Myers Barnes Blog

Has Your Builder Website Gone Responsive?

Categories: New Home Sales Management Training, New Home Sales Marketing | Posted: December 9, 2014

I was sitting with a builder not long ago and a sales professional was talking with a couple. I overheard this couple mention that they had difficulty seeing the website on their smartphones.

The sales associate pulled up the company’s website on her laptop and turned it to show the homebuyers. She clicked through the site to shows the couple the various options in home designs and floor plans.

What happened when this couple left and wanted to look at the site again, on their mobile devices? Most likely, they didn’t attempt to look at your site unless they were in front of a computer. And that limits the ease of connecting with you.

Approximately 35% of your site’s views coming from a mobile device. Whether they’re checking you out on the smartphones permanently attached to their hands, or browsing on the tablets or laptops, today’s consumers rely on mobile technology for everything—including choosing a homebuilder. Since 2010, the number of Web searches done on a mobile device has increased 400%. And it’s going to keep going up.

According to BDX, 67% of people surveyed said a mobile-friendly website has a positive influence on their decision to purchase.

Have you designed your website to be Responsive? Responsive is a method of developing a site that is completely flexible regardless of device. Rather than detecting a specific browser type or device type, the website automatically orientates itself based on the screen size of the device. If you haven’t yet made this change to your site, stop now and take a look at it on your smartphone.

Can you read that tiny type? How fast did the images download? If you were your customer, would you be patient enough to work through these issues? Or would you find someone who better understood your mobile needs?

Make sure every page of your website has a call to action. Suggest your site visitor contact your online sales counselor, download a floor plan, request a brochure, or schedule an appointment. Make it easy for them to ask a question and find what they need, whether they’re looking at your site on a full screen or a miniature one.

With so much on the line, the question isn’t why should a homebuilder create a Responsive website, but why the heck haven’t you done it yet?

What’s Fit to Print? Print Ads and Collateral for Today’s Homebuilder

Categories: New Home Sales Management Training, New Home Sales Marketing | Posted: November 25, 2014

Before the tsunami-like surge of the Web, homebuilders spent a large portion of their advertising budget on print—both ads and collateral materials. But that seems ancient compared to our 21st century culture of online searching.

According to the National Association of Realtors’ research, 90% of homebuyers use the Internet in their home search. Compare that to 27% who look at newspaper ads and 18% who browse through home books or magazines. While it’s sad to see the decline of print media, you shouldn’t be throwing your marketing dollars in a direction that delivers a much lower ROI than online advertising.

When you’re evaluating your advertising options, you need to consider the cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions. With subscriptions and readership down, paid advertising is declining. So, how does this media stay afloat? The print ad rates go up. So, you’re spending more money to reach fewer people.

Let’s look at this example:
A half-page ad in a home book might cost $1,100 for one month. The ad rep tells you that they print 50,000 copies. That doesn’t matter. How many copies are actually picked up and read versus left on the rack and discarded? Let’s say that 50% are picked up by homebuyers—and that’s generous. More than half of those free publications that are picked up generate no interest whatsoever—the browser is killing time in a restaurant or in line at the grocery store. So, of the 25,000 “readers”, maybe 1,000 are actually looking for a home. Maybe. And how many are truly looking for a new home or a homebuilder? Even fewer. You’ve paid $1,100 to reach 25,000 readers, not buyers. Your CPM is $44.00.

Now, look at Zillow or Trulia, two of the top referral sites for homebuilders. You can pay $500 to advertise on the site for one month, but you’re hitting a market of active homebuyers. Remember, 90% of them are searching here, versus 18% who are looking in those home magazines. Your CPM is not only much lower, but the conversion rate is much higher—two numbers you need to be looking at!

Now, look at your collateral materials. There was a time when you invested tens of thousands of dollars in creating a beautiful, glossy brochure. You handed it out wherever you could. How many do you think ended up in the trash?

Today’s buyers don’t want clutter. They carry around a smartphone or tablet so they can have everything they need at their fingertips. They will look at your website, and download floorplans, elevations, and price lists. When they email you asking for a brochure, they expect a pdf, not something snail-mailed.

Don’t hand them paper. You’ll appear out of touch with the digital age. Sure, keep some on hand for those people who rebuff technology, but save the money and the trees by limiting your print advertising expenses.

How have you changed your approach to print advertising and collateral since digital technology has become so dominant? I’m interested in your experience, so please share!

