Create an Internet site and shoppers will come. But turning browsers into buyers is another matter altogether.
Brad Bombardiere of website consultant Reality Concepts recently offered some tips to home builders on how to create, manage, and optimize websites that help sell houses in a seminar sponsored by Builder Partnerships.
Get the Basics Right
Visitors to production home builders’ sites want to know three things first: "Where are you building, what does it cost, and what is my house going to look like?" said Bombardiere.
"And they need to be able to get the answers to those questions quickly," he added. Websites that offer that information quickly and in an easy-to-absorb format are more successful.
Analytics show customers are all about clicking on floor plans and checking out options. They want to know exactly where the neighborhoods are and what schools, highways, and shopping opportunities are nearby. And they want directions that are easy to print or upload onto a smart phone. Getting visitors out to the communities is key because those that see, buy, Bombardiere says.
By contrast, virtual tours are less important to production-home buyers. "Putting a huge amount of money into that particular area has not been productive," Bombardiere said. Alternatives might include Youtube videos, which are cheaper to produce and add to the site.
Shoppers need to be told more than the price of the house; they need to be able to figure out if they can afford it. That means explaining what the monthly payment on a $200,000 home might be as well as comparing it to renting a similar home or apartment.
"When the [first-time] 25- to 35-year-old buyer looks at a price, some don’t really understand what the full price means. $249,000 is more than they will ever see in a lump sum," he said.
The "About the Builder" page becomes important to internet shoppers after they have decided that they like the builder’s price, location, and product.
The website should also offer information about qualifying for loans and what down payments might be, to assuage any fears customers might have that they wouldn’t be able to get financing.
Custom builder websites are a different animal.
Opposite rules apply to buyers looking to have a custom home built. For those buyers, big, beautiful photography of the builder’s past work is paramount. Plus they want to see testimonials from happy customers and details about who the builder is, says Bombardiere.
They should have several different numbers to contact the builder in person. And all contacts should be given the VIP treatment. The emphasis should be on providing "your home, your way."
Hold Tight to Leads
Bombardiere suggests that websites include buttons for shoppers to make appointments to see the homes. Those buttons should lead to forms that capture contact information, including e-mail addresses as well as telephone numbers. There should be one master telephone number to the builder that is easy to read and everywhere on the site where customers can call to get a "VIP tour."
And once the leads are generated, don’t drop them, he says. They should go to a central clearing house where they are sent to agents via e-mail, text, or telephone, to make sure that they are responded to quickly and followed up with often.
Bombardiere suggests that builders can offer customers "pay to play" for providing contact information by offering things like a free refrigerator if the client closes on a home in return for filling out a form.
"You give me something, I give you something," he said.
Move Beyond Your Site
Bombardiere says that print advertising doesn’t work well unless it’s linked with some sort of article that appears to be an objective piece about the builder. Radio advertising isn’t effective for what it costs, he says, and television works if it’s linked with some sort of programming that is informative to the buyer, but it’s expensive.
"The Internet still is most effective," he said.
He suggested Google adwords as an effective Internet advertising tool.
Social media, too has its place, but if you are using Facebook make sure that viewers don’t have to leave Facebook to see your advertisement.
"Twitter helps with search engine optimization and brand recognition and costs very little," Bombardiere said.
Blogging helps as well, he said, suggesting that bloggers use tools such as Ping-o-Matic or Pingoat to notify search engines when a blog has been updated.
"It tells the whole world that you’ve just blogged and the whole world comes to see what you just blogged."
Teresa Burney is a senior editor at Builder magazine.