It’s not a message you expect to hear from a website design and development professional.
“Change isn’t always good,” Brad Bombardiere, of Reality Concepts, tells the audience gathered to hear his thoughts on the topic of home builder website redesign sponsored by Builder Partnerships.
Yet it might be the first thing a builder decides to do if website numbers start declining.
Not so fast, said Bombardiere. A website redesign can energize the company by giving employees a creative focus and outlet, and it might create newer features for clients. But there can be some severe consequences as well:
It’s expensive, time consuming, could cause the site to drop off of search engines, registrations can fall, and there might be a drop rather than an improvement in traffic, he said.
“And if it’s too different it can create brand confusion,” said Bombardiere. “Customers will ask, ‘What happened to the old company?’”
Rather than chuck out the old, Bombardiere suggested taking a close look at the details of the site’s traffic, asking what has improved, what has fallen off, who is coming to the site from where, and where they are going when they get there.
“If all the numbers are moving south, consider [creating] a new site,” he said. “If all the numbers are holding or getting better, keep the site.”
But those are very general rules. Taking a deep-dive look at the details of website visitor numbers can offer answers to the questions about what is working and what isn’t on the site, and suggest ways to tweak the site to perform better.
For instance, say a website is attracting more visitors, but the bounce rate—the number of site visitors who show up and immediately leave without looking around—is high.
“It means you have a hole in your funnel,” Bombardiere said. But it matters where the bounced visitors come from. If they were shuttled to the site from advertisements, or coerced or high-jacked there, it’s expected that a lot will bounce off. On the other hand, if they are specifically looking to buy a home and end up on the site organically and leave, then there’s a problem because the visitors didn’t see anything they wanted there.
That might signal that it’s time to look at the site’s landing page and content. Among the things home shoppers are looking for are large photos of completed homes, “especially if you’re a production builder,” says Bombardiere. Visitors tend to spend a lot of time on galleries and floor plans. They also like clickable directions to where you build and inventory lists of homes that are available through quick delivery.
Flashy websites packed with music, fancy graphics, and other moving parts can actually be an enemy of clicks. Those types of bells and whistles often are created through a program called Flash and they don’t work at all on Apple products. So what looks exciting to PC users looks pretty dull to somebody accessing the site via an iPhone or iPad, and they won’t see the things that they are expected to click on. Given the large share of customers using Apple products, this can cause problems.
Mobile devices are also a critical factor to take into consideration, especially as the number of consumers using them to access the Web has been steadily increasing. The smaller screens of mobile devices can make it difficult to navigate a traditional Web page, leaving some builders questioning whether to redesign their sites to better capture mobile audiences. However, rather than redesign the site for the smaller screens, Bombardiere suggests that new sites be made “reactive” so that they can automatically react to the size of the device screen that is accessing it.
“It’s pretty complex; you have to make a choice about what sizes you choose to convert the view to,” he said. “But for 2013 you are going to hear this more: reactive website."
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.