Carefully designed websites such as this one are easy to navigate and draw viewers in with plentiful images and colors. (Click here for a full-page view.)
Carefully designed websites such as this one are easy to navigate and draw viewers in with plentiful images and colors. (Click here for a full-page view.)

A well-designed website can be a builder’s best marketing tool that in some cases drives up to 50 percent of a company’s new-home sales. But many building firms fall far short of their online marketing goals. What is it about the most successful sites that make them sales-generating machines? BUILDER senior editor Jennifer Goodman talks with online marketing expert Mike Lyon about the essential ingredients needed to catch visitors’ attention, keep them on the site, and turn them into buyers.

Why is good Web design so important to buyers?
I think of it like this: What kind of an impression would a builder make if people searching for a new home show up at his model home and he has no furniture, a small desk in a dimly lit corner, and weeds in the flower beds? When they ask for a brochure, a salesperson hands them a crinkly piece of paper with the prices scribbled on it. Needless to say, I’m sure these prospects won’t be returning any time soon. 

Sadly, this is what’s happening on many builders’ websites. Buyers are turned off by a home page with little information, complicated navigation, “Under Construction” pages, or outdated design. While the brick-and-mortar model home used to be the only place prospects could gather info, now the website is one of the essential sources for information. We need to treat it as such.

What are the biggest mistakes that builders make with their website design?
I see a fundamental flaw in how many builders’ websites are positioned. Many builders think it is a great marketing tool, or the place to display listings or offer information about the company. These are all good things, of course, but the reality is that first and foremost a builder’s website should be viewed as a virtual model home.

Think about it: Builders spend a tremendous amount of money on the details of their model homes—making sure every aspect demonstrates their quality and craftsmanship. But many builders’ websites do not accurately reflect this level of attention to detail. They’re poorly designed, outdated, and garner little attention from leadership—both in time and in dollars. This is a critical mistake, considering that the online presence may be the first impression for many prospects. If builders don’t put more thought and effort into its content, it will be the ONLY impression.

More than 90% of new-home buyers start their home search online, so it is highly likely that the website will be their first impression of a builder.

This website is simple, clear, and easy to read, says online marketing expert Mike Lyon. (Click here for a full-page view.)
This website is simple, clear, and easy to read, says online marketing expert Mike Lyon. (Click here for a full-page view.)

How can the problem be fixed? 
Many building executives won’t want to hear the answer, because it involves spending more time and money: Assign the website as someone’s core responsibility to help make it a destination. Incorporate features like responsive, easy-to-navigate design, beautiful photography, and lots of video. And don’t forget to make sure the design works as well on a smartphone or tablet as it does on a laptop. What are some quick and easy ways builders can spruce up their sites for the spring selling season?
A new design can take some time, but the easiest way to refresh your site is to hire a professional photographer to take some really nice photos. No more pictures from the iPhone taken by salespeople; invest in your photography. Get great pictures of completed homes, interiors, communities, and amenities. This is what 98% of home buyers want to see on your site. Give them great photos—and lots of them.

What are the three things that every building company should include on its website?
Here’s my list, in order of priority:
—Awesome photography, videos, and product and community info, because that’s what every home buyer wants and needs to see.
—Easy and clear navigation. A site visitor who has to work too hard to find what he or she wants will click off and go elsewhere.
—Distinct calls to action that generate leads. Don’t assume the prospect will follow through. Tell them to “click here” or “contact us” or “download” something. Fresh and new content with great calls to action will give them a reason to connect with you and keep coming back.

Mike Lyon is the author of Browsers to Buyers: Proven Strategies for Selling New Homes Online. He uses his real-world knowledge of online marketing and sales to help builders nationwide generate and convert more leads. Click here for more information.