As housebuilders' month draws to a close here at RDPR - we've decided to round things off by delving into some real-life examples of how some of the top industry names are utilising their web presence.
We've taken a look at some of the country's biggest and brightest, compared their social activity, what platforms they're on and offered our picks on who's doing it best, worst and not at all.
Blast from the Past
Back in 2010, Pauley Creative investigated this very same topic and for those of you that have some time to spare it's well worth checking out their findings. However, to summarise - while many of the top names in housebuilding were present on one or more platforms, there was very little going on in the way of engagement.
For instance, only four of the 15 audited companies present on Twitter were actually tweeting, with only one (Miller) actively engaging with its followers. Similarly, Facebook fan counts were lacklustre (save for Miller once again, which managed to rack up 199 of these).
In his roundup, post author Pritesh Patel urged marketers to pay heed to Miller's example, stating:
"What marketers must learn is to integrate everything … email, website, social media, print advertising and direct mail to work together. Brands must learn to develop and show the same personality across all channels and if the channel is not appropriate, like Miller Homes and no LinkedIn profile, then just don't do it."
Back To the Future
So have the major brands heeded Pritesh's advice? The early indications are positive. Our research delved into just over half the brands examined in the original study and found that by and large, housebuilders have begun to make forays into the world of social:
· Five out of eight were present on Twitter
· Six had presences on Facebook
· Seven utilised LinkedIn to varying degrees.
However, the degree to which these companies utilise the various platforms we explored differs wildly. Half of the audited housebuilders were actively engaging via their social platforms, while only three were utilising their social profiles as a customer service tool (and one of these was relatively sporadic in their efforts).
Best in Class
Every social channel is its own creature and as such, we thought it'd be a good idea to pick a favourite for each - rather than lumping them all in together. It's worth noting that some of the housebuilders we studied were active on other platforms (e.g. Pinterest), but for the purposes of this exercise, we've looked at three of the most popular, namely:
While Taylor Wimpey steamed ahead in terms of raw follower count (12,667 at the time of writing), we're strong believers that when it comes to social - quality not quantity is what counts. As in 2010, Miller homes continued to make a strong showing, but our pick for top on Twitter simply has to go to Redrow.
We found its staff to be quick and efficient in responding to complaints and not limited by the constraints of office hours. Its feed is varied and engaging - tying in brilliantly to on-site content, like its beautifully presented interior's guide for 2014. Similarly, the social team are unafraid to link to interesting third-party content and shy away from being overtly self-promotional for the most part.
Overall, we found LinkedIn usage to be lacklustre - all surveyed companies have yet to utilise the product/service section and half weren't using the platform whatsoever. Admittedly, the value of LinkedIn as a marketing tool for these sort of companies is debatable, but that's no excuse for leaving your presence on such a popular platform barren.
Of the housebuilders we looked into, the most active on the network were Persimmon and Redrow. Both made use of LinkedIn as a means to advertise job vacancies, however, we feel Redrow comes out on top once again due to the savvy way it also employs the network as a bulletin board for company news and goings-on.
Arguably one of (if not THE most) favoured platforms for our housebuilders' key demographics, we paid particular attention to Facebook. And found companies were literally worlds apart in the way they tackled this network.
Redrow's social staff were extremely active, but didn't let their sharing get in the way of using the platform as an effective customer service tool. And the lack of subsequent comment spam from affected individuals could indicate they were successful in fielding their complaints:
Miller's Facebook feed is vibrant with varied and engaging content, and while it hasn't attracted the most likes of all the housebuilders we've covered - it's definitely one of the most appealing. However, it's worth noting that the one complaint I managed to track down over the past two years was left untended (although, in fairness it was posted two months after the status update in question).
At the least active end of the scale, Bellway homes are a good example of how taking the decision not to engage, doesn't mean people won't carry on talking about you. Its two self-promotional posts were massively outweighed by the disparaging comments of others flanking its Facebook page:
Taylor Wimpey were similarly subjected to complaints on their wall and despite being demonstrably active and keen to respond to regular enquiries, a collection of critical comments were left untended:
Persimmon homes, meanwhile, experienced a campaign of complaints from disgruntled customers who were evidently unsatisfied with the way the company's customer service team handled their issues in the first instance:
This one was almost too close to call, but in the end our pick for best in class simply has to go to Redrow. Despite having relatively few likes, its posts engender a wealth of comments, likes and constructive responses. Its complaint handling was also spot on - empathising with those affected and funnelling them through the appropriate channels with ease.
Many people fail to realise that activities like blogging fall under the umbrella of social, however, we think it's vital to tie in on-site content with wider social activities. This helps to drive relevant traffic to your site, expose qualified leads to your content and position your company at the forefront of their minds when and if they decide to purchase.
We've got some pretty strong views on why most companies are missing a trick in failing to utilise their websites' news/blog section as a sales tool, and were understandably eager to determine which of our housebuilders were on track and which were content to let it slide.
Redrow: No blog section is offered by this social stalwart, which instead opted to focus its on-site efforts on a news page. However, this isn't promoted - with a single news story extract somewhat-surreptitiously positioned at the bottom left of the site's homepage.
