What makes a great Web site? Surely you will want to follow good Web design and usability principles, but you also want marketing results. When I was at Travelocity, marketing results were easily measured in terms of airline bookings and other reservations. When I moved to Ameritrade, we looked at accounts being opened and trading volume. Homebuilders can look at leads, dialogues, and physical traffic. But how can you design your site to yield the most leads, dialogues, and physical traffic to communities?
First, agree among your team about priorities. You can't be all things for all users. Which Web site users do you want to serve without fail? For most builders, these are home shoppers. If the purpose of your Web site is to serve the needs of home shoppers, then design your site to meet their goals. Ask users what they are trying to accomplish. If you ask them, they will likely tell you a limited number of things. High on the list is viewing floorplans, elevations, and prices. They also want to learn about your communities and farther down the list many want to learn about your company. Few Web site users are seeking to be entertained or to be slowed down. They want answers and they want them now.
The User Experience
Improve your Web site user experience starting with speed, accuracy, and ease of use. Here are a few proven methods to improve your Web site:
Make your pages fast. Visitors leave Web sites when pages are slow to load or they are forced to navigate through content not directly related to their goals. Rich media can create excitement and interest. It can be used to create compelling interactive sales tools, but rich media on your homepage (e.g., Flash introductions) will drive away more people than it drives in. Use rich media to help enrich your content or create excitement, but not as a barrier for Web site visitors to cross. Also, make your pages lighter by compressing graphics and avoid using graphics for displaying textual information.
Ensure your content is up-to-date. If you have the resources to intergrate your pricing with your accounting system, do so. Most builders do not have this luxury, but you can let local marketing folks control and update your content. Make your administrative system easy to use. Test it in the same way you would test the consumer facing Web site. If it's not quick and easy to update your plans and pricing, accuracy will be lost.
Make the site easy for visitors to use. Start with your visitors' goals and how they decide what to buy. Focus on location, product, and price. This means the page that lists your communities should have both a map and a table of information so visitors can compare location, product, and price without digging into each community page. It means your plans are arranged in tables, often with pictures. Test your site using simple visitor scenarios. Make sure this is part of your vendor's plan for developing your new website.
If you are successful in these first three items and your content is good, consumers are likely to have a good experience and accomplish their goals. Now, layer in your goals: driving, leads, physical traffic, and physical traffic.
Leads, Dialogues, and Physical Traffic
All of the following will substantially improve leads and dialogues that will lead to improved qualified physical traffic.
Make it easy for users to ask a question and start a dialogue. Encourage it. Here's one of my favorite examples of encouraging dialogue: Royce Builders in Houston, TX has a novel approach to encouraging dialogue: You can Talk to "The Fox" -
According to Gary Latz, VP Marketing, for Royce Builders, "When we established the position, it made sense to merchandise it strongly. Making the person a focus of the new service seemed natural at the time."
If you are not yet using a toll free number on your Web site, it's time to start. At Royce, you can find the toll free number on every page. You are not calling the Internet Department, you are calling Stephanie. "For some buyers it is probably comforting to know that they are communicating with a real person. However, as an organization grows larger, it becomes impossible to handle all leads with one person." said Latz.
Integrate your advertising and promotions on-line to drive physical traffic and leads. Simply replicating your off-line promotions for use on the Web can give a big boost to interest in your Web site. Placing your effective promotions online will encourage visitors to return, to become leads, and to show up as physical traffic at your models.
Coax Website visitors to give their personal information so you can start a dialogue. Give something away (e.g., a FREE brochure, a book of plans, a Video/DVD, a first time homebuyer guide). For a few dollars, you can convert a browser into a lead.
Allow users to interact and customize their experience (e.g., e-brochures, my favorites) on your Web site. Click here to try out D.R. Horton's custom e-brochure link (the green button on the right). Users can create a customized electronic brochure without effort. The builder not only generates a lead, but learns about the users' preferences (e.g., specific plans, quick delivery).
Add coming soon community subscriptions to facilitate successful launches and phase releases. Let consumers sign up for your exclusive pre-sales club. In strong homebuilding markets you can rapidly build your database to feed your marketing system. Not only can you have more successful events, but you will be able to manage more of them as you move your pre-sales activities online.
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