Digital Marketing for Hong Kong Interior Designers 

Design and marketing once went hand-in-hand, but are they now at loggerheads?  As online marketing rapidly becomes the only type of marketing that matters some in the design industry are finding themselves left behind as their traditional graphic skills no longer translate automatically into success
For interior designers in Hong Kong growing competition means the need to market their services constantly, and today that means online first, mobile first, and social as mandatory.

From residential interiors to office and hotel styling the range of services provided by the Interior Designers of Hong Kong is huge.

While a slowdown in luxury residential investment in the region may have affected some parts of the industry the development of new styles of business culture has continued to generate a need for a new generation of corporate workspace interior designers.  Influenced by the practices of booming online giants such as LinkedIn and Facebook many more companies in more traditional industries are turning to open plan, heavily designed office arrangements that merge home comforts, luxury more associated with 5-star hotels, and ergonomic working conveniences that millennials demands from their employers.

“The trend now is to create working environments that support an agile style of working,” said Marcus Foley, founder of leading HK design firm PDM International  when talking to hongkongindesign.com.

This trend means more office renovations, and more thought going into the development of new office spaces as relocations and new builds are conducted. Demand and competition for design skills is still strong in Hong Kong with over 370 employment opportunities placed just within one month at HK JobsDB.

Commercial interior design for retail outlets continues to demand cutting-edge thinking. As increasing rents for shops in all districts of Hong Kong, from malls in residential estates to upmarket arcades in business districts, drives a high turnover, there is correspondingly a demand for design as new tenants move into new store locations.

Colourful bowls in Cat Street market
Hotel cafe interior design
IFC Mall as an example of Commercial Retail Interior Design

973 interior designers in Hong Kong included in study

Using publicly available information 973 companies or individuals working as interior designers in HK were identified.  This includes everything from small local shops, independant designers as sole-proprietors, individuals with that function in larger organisations, HK offices of regional or international design firms, as well as HK headquartered regional companies.

973 Interior Designers in HK included in study

%

377 different websites identified

Using Websites for Online Marketing is not new for HK Interior Designers

  • .com 55.2% 55.2%
  • .hk 39.8% 39.8%
  • Others 5.0% 5.0%
Most designers websites are .com followed closely by .hk websites. Although .hk domain names for websites were available in the 90s they were expensive and not well recognised.

Most interior designers, as with other companies in Hong Kong stuck with the traditional “.com” for their online presence. Today the use of a .hk does more clearly indicate to customers and other viewers that this business is rooted in the region, and with the congestion of the .com namespace making it difficult to find a particular name available more and more are switching to .hk although .com remains the leader.

In the last five years 34 new .com websites were added to the list but in the same period the .hk growth was only 13 domains.

A few designers started their websites before 2000 but the majority are about 10 years old.

The oldest registered website in the study that is still being used by the same design company is that of Herbert Un Architects, but that is a slightly unfair example as the domain was registered when Un was still located in Canada.  The first .HK domain was used by Fusion Design Limited which has operated in Hong Kong continuously since the 90s. Of the newer domains used by interior designers the newest in our study is New City Design of Tsuen Wan who started their website in Oct 2016.

Highly competitive: Google 1st page for Interior Designer in HK

With big bucks on the line for both residential and commercial design work, the competition is fierce in the industry and that is reflected in the results seen when searching on Google.  Few people today would purchase an expensive service without first Googling either to find vendors or to do due-diligence on providers who have been suggested via other avenues.  That means that being visible in Google searches is vital.  And although many people search for new and unique queries, the 15% “new query” figure hasn’t changed for many years; there are still some simple and obvious searches that people make which constitute the bulk.  The phrase “interior designer” is an obvious one and according to Google Keyword Planner is searched between 100 and 1,000 times a month in Hong Kong

Searches on Google.Com.HK for Interior Designer bring up a list of advertisements in the first four places, followed by a map of companies.

Together these take up all the space above the fold and show little in the way of informative websites.

The results are different on mobile and if the search is for “interior designer Hong Kong”, but similiarly they do not list many choices of actual designers.  In fact the resources listed are mostly lists, guides and directories.

With all the space taken up by Wikipedia, the SCMP, JobsDB and similar sites there is only space for a few actual designers in the top 10 natural or organic results.  The search results vary day-to-day and are also affected by how much Google may be personalising results based on information it holds on the searchers’ history and interests.

Actual designers who are listed in many cases include hoo, by YC Chen for residential interiors, and COMODO covering residential and commercial properties.

Design vs Function: Websites using Flash

Over 300 websites of HK interior designers were examined to see what sort of technologies are being used for their website, and to determine if they are in keeping with the modern demands of SEO and social media marketing

Modern technologies

  • WordPress 19% 19%
  • Mobile friendly 27% 27%
Technology moves on and what was once a normal way of building websites may no longer be desirable, let alone optimal, just a few years later. This is a problem for all types of businesses that need to keep up to date, but those in the design industry are often more heavily impacted.

