Many builders are still relying on a Google search ranking to drive business to their website. However, now that Google is changing how they rank sites in the search results, it’s becoming harder to rank well in a competitive market, especially for a smaller local builder.
Inbound marketing is helping to bridge the gap between search traffic and leads by creating more visibility for your website and brand online. As your website grows in popularity, you may also be able to achieve a coveted spot on page 1 of Google. This is because Google is now using user behavior as a major factor in where a site ranks. While there are over 200 ranking signals that Google is using to create search results, it’s no question that popular websites tend to rank highly often despite other weak spots in SEO.
A Change in Attitude
At first, the news that in order to be successful in SEO, you’ll need to pay for online ads sounds like it creates more problems than it solves, but actually the opposite is true. Relying only on organic search traffic to drive customers to your business online is missing the bigger picture. In fact, as a new home builder, a homebuyer’s search is the latest point of discovery you want to be pursuing.
New homes and custom homes are aspirational. They’re something that home buyers dream about and plan for long before they commit to a Google search. Instead of hoping that when a homebuyer is ready to buy a new home they somehow discover you during that process, get in front of them while they’re still dreaming about owning a new home so that they start dreaming about owning one of your homes.
This is where online marketing presents an opportunity. Visual ads appear in front of your target audience where they spend time every day: on Facebook, on Pinterest, on other websites they visit in the form of banner ads. Every type of traditional marketing that happens offline can also happen online for a much lower cost and with the ability to track the results. By replacing some of your offline marketing with smart digital marketing, you can save money, extend your reach, and benefit your website’s SEO all at once.
Merging Traditional & Digital
In marketing your business, you typically have four tactics to employ: direct marketing, advertising, sales promotion, and publicity. We’ll show you which online channels you can use to accomplish each of these.
1) Direct Marketing
Offline: snail mail
Online: email, hyper targeted ads, Facebook posts
This is one tactic you can easily go fully digital on. Whether you bought a mailing list or used an opt-in list from a Parade of Homes or open house, your direct mail audience is limited and the cost to reach them is extremely high. Plus, you only reach them once by sending them something in the mail and have no way of understanding the ROI or even the level of engagement from doing so.
With Facebook ads, you can deliver photos of your homes and links to your site directly to just about any audience you can think of. Facebook has partnered with several major data aggregators to allow advertisers the ability to target people in a local area of a certain income level, job industry, household size, and more. Recently, we’ve even been given the ability to target first-time homebuyers with ads.
This is actually a demographic we’ve seen a lot of success with on Facebook, so if you have product under $200K you should definitely be allocating budget for direct marketing on this channel.
We have a client that uses a landing page just for first-time homebuyers that has examples of their floor plans in a certain price range. We create ads on Facebook targeting first-time homebuyers and send them to this page, and sometimes we also post this link to the Facebook page as well to drive additional traffic from there.
They’ve never run this ad for more than $200 in a given month. For $200, you can buy postage to send about 465 pieces of direct mail. Obviously you still have to pay for the design of the mailer, the cost of printing 465 mailers, and envelopes if you’re using those. You’d never know how many people threw the mailers away without looking at them or how many contacted you as a result of seeing the mailer unless you asked everyone that called or emailed if they had seen your mailer.
For $200, a visual ad we ran on Facebook reached 24,771 people in the metro area where our client builds. 1500 of those people visited our client’s website, which was a huge popularity signal to Google. Several of the website visitors contacted the client within 30 days and set up an appointment.
No one in this room can say with any level of certainty how successful their direct mail campaign was. This is an easy area where you can reallocate budget to run successful ads online that can actually be tracked.
Offline: radio, print, television, billboard
Online: Google Adwords, banner ads, Facebook ads, Zillow, Trulia, MLS, etc
In certain markets, many builders still have success advertising on billboards and print ads. However, no one can quantify that success other than to say there is a correlation between the increase in appointments and the advertising effort.
