Any portal in a brainstorm
Wednesday 11th July 2012
Online traffic heading in the direction of new homes has plenty of signposts both to guide and confuse. RUPERT BATES speaks to housebuilding’s digital shapers and decision-makers
Housebuilders have often been portrayed as dinosaurs, or at the very least late adopters, when it comes to embracing change and innovation. But the move from the Jurassic period to the digital age has been swift, with plenty more evolution to come.
The digital revolution has impacted on all our lives in many ways. But when it comes to how the new homes industry markets its properties and how
the consumer searches for those homes, is online working? After talking to housebuilders, new-homes agents and property portals, the answer is yes, but with a host of caveats and criticisms.
Banner Homes spends close to £100,000 – out
of an annual advertising budget of close to £1m – on online listings, premium listings and email campaigns through property portals. Do they get value for money?
“It varies from portal to portal, but yes, overall, particularly on those sites which back-link to the Banner website, helping our Google ranking as well as advertising our sites,” says Banner Homes group sales and marketing director Piers Banfield.
The biggest beast in the jungle is Rightmove. Indeed, according to commercial director Miles Shipside it is the seventh most-used website by the British public, behind Facebook, Google, YouTube, eBay, Amazon and Yahoo.
“We look to use our expertise as a major internet brand to the advantage of the new-build developer advertisers; both in terms of tailoring the way developers are able to present themselves in front of the UK’s largest online property audience and
by leveraging the profile of our brand to raise awareness of key industry initiatives which affect
the new-build sector,” says Shipside.
Banfield says Rightmove has a great product
and the most comprehensive property listings, but criticises the portal over pricing and approach.
“Rightmove’s rates are almost seven times those of the next most expensive portal. When comparing the number of leads generated on developments by Rightmove against other portals, Rightmove rarely outnumbers the other leads,” says Banfield, with Rightmove’s leads this year costing Banner about £330 each.
“Each purchaser costs us around £3,000 in advertising in press, online and with signage. Each decent lead from a property portal probably costs around £100 on average.”
In 2010, Banner spent around £73,000 with Rightmove, with the figure reducing to about £10,000 in 2011.
“From a personal perspective I struggle with
the company’s ethos and attitude to its customers. I have always believed that disregarding the opinions and requirements of your customers is not the way to long-term success for any business,” says Banfield, pointing out there is now a wider choice of portals in the market and well as other media to focus on.
Rightmove was asked if criticism from advertisers over their prices was justified, but
did not comment.
Shipside did highlight the portal’s development microsites: “On average, home-hunters spend more time on a development microsite page than on any other Rightmove page.”
Peter Krelle, managing director of Spicerhaart
land & new homes, says Rightmove offers an excellent service and unrivalled brand recognition
in the market. “Whether that gives them the right
to charge at the level they do is a question for another time. We are happy with the platform but not necessarily the price,” says Krelle.
Steve Husband, director of Complete Media Group, estimates the annual digital spend by housebuilders and housing associations is around £120m.
“Rightmove have become arrogant in their approach, and rates have been increased at every opportunity. Reporting has become more blurred
as their performance has not increased,” says Husband. “Ultimately, clients are becoming savvier about what works and, interestingly, agents are the ones stuck in the Rightmove mode. Our approach is to establish ways of measuring return on investment rather than just buying listings.”
Taylor Wimpey, Britain’s second largest housebuilder by volume, annually spends more than £2m on property portals across just over 300 developments. Sales and marketing director Kevin Belsham says they get value for money from the small portals, but believes Rightmove’s prices are unjustified. “But they do give us the most leads.”
Linden Homes declined to answer the question about whether Rightmove’s prices were justified, but championed Linden’s advanced CRM system, Connections, allowing the builder to monitor both cost per lead and cost per reservation.
“The quality of the leads and data we receive varies hugely. An improvement would encourage us to advertise more with the portals,” says Emma Fjaerem, group marketing manager at Linden.
“It is important to maintain a presence on a variety of different media, both off and online,
as we are appealing to a range of potential
buyers. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages. Digital allows us to cut down on production lead times and get a more instant response,” says Fjaerem.
Space & Time Media says Rightmove still takes the largest slice of the advertising cake. “It’s a position that is being eroded as agencies and advertisers look for greater, more-effective value in targeting the same audience across the internet,” says head of digital at Space & Time Jon Clarke.
“Housebuilders are improving their website offerings themselves; mobile- and tablet-friendly sites being the greatest improvement due to the rapid increase in visitors accessing their properties via these platforms. The future is very much more a mobile web,” adds Clarke.
Despite the criticism it is difficult to argue with Rightmove’s market position. The Property Academy’s latest Home Moving Trends Survey found that 84% of those who moved last year regularly went to Rightmove to search for property.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with the Zoopla/Digital Property Group merger, but for now Rightmove should be the first and biggest line on any housebuilder’s media budget,” says Dan Hare of The Property Academy.
Zoopla currently has more than 25,000 new homes listings for sale, covering around 2,000 developments.