The Smart Use of Real Estate Sites for Homebuilders

Categories: New Home Sales Marketing, New Home Sales Training | Posted: November 11, 2014

When searching for a high-ticket item—like buying a new home—your sales prospects are doing their homework. Not only is it their single biggest investment, but something they will, literally, live with for many years.

Information is everywhere—not necessarily good or reliable, but plenty of it. The majority of homebuyers start their new home search online. They’re browsing, checking out options and available properties, in the convenience and interruption-free anonymity of the cyberworld.

So, you need to be where they’re starting their search—on reputable sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Homes.com. Homebuyers place high confidence in these referral sites, so you’re aligning your brand with an influential media source.

These real estate sites offer local advertising opportunities. You have the chance to put your brand out there, right in front of your potential homebuyers! And your ad is digital (i.e., interactive), not just one image, so you can do a lot with a small space. Check out these examples of builder ads on Zillow.com.

If you’re listing your new homes on Realtor.com, you should also be using BDX (Builders Design Experience) to enhance your listings with a brand-building ad. Using this resource, you can target your advertising message to the homebuyer at specific stages in the home search process—casual browsing to ready to buy. Tailor your presentation to the mindset of the lead, whether you nurture or move in strong.

Referral sites for real estate present an exceptional builder advertising tool, both for your homes and your brand. If you’re not including this valuable media buy in your marketing budget, go back and recalculate!

If you’ve used sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Homes.com, what results have you experienced? Did you advertise or just post listings? Share your experience so others can benefit from your wisdom!

How to Maximize Your PPC Investment

Categories: New Home Sales Marketing, New Home Sales Training | Posted: October 28, 2014

I’ve heard homebuilders say that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a waste of money. “People don’t read those,” they say, and “It runs up a big bill fast.”

The first comment just isn’t accurate. When done correctly, using strong keywords that are relevant to an organic search, statistics show that people see them and click through to the website. Not only that, but you can expect your brand awareness to increase as much as 63% and your traffic to grow 300%.

Once these prospects click through, it’s up to your website to pull them closer and make the presentation. The ad is the bait, not the closer.

As far as the cost of PPC advertising, it can indeed become costly—if you’re not paying attention. You should set a daily budget and monitor the metrics. Look at the click-thru rate (CTR), unique visitors, and conversion rate of those inquiries. If you’re not seeing encouraging numbers, look at the keywords you’re buying. Maybe you need to be more specific. For example, instead of “new homes in South Carolina”, go for “new homes in Charleston” or even “custom homes in Charleston”. Think about your customers. What are they looking for? The more you can tie your keywords to their interests, the better your return on your PPC investment.

Matt Riley, of Royal Oaks Homes in Raleigh, NC, told me he considers PPC advertising as important as SEO when it comes to online marketing. He likes the flexibility and speed of PPC advertising. “It allows you to instantly turn the faucet on by buying the words.”

In other words, launch a short-term campaign, maybe aligned with opening a new community or promoting a time-sensitive event. Use PPC as a stealth strike on your pinpointed target during a given period. As Matt says, turn the faucet on. Just don’t leaving it running so that you have control of your expense.

And always, always, always measure the results. Monitor your metrics, folks!

PPC should be included in your content marketing strategy. Apply the same approach to your PPC ads as you do with your other online content. For example, if you’re using Facebook, buy PPC ads on that social media site.

Here’s a great article that lists 26 important PPC tools, as recommended by 20 PPC experts—and they’re free (the tools, not the experts)!

What has been your experience with PPC? Do you have advice for other homebuilders? This is an important conversation, so let’s keep it going!

Monitor Your Metrics: What the Numbers Can Tell You

Categories: New Home Sales, New Home Sales Training | Posted: October 14, 2014

If I were to ask you about your conversion rates, what could you tell me? Do you know how many online leads came in your door? What percentage of your sales was jump-started by your Online Sales Counselor? What pages of your site have the most unique visitors (and I don’t mean “unusual”, but the number of total visitors, not actual visits)? How many people are accessing your mobile site?

We have so many tools to help us measure the success of individual sales and marketing efforts, but far too many are being ignored. You study those sales figures, but how do you know what contributes to success (or failure) if you’re not analyzing the steps that lead you there? If you want to sell more homes, you need to monitor your metrics with extreme vigilance.

Start with your leads.

Where do prospects come from? It can be hard to measure because people receive so many marketing messages in a day that they might not realize what actually prompted them to contact you. Maybe they saw a sign somewhere and then looked at your website. Or a friend mentioned your name in passing—but is that a referral?

