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Build a Profitable Web Presence

By Kelly Kubrick

Are you trying to market without a Web site? Bad idea. In August 2006, Statistics Canada reported that Internet access rates in Canadian metropolitan areas ranged from a low of 68 per cent in Montreal to a high of 77 per cent in Ottawa-Gatineau and Calgary. Given those numbers, one hopes that few home builders still need convincing about the value of Internet marketing today.
Yet Statistics Canada also reports that only 29 per cent of construction industry enterprises (including residential home builders) have a Web site. The good news? We outperform Agriculture, at 11 per cent. The bad news is that industries such as Information and Culture are at 82 per cent - ironic, considering how much information the average Canadian home builder could offer to convince potential buyers of their value versus the competition's, such as unique geographic benefits, intelligent floor plans, and established reputation.
If your company lacks a credible Internet presence, you might as well try and market with an unlisted phone number. Consider the fact that back in 2003, BBM Analytics reported that 91 per cent of Canadians Internet users search for product and service information versus other activities. As a home builder, consider that the Internet is now a standard tool for communicating with prospects and customers - not necessarily for direct sales, but to validate your company's existence before picking up the phone or dropping by your sales centre. Knowing that, consider whether your Internet presence reassures potential buyers by answering questions such as:
• Does this home builder have customers like me?
• Have other customers like me done business with them?
• Do they offer the kinds of things I value?
When considering an investment in Internet marketing, start with a clear definition of your Internet strategy. Do you plan to drive awareness of the Web site to new markets? Do you want to increase usage of the site within your existing markets? Answer these question relative to your business strategy this year.
Now you can now define the purpose of the investment and ensure it lines up with your business strategy. For example, does your Web site aim at generating leads for your sales team, reducing costs through self-service customer service, or something else?
Next, establish your Internet marketing budget. Sound obvious? You'd be surprised at how many companies know their Web site operation costs but don't know what they've allocated to promote the Web site. If that describes you, start with your annual marketing budget and decide what percentage of it you will test on Internet marketing. That will give you a baseline of available dollars to rank against other planned marketing expenses for the year. Decide where the Internet fits compared to media spending, sales office expenses, and signage or printing brochures.
If there is room, you're now in good shape. You know why you're going to invest in the Internet and how much you're willing to spend doing so. However, before writing any checks, how will you measure success? What goal will you set for the Web site? Let's say your company decides that the Internet investment strategy is to build awareness in new markets, and that the site's purpose is to generate leads. A possible goal might be a 15 per cent increase in leads generated this year over last. Now, you've got something concrete you can hold the investment accountable to.
The last step is to determine what indicators you will monitor over the next year to ensure the goal is achievable. Start with your Web site traffic or Web analytics reports; your IT staff or Internet Service Provider (ISP) will tell you how to access them. If you have none, kick up a fuss. How will you monitor what you can't measure? Now, take a look at the numbers. Are your visitor numbers growing, flat or falling? Does it appear as though there are enough gross numbers to convert into the number of leads you are anticipating? If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
Before you know it, you'll have an action plan to make sure your Internet investment provides you with a measurable return. Can you say the same thing about your other marketing expenses? If not, take a harder look at how the Internet might fit into your overall marketing efforts.

Kelly Kubrick is former Director of E-Commerce at Time Warner in New York, now President of www.OnlineAuthority.com, an Internet marketing consulting firm.

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