Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Sixteen percent. If you follow technology news, that’s a number you’ve seen and heard a lot lately.
Sixteen percent. If you follow technology news, that’s a number you’ve seen and heard a lot lately. For those scratching their heads, right now the most comprehensive Internet search engine covers no more than 16% of the available Internet. According to NEC Research Institute, the author of the annual report, 12 months ago the most comprehensive Internet search engine covered 34% of the available information.
|Colony’s home page quickly leads users to information about every home in every one of the builder’s active communities.
The Internet is living up to its advance billing as the world’s biggest information warehouse. Surfers can type in a few key search words and be served up 476 or 4760 matching sites. This is good news and bad - depending on your perspective. To the searcher, the wealth of information resources is a blessing. To the information provider, the very richness of the Internet’s information may be less wonderful.
To understand for yourself, pick any search engine and type in home builder. Yahoo reports 1060 sites for home builders. Narrow your search; seek home builders in Georgia. That winnows the number to less than 100. While certainly more manageable than 1060, it’s still hard to stand out in a field that crowded. Colony Homes knew all too well the very real problem of Internet information proliferation. Something of an Internet veteran by industry standards, Colony launched its first web site in 1997. The problem was, few users found the site. To get there, they had to know the exact URL address, and few consumers remember much beyond www.
|Drop-down menus allow browsers to target their search based on geographic area, home type and floor plan. Maps of Colony’s major market areas pinpoint community locations.|
Colony management believed that the future of the Internet offers more opportunity than the past to the builder with the right site and the right content. To position itself as that builder, Colony Homes invested in the complete renovation and repositioning of its web site, www.colonyhomes.com.
Their commitment and cash infusion to redesign the site is paying off in the form of increased traffic and sales. According to Linda Romano, vice president of sales and marketing for the Woodstock, Ga.-based builder, the new site, now linked to 10 major Internet search engines, experienced over 2600 user sessions in April, the first month it went live. "Our original site was very basic and not connected to any search engines," Romano says. "You would have had to know the URL address to find it."
The revamped site now includes information on every floor plan offered by Colony as well as every active community in Georgia and North Carolina; an interactive contact page; an employment opportunity board; warranty, financing and company information.
Navigation is simple. From the home page, browsers can get information on every home in every community where Colony is building. Included are floor plans, front elevations, and plenty of four-color photography. Frames on each page make it easy for users to move throughout the site. An interactive page allows users to e-mail questions and comments to representatives (e-mail address, name and photograph) in the various sales centers or at company headquarters. In addition, the site features a preferred links page that allows browsers to get to other places on the web.
The rebuilt site has produced dramatic results: in the month of June, there were 32,230 views and 3450 user sessions, a 9% increase over May. The average time spent at the Colony site is 10 minutes, compared to the industry average of seven minutes, and the builder has averaged six sales a month, directly from Internet registrations, since April.
Colony’s director of marketing, Andrea Anker, worked closely with the site development company, Atlanta-based Newton Park, to not only make the site user-friendly but develop several processes for tracking users. Each month, Colony can access a 30-page, on-line report that contains detailed user information.
About 73% of Colony customers are first-time buyers aged 25 to 39. Romano believes that in the next 10 years, this customer base will rely more and more on the Internet as opposed to traditional promotional ventures.
"Market research shows that our buyers want to study information even before visiting our sales offices. The new web site gives them that opportunity in a very comprehensive way."
Prospective buyers who do their research on-line generally come to Colony pre-qualified, Romano adds. Users can e-mail a community directly for more information, rather than going through the corporate marketing department or some other central source.
"Our salespeople can walk prospects through floor plans on-line," she says. "We’ve had customers do an entire sale over the phone and meet the sales representative for the first time when they come in to sign the contract," she says.
One recent feature added to Colony’s site is a calculator that compares the cost of renting to owning.