You can, however, measure the leads coming through your website, walking through your door, and calling on the phone. How many Realtors contact you each week? What’s the conversion rate with Realtors? How does that compare with the conversion rate for online leads? Does any particular referral source stand out? If so, not only do you need to keep cultivating that one (because competitors can sneak in any time and impinge on that loyalty), but also look at where you can develop other referral sources.

Study your website traffic.

You can see where people are clicking through on your site, where they linger, and where they exit. How many views are your videos getting? Which models get the most views? Which seem to be ignored? And what does all of this information tell you?

These are all important metrics for understanding the effectiveness of your site, as well as knowing where you need to place more emphasis. If, for example, your blog isn’t getting enough traffic but your videos are being seen, maybe you should look at the content you’re posting on your blog. Are you linking your videos to your blogs? Your site optimization should include pathways for the user to click through from one page to another. Embed links to take them from one place to another. For example, if you mention a community in a blog, embed a link to that page. If you have a blog on a specific topic—e.g., financing—be sure you link it to and from other pages that mention “financing”. In this way, you fill them up with useful information and they stay on your site, and come back again.

You invest in your sales and marketing. If you want to maximize the return on investment, monitor your metrics. Don’t let another week pass by without spending an hour or two looking at what happened in the past week, month, and quarter. You’ll discover it is time well spent.

Usability Testing Tells You Whether Your Website is Great or Just “Good Enough”

Categories: New Home Sales, New Home Sales Training | Posted: September 30, 2014

Your builder website is your most important marketing tool. Period.

Consider these statistics:
• 92% of homebuyers search for their new home using digital media.
• 76% say they drove by a home after seeing it online.
• 62% do a walk-through of a home they first viewed online.

With buyers placing so much emphasis on the online search, shouldn’t you be sure you’re making a powerful impression here? The best way to be sure that you’re communicating the message you want in a website that’s user-friendly is to conduct usability testing.

I’ve seen many builders treat their websites like a necessary evil, doing just enough to create an online presence. And they expect great things. “Here’s who we are and some photos of the homes we build. Let us build yours.”

Does that sound like a unique and impactful presentation? Sure, I’ve simplified it (maybe…maybe not), but then again, there are plenty of sites out there that are merely adequate. Is that how you want your prospects to perceive you? Adequate?

I recently chatted with Steve Shoemaker of Ideal Homes in Norman, Oklahoma. He recommends Usertesting.com. This company conducts usability testing on websites to see how site visitors actually use your website. It’s like blind-shopping your website, using pre-screened testers who match your demographic. They offer objective feedback that will help you fine-tune your builder website so that it keeps your prospects on the site. Steve says you want to make sure your site is relevant and friendly—in the user’s eyes, not necessarily yours. You can add all the bells and whistles, but if the user can’t find what they want, they’re gone—and so is the lead.

With a marketing tool as important as your website, don’t settle for good enough. Be great!

Content Marketing Done Right

Categories: New Home Sales, New Home Sales Marketing | Posted: September 16, 2014

Earlier in this blog, I discussed the importance of content marketing done right on a homebuilder’s website. Posting quality content and doing it frequently will keep your website fresh and dynamic. That’s the key to improving your SEO and encouraging site visitors to keep coming back.

But I’ve had some questions from homebuilders about the definition of “quality content”, so I want to address some of the most common inquiries here.

What should I post?

Keep it relevant. Put yourself in the homebuyer’s head. What do they need and want to know—about the homebuying and building process, your company, and how you can make it a pleasurable experience. Stop selling and start educating. Enlighten them about what they should expect, what to look for, and issues they might not have considered yet. Great content should be useful, enjoyable, and inspired!

Post photos, videos, articles, guides, and other content that supports your desired position as the trusted advisor. Include photos and videos that give them a “tour” of your expertise—from planning and design through construction. Create an animated video that shows the construction by taking a series of photos from the same perspective and editing them together. Interview a homeowner to talk about the experience or offer a home tour. Provide useful information about the communities and the areas they’re in—things to do and see, history, great places to eat and shop, and a calendar of local events. Not only will you help them envision themselves in this location, but you show yourself to be part of the community.

How often should I update my site?

At LEAST once a week. Stop groaning. I don’t mean you have to do an extensive update every week. Upload new photos or a blog post. Spend a few minutes recording a short video—an interview with a sales associate or homeowner, a home tour, or even a trip through a local garden center to get landscaping ideas. Don’t over-complicate this step. Encourage your team to contribute their ideas and experiences.

What has the most influence on SEO: words, pictures, blogs, links, or videos?

