for the Design Build Industry | 09

This is a new age, and while the same game, the rules have changed. Senior executives or business owners that insist on a hands-on approach and micro managing the process will hit a roadblock due to their lack of experience with internet marketing.

Traditional marketing experience has a great value and can be a real asset when viewing digital from a 10 mile vantage point. But on the ground with new and often counter-intuitive inbound marketing strategies, and the technologies that assist them, it can often be more of a hindrance than a help.

The days of “Madmen” and creating demand for a product developed in isolation from the consumer are changing fast. Our consumers now are far more researched, opinionated and questioning. They have an idea of what they might want and go to the web to research it. The company that they can find easily, and navigate and understand easily will be in the race and the rest will have to spend large amounts on advertising.

If you are in charge of managing this process then you have a few choices.

A Game of Managing Strategy

Option 1. Micro-manage based on incomplete information.

Unfortunately this is the most common approach and inevitably it doesn’t work and the website and inbound marketing strategy get the blame. This approach is soul destroying for the web team and you will not recruit and retain top talent with this approach.

Web professionals are highly intelligent creative individuals that have chosen a field that is a wide blend of disciplines that include; design, code, technology and content. Not only is the field wide, but because the internet has only been around 20 years and the web design profession is immature compared to other marketing/design trades like print design.

This newness makes for a rapidly changing industry. Coupled with the ever changing landscape of devices people view the web on there are not many options for formal web design training. Universities can take up to three years to prepare a syllabus, by which time it would be in the dark ages of web design, so these web professionals are mostly self and peer trained.

Top Digital Talent Got Where They are For a Good Reason

The characteristics of web professionals are creative problem solvers that have been drawn to an industry on the edge of design and tech by their own motivation. To achieve any success in the field of web design, they needed to be highly self-motivated and spend 2-3 hours of their own time training each day just to keep up to date. They are driven by new technology and creating beautiful and functional experiences for people online.

Now imagine this web professional gets the choice of 100k working for a boss that micro-manages every project and makes all the decisions or 80k for a company that gives them some real responsibility and autonomy. Sure, some web designers might choose the 100k, but consider the waste of talent of turning this creative problem solver into a factory worker, and further consider the long-term ramifications.

Don’t get me wrong, a factory worker can make a good honest living and contribute greatly to society as a whole, my point is that the reason these people are web professionals is that their personality type that drove them into web design is closer to that of the entrepreneur.

What might be fine for people who are happy to be factory workers and turn their minds off work at the end of the day will not sustain most web designers and this raises the questions: How long can this web professional put up with these circumstances? And if they do. How good will there work be?”

Option 2. Teach the Old Dog Some New Tricks.

If the digital age has caught you a bit unawares and you are not sure what to do with your website strategy and even where it starts and finishes. Take comfort, you are in the majority. If you have a thirst for new knowledge, you probably already know what you need to read and you have a long list of pending on your Kindle or Ipad. In any case, here is what I have found as great resources.

  • ebooks
  • ebooks
  • Designing For Emotion – Aarron Walter
  • Rework – Jason Fried
  • Design for Hackers – David Kadavy
  • The Lean Startup – How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses
  • The New Digital Age Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business – Jared Cohen
  • The Non-Designers Design Book – Robin Williams
  • The Principles of Beautiful Web Design – Jason Beard
  • Website Owners Manual – Paul Boag
  • Digital Adaptation – Paul Boag

My hope is that these resources will give you just enough understanding to be able to communicate better with your web team and empower them to do their job.

Option 3. Let Go of the Reigns…… But Hold the Horse Tight.

If you are at a stage of life where you don’t really want to learn new tricks, I consider this an enviable position and believe you probably have much better things to do with your time. If this is the case then just a couple of mile high books will do the trick:

  • The New Digital Age Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business – Jared Cohen
  • Digital Adaptation – Paul Boag

Then find a digital lead that you trust and stay close to them. Give them final decision making power in all instances providing they stay in budget while at the same time insist they consult you and keep you informed of all strategy and implementation. Mentor them with your years of marketing and business experience and alert them to branding and business realities that they may have overlooked.

A high quality web team needs to be able to take ownership of their deliverables, if they are treated like pawns of the marketing department then not only will the company not attract and keep good talent, but it creates a flawed system.

Why Some Web Sites Make You Feel Good and Want to Work With Them | 08

Once the strategy and structure is in place we can use visual design to help guide the user through your site by making it an easier and a more enjoyable experience. There are many design techniques including the correct use of white space and strategic use of decorative elements such as background images, borders, drop shadows and colour contrast.

These will give a flow to your content and guide the users eyes so that they can distinguish the sections and content chunks at a glance, and feel a sense of control, and be more willing to investigate further.

If done correctly this leads to higher engagement, conversion and profit.


Are Your Digital Assets Up To Scratch?

There are many visual cues that give your brand its identity such as colour scheme, typography, and the images and background textures used. It’s now time to do an audit on these.

Are any of your images not up to scratch? Do any of them look grainy or pixelated? Or are they out of proportion with their surroundings on the page? Are there any elements that stand out too much like a bright orange button on something that really doesn’t need that much attention?

Or are some areas too dull and need more colour or white space to distinguish them from their neighbours on the page? The big thing to avoid is a big blob of content that doesn’t differentiate between the sections. It just looks like hard work to the user.

