Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit
Skip to main content
Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

215 Maintaining a Strong Home Builder Website - Dennis O'Neil

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Dennis O’Neil of Oneil Interactive joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how important maintenance is in creating a strong and successful home builder website.

A website is essential in home builder digital marketing, but the true success of the website is in the updates and additions. Dennis says, “…with technology, it's not just about building a solution, it's about maintaining a solution. It's about making sure that it works next year, next month, on the next iPhone, that it's compatible with the next watch, the next version of Chrome doesn't blow it up and make it stop working, right? Like, all of those things come into play.”

Home builders must consistently revise their websites to better fit the needs of home buyers and to adjust to new technology. Dennis explains, “…the website is never finished. It is not. Customer expectations don't stop getting bigger because you press the launch button on your website. They're constantly looking for something different, and there are better ways to do things. Sometimes there's a better way to do things because we learn something different about consumer behavior, or there's a better way to do things because consumers have been trained by a popular behavior that this is the way things are supposed to happen, and we need to be able to accommodate that workflow. Everything else doesn't stop changing around it.”

The progression of a great website happens continually over time. Dennis says, “So, we normally try to encourage them to phase things in, which also involves an acknowledgment that we're going to keep building. We're going to build the site. It's going to launch and then we're going to keep going, and we're going to go into phase two and then phase three and phase four, and we might add in a 3.5 and a 2.7, and then whatever comes along the way. But it's, thankfully, I think getting more and more common to understand it's a forever process. It really is.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about home builder website maintenance.  

About the Guest:

Dennis O'Neil is a leading Internet sales and marketing thinker and doer with 20 years of building industry experience. Dennis founded ONeil Interactive to realize a more perfect customer experience after nearly a decade of leadership with a national builder. Guiding builders through markets with high-ROI strategies, ONeil Interactive has grown into a creative website design and marketing powerhouse. Dennis has authored two books and countless articles discussing his insights on how technology has impacted the sales and marketing processes and professions.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello, everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited to have joining us on the show today, Dennis O'Neil. Dennis is the president of ONeil Interactive. Welcome, Dennis. Thanks for being with us today.

Dennis O'Neil: Thanks very much, Greg. Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate the invitation. It's an honor to join the group here.

Greg Bray: So, Dennis, for those who may not know you, which is probably a very small list of our listeners, but let's give them that quick background and introduction of who you are and what you've been doing.[00:01:00]

Dennis O'Neil: My pleasure. My name is Dennis O'Neil. I started ONeill Interactive coming up on 16 years ago now. We are a digital focus group, primarily known for website design and development in the home building industry. We work specifically and exclusively in the home building industry, including my background before then. It's an industry I've been a part of for, I'm aging myself, but 20 plus years now. It's one that we all feel very closely connected to and enjoy. So, these are my people here, Greg and Kevin, this is my people, right? This is just home building technology. This is what we do.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, Dennis, Greg, and I have known you for quite some time, so we know a little bit more about the personal side of you, but could you do me a favor and take off your president hat, take off your website hat, take off the fact that you work in the home building industry and give us a personal factoid about you that people will learn about on our podcast?

Dennis O'Neil: I'm a bit more than a coffee snob. I have trouble accepting bad coffee and will try to be polite and courteous should I be given bad coffee. But I have a strong preference for [00:02:00] good, fresh ground and brewed espresso, and that is my coffee of choice. And I drink it all day. Many, many, many servings of espresso every single day. So, I keep going.

I saw that little prep question to be honest, and it's always a hard time thinking, well, what am I other than home building, digital, and websites, right? It's so much a definition of what I do every day, but yeah, that's something that is at least not digital. It's very much a manual process, but.

Greg Bray: So, I have to follow up with any sleep issues?

Dennis O'Neil: Yeah, I don't sleep very much, but that was even before the espresso addiction, but yeah.

Greg Bray: Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, Dennis, tell us a little bit more about how you got started in the home building industry and what kind of attracted you to working in this space.

Dennis O'Neil: So, my first month in the building industry was January of 2000. I owe my introduction to the building industry to a friend. I had an interest or sort of maybe a predisposition towards home building and architecture and just design [00:03:00] in general. In high school, I thought I wanted to be an architect, and then I found out what college for architects costs. So, that didn't end up working out.

But, believe it or not, in the late nineties, I was in the car business, sold new cars for several years. In the last couple of years of selling new cars, I was actually an online sales counselor for new cars. So, this was in the late nineties. And I had a close friend who was working on the sales floor, and he happened to sell a minivan to the wife of the VP in sales and marketing for Ryland Homes in Baltimore.