While all of these components factor in to having great content, the words you use in your content will give you the most influence with the search engines. Keywords are indexed by these search engines. They match up keyword searches with those sites that have matching keywords, used frequently and in a relevant way.

Remember, however, that content marketing done right reflects the full range of web content. Be diverse. Be relevant. And be consistent!

Where Should Your Marketing Dollars Go?

Categories: New Home Sales, New Home Sales Marketing | Posted: September 2, 2014

My last post offered suggestions for determining a reasonable marketing budget. Now, I’d like to give you some thoughts on where to effectively allocate those funds.

I recently spoke with Matt Riley, of Royal Oaks Homes in Raleigh, NC. Matt echoed the key principles when it comes to using marketing dollars to get the best return on investment.

Absolutely at the top of the list should be your website. You need good content that is constantly updated so you not only get the attention of search engines (for SEO), but you also give site visitors a reason to keep coming back.

Matt redesigns Royal Oaks Homes’ builder website every year. Total makeover. “Think of your builder website like a new community or breaking out a new model,” he said.

He populates the site with great content, including an ever-growing library of videos. “If you’re not doing videos, you might as well not be doing anything,” Matt told me. And he’s right. With the ease of creating a video—like a virtual tour or homeowner interview—there’s no excuse for not posting new videos every week.

Also make sure your builder website is designed for use on mobile devices, which is the common first approach. Your website developer can create a mobile app to make it even easier for your customers and prospects to communicate with you.

Make the most of your website investment by using QR codes on your signage and promotional materials. Buyers are savvy enough to know that scanning the QR code (with a free app) directs visitors to the relevant page on your site.

Matt’s second marketing tool is pay per click (PPC) advertising. Drill down the keywords to be as specific as possible. Instead of “new homes”, add the city or county, so that your PPC dollars are generating useful leads in your market area.

Third, use the referral sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Homes.com. It costs you nothing but time, and your new homes listings will be seen by active homebuyers. Big bang for no buck.

Social media is another under-utilized marketing tool. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest each offer you an easy way to stay connected with your market segment. In fact, social media is so important that you should hire a professional to maintain your presence on the social media networks, rather than assign the responsibility to a staff person as an administrative duty.

For special events, like grand openings and community awareness campaigns, allocate some money to online banner ads. Not a lot, but don’t overlook this section in your marketing plan.

Gone are the days of printing expensive, glossy brochures. While I agree you need collateral material, use your marketing investment here for digital brochures that can be viewed online—on laptops, iPads, and smartphones. Customers prefer less paper clutter, and you’ll be conserving a valuable natural resource.

And finally, there’s print advertising. Matt Riley says he doesn’t do any print. Period. He doesn’t see an appreciable return on investment in print media.

The most important consideration when planning how to distribute your marketing budget is to be clear on how your customers shop for a new home. Where do they go for information? What are the strongest influences? You need a plan that hits your target from different directions, not just one.

Creating and budgeting for a marketing plan is much more complex than what I have outlined here. Use this as a guideline. I’ll be discussing each marketing opportunity in more detail in future posts.

Hello world!

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: August 27, 2014

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

How Big is Your Marketing Budget?

Categories: New Home Sales Training | Posted: August 19, 2014

Homebuilders frequently ask me how much I think they should allocate for their marketing budget. I find that, if they’re asking, they’re probably not spending enough—or on the right things.

One percent of your gross revenue—GROSS, not net—is a good rule of thumb. Now, if you’re grossing $10 million a year, then your marketing budget should be $100,000. Before you squirm, let me share a little story with you.

Bob prayed over and over to win the lottery, but nothing happened. Finally, he bellowed, “Lord, why have You forsaken me?”

Thunder clapped in the sky. A voice boomed down from the heavens and declared, “Help me out here, Bob. Buy a ticket, will you?”

So, if you’re going to complain that your marketing isn’t getting you where you need to be, then maybe you’re not taking the steps you need to make it happen.

Start by allocating a sufficient amount in your budget. One percent is a good figure. If you’re trying to expand—into a new market, for example—you might need to increase the figure. If you have some brand building to do—maybe the competition has gotten tougher—you should also consider a more aggressive marketing budget.

Remember, marketing is not an expense. An expense refers to spending money that delivers no appreciable return. An investment generates value. Consider your marketing budget like any other investment in your business. Leverage its power to grow your new home sales by generating more interest, inquiries, leads, and referrals that you can convert into revenue.

Then determine how to use the marketing funds to get the maximum return on investment. But that’s the subject for another post. Stay tuned….