New Blood. This Might Ruffle Some Feathers – Good!

At this stage it will be worth getting in a completely new professional designer to run a fresh pair of eyes over the site and offer their feedback. This might be challenging for your initial designer that built the site, but they will just have to suck it up.

If you have a strong working relationship with the person that designed your site then it is important to keep them on and have them lead any design iterations. But as a business owner or manager it is your job to get the most out of this project. By getting in some new design eyes it may be possible to identify elements that were overlooked.

You can insist to your design lead in a diplomatic and respectful manner that someone review their work . You can even give them the option to choose a designer they highly respect and look up to. If you allow enough budget for this then you might even get a couple hours from a leading “industry famous” figure that your designer would be thrilled to work with.

This will be a great opportunity for your designer and the site in general. If you have chosen well and have good experience thus far from your designer and approached them with this proposition in a respectful and empowering way, then you shouldn’t get any real resistance.

If you do and hit a wall here then I would be suspect of your designer’s character and this will continue to be an issue for the life of the site. It is either time for your design lead to toughen up and become more open minded and willing to learn or time for you to get a new designer. Yes it is costly but not as costly as a site inhibited by such a limited design approach.

Optimisation – Firstly why optimise?

By this stage you have invested significantly getting customers to your site and making your site as fundamentally sound and as good as your team are able to do with the knowledge they have.

But the knowledge they had was not complete. It takes time and user feed-back from real website visitors to refine the design.

Think, think, think. Test and measure. Notice I wrote think three times. The human mind is blind to so many of the most basic “doh” moments. “How could I have missed that?” Just be prepared to make mistakes and miss the most basic of business premises regarding your website. The good news is that if built properly and with flexibility in mind then everything will work out in the wash, just not on the first round.

To give you an example. I beat on about the fundamental objectives of; when a visitor reaches your site they need to know straight away “Who are you and what you do?”

Recently I re-built a site and made a beautiful home page that covered all the bases. There was a transparency over the image slider that offered the tag line and contact details all positioned below the logo very clearly and the user knew exactly “who we are and what we do”

I then had another look at the analytics data and only 40% of visitors were entering the site from the home page, which meant the balance of visitors were not getting the full story in a split second. I had to add the tagline and contact details to below the logo in top navigation so that it was present on all pages.

I could have kept the home page the same and only updated all other pages, but after adding the tagline and contact details to the other pages and then testing the home page with 2 versions.

1. Beautiful transparency.


2. Boring text under logo and top navigation.


It turned out that the boring text was easier for the users to read and quicker to comprehend. Artistic flair is great but it has to add functionality not take away from it. I knew this so well, yet was able to make this simple mistake yet again.

Measure Twice Cut Once. Then Measure Twice and Cut Again…….And Again. And Again

Web Design is not like building a house. Design oversights and unexpected visitor behaviour can be remedied much easier. If visitors don’t like the kitchen adjoining the lounge room you can make it adjoin the dining room, or make it open plan. Or better still try all these ideas and see which ones they like the best.

There are many other ways to test and measure, but here a few of the more popular methods.

  1. A/B Split Testing
  2. Heat maps
  3. Scroll maps
  4. Eye tracking maps

The tools and methods are just that. The philosophy and business approach from all stakeholders behind these tools and methods is far more important. It takes ongoing commitment and investment from dedicated representatives of the company to achieve ongoing success.

This process needs the internal stakeholders experience and understanding of the business. No matter how good your developer, designer and content writer is they can only go so far without the input from experienced internal team members.

Monthly meetings are ideal with some real data to analyse. These monthly meetings need to be focused, structured and acted upon over the next month before the next meeting. Most importantly they need to be user centric, some companies have posters of their persona avatars on the wall during these meetings and base these meetings around real users.

Keep it focused

Some props will go along way to keeping the meeting on track, 5-6 laminated documents that sit on the table and are viewable to everyone will help. These can include things like:

  • business goals and objectives
  • bullet point strategy document
  • digital policies
  • company principles
  • company values
  • mission statement

Read a one page summary at the start of meeting of the most important points and takes no longer than 2 minutes to read. Some old school meeting techniques like “old business” and “new business” will help stop these meetings turn into discussing the same thing every month or allow a dominant personality in senior management to take control of the meeting.

The cost of meetings is very expensive when you add up the opportunity cost of each staff member present. They need to be highly efficient if they are going to be of any value.

Test on Real People

User testing is crucial to this process and all decisions and assumptions need to be tested. You will be regularly surprised at how intelligent people struggle to do even the most simple of tasks on your site. This can be both frustrating and heartbreaking, but ignoring or being ignorant about these issues is probably what your competitors are doing so here you have a great opportunity.

There are a host of solutions for user testing. You can mix it up and see what gets the best results for $ spent. Here are a few options to get you started.

If you don’t feel confident in instigating it in house an agency will be able to offer you a professional user testing service. I would be cautious giving them carte blanche and handing the whole thing over to them. Your website traffic are your users and ultimately the information you receive from user testing needs to filter through your organisation so it can be understood at a deep level and acted on.

Next week we will look at management and how it relates to digital.