Outdated technologies

  • Using Flash 12% 12%
  • Dreamweaver 3% 3%
Large clear images are essential the any designer’s online portfolio and in the early days of the web animating and displaying images smoothly was easiest done with Flash technology.  Websites were also built with the Dreamweaver software as a matter of course.  None of this is true in today’s online world, and while old Dreamweaver sites still load and are viewable, at least on desktops, the same is no longer true of Flash-based ones.

Website designers are moving towards using CMS software instead of static software such as Dreamweaver, and replacing Flash with modern HTML5 technologies that, amoung other things, let websites more easily display correctly on mobile devices.

Social Media in Hong Kong

Facebook is by far the largest social media network in Hong Kong, and it reaches almost all adults in some way or another.

Facebook Users in Hong Kong

%

Percentage of HK Population using Facebook

It would seem reasonable therefore that any business hoping to connect with customers in Hong Kong should have a Facebook presence, but this is not the case.

%

Interior Designers with Facebook Pages as their primary online presence

%

Interior Design Websites with correct Facebook open graph tags for enhanced sharing

%

Interior Design Websites that list their Facebook pages

Facebook engagement on Interior Designer websites

  • None 49% 49%
  • 1 – 25 32% 32%
  • 26 – 50 8% 8%
  • 51 – 75 2% 2%
  • 76 – 100 2% 2%
  • 101 + 7% 7%
Very few interior design websites in Hong kong have been able to get facebook likes or shares of the website itself. About half have no such Facebook engagement at all while a third have just a handful at 25 or less.

Some websites are able to gain substantial amounts of Facebook activity though, and these include Boss Design Ltd, Red Dot Design Ltd and All Star Design Ltd.

Although WeChat and WhatsApp are popular tools in Hong Kong which are moving into the social media space, and are certainly common ways to for companies to offer contact opportunities they do not seem to have made any inroads into the interior design industry.  Among the over 300 websites examined a mere three have WhatsApp mentioned on the home page, while WeChat was only found on a little more at five.

Although designers may, as everybody in Hong Kong, be using these messengers both personally and professionally, they don’t yet advertise these channels on their website.

Google wants to know your business

And that is true whether you want them to or not. By scraping public sources of information from directories to company listings, Google builds up a database of all organisations and the details of them, except for the very smallest.

Whether a company is one of those small ones who needs to be listed in Google, or a larger one with an entry that may not be entirely accurate, it is a basic first step to online marketing to get a Knowledge Box or business record via the Google My Business system.

The knowledge box that appears to the right of the search result listings is a very prominent thing on the page.

When people search for a company by name they expect to see this, and often take the information as being official.  Therefore the accuracy of this data should be something that companies manage for quality and correctness.

Getting the basics of the contact information correct can increase visits not just to a website, but to the business directly via driving instructions and telephone number information.  When viewed on mobile these boxes include buttons to directly dial the telephone number listed.
As well as basic contact information, opening hours, address and images the business Knowledge Boxes also sometimes include review information.  Whether from Google’s own review system, or from Facebook or other recognised review systems, the results are displayed prominently, and a less than 5-star rating should be cause for concern.

Often, as in this case for Axis Design International Limited, the “bad” review seems to be a misunderstanding and should be resolved by the company.  This can only be done if the business has claimed ownership of the Google business listing which is often not the case among Hong Kong Interior Designers.

973 Interior Designers in HK included in study

%

557 have Knowledge Boxes

%

303 Knowledge Boxes are unclaimed

It would be a quick win for the 303 interior designers who have not claimed their knowledge boxes to do so, it only takes a few minutes and a Google Account in most cases.  While the over 400 businesses who do not have a Knowledge Box at all could use Google My business to create one with only a little more effort.

Is bigger better for a website?

Websites come in all sizes as well as styles, but making a large website involves effort and expense so not all are going to be very large. Smaller websites can still function as an online brochure to provide a basic portfolio and contact information.  Larger sites may give more opportunities for promotion and gain more engagement on search engines, but only if they are filled with high quality textual information.

  • Blank 7% 7%
  • 1 – 25 29% 29%
  • 26 – 50 11% 11%
  • 51 – 75 8% 8%
  • 76 – 100 6% 6%
  • 101 + 40% 40%
Large websites with over 100 pages are common with 40% of the websites examined being this size.  Some sites such as that for Woosang Design achieve the size by incorporating large numbers of portfolio pieces.

While companies such as HASSELL which are HK offices of international companies can gather news and project updates from all over the world to expand their websites.

For the smaller companies though this is often difficult and more modest website of less than 25 pages still is working successfully for almost a third of companies.

The few websites where no pages are visible though are opportunities missed that those companies could rectify by putting up a simple brochure.

While a few large companies have been able to gain significant advantages in terms of large websites, good social engagement and the like there are still many interior designers in HK who are not making the most of their online digital marketing oppotunities.

Very noticable is the fact that few companies have claimed their automatically generated Google Business listings, or have created or promote Facebook business Pages.  These two short comings mean that business are not able to be visible, and to engage with potential clients.

Considering that these steps are low effort and with no direct costs it is suprising to see such little uptake.  That may reflect a lack of awareness either of online marketing in general, or its potential to boost business.

Like most HK industries the majority of new customers are introduced as referals by old customers, and with this taken as the norm there may be less interest in other forms of marketing.

Colourful bowls in Cat Street market

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