“We offer a very targeted and cost-efficient marketing solution for housebuilders and new homes agents to reach one of the biggest and most engaged property-interested audiences
in the UK,” says Chris Browne, head of new homes at Zoopla.
“The merger is all about delivering better value and performance for our members. Our business relies on us providing a great service and good value for money and the merger does not change that at all,” says Browne.
“We have one of the largest registered user databases of buyers actively looking for new homes in the UK, so are able to deliver very targeted email marketing campaigns for our housebuilders clients.”
Referring to the merger, Belsham from Taylor Wimpey says: “No doubt Zoopla will put their rates up considerably.”
Kevin Ellis, director of Romans New Homes is concerned about potentially higher costs post-merger, “without sufficient differentiation between the portals, or additional benefits delivered to agents and developers”.
Krelle from Spicerhaart, which spends, as a group, nearly £2m on property portals, as well as Google AdWords and Pay Per Click, says: “Just as it is good for consumers to have a choice of estate agents on the High Street, so it should be on the digital High Street. However, the feeling is that there will be too much control in too few hands, resulting, inevitably, in monopolies or duopolies.”
A common criticism of portals is reporting. “Often the reports we receive are manually produced, or we have to navigate online stats that can be slow and complex,” says Fjaerem.
Husband wants to see portals sharing technology so posting listings is easier. “The next stage for improving service is to understand how we can integrate portals into general marketing. Creativity and standout are difficult to achieve, as this is a very classified environment,” says Husband.
“The digital revolution hasn’t been embraced by the new homes industry and housebuilding is very much in first gear with everything being focused on ROI. Social media is a buzzword alongside QR codes with more emphasis being placed on technology rather than understanding how and why it is consumed,” adds Husband.
Ellis measures ROI primarily on cost per reservation, with Romans robustly qualifying all enquiries. “To the point where buyers may say they saw development signage, when in fact their initial awareness came through us or our website.”
Ellis says that high levels of leads that translate into low levels of visitor traffic on site generally highlight properties that are overpriced or not
Banfield says the digital revolution means fewer, much better informed visitors on site, “but much better conversion rates”.
Taylor Wimpey wants better quality data from portals and more flexibility in helping developments stand out. TW’s cost per reservation varies currently, from under £1,000 to over £4,000. Specialist new homes portals by definition have smaller reach, says Belsham. “Our biggest competitor is second hand, not new build. New homes portals should deliver better quality leads.”
Whathouse.co.uk (owned by Globespan Media, publishers of Show House magazine) is exclusively a brand new homes portal, which, says Ellis, allows for “ease of use and the opportunity to showcase all the benefits of buying a new-build home. Leads would generally be even better qualified as a result”.
Banfield says whathouse.co.uk is the best website for running editorial stories, putting them out in the digital space through Google News, Twitter and other online outlets.
“Our editorial offering to housebuilders and new homes agents is unique and hugely valuable for our clients, not only adding editorial weight to
the sales message, but strengthening brand recognition for an increasingly discerning buying public,” says Joanne Davies-Jones, managing director of whathouse.co.uk, adding that the website’s database is increasing by 6,500 registrations a month.
“Put housebuilders’ names and developments
into Google, for whom we are an accredited news source, and we regularly appear on the first page and often, when we have posted a news story, at the top,” adds Davies-Jones.
“While whathouse.co.uk may be behind Rightmove and Zoopla on traffic, we believe we are delivering highly targeted leads in a finite new homes market, while at the same time performing a huge marketing and PR function for the housebuilding industry by highlighting the benefits of buying brand new and educating a public often resistant to the idea of a brand new home, simply out of ignorance or outmoded prejudices.”
Whathouse.co.uk, which also runs the What House? Awards, still puts a great value on brand awareness, even if location and price are the main drivers. “Who they are buying from is a question
of quality, which is high on any purchaser’s list of considerations,” says Banfield.
“Brand can get a little lost when people search by location. The trick is making sure your branding and service proposition is strong, so when the buyers review the search results they choose you because of your brand awareness,” says Krelle.
“Digital media is the most directly accountable medium, but adds nothing to the emotional reasons for buying a home,” says Husband, pointing out that by advertising too close to the decision-making point, housebuilders have less opportunity to promote style and specification and upsell unique features.
“This is one reason why, with a print
brand heritage going back over a century, whathouse.co.uk decided to publish a monthly online magazine, with that potent mix of advertising, editorial authority and aspirational living,” says Keith Osborne, editor of whathouse.co.uk, heading a team of 12 journalists covering new homes news, features and interviews across the UK.
Clarke from Space & Time says advertising opportunities will grow, but the portals will need to show more value as Google, Facebook, mobile and social media offer more ROI.
“Data will be championed. But the best results will not be price-led. Those that are the most creative and engaging will win hearts and minds and sell houses,” says Clarke.
Krelle is concerned that premium prices don’t come with premium service. “It feels as if it’s what you can do for them rather than what they can do for you.” Customer service. It was ever thus. Property portals, like any other business, ignore them at their peril.
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