Thankfully the wife said, my husband needs to meet you. This was my friend, Patrick was his name. So, lo and behold, my friend gets hired off, goes to work for Ryland in new home sales. Kept in touch, asked him how it was going. He said he loved it. Eight months later, he said, Hey, you interested in changing jobs, changing your career? So, I went for the interview and that was that.

Started in January 2000 as a new home sales trainee, was there for a couple of months. Obviously, at least a couple of months of training you have to go through and then become a new home salesperson. So, I was selling pretty much through, [00:04:00] well, you guys remember the, you know, like 2004, 2005 market was fantastic.

So, it was right about that time that I decided to become a sales manager so I could earn less money. So, I feel like as soon as things got crazy, right? Like, around that time, if you guys remember that time. That time was just, everything was on fire. When I started, I remember my first sale. It was a single buyer buying a townhouse and he locked his interest rate at a 9 percent fixed FHA, which was a good rate. And then things just went bizarre, right? Just totally berserk for a while.

I was a sales manager, selling sales manager for my last four years with Ryland. And then about 2008, that was also a different time in the market. That was when I started at ONeil Interactive. That's a whole nother story, which I can keep talking about. I didn't want to keep talking about the same story, but that's how I found myself to where I am today.

Kevin Weitzel: And not home builder related, but if you were selling cars in the late nineties, that means that you were in a transitional period, not only when they were developing what they call BDCs in the car side, what we call OSCs, but BDC centers, business development centers, and [00:05:00] call centers, but you were also in when the dealerships were actually having to change how they pay their employees.

It went from a very commission-centric pay scale to where the auto manufacturers were pulling back and only paying dealerships a sliver of the profit and then giving it all back to them on the backend called holdback money. Which basically robbed the floor sales guys the ability to able to eat really, because it took away their percentage of profit. So, you saw that change.

Dennis O'Neil: Yeah. Cause in my earliest years of the new home sales, or listen to me, new home sales, see habit, mental, in new car sales, you were paid on the gross profit. So, I was on the floor for about a year and a half. I did it for about three total years. The last year and a half, this was, as you mentioned, it was not just the transition in time when the sort of the pay or the gross was different, but the internet was making an incredible impact on the buying process at that point.

I've always had a sort of a technical nature or predisposition anyway, so I was very interested in [00:06:00] communicating with that buyer and trying to help the dealership basically, accommodate the buyer and not be so combative. That was a very sort of frustrating time for a lot of car salespeople because they were losing their power. Their power was information. That's basically where they derived their value from.

If you were not an internet user and you wanted to know what colors a car came in, you had to go to the dealership and pick up a brochure or talk to a salesperson or call. All of a sudden the internet was taking that away from them. They were no longer able to stand in front of the information and say, hi, Mr. Customer, you have to talk to me now. So, they were just really freaking out about it.

That's not your value as a salesperson. That's not where salespeople derive their value add to the transaction. It's about knowing the customer and being able to understand and answer questions that they couldn't answer just from reading a sentence or a paragraph in a brochure. So, it was a very interesting time in the car industry.

That dealership had five locations and different manufacturers. So, at the time I was there, we didn't have a word [00:07:00] for it, I don't remember what I called it. I might've been called internet sales manager, internet sales person. But I basically, I took the leads for the five dealerships and farmed the leads. And then I had a salesperson contact each dealership and that's who I introduced them to and set appointments for.

Greg Bray: I'm confused, Dennis because for a second there, I thought you were talking about home building right now, but you're still talking about car dealerships then, right? This whole internet thing, this fad that's happening now. That's like putting more information in the buyer's hands. Was I confused, or which time period were you talking about?

Dennis O'Neil: You're absolutely right. It definitely hit the car industry first. Cause in terms of like scale of sale, right? Like what the average buyer spends or the average consumer spends money on, you know, next to the home, the car is probably the most popular second highest expense that people buy. No one, even today, even having been in it here, I can't stand going to a car dealership.

You don't know what you're going to get. It's the luck of the draw, the salesperson that walks up to you. And I was in it for years and I still can't stand it. I think it makes me even less likely to withstand or just deal with the standard circles. [00:08:00] You know, like, Oh, now we're going to sit and wait for the finance guy. Okay. You know, like I, I hate that. I hate that. So, and they see me rolling my eyes. I know they do.