The Number One Reason Visitors Leave Your Site and How to Overcome | 07

What the visitor sees when they first land on your website has to intrigue their crocodile brain within 2-3 seconds or your hard earned visitor will leave.

Basically you are going to need to make them want to eat it, fight it, or mate with you. The crocodile brain acts as a filter to preserve the energy of the other parts of the brain and if it doesn’t understand or have some desire for what it sees in the first few seconds it will not send the message upstairs and will leave your site.

This content that the visitor first sees is different to the content you need to create for your inbound marketing strategy. Your inbound strategy needs to create rich resources for clients to see you as the authority and share your information with the friends and colleagues.

The objective of the content the user initially sees has to be able to create interest and comprehension in under two seconds. Here’s how.

Entice your visitors

Make Your Company Information Either Interesting or Very Brief

Company information has traditionally been on the “about us” page but there is a trend towards more of this information on the home page which does provide good user experience (UX) as it is easier to scroll rather than click and wait for a new page to load.

Still there is a balance and we don’t want to bloat the home page too much with company information. A summary might be best and perhaps a link to the about page “if” there is some “interesting” information. Note “if” and “interesting” are in inverted commas because there should not be any boring marketing fluff.

Perhaps the company has a rich history and some interesting stories about its’ engagement with the community and surrounding buildings and land. That could be an interesting story and deserving of a link to a page with more details.

The objective of company information on the home page is to offer an honest insight into who the company is. For a service industry like an architecture firm then summary profiles of the team may be appropriate, or perhaps recent projects completed as a glimpse into the portfolio section of the site.

Allow Your Personality to Shine Through

Try and convey the personality of the company, especially if there is a rich cultural history or an interesting story that will grab the users attention.

Then go into a deeper explanation of the niche the company focuses on.

This niche will have been addressed in the tagline and core products or services further up the page, but as a customer scrolls down the page they are engaging and proving more interest in your offer and want more information. At this stage they want to understand you better and most importantly understand what you can do for them and if you are a good fit for them.

Addressing the uniqueness of your firm and the architectural or design build niche will assist keeping you in the customers mind after they have left the site. If your company sells products then addressing the uniqueness of those, where they come from, how hard it was to find them, or how environmental and sustainable they are.

If it’s Not Interesting it Shouldn’t be There

Whatever it is it needs to be interesting enough to make your target market continue reading. The headline needs to make them want to read the first sentence and the first sentence makes them want to read the paragraph. And then they need to be intrigued enough to click the link to learn more or continue to scroll down the page and build a relationship with you.

And what you don’t say is almost more important than what you do. If you have nothing interesting to say, don’t say it. About us sections like. “We strive for excellence and always deliver outstanding customer service……….. waffle…waffle” have no place in a company trying to break through the noise and differentiate themselves. Stating excellence and outstanding service do not differentiate. Have you ever seen a company state they settle for mediocrity and poor customer service.

Social Proof

Ever been at a market and seen an empty stall? You go over to browse and all of a sudden you are getting nudged out of the way by the crowd. You started that, you attracted people’s crocodile brains. People only want what’s popular.

Ok, having heaps of facebook fans faces in a FB box on your site was kind of cool when it first came out, but we grow immune to this pretty quickly and I think there are much better more time tested approaches that are more sustainable long term.

In saying that if you can get some industry famous people that your customers will recognise on your facebook or twitter feed on your site, then that is a different story.

Testimonials are effective. Effective 10 fold if this is someone known in the industry. They are also more effective if they are in context. What business relationship did you have with the person giving the testimonial?

Say you worked with a landscape designer and there is a testimonial from them and a link to the project and further details. Product reviews work really well for this same reason of having a testimonial in context.

Testimonials/reviews are even better with the reviewers’ photos. 6 month old babies can do what no computer can yet do to the same level and that’s recognise faces. The way our mind reacts to recognising faces provides extreme social stimuli and is part of our survival instinct. A trusted face is a strong endorsement.

With these techniques you won’t be able to keep everyone on your site, but you will be able to retain visitors that are your target market and that you can, and want to serve. Now you have their attention, next week we will look at how to make them feel “good” while they are browsing your site and want to do business with you.

How Design Build Websites Convert Visitors to Leads Through Good Design | 06

The easier your site is to use, the longer your potential leads will stay there and the more knowledge they will soak up on your brand and offer. This is key to getting in the customers mind and being added to their mental shortlist.

Earlier, I mentioned that it was best to leave the website as a minimal viable product and pursue getting some traffic. Now we have addressed our traffic, we can go back and refine the design. This refinement should be an ongoing process; build, test, measure, tweak and refine.

With modern day web design tools and platforms like WordPress you can have the basic site up relatively quickly. Web design is particularly suited to a lean and agile methodology, especially using open source solutions like WordPress that have almost limitless community support and very cheap, if not free, features and add-ons.

bees making honey

Web Design is an Iterative Process

On the flip side, the technology is changing so quickly and the web design industry is attracting talent that likes to live on the cutting edge. Your new website is going to be an old website in 18 to 24 months. The good news is that if built properly in the first place with the mindset that things will change and what we are doing here is not set in stone, it will not be too disruptive or expensive to update.

