By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Since Newport Beach, Calif.-based John Laing Homes launched its redesigned Web site in mid-June, the average number of people who fill out a contact form requesting more information has increased more than 400 percent. The company attributes that increase to the site's new customer-friendly look.
It's a lesson in the value of proper focus. When Laing launched its first Web site three years ago, serving buyers was just part of the equation. One of the company's goals was to go public with a stock offering--not surprising when you realize it was partly owned by Goldman Sachs. One of the Web site's jobs was to attract potential investors, so while it had a feeling of warmth, it was also somewhat staid.
All that changed after the company bought out Goldman Sachs and went private last year. With a public offering out of the picture, Laing decided that the site should be wholly focused on attracting and keeping home buyers. "We want to take time and stress out of the home-buying process, so we changed the site to reflect that," says Bill Probert, executive vice president of sales and marketing.
The new site also reflects a change in the company's sales strategy. With people taking up to a year to buy a home, Probert views selling a home as a dating process. "After the first date, the goal is a second date. After that, you want to find out if they offer what you want."
While Probert admits that getting salespeople to think past next week is an ongoing challenge, the new Web site is focused on keeping prospects coming back until they're ready to buy. The design is informal and friendly. "We want people to see our site as informative and fun," he says.
The content is as deep as the feel is light. Besides a searchable home database, it already includes definitions of house-hunting terms, financial worksheets, move-in checklists, and a printable home-buying roadmap. Probert wants to grow this content into what he calls a Homebuyer University, a forum to educate people of all income levels on how to choose, finance, and purchase a home. It will include an actual curriculum with ties to in-person seminars.
So far, the company has spent $150,000 on the site. With many people searching for homes on the Web, having a good site is a matter of survival. "This is our handshake to the customer," he says. "If we do a good job of conveying our brand, maybe they will come out and see us."