You can quantify the success of an online ad by using landing pages or by looking at referral traffic in Google Analytics to understand how many visitors came to your site through an ad. Unlike billboards and print ads, you can also determine whether the right people are seeing your ads based on how well they engage with your site or how many of them decide to contact you.
Online advertising also allows you to apply additional layers to your marketing to increase your success rate. With the use of retargeting ads, you can essentially release ads that follow a user around the Internet once they’ve visited your site, reminding them to return to the site and continue their home search. You can even tell the ads to only be delivered to people who did not fill out a contact form on their first visit to really hone in your targeting.
3) Sales Promotion
Offline: radio, print, television, direct mail in a shorter time period
Online: Facebook ads in tandem with landing pages
When you’re trying to move inventory, a sales promotion can generate a lot of buzz and help you meet your goals. Facebook ads are an asset in this case because you can reach thousands of people for a couple hundred dollars. Because of the time sensitivity with sales promotions, it’s a good idea to send visitors to a landing page on your site with a contact form so that they can act immediately while they’re still interested.
Landing pages are known for increasing conversions on ads. And, because you know that the only way users can get to the landing page is through the link you share, it helps in tracking the success of your ads.
If you regularly get several thousand monthly visitors, this is a good time to use Facebook’s custom audience tool to deliver ads directly to Facebook users who have visited your site in the last 30 days. Chances are many of them did not convert on their first visit and may be incentivized by your promotion.
Offline: signage, flyers, vehicle wraps, swag at open houses
Online: social media
Social media is a great platform for doing publicity with multiple layers. Where signage, vehicle wraps, and pens with the company logo do a lot to build awareness of the company, they don’t do anything to communicate what the company is actually about and what it’s like to work with you.
Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular platforms for doing social media as a home builder, although Instagram is building momentum as well. Having a daily presence on social media allows you to connect with potential clients in ways you can’t in an offline strategy. For instance, if you’re doing community work or sponsoring a local event, you can broadcast this on social media and start conversations around it.
A photo album showing your team building a home on a show like Extreme Makeover Home Edition along with your personal story about the experience does a lot more for your company’s image than sending a printed newsletter with the same information. The difference is that sharing this information on social media invites people to engage with you by sharing comments or asking questions which you can in turn respond to by “liking” or commenting back.
The same goes for simple updates that you would traditionally send in a newsletter, e-blast, or print article. If you are working on plans for a new development or floor plan, create hype around it by posting on social media asking people to help you come up with a name. Every time someone comments on the post, their friends will see that activity in the newsfeed, which extends your organic reach even further for no cost.
Choosing the right social media channel for your marketing is important. Don’t waste your advertising dollars or time on a channel where you’re not reaching and engaging your target audience. Many people mistakenly promote the idea that it’s best to be on everything, but this isn’t true.
Twitter, for instance, is a channel many homebuilders use with no real idea of what it’s doing for them. As a channel mainly devoted to rapid-fire ideas and conversations around pop culture and news stories, it’s not a channel suited for marketing new homes. In order to be relevant on Twitter, users must post multiple times throughout the day and participate in hashtag topic conversations. We rarely see Twitter bring even ten users to a home builder website in a given month, even for clients who are posting daily.
Instagram is becoming a channel to watch for builders, especially now that it supports promoted posts. However, you will not be able to link to your website in your posts, so this channel may not generate much web traffic. Also consider that the majority of Instagram users are the millennial generation, so unless your clientele includes first-time homebuyers, you might not want to use this channel. Since Instagram is completely photo-driven, users expect to be impressed by the quality of photos you post, so we recommend only sharing professional quality images on this channel.
Facebook seems to be the channel that every home builder can find success on, since it supports photos, reviews, comments, sharing, and lengthier posts than Twitter. Facebook’s advertising platform is also second-to-none when it comes to targeting, and it’s easy to promote your page’s posts to reach more people. Plus, people of all income levels and generations are using Facebook, so you’re sure to reach your target demographic.