To add to that, your architecture brand and service offer is unique and needs to be tested and tweaked as necessary so that you can get higher optimisation, more engagement and ultimately more projects or sales. The layout and order of your content, your colour schemes and how these contrast against each other, and the way these all flow and guide the users eye around the page will play a large role in how long they stay on your site and consume the information you want them to and turn these leads into customers.

The Japanese term “Kaizen” meaning ever improving process is used in manufacturing theory and is very suitable for such a dynamic discipline as web-design. When changes can be made, as often and regularly as they can be on a website, if you do not take this opportunity to leverage one of the strongest attributes of the web then you can be sure some of your competitors will. Web sites are like shops or showrooms, they need to be cleaned, repaired and re-merchandised weekly.

Functional Design

Web design is not only about creating something of beauty, but more importantly, making something that is useful to the people that are using it.

There is some debate about what is the highest priority between customers to find and do what they want and customers to find and do what the company wants them to. I don’t believe it is one or the other, I think both perspectives need to be looked at and a common ground found.

This goes back to the primary reason you have website, or architectural industry business, for that matter. List the top 3-5 business objectives for the site. Ask the questions; Who are you? What do you do? And how do you make money? These should at least give you the first three objectives and spark a couple more.

Who Are You. What Do You Do and How Do You Make money?

What is your core focus and what are the most profitable products and services that you offer and would like to sell more of? Where is the direction of the business going in the next few years?

These are some deep questions and the good news is that if your site is built to be a nimble ship then as circumstances change so to can the products you wish to promote the most.

Name your top 2-4 core architectural services or products and the target market that purchases those, then break that target market down into 2-3 personas, give these personas a name and biography and make a story about how they found you and what they want to do when they get to your site.

We did a very simplified version of this for our redesign of IOTA Planters site-navigation-wire-framing. For a much more extensive example, Mailchimp, the email marketing campaign service interviewed various industry professionals who use their service and from this data created posters of these personas. To go even one step further they then decorated the Mailchimp offices with these posters.

From here we can create a hierarchy of tasks and rate them on priority. It then becomes a bit easier to identify what should go where. Generally the higher the priority the higher up the page it should be.


People will find it easier to find what they want if you stick within the framework of general convention. A navigation bar with drop down menus is one of those conventions. Most of the time they will be baked into the Content Management Systems (CMS) or whatever framework your site runs on, however you still have enough flexibility to muck it up, so still need to follow some simple guidelines.

Less is more.

If you have only three choices they will be given greater weight each by your customer than if you have ten choices for them, it will also be easier for them to make a one choice out of three than one out of ten. Ideally keep the main navigation menu items to 5 or under.

The sub-navigation are the menu items that are viewable when the mouse hovers over the main navigation and you should be able to group most other links into these five or less buckets.

Navigation can be repeated in various sections of the site and formats. Your core architecture expertise might be in you main navigation bar and then also in as a visual representation below in either a slider or individual blocks of content. They can even be repeated again in the footer of the page where real estate is less of a premium.

Call to Action

Next, we want to coerce our customer to do what we want while keeping in mind they have their own objectives and have come to your site for a specific reason. Gone are the days of browsing the web because it is a novelty and the user wants to see what sites are available. Today’s internet user is a person on a mission with a problem they want solved or a task they want to complete. The blinkers are on and you have a few seconds to deliver or they will find someone else that will.

Next we are going to look at content as a design element and how words and images and the comprehension and interest in these will get you top of the clients mind.

3 Inbound Marketing Strategies for Architect and Landscape Industry | 05

It is all too common that your inbound marketing strategy will hit a wall after a few weeks when you discover the resistance from internal stakeholders to support the project.


1. Early Beginnings – Getting Some Traction

You have been able to round up a few hundred emails from existing clients, but you have found huge resistance from any of the senior management to document their architect or design knowledge. A not uncommon predicament, but all is not lost.

Don’t give up. At this level your main objectives can be narrowed to:

A. Letting existing customers know you are still in the game and get in there periphery.
B. Getting new leads and customers to opt in to your newsletter.

Content generated by the architect or design industry firm is preferable, but as a last resort you can have some content created economically from outside of the organisation. You can find outside contractors with design-build industry knowledge however they won’t have knowledge of your company, specific niche or unique selling proposition. It means your content will not be as focused as if originated internally, but will still get you closer to your objectives.

A. Consistent Content to Email to Your Existing Audience

To get in your existing customers periphery you need some consistent fortnightly or monthly content to email to your existing audience. E mail is still number one for turning prospects into customers and return customers. To get up and running you can get some articles written (by native English speaking writers) don’t be tempted to even bother with $5 articles from India, or even articles under $20 from native English writers. You should be able to get decent articles from $25-$50. There are a number of market places from general ones like Elance to more writing focused like or text broker.

Trial a few writers on 500 – 1000 articles and then settle on the one you like the most to do a series of articles on your preferred niche or segment of architecture or landscape design. You can then add these to your blog and email your list every fortnight, month or even bi-monthly. It is important do it consistently as per the schedule you were able to achieve on your budget.

Use an email service for this like Mailchimp as they do a good job of avoiding spam filters which sending bulk email raises a red flag for, and it makes the process of creating and sending newsletters and managing your list of subscribers relatively painless.

