One of the least known but best ways of finding an architects practice in the UK is to use the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Clients Advisory Service. In particular I often recommend their online database of chartered architects practices to homeowners who want to find a suitable architect.
You could easily pop in your county, select a few other relevant search terms and get a concise list of chartered architects in your local area with the specialisms you were looking for, all laid out with links to further information, and their websites, all on view.
But something has happened to the database.
Whilst many organisations are seeking to make their processes more accessible to the public, particularly when it comes to marketing online, the RIBA seems to have made their online database less accessible and discouraged visitors from connecting to architects websites.
Why am I making such an accusation?
The reason why I say this is that in a four month period from December 08, referrals from the RIBA database to Barefoot & Gilles Website have dwindled from around 5% of traffic to just a couple a month.
You might think that this would be something to do with the recession, but there is no let up in enquiries, indeed there is no letup in visits to our website either. Over the same period traffic to our website has doubled.
So what has happened to the database? I thought I’d go and check it out, from the perspective of a potential client.
The RIBA bought the www.architecture.com domain name many years ago, and is concentrating on directing traffic through this portal. It also underwent a restructuring of its Members Services last autumn which included relocating the database entries and changing the directory user interface.
To get to the UK Directory of RIBA Chartered Practices has always been difficult and it still is – you need to find the ‘use an architect’ link on www.architecture.com, and then ‘find an architect’ on the next link, and then click on ‘UK Directory of RIBA Chartered Practices’ which brings up some search terms.
Surely one of the main reasons people visit the RIBA website is to find an architect?
Anyway, if I was looking for an Architect in Essex who specialised in Care Homes I might enter ‘Essex’ in the ‘County’ box and ‘Nursing Homes and Hospices’ in the ‘Project Sectors’ box (if I could be bothered to scroll down over 50 search terms in a box only 4 high – why not use a dropdown menu?)
A list of nine practices comes up. Previously this list would all be on one page, with links to ‘Practice Information’ and ‘Project Information’ in pop up boxes, together with contact information and the practice website all on view on the list. So, you see all the architects on one page, pick up phone numbers if you wanted to, could check addresses, and most importantly click through to the extra information if you wanted to, including the practice website, all from the first results page.
Instead of a relatively simple procedure, the nine practices are now spread out over three pages, interspersed with acres of unhelpful data (simply lists of all the criteria that each practice satisfies. Not just the ones you enter in the search terms, ALL of them).
To find useful information you have to click ‘further information’ below each four inch long entry and then at last the contact information appears. Want to see practice’s projects? Instead of being able to click through to this direct before, you’ll have to scroll down another page to find the link. Here all projects the practice has entered are listed.
Again, not just the ones relevant to my ‘Nursing Homes and Hospices’ search terms as before, ALL the projects the architect has entered into the database for publication, which may be as many as ten. To see if any of these projects are relevant to my search I’ll have to scroll through, read the detail and make my own mind up.
So why are we not getting as many clickthroughs from the RIBA to our website? Because visitors have to wade through at least one page of irrelevant data and click another link before the website link appears.
My feeling is that the new database has taken essentially the same information and represented it in a way that is MORE difficult to access, LESS strategic and MORE confusing.
Are you getting leads from the RIBA Database – have your click rates plummeted?
Have you used the RIBA Database to find an architect – what do you think of it?