By the first year or two of this decade, many home builders had soured on the Internet. The fraud case surrounding Enron and the wave of dot-com crashes in the late '90s widely discredited the Web as a business model. The building industry even had its own homegrown dot-bomb: the ill-fated BuildNet.
Now that the Enron case is almost closed and the hangover from the tech crash has receded, it's a perfect time for builders to refocus on their Web sites.
Many of the 10 points outlined in this “tune-up” don't have to cost a lot of money. Smaller builders with limited budgets can easily add simple text sections supported by clip art to post loan information, explain the buying process, and fully detail the case for buying a new home.
It's worth doing, especially since the National Association of Realtors reports that 77 percent of home shoppers used the Internet to search for a home in 2005, a figure that is sure to increase in the years ahead, if it hasn't already. In addition, experts say that the average user spends six to eight minutes on a builder Web site shopping for new homes.
The question we pose to the industry, then, is this: If the majority of home shoppers are using the Internet to look for a new home, why do so many builder Web sites miss the mark?
Even among big builders, many company sites are hard to navigate, lack consistent maps and directions, and often don't even offer easy-to-find contact phone numbers and e-mail addresses. It should never take several clicks to find something as simple as a corporate phone number.
Sure, Toll Brothers won a Webby award this year from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for its Web site (www.tollbrothers.com), and John Laing Homes (www.johnlainghomes.com) won a Gold Award at The Nationals for its Home-finding ToolKit, which lets home shoppers draw up a list of all the features they'd like to have in their new homes. And a review of the Web sites of the top 50 companies on the BUILDER 100 indicates that most big builders have workable “find a home” sections that link home shoppers to information about new communities within a few clicks. But despite these successes, there's still a lot of room for improvement, especially among smaller builders, many of whom just throw up basic text with limited graphics and don't offer much more than a contact page and a few photos of the builder's favorite projects.
“People want pictures, floor plans, and prices,” says Blair Kuhnen, a consultant with Realty InfoLinks, a Dallas-based Web marketing firm for home builders. Kuhnen advises builders to make sure their content is complete and accurate. This means that prices, directions, phone numbers, floor plans, elevations, and basic contact information must be easy to find.
“Nothing turns away Web traffic faster than poor usability and incomplete content,” Kuhnen says. For builders who think they are missing opportunities to connect with viewers of their sites, Kuhnen suggests permission marketing, a technique in which the builder gives away something for free in exchange for some detailed information about the buyer. A good example is the Arthur Rutenberg Homes site (www.arhomes.com), where shoppers are asked to fill out a form in exchange for a free copy of the fall 2006 issue of the builder's Legendary Homes magazine.
Builders who scorn the Web should look again. The Internet lives on and is stronger than ever. There are now more than 1 billion Internet users worldwide, according to www.internetworldstats.com, more than 227 million of them in North America. If you want to reach the buying public, especially in this softer market, you need a viable Web site. Use these 10 tips to start tuning yours up.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.