Kevin Weitzel: Let me ask you kind of a weird question, then there's a little bit on left field, but and I've said this before on various panels and stuff, but the auto industry has a ridiculous advantage over home builders in the fact that not only were they first to market with a lot of things, but they have whole groups of dealerships that have to foot the bill to pay for this new fancy website.

So, when Honda decides that, Hey, we're going to roll out this new website, and here's how financing is going to roll, here's how the credit process is going to go, and here's where all the models are, and here's how you look at availability, every Honda dealer, all 2,000, 20,000, however many there are across the country, all have to pay for that collectively through their dealer ownership.

Home builders don't have that benefit. They all have to kind of go to bat with their own boxing gloves on and figure out how they're going to pay for it. So, what are solutions that you're coming up with to possibly help homebuilders defray some of that isms [00:09:00] that come with it?

Dennis O'Neil: That's a great question. I think it's an interesting sort of challenge. I think that same lines of the fact that car dealers, there's only so many manufacturers, right? But there's lots of dealerships. Whereas with home building, every single home builder is their own manufacturer. They might use the same parts as some of the other builders or some of the same parts, right? But they still have to sort of figure out how to sell, brand, and market their own assembly version of that product and where they put it.

To that extent, I think it goes to some of the questions of like, well, what should you do in-house versus what should you look outside to do? The largest builders who maybe have the expertise and the budget, it makes sense to do as much in-house as you can with some exceptions. Otherwise, it's thinking about, like, what do you need a thing to do? What is the thing's purpose? What is the service's purpose? What problem is it solving for you or your buyers?

And then, if it's something where the better solution exists outside, because of the fact that some company, like all the ones that we represent here amongst ourselves, us three, [00:10:00] have the ability to build a better solution because we have this sort of collective of builders that needed it. We see a hole, we see something that every builder needs, well, we can build a solution and scale it across 20, 30, 50, hundreds of builders, and it's a more powerful solution than any builder alone could build for themselves.

As you know with technology, it's not just about building a solution, it's about maintaining a solution. It's about making sure that it works next year, next month, on the next iPhone, that it's compatible with the next watch, the next version of Chrome doesn't blow it up and make it stop working, right? Like, all of those things come into play.

Kevin Weitzel: Wait a minute, Greg, Dennis, I need to pose this to both of you because I was under the impression you could build a website and it just goes on and forever, perpetuity. That's not the case. You have to maintain these things? That's crazy.

Dennis O'Neil: Well, you know, the original Space Jam website is still available from what I understand. I think it was originally like a couple of years ago. It was.

Greg Bray: To that point, I think builders are starting to understand that [00:11:00] in a new way. That it's not just about, gosh, I need to do a new one every so often, but there's like daily, weekly, monthly things that need to happen to keep that stuff up-to-date and they start to feel it when their toolset doesn't support them very well to make that happen. Would you agree, Dennis?

Dennis O'Neil: I would, and I admit, coming from me, a lot of times I'll preface it when I talk to a builder and I say, well, I realize I'm coming from a biased position. I said, but in my mind, the website is never finished. It is not. Customer expectations don't stop getting bigger because you press the launch button on your website. They're constantly looking for something different, and there is better ways to do things. Sometimes there's a better way to do things because we learn something different about consumer behavior, or there's a better way to do things because consumers have been trained by a popular behavior that this is the way things are supposed to happen, and we need to be able to accommodate that workflow.

Everything else doesn't stop changing around it. The tools that consumers use to access the internet and store and save their information. We used to be [00:12:00] worried, sometimes we still are, but we used to be really worried about what pages look like when they were printed. That's really not that much of a concern anymore, right? There are still some exceptions, but generally speaking, that's not a number one concern, right? But people were concerned about that before they were concerned about what does it look like on the new iPhone. Very different. Times change, tech changes.

Greg Bray: And I would say, Dennis, that idea of the website's never done. I've seen occasionally, not too often, but occasionally it gets in the way of actually finishing anything, where we just keep going and going. We need to try this a different way or try this different way. Instead of getting a, I don't want to call it good enough, but version one or version two out the door and let version three come later. Instead of trying to get it all perfect.

Dennis O'Neil: A hundred percent. It is kind of that blocker of thinking about the website as a static brochure. If anyone is used to sort of approving a catalog, a brochure, like a multi-page document, you know, if you've ever been in charge of sort of pre-proofing, something like that. Everything does have to be perfect before you print it, cause you can't change the ones that are already printed, you know, so [00:13:00] you're spending thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars printing something. And yeah, once it's done, it's done.