B. Getting New Leads That are Interested Your Preferred Segment.

The second objective of getting new customers to sign up is achieved by offering them a hook, these can be in the form of discounts, freebies or education. If it’s appropriate to offer them a discount or free service/product for signing up, then that can work, but be wary of this tactic.

More commonly education is the better choice. Offer to solve a problem they have by way of a free ebook or whitepaper, by now you have hopefully forged a relationship with some writers that have been writing your blog articles and you can contract them to write something a bit more substantial. You could even re-purpose the content they have already written on the blog and use this as the basis of an eBook.

Not only will this attract leads, but this eBook will position you as an expert in the segment of your choice. If seaside homes were you specialty then an eBook titled. “10 Essentials of Designing Seaside Properties” would attract very targeted traffic and by positioning your firm as the expert in this niche should allow you to charge a premium.

Minimum Viable Strategy

Keep in mind, this strategy is a minimum viable solution, but even so if done consistently it will achieve a few things. Firstly you will be able to test what your audience likes and wants to hear more of and you can use this data to craft topics for future content.

This minimum viable solution will give you enough time and traction and some small wins to get more confidence and buy-in from the rest of the team to create some better more focused content. Make sure you have a way to measure the results through a combination of google analytics and asking people on the website and phone where they heard about you. You will need some success metrics to justify more investment.

Over time you can keep chipping away at extracting the information from internal sources. If you can’t get them to record themselves prepare a questionnaire, or get a professional to do it, and book an interview with them. These interviews can be transcribed from an online transcription service and then given to your writer to make some much more focused articles and whitepapers.

Hopefully within a year you are seeing some positive metrics and are able to commit some more resources to the campaign.

2. Insourcing the Content. Outsourcing the Expertise.

Once you can get some more buy-in from the team and assuming the nominated project manager has been given enough time away from their other tasks to do a proper job of this project, which is crucial, you can start to build some more intriguing information.

What value can you offer your target market based their architectural, building or landscape problems and needs? You should be able to get some good ideas from previous email and phone correspondence of the 10 most commonly asked questions.

Have a brief chat to everyone in the office and find out what they think the customers biggest problems are. Break this down into a questionnaire that you can give everyone and ask them to give you their thoughts on paper or audio. If that doesn’t work schedule an interview and record the conversation.

Collect all this new content and add to any existing internal and supplier content as well as a database of existing customers and leads. It is now time for a strong plan, seek out someone in the office you can partner with and audit these assets and strategize what is the best way to re-purpose. Brainstorm and list the options of what is the most appropriate for your company eg.

Problems we can solve, White papers, customer case studies, manufacturing processes, how to articles, blog posts and email newsletter (how many, how often)

Outside Expertise – Get in a Hired Gun

Get an expert content marketer in (or remotely) to assess your plan and offer some feedback. A fresh pair of eyes with experience in wide range of other similar service firm campaigns will either offer some new ideas or at least affirm what you are doing and give you a bit more confidence to go forward.

A professional writer will be a strong asset at this stage. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. You or another internal team member can write the draft and then just have a professional polish it and offer feedback.

Whoever is responsible for this project should already have a strong grasp on writing and some formal training. Times are changing and while a lot of the fundamentals are unchanged the web has changed the playing field significantly and there are some major differences in writing for this media.

3. Turning Your Firm into an Architect or Landscape Industry Leading Resource.

If the business is large enough to employ a full time content manager then this is preferable. For an established company with a marketing budget over 100k then it’s time for a shake-up of what that money is spent on.

Bring the professionals in, allow them an inside look and feel for your company and make sure you have the internal resources to implement what they suggest. They can’t do it on their own, they need your help. They need the wealth of experiences you can only get from being in the design-build business over many years.

Keep them on a short rope and plan an exit strategy for if it doesn’t work out. You want to see results after 6 months. Add KPI’s to the contract, get their input on what they think they can achieve in terms of raw metrics, increased subscribers, site visitors, engagement and sales from your digital strategy.

Review after 6 months and if they can’t prove that there will be a strong return on investment before the year is up then find someone else. Content Strategy and Inbound Marketing works, that’s a fact for many businesses, but you need to find the right partner that can do the job for you.

Next we will re-visit web design and see How Design Build Websites Convert Visitors to Leads Through Good Design

How to Get Started with Architect Design-Build Inbound Marketing | 04

From our previous articles in this series I hope I have got you excited by the various options and intriguing content you can create for the Architect or Design Industry. And you are probably asking the question, well is this is fine and dandy, but where to we start?

Money Gnome

Without a budget no one knows.

Setting a budget is the crucial first part of the project and one of the most challenging. This is not an arbitrary guess, but requires discussion and debate by the key decision makers involved.

Obviously it varies between firms, but I suggest look at the existing marketing budget and see if any can be apportioned to digital marketing. If possible, cut some of your print advertising and the marketing activities you have done for years and have ceased to question why you do them?

If not cut them at least test them. We are now in a world where collecting data on advertising effectiveness has never been easier. The famous saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” by John Wanamaker, US department store merchant (1838 – 1922) does no longer have to be the case.

You can now make your advertising unique to each publication with a call to action via a unique coupon code, unique web address or unique phone number on the advert.

You can also ask your customers on your website where they heard about you from in the form of a drop down list with the advertising media there that you use.

