Web Marketing Helps Ease Impact of Home Sales Slump
Relying upon what worked for them best in past market downturns, home builders have been stepping up their advertising in newspapers and print publications but may not be hitting their audience because prospective buyers have shifted decisively to the Internet, Robert Neumann, president and CEO of Customer Velocity, The Woodlands, Texas, told attendees of the Southeast Building Conference in Orlando last month.
“The traditional things aren’t working. New things do,” said Neumann, whose interactive Web site design for Smith Family Homes of Tampa, Fla. earned a Silver Award in The Nationals in 2007. “Almost everybody is doing newspaper advertising, even though they are being told it’s not doing any good for them.”
Sales in Florida have been down roughly 40%, he said, “but folks who have embraced the Internet are down about an average of 20%.”
The Internet today is the first source of leads, according to Neumann, and 84% of consumers say that the Internet is the first place they will look the next time they go to buy a home.
Unlike traditional marketing, in which a seller is looking for a buyer, the Internet is like the Yellow Pages, in which “you’re a buyer looking for a seller,” he said. After they’ve done their research on the Internet, it takes about 90 days for prospects to make up their mind on a purchase.
For a start, Neumann recommended putting listings on the leading online home sale directories: Move, New Home Source, New Home Guide and iNest. “They get so much more traffic, you should be on them,” he said, and it’s worth being on all four because “people tend to go to one directory and stick with it.”
Two of the cheapest ways to get some of the biggest companies to link to your Web site, he suggested, are Craig’s List and Angie’s List. The latter is a consumer guide on who had good experiences with a long list of services, including builders and remodelers. “You can get testimonials from people who feel good about you,” he said, and get a release from them to post their statements on the site. Most of the visitors to the site are women, and they are networkers.
On Craig’s List, builders can put a listing under “Real Estate for Sale.” “Put a direct link from that ad to your Web site,” he said. “You can do multiple links inside of an ad.”
When available, listings on home builders association sites can also help boost traffic on a builder’s Web site.
For those who haven’t used the Internet to sell homes, the Google search engine is the best place to start because it has the easiest tools to use and accounts for the preponderance of searches. Builders can use Google AdWords to buy a sponsored advertising link that appears to the top right of the search results. The advertiser is charged on a per click basis and has flexibility in setting a budget.
“You would be surprised how many people click these ads,” he said. MSN and Yahoo! (formerly Overture) are two other search engines available to advertisers.
Getting Search Engine Results
To optimize the results on the search engine, builders should focus on at least four keywords for their ads, he advised, starting with a specific location, which is the number-one term on searches from prospects. Don’t list “Orlando” as the location, because it is “a large metro area where you can get lost,” when you can list “Winter Park,” a more specific location in the general Orlando area.
“Gated community,” “golf,” “lakeside” and “home builder” are examples of terms that may be relevant. Builders can receive an instant analysis of how successful their keywords will be, and can search for terms in AdWords, which are priced according to their effectiveness. “You need to create a long list of keywords, and variations will cost less and you will get more qualified traffic,” said Neumann.
The name of the game in search results and advertising on the search engines is to come up toward the top of the results listed, he said, but unless a builder is advertising heavily, showing up on the second page of the listings isn’t bad. When designing paid ads for his clients, Neumann said he doesn’t waste their money aiming for first place on the list; “our strategy is to be No. 3 to No. 5.”
Builders should use whatever tool their Web hosting company has to monitor how many hits they are receiving and how many people are coming to the site and viewing each page. Most of these tools are free, and the cost of installing good tracking software runs under $1,000.
Converting Clicks Into Buyers
Once builders succeed in bringing traffic to their sites, their job is to keep them there and to convert clicks into buyers. Builders who complain that they aren’t getting enough qualified leads may need to find a professional to review their site. Before hiring a company for this job, ask to see other sites they have designed and to speak to some of their customers. Also, “ask them how active they are in the industry. Do they understand what you are talking about when you say ‘spec home.’” Builder Web sites, in particular, are extremely detailed and technical, and most ad agencies do not have in-house expertise on the Web.
On average, 1% of Internet visits will convert to a lead, and these leads are at least twice as likely to become a buyer as leads from traditional ads. With good lead management and follow-up, the conversation rate of Internet leads to closings can be as high as 20%, compared to 4% to 5% of people who walk into the sales office, he said.
Information on lead management is available from doyouconvert.com and “Browsers to Buyers” by Mike Lyon.
Among tips for success on a Web site:
- Keep the design simple, with features that are easy to navigate and that provide the information that the visitors are looking for. Floor plans, photos, short movies and virtual tours will help prospects imagine living in the home. Also, provide features that will get them to return to the site. Do not require an e-mail upfront, but ask for one before they leave the site.
- Allow customers to make referrals off the Web site, to send floor plans to their friends and relatives. Give them a tool that will enable them to share with others views of the progress of the construction of the home and what it will look like when it’s finished.
- Ask for the sale. Ask for lots of information, but don’t require it. Personal communication will increase the return rate.