It's also worth noting there's no way to click directly on to the news section and visitors must instead click a story then use breadcrumb navigation to reach the parent page. When we arrive there, we find sections segmented by region and the fare is run-of-the-mill press releases. Barriers like poor navigation put unnecessary hurdles between your visitors and your content, which generally equates to fewer people reading it.
In a promising move, however, Redrow has been plunging a significant amount of its efforts into video - racking up a decent amount of views on its YouTube channel over the past four years.
Persimmon: Another housebuilder that has opted to go with a news section, Persimmon doesn't promote this on their homepage and populates it with standard press release and press release-style content.
The company is to be applauded for its efforts on the video front though - gaining a respectable number of views on its 134 YouTube posts.
Barratt: Despite a beautifully designed site and a wealth of informative static pages - Barratt is fairly barren on the content front. I was unable to locate a news section and its FAQ was somewhat short.
Linden: This housebuilder boasts a relatively prominent 'media centre' that is well populated with images, adverts and press releases. In something of an odd move, its dubiously-named 'stop press' section contains details of houses for sale.
Bellway: Bellway has also opted to go the press release route and have flanked this section with a comprehensive image gallery.
Taylor Wimpey: Despite being one of the few housebuilders to have a stand-alone 'blog' section, as well as a media centre - Taylor Wimpey use this facility somewhat sporadically.
Posts are irregular and the odd nugget of content targeted at prospects is vastly overshadowed by articles that might be better suited to a 'news' section:
Morris: While there's plenty of content here, it all equates to a fairly standard news section populated by press releases.
Miller: Our personal favourite in terms of blog content, Miller has a feed of their latest posts (although the front-page extract seems to only list the article's title) prominently positioned on its homepage.
While we see several areas where there's room for improvement - Miller is simply streets ahead of the competition when it comes to on-site content. It's posts are reasonably regular and varied in content, with more time being spent on genuinely useful and interesting articles than is ploughed into regurgitating company news.
Inbound links are an increasingly important metric and the subject of much contention in the world of SEO. To go the extra mile with our research, we decided to delve into the link profiles of our chosen housebuilders.
Without delving too far into the nitty-gritty technical aspects, we found Bellway Homes had by far the largest amount of external followed links (i.e. hyperlinks on other sites pointing towards the company's site).
Its link profile is rich and varied - gaining authority links from the news coverage from the likes of The Telegraph and BBC News, as well as more mundane mentions from their sponsorship deals and various consumer sites.
A variety of quality inbound links can often equate to better performance in search and while we could easily spend an entire post focusing on these profiles, Moz's Open Site Explorer found Bellway to have thousands more links than its closest competitor. However, taking into account all available link metrics, Taylor Wimpey was highlighted as having the best overall Page Authority (a prediction of a page's search ranking potential based on an algorithmic assessment).
The Bottom Line
Pauley Creative's original research on the topic branded the lack of integrated marketing from housebuilders as 'shocking'. And while we're of the opinion that great strides have been made by several companies in the intervening years - there's definite room for improvement.
Social: While more companies are engaging via social, many are failing to allocate sufficient resources to tackling complaints. If you're in a customer-facing industry and deign to be present on social platforms - you're going to face complaints. Unfortunately for marketers - there's no way to utilise the marketing benefits of such channels while stoically ignoring irate customers.
So is it best to abstain from trying your hand at social altogether? Probably not. Disgruntled customers will still have conversations about you whether or not your profile serves as a hub for them. Therefore, we'd advocate at least attempting to curate your social presence - even if you have to invest in additional customer service staff, or investigate the potential for outsourcing this work.
Content: It seems the old adage of content being king has yet to fully penetrate the housebuilding sector. While several of those we studied were updating their site - only Miller was producing anything resembling content targeted at its key audiences.
If you're not using your site as a sales tool in the 21st century, you're missing a trick. Content and social are two sides of the same coin and companies should aim to integrate these assets under a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. We've written extensively on the benefits of blogging, but acknowledge that creating content can be a strange new world for many businesses, as well as being a resource and time-intensive activity.
But those who do invest in it can enjoy a sales resource that is promoting their brand 24/7 - engaging customers and (providing it's properly optimised) going some way to improving their performance in search.
Here's the table showing some of the full analysis we conducted during the course of this research. While the figures do tell a story, it's important not to let the numbers blind you to the qualitative elements that can make or break an online marketing campaign:
Do you think housebuilders have jumped on the digital marketing bandwagon in earnest or are some still dragging their feet? Did we miss anything during the course of our research or do would you like to know more about any of our findings? We're always keen to hear what you have to say, so don't be a stranger and leave us a note in the comments.
And if you'd like to learn more about any of the digital marketing topics we've discussed, be sure to check out our latest blogs. We've also produced a new eBook, specially aimed at helping housebuilders get to grips with the basics of online marketing - download it for free below:
Images used courtesy of Linden, Persimmon, Bellway, Miller, Taylor Wimpey, Redrow and Barratts on Facebook and Twitter.