If you are a growing company then allow your traditional marketing budget to plateau and only increase the digital marketing spend each year. If you aren’t doing this your competitors are and there is piles of evidence to suggest inbound marketing is beating traditional marketing, here is a curation of some great stats.

Create an Inbound Marketing Road Map

Once you have an idea of what funds are available get a consultation with a content marketing expert. At this stage it is almost impossible to set a realistic budget without knowing what content strategies are available to you and an estimate of the return on investment (ROI) that these strategies can expect to return over the long term.

A consultant that has experience with the architecture and design-build industry is preferable, but more important is someone skilled in content marketing that will understand what type of content your clients will pay attention to and even more importantly have the skills and pragmatism to continually test.

Be armed with some of your analytics and metrics such as life-time value of a client and then build a road map of what activities you are going to trial and the KPI’s these activities need to hit to continue investing in them.

Every Good Cause Needs a Champion

At this stage a project manager, either in house or from an outside agency, is needed to take the lead and keep the momentum you have started. The resistance to generating content is strong and the project needs to be championed by an influential leader that will motivate the team to do their share and keep things on track

They need to have time available. All too often the business owner or senior marketing executive takes on this role and then doesn’t have the time available to do it justice.

This role is the lynchpin of the campaign and they need to have the authority and autonomy to make critical decisions and act on them without having to be approved by senior management road blocks.

Make Use of Your Existing Assets

The first place to start with is what you already have available and a thorough content audit carried out. Are there some white papers or technical documents lying around somewhere that were once used for an offline campaign? Do suppliers have documentation that can be refreshed and re-purposed?

Do you have a list of emails that have been collected over the years? Or even street addresses of current and previous clients. Some companies have shoe boxes full of old leads that are a valuable resource just sitting around gathering dust.

It might be worth doing some data scraping of your email account or accounting package and assessing what can be used. Any potential contact information needs to be brought to the table and consolidated into various campaigns to turn them into an audience.

Internal Resources

This is really part of the budget, but it can be somewhat hidden because it shows on the profit and loss as salaries rather than marketing. Who in the organisation is capable and wiling to create content? It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. The “ones with the knowledge” usually the business owner and senior management can dictate their knowledge to microphone and have it transcribed for a copy writer to weave their magic.

Alternatively a copy writer could interview the people in the organisation with the most knowledge. This is the most expensive option, but possibly the most thorough. An experienced writer will be able to ask the probing questions and extract information that the owner may not think of (or think important enough) if they were dictating on their own.


To summarize the first 4 steps we have:

  1. Defined a budget
  2. Identified existing assets
  3. Identified who in the organisation has the information and how much time they have available
  4. Assigned a project leader

Now it’s time to look at some specific strategy. 3 Inbound Marketing Strategies for Architect and Landscape Design Industry

How to Get Visitors to Your Website. Architect Design Inbound Marketing | 03

A sales team goes out and finds leads and these are given to the most experienced sales people in the organisation to close the deal. The best marketers don’t go out and sell, they make people come to them and desire what they have for sale. This is even more relevant for an architect or design-build industry website.

Inbound Marketing Highway

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Is it Dead?

To get people to find and come to you is a whole new ball game. SEO is dead? Not at all, alive and well, but gaming search results is dying on the vine. There are a few things that might still work, but the amount of effort and expense to implement these remaining “grey hat” techniques is getting close to the cost of doing what Google says you should do anyway.

Additionally as Google gets smarter, whatever “grey hat” tactics work now might not work tomorrow and your investment in SEO can disappear overnight as many companies experienced with the role out of Googles algorithm changes over the last couple of years.

The alternative is to play by the rules. Google’s core business objective is to produce the very best results for anyone that searches for anything. If you invest in your website and make your website the best result for the search term you want people to find you for then over time you can prove to Google that you are the best result. It may cost more initially, however it is a much more sustainable long term investment

Make your website the best result for the search term you want people to find you for.

Simple really. But how? Your website needs to the best resource of information in your niche and it needs to be judged the best by your visitors. This is known as authority and the metrics Google has available to them to determine “authority” are numerous.

Search engines can tell how popular you are by how many people link to you from other sites, especially other popular sites, how many people are sharing about you or linking to you from social networks. And they can tell how engaged people are with your site by how long they spend there and how often they return.

The bottom line is if all you have on your site is about you then that’s all you will rank for; your name.

Google is like a Big Mean School Girl

Brian Clark, Founder of Copyblogger likens Google to a big mean school girl. The way to manage a big mean school girl is to be a valuable friend and ally to all the other kids and become popular in your own right while politely ignoring her and then over time she will be attracted to you and want to be your friend.

All the indicators that search engines use to gauge popularity, relevance and authority are the same key performance indicators (kpi’s) you should be using in your own business to judge how well you are attracting and building an audience. If you do these things well the less you will need to rank well in search and the better you will.

To be able to be interesting enough to your clients and architecture and design industry for them to engage with your site, return to your site and link to your site you need to create content that is interesting and educational.

Determine what will appeal to your audience. Here are a few examples; case studies, white papers, ebooks, blog articles, tutorials, and interviews with industry thought leaders.

Solve Problems

What information can you provide to your audience that will solve or help the problems they are facing? It doesn’t have to even have to be directly related to a service or product you offer, it can just be related tangentially or a periphery issue.

