Weaving a Better Web

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What can I do to drive traffic to my communities?

The evolution of the Internet and the current real estate market have drastically changed the way home building companies drive traffic to their communities.  Print advertising and a few well placed directional signs, a builder’s marketing staples in the past, are no longer as effective as they once were.

If you’re looking for cost effective answers, you ought to try the Internet. That’s what homebuyers are doing. More than 80% of homebuyers will use the Internet during part of their search. Savvy home builders are finding it a cost effective way to reach home lookers and convert them to home buyers.

The Internet has evolved greatly over the past 10 years. It is no longer enough to just have a Web site. The standard brochure-ware home builder Web site now is too dated to engage site visitors, let alone attract search engines.  Home buyers are looking for cool Web sites that include interactive elements of Web 2.0; videos, home tours and flash components are good places to start.  Additionally, fresh content is a must to keep buyers coming back to the site to see what is new.  The search engines love fresh content, too, and they’ll send even more home buyers your way.  Consider adding a news section or a blog for this purpose.

But just an interactive Web site is no longer enough. In this new online world, it is more important than ever to create a comprehensive strategic Internet marketing program that also contains the following tactics:

  • Online advertising and free listing sites
  • Email marketing and lead management
  • Social media, reputation management, public relations

All of these tactics combined cost a fraction of what a typical print focused budget would have been in the past.  Gone are the days of single $10,000 print ads – home builders have found they can have an extremely effective and successful marketing budget for a fraction of what it used to be.

Online advertising is a great source of referrals and incoming links for your Web site.  When analyzing where to place banner ads and listings, review ROI by calculating cost per lead through your Web site traffic analytics and the advertiser’s tracking reports.  Some sites work best with simple listings, while others only get great results with flash banner ads. Research the right products to buy.  Make sure to compare your tracking report to the report sent to you from the advertiser to compare the similarities and differences.  If you are bidding on Search Engine PPC (pay per click) advertising words, be sure you are bidding on the words being searched for and that are driving the right traffic.  Don’t overlook free listing sites such as Trulia, Zillow and Real Bird.  Although there is time involved to register on the sites and load your data, once your agents learn how to work with the sites, the results are well worth it.

Email marketing and lead management are great ways to stay in touch with your contacts and leads, give your team another reason to keep in touch with their prospects, and convert leads and prospects into home buyers.  Using an opt-in email marketing program is a necessity in today’s world of spam, and it is even better if your potential home buyers register for your email program through your Web site.  With home buyers becoming more Internet proficient and having access to more information, the frequency and quality of communication with your prospects is critical. Make sure you have a system in place to respond to emails and contact forms submitted by potential buyers. Lack of a response could cause that once interested buyer to remove you and your communities from their list of possible places to live.  Builders who are not effective in this area will continue to lose leads.

Social media, reputation management, and public relations provide an interactive forum for home builders to relate to buyers, increase key words and enhance search engine optimization. A strong social media program can even drown out negative online placements while playing a key role in reputation management.

It may be helpful to think of social media as an extension of traditional public relations. Successful home builders who want to stay in front of print subscribers have always employed strong public relations tactics. When a press release results in a newspaper article, it is seen as a third party endorsement of the home builder or community. Proactive public relations costs a fraction of print advertising and can be 10 times as effective in reaching the right target audience, creating impressions and building brand.

Now apply that concept to the Internet. Home builders and developers who find ways to use social bookmarking (Digg, Delicious), Social Networking (Active Rain, FaceBook), blogs (Word Press, Blogger), video (YouTube) and more are reaching buyers in new ways.   Social media optimization is a strong tool, and it’s not just for teenagers anymore.  It can provide third party credibility online, just as public relations does in print.

As you put information about your company all over the Internet, you may feel you’re weaving a tangled web. E-mails link to your Web site, which links to a blog, which sends you to a networking site, which hosts an online ad, which links back to your Web site. And the links go on. In this case, weaving a tangled web is a good thing. After all, the larger and more intricate your web, the more, um, buyers you’re likely to catch.

This article originally appeared as the Ask a MIRM column in the NAHB Sales + Marketing Ideas magazine March/April 2009 issue. Sales + Marketing Ideas is member benefit of NAHB’s National Sales and Marketing Council (NSMC). Find out how to join NSMC to receive this publication.