That still leaves the other half on dial-up. Giving them a poor experience by using excessive graphics is like telling them to park their browser on some other builder’s site. Even if 80% of your potential customers had broadband, would you really want to give the other 20% a poor first impression of your brand?
From Browser to Buyer
By the time most people arrive at a model home, they are motivated 80% by emotion and 20% by reason. But when buyers first arrive at a builder’s site, they’re more likely to be operating 80% on reason and 20% on emotion.
Their “reason” side wants to find out whether you can build a home they want in a location they like for a price they find agreeable. A Web site’s goals should be to answer their questions, start a dialog with them and inspire them to visit a model. Only then will they become emotionally attached to a home design.
Excessive graphics get in the way of the above goals. Yes, visitors want clear floor plans, attractive elevations and lots of photos, but they want them now. You need to create an attractive, appealing home page that welcomes visitors but doesn’t slow them down.
How Fast Is Fast?
Many usability experts suggest a maximum download delay for your home page of 10 seconds on a dial-up modem. After that, people will start to bail out. To see how your site stacks up, try this test:
Delete your cache — the temporary Internet files automatically collected — on your PC. Here’s how: Open Internet Explorer, click on Tools and then Internet Options. Then click the Delete Files button under the General tab. Without any temporary Internet files in your cache, you’ll be able to duplicate a first-time Web site visitor’s experience.
Now use your modem to dial up to the Internet. Note your connection speed. With my DSL link, downloads can be blindingly fast. When I dial up with my modem (a 56K model), I usually connect at somewhere between 36K and 44K.
Now, go to your Web site and find the phone number and driving directions to the neighborhood closest to your home. Were you satisfied with the time it took?
I tried this test on 15 of the top 25 U.S. home builders’ sites. It took 27 seconds, on average, just to load the navigation buttons. There were exceptions, though. The graphics on the best sites showed real homes and real people — not superfluous images that had nothing to do with the builder’s product. There were no Flash introductions or sound. Virtual tours and Flash floor plans were available, but I wasn’t forced to navigate through them.
Would those elements demo well and look good over my DSL line? Yes. Would they help drive physical traffic and increase sales? You need to think hard about that one.
Less Is Much More
Many sales and marketing managers and most Web site designers are visual, so there’s a lot of pressure to add graphics to a site. Let’s face it — good-looking graphics demo well, and the user experience is great on a high-resolution monitor connected to a high-speed Internet connection.
However, a 56K modem downloads information at a rate of 5K per second. Therefore, you should cap your Web site size at 50K, right? Not necessarily. There’s no universal size limit for home builders’ Web sites.
Your best bet is to conduct surveys or focus groups to ask prospects and customers what they look for in a builder’s site. If you’ve got the budget for it, you can use a consultant to help test your site with real users in a lab. Or you can follow the instructions above to delete your cache and then test your Web site’s accessibility on a dial-up modem.
Once you’ve optimized your site (see the tips in Eight Ways to Drive Internet Leads and Sales), measure visitor traffic and calculate the ratio of visitors to leads. This will show you that less is in fact more, much more. Remember — even people in green cars buy homes.
Blair Kuhnen is the owner of Lux Solutions, a Fort Worth, TX-based consulting firm serving the home building industry by providing Internet related sales and marketing solutions. He can be reached at 817-923-4026 or via e-mail.
Earlier Articles in This Series
To read, "An Effective Purchase Order System Enhances Efficiency," Part 8 of this series, published on July 21, click here.
To read, "Don’t Fix New Software If It Isn’t Broken," Part 9 of this series, published on November 24, click here.
To read, "Beware Software Consultants Who Are Salespeople in Disguise," Part 10 of this series, published on December 8, click here.
To read, "Eight Ways to Drive Internet Leads and Sales," Part 11 of this series, published on January 12, click here.
- To read, “Know Your Technology Needs Before You Invest,” Part 1 of this series, published April 14, click here.
- To read, “Strategic Planning Software Can Help Focus Your Business Model,” Part 2 of this series, published April 21, click here.
- To read, “Does Your Planning Software Match Your Project's Sophistication?” Part 3 of this series, published May 5, click here.
- To read, “Don't Put the CAD Before Your Product,” Part 4 of this series, published May 26, click here.
- To read, “Manage Prospects and Buyers More Efficiently With Technology,” Part 5 of this series, published June 9, click here.
- To read, "Automate Your Selection and Change Order Processes,” Part 6 of this series, published on June 23, click here.
- To read, “Scheduling Software Can Improve Your Cycle Time,” Part 7 of this series, published on July 7, click here.
Want more information about using technology in your business?
NAHB’s Business Management Department offers a variety of online resources to help you run your business better and more profitably. Click Business Management Tools for articles about human resources, financial management, sales, production, technology, customer service and other business-related topics. In addition, visit the NAHB Software Users Network Discussion Forum (SUN) to ask technology consultants and other builders what they think of various software packages and applications.
BuilderBooks.com also offers a variety of publications about computer technology. To view or purchase these publications online, click here.
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