It may not create a sale straight away but it’s not meant to, the objective is to set your company apart as the authority on the topic.

Some good questions to ask yourself and your team are what questions do we regularly get asked by clients? Record some phone conversations or look at past email strings, there is possibly a wealth of information there. If you have a sales team, speak to them, what questions do they get asked, what resources would they like both for themselves and as a sale tool.

Sometimes the internal stakeholders are too invested in the problems of the business and find it hard to step into the needs of their audience. Everything sounds like a bit like a sales pitch with the objective of solving the companies’ problems not the audiences. This needs to be overcome and it’s worth getting some consulting from an external content strategist to get a better perspective.

Next article I will show you exactly where to start and give you a step by step guide on how to get the basis of an inbound marketing campaign set up for your site.

The Journey to a Systems Approach

The Problem.

There I was, knowing I needed an internet strategy, knowing I needed to do fortnightly newsletters, knowing I needed to add more products on the website, have more blog articles, more Youtube videos. The list just went on and on.

Every day and I’d have great new ideas for the website and everyday I would just think, “Well, there’s no point. I’ve got no time to do these things.”

Virtual Assistants

The obvious answer is get help, but how to find affordable staff on a tight budget when you’re completely flat out? Furthermore, if I could find affordable staff how would I find the time to write systems so I can train them to do these tasks for me?

Not only that, I would have to find time to write systems to things that I’m not yet doing and haven’t yet learned how to do. Today, in my businesses, I do have time. I’m not overworked. There are systems in place and there is a way I got there.


The Search

There must be a solution. It wasn’t just a matter of me working harder. I needed to learn how to leverage my time so that I could achieve all these things. And not just achieve them once but achieve them on an ongoing basis so we could deliver a consistent message and reap the benefits of engaging with our market.

Today, in my businesses, I do have time. I’m not overworked. There are systems in place and there is a way I got there.

I started reading books on efficiency. Some old favorites like “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” and “The Emyth

I listened to some podcasts. John Jonas was one of them from ReplaceMyself. And he talked about his inspiration from Tim Ferris in his 4-hour work week book. He talked about creating systems and automation. And this automation did not necessarily have to be a machine. That automation could be people. You could train people to do things and they could do them for you.

This was all great but I thought, “Where was I going to find the time to train people? How was I going to train people?” Some of the things I didn’t have time to do I didn’t yet know how to do.!

Getting Things Done CoverI continued my search and found “Getting Things Done” This one was a game changer. The main premise of that book was not keeping all the information in your RAM (relating the RAM of a computer to the memory in your brain) and that every idea you had, you had to write it down. And not just write it down, but have it in a systemised category or folder or whatever it was. He described them as buckets, different buckets of lists that have a priority and if one doesn’t need to be attended to today then it didn’t need to be thought about

I read that book and actually implemented that pretty close to his model. And I still run that today, so every time I think of something I need to remember at a future date, it gets written down. It goes in my “bucket” I call Tasks IN. And every morning, the following morning, I go through my Tasks IN and either put it into a Tasks Action with a date that needs to be done with a date so that it’s prioritised or if I can do it in under 2 minutes, I do it then or if it’s not something I can do now but perhaps when I look at it later, like “learn to surf”, then it goes in the Someday Maybe file which is actually a name that he coined.

Within a few weeks I had myself organised. My next task was to find some staff and train them. Some of the things I wanted them to do, I didn’t know how to do myself. And that was the quandary – how could I train people to do things that I didn’t know? So there was a challenge.

The Solution

I hired a number of people at once as I thought that if I hired a few people (3 or 4 at one stage) for the same job then I could compare them and the best would keep the job. I was employing through the OnlineJobs website which is a Filipino outsource website. Because the wage was really a lot less than Australia, I was able to afford to hire a few at once to test.

The work that came back wasn’t great. But I was able to test their communication skills and test who I wanted to work with and who I didn’t. I was able to keep some staff and know that they could be trained and they would be reliable and diligent. But I wasn’t able to say, “Do SEO on my website.” It wasn’t as simple as that.

Staff Training

I had to change my mindset. What I can outsource? What tasks do I have today can I give to someone else? And having a VA there, it’s in the back of my mind, “I’ve got to find work for this person.” I was able to start finding small admin tasks and before long start to change my habits and start to delegate. If something came up like I had to go through my emails, update a database or do user testing on the website, I was starting to pass along to one of my VA’s. Having some success with that, I was starting to free up some of my time.

As I write this I realise that I have not written a process for over 6 months and this is the real magic.

Some Success

I discovered the biggest leverage point were the recurring tasks that I had to do weekly or fortnightly like invoicing, approving wholesale customers, after sales email support, posting blog posts.

Before long I had shifted a little bit off my plate, that small bit of leverage did give me some time to write systems. Still not enough time, but some and the more it started to work for me the more confidence I had to just bite the bullet at times and just say well, “Some things are just going to have to slide. We just won’t do those this week or this fortnight and I’ll create the systems for them.”

The best way I found to write a system was to actually do the tasks myself and document it. It would take 2-3 times as long that way, but if done well it may be the last time I have to do that particular task. For me I use word and copy and paste screen shots into MS Paint and then crop and highlight and then copy and paste into word.

