Like many home builders, Wayne Homes has had a blog for a couple years. And like many other builders, Wayne’s team didn’t feel they were quite getting the results they wanted. So earlier this year, Wayne’s blog got a makeover: a new layout, new content, and a new strategy.
The fully redesigned blog launched in July, and in the first 30 days, referral traffic from the blog to Wayne’s website was up by more than 2,000% compared to the same month last year, says Paula Huggett, client services director at the Bokka Group, which started overseeing Wayne’s blog earlier this year. "Going into our second month, the referral traffic is now trending by over 4,000% compared to July and August 2011." What’s more, she says, is that website visitors that come in through the blog "view more pages, have a lower bounce rate, and stay on the website longer than those coming from Facebook."
Wayne isn’t the only one. According to a recent report by HubSpot, business-to-customer companies that blog generate 88% more leads each month than their non-blogging peers. HubSpot also found that companies with blogs have 55% more website visitors than those who don’t.
"The ability to attract traffic is huge," says Carol Flammer, managing partner at mRelevance, a public relations firm that focuses on Web presence. "We can use a blog to increase traffic by 25%," she says, adding that "because a blog is more conversational and written in first person, it’s seen as more credible," than traditional marketing materials.
Of course, as Wayne’s experience illustrates, not all blogs are created equal. "A blog needs to be built right," Flammer says. When it comes to a blog’s content, "right" will mean different things for different builders, but we turned to the experts for some tips every builder can use to better leverage its blog.
1. Find the right platform. While using one of the many free blogging platforms may seem like the obvious choice, "a lot of the free sites don’t provide the SEO [search engine optimization] controls that you need," Flammer says. She recommends creating a self-posted WordPress blog, as opposed to using the free WordPress platform. "On a free site, you could have a good-looking blog in a few hours, but you won’t get the benefits of the SEO because a free platform keeps all the SEO for itself. The free WordPress shares none. You don’t have control over the title tags or over your metadata. They’re optimizing this platform as a whole, rather than for the individual blogs. There’s a lot of other noise out there."
2. Come up with a content roadmap. "The biggest thing builders should look at is an overall content strategy," says Huggett. "I think you’ll find that the majority of builders not having success are not using an overall strategy." While that strategy should be customized for each individual builder, she says, a good place to start is focusing on what messages are most relevant to your distinct audience. For Wayne, the content strategy revolves around engaging buyers in one of three phases of the home-buying cycle: prospects browsing what homes are available; customers who have decided to buy and are trying to decide who to build with; and those who have committed to buying a Wayne home but haven’t settled on what plan or what options to choose. Wayne then tailors its blog posts to answer questions that might arise at one of these three stages.
3. Optimize keywords. "Builders need to develop a strategy for keywords," advises Flammer. "Sit down and create lists for three buckets: First, the area a company builds in. Second, what they build, such as single-family, green homes, or entry-level homes. Third, differentiators, such as green or active adult. Then start to combine them, and you get things like, 'active adult homes in Alpharetta.'"
Once you have a list of possibilities, Huggett recommends honing in on which keywords will be most effective by using a Keyword Effectiveness Index, which ranks keywords by popularity and competition; the higher a keyword ranks, the more it is searched and the less competition it has in search results. "There are a lot more people competing with ‘new homes Ohio’ than with ‘craftsman homes Ohio,’ but we know from looking at an index that it’s highly demanded but not [a phrase] companies use a lot," she says.
4. Look at the format. For Wayne Homes, the biggest boost to its blog's performance came from updating its format, Huggett says. "We redesigned what the blog looked like and how it functions, and that’s when we saw those enormous increases in engagement." Previously, Wayne’s blog had been housed on a free template, and "it wasn’t a template selected for conversion engagement." Now, Wayne’s blog is packed with opportunities for visitors to engage—through video, subscribing to the blog, and an invitation to follow Wayne on Facebook. Many of the blog posts include large photos, and the first page alone features blurbs for several posts. "We want a big, strong visual element, and 12 or 15 blog posts on a page, so people can skim through and choose what they want to read."
5. Blog often. According to HubSpot data, companies with more than 51 blog articles average a 77% lift in median monthly leads compared to those with fewer than 51 posts. Hubspot also found that among companies that blog, the percentage that acquired a customer through their blog rose steadily with increased frequency of posts.
"If you’re a small builder, you’re not adding a lot of new pages to your website," Flammer says. "You might be updating, but you’re not adding more pages. If you blog, search engines index that as a new page on your site. Every time you post you have the opportunity to attract the search engine with a different set of keywords."
Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.