Then I email it to one of my VA’s and they upload it into dokuwiki. It takes a bit longer to upload it to dokuwiki because of the screen shots I use (hence why I have someone else do it) But once in dokuwiki it is very easy for me to make edits. The beauty of a wiki is that it can have a navigational structure like a website and makes it very easy to find things. For a while we had an “instructions procedures” folder with word docs in it, but this became cumbersome as it grew so the dokuwiki was a great way to get these organized.


As I write this I realise that I have not written a process for over 6 months and this is the real magic. Once I had found trusted and reliable VA’s and let them cut their teeth on some simple admin tasks and graduate to following more detailed processes I grew in confidence with them. I was able to say “I want to you to learn how to do this and then write a procedure on it” As an example, we recently did some client work that included a online product catalogue. Once implemented I asked my VA John to write a process for it.

And the process he wrote was great, I reviewed it only superficially, but I know it worked because we are able to refer it to a new employee as a training manual and they were able to implement without much assistance. And to top it off we were able to deliver this process to our client as a pdf instruction manual that their internal team were very impressed with. And I was even more impressed because I didn’t get support phone calls asking me questions on how to update the catalogue.

How to Create Architecture and Design Content So Google and Visitors Love You | 02

Last week we looked at the bare basics. I hope everyone reading this now has Google Analytics installed. Now we will take this up to the next level and create the bare basics of a content platform to please search engines and your visitors to achieve a win-win for both.

This platform will act as a crucial foundation for all other content to be built on, and as the design-build audience will know the importance of a strong foundation.

Lovable Puppy

Natural SEO – How to Help Google Find Your Site

Google is one of the smartest companies in the world, but they have still not mastered mind reading. Your content does need to be formatted in a particular way so that the search algorithm can easily recognise what your site is about. In particular the keywords used in your copy need to be the language of the people that are searching for them.

This does not mean making every second word the keyword you want to rank for, but needs to be a natural prose with synonyms and related words that is written primarily for your customer, but in a way the search engines can understand also. Title Tags, meta descriptions, alt tags and image names are all important elements of the recipe and are all very much common sense. Here are a couple of resources for further reading:

These tasks do take time to implement in a conscientious and methodical fashion, however if you can get the original keyword research right and create a strong system and process, the rest can be mostly automated.

Content is King. No Wonder it is So Hard

Content is King, it is also perhaps one of the most challenging parts of your site. Content can come in a few forms, while predominantly text and images, audio and video are growing in popularity and effectiveness.

A big challenge with content is that it is hard to outsource entirely, you can contract people with technical skills and even industry skills, but no one understands your business like you. At the end of the day it is the business owner or at least senior staff member that has to get the knowledge they have about the business documented.

I see a huge reluctance to do this from a lot of the companies I have worked with so the good news is if you are prepared to do it you will be a step ahead of most of the competition. There are some short cuts. You can dictate it to a recording device on your phone while you drive, or speak to your webcam and record a video of yourself.

It doesn’t have to be production ready, it just needs to get out of your head and into some digital format so a professional content marketer can re-purpose it into white papers, blog articles, case studies, email newsletter and even videos.

Going back to the salesman analogy, not taking the time to document your product and industry knowledge is like hiring a salesforce and not telling them about your products or business.

User Testing – It Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

Firstly, errors such as links not working or going to the wrong place, spelling errors, and any of the 1001 things can and will go wrong need to be checked by proof readers.

Company stakeholders also need to have a close look, while perhaps not checking all the more menial tasks that can be outsourced. Once the internal team is happy with the site and feel it is production ready then 2-3 people from outside the organisation need to be given some example tasks that real customers would be trying to achieve and see how they handle it.

There are a number of very economical options. offers an online service where you can choose your target market and create a customised test specific to your business, then they send you the video and results in an hour or so.

You can do it yourself with a simple handy cam and some simple instructions from the pioneer of usability Steve Krug. Here are a couple of articles summarizing his user testing process he uses in his books.

Advanced Digital Strategy For Architect Design industry

So far we have covered the bare basics. If you have all these boxes ticked then you have a strong online representation of your brand and you should be getting some search traffic from keywords with low competition like your brand name or a development you were involved in. Most other traffic however will need to be generated from offline activities such as advertising and promotion.

The term Minimim Viable Product (MVP) has been made famous by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup” That’s now what you have, your website is a MVP. It is production ready but will need ongoing maintenance and improvements.

Some of the team may be starting to take some pride and ownership of the site and it is tempting to invest more into the site and make it the best site in the world. I believe at this stage it is better to put resources into getting more visitors. Once you have a minimum viable audience and are starting to see some return on investment then you can revisit the website and focus on optimisation and tweak the content and design to make the best experience for your customers.

The exception for this is if your already have a strong brand presence in the market. For example, your brand name is already entrenched in the marketplace, but you have just been slow to uptake a digital strategy and bring your website up to current technology.

Using Google analytics you can check if you are getting more than 100 customers on average per day. If you are getting that much traffic already from reputation alone then you can take your site to the next level and read How to Make Architect-Design Websites Convert Vistors to Leads Through Good Design before dedicating resources to getting more traffic.

If you have under 100 customers per day then hence forth to How to Get Visitors to Your Website. Inbound Marketing for Architect Design Industry.