But that's the beauty of the web, right? It's not that way. Kanye West was releasing edits to his music in the, one of the last albums, like, after he released the music. The songs were changing after he already published them, and the other versions were gone. You just change them, just like the web. I mean, that's what things are sort of revolving into. Websites have been there for ages, so I absolutely agree with you. We have to sort of help people break free of that mindset of, well, we can't go live until that one picture's changed. That's not really true. You can, it's okay.

Kevin Weitzel: I have 3,000 records and I don't know who is this person, this Kanye person.

Dennis O'Neil: I'm not really sure. I heard about him on Twitter. I don't know who he really is.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh, somewhere on Twitter. Okay.

Okay. So, I'm going to need Greg to take off his interviewer hat and put on an interviewee hat because I have a question that just honestly just drives me bonkers and I want to field it to both of you. It basically comes down to this, because you said a very interesting word, page. A lot of people still build [00:14:00] websites using like a WordPress where it's all page-based. I don't think that it's necessarily long in the tooth or it's run its course, but with all the data interchange and interface, is that even still the best option for a home builder? Could you guys expound on just that topic just for a little bit? Because everybody knows I'm not a computer nerd, but I do understand the topical aspect of it. So, could you guys expound, please?

Greg Bray: Go ahead, Dennis.

Dennis O'Neil: I think probably that what you described, Kevin, is a common sort of mindset that we have to often help people sort of break out of, of thinking of their website as a document layout exercise. In that the fact that most of the content that exists on most builder pages is dynamic in the sense that if a builder has 50 communities, 30 communities, 300 communities, the process to construct quote-unquote, the website. I'm doing air quotes like there's video here.

The process to construct a website is not, oh, let's start with community A, and then we're going to go and we're going to go to community B. And then pretty soon, we're going to get to market X. There's not a one-by-one [00:15:00] process. It is a building sort of a dynamic structure of where content will go. And then we load the content into a database that then dynamically populates that same sort of visual. So, it is a different thing to think about.

The idea of previewing a website is not about visually looking at every single page like you're flipping through and proofing a print catalog. It's a matter of approving a structure and understanding that it's going to look different for every single one because the content's going to be different for every single one. Some of them might have one or two photos and it doesn't look as great as the one that has 30 photos. But the thing to do is not to redesign the page for the one or two photos. The thing is to get them all to have 30 photos.

It's sort of a different way of looking at what the final product is. And sometimes the deficiencies or what might be perceived as deficiencies in the presentation is really more of an indicator of content deficiencies. So, Greg, I would imagine you've seen some of the same kind of thing.

Greg Bray: Oh, definitely. Yeah. It's like, this will look much [00:16:00] better if you had all the content instead of some of it, but Kevin, you use the word WordPress. I want to be clear. I don't think WordPress is a bad word. Okay, I think there's a place for it. It's certainly part of the fabric of the Internet. It drives so many sites, but I, in my heart, believe home builder sites are different because of this data and content that Dennis was describing.

When you start to talk about the relationship between locations and communities and models and floor plans and inventory homes and elevations and prices and all of these things that come together, from a data standpoint, a page-oriented structure like WordPress is typically out of the box. It's not to say you couldn't build something underneath that, custom, and people have, right?

But in general, you see most agencies that builders work with that are doing WordPress, they're not doing that. They are doing page-oriented stuff and you start to get duplicate stuff that you have to keep up-to-date. You can't export it out to send it to like other listing platforms. You can't integrate with your in-office [00:17:00] ERP system to update pricing or whatever. All of these things get in the way because this data is so critical to how builders think and work and they don't even realize how unique that is compared to most business websites.

Kevin Weitzel: You just uncorked two different problems, all the same statement. You've got not only the import of all the ERP information that has to be able to feed dynamically that information, but you've got the Zillow's, the realtor.com's of the world, the Livabl's where that data has to be pushed out to in real-time so they can stay relevant and on point.

Greg Bray: Dennis, would you be comfortable saying that home builders are different than kind of the typical website if you were just working in some other industry?

Dennis O'Neil: A thousand percent. Yeah, totally. I totally agree with you that I have great respect for WordPress. We've leveraged it many years ago. Like you said, it powers something ridiculous, like 18 percent of the internet, or maybe it's even more than that now, but it does power some ridiculous percentage of the internet. But it is not really great and [00:18:00] best suited for high-volume content and flexibility. While it's infinitely more flexible than it used to be, ultimately, it was designed as a blog platform and it eventually sort of grew into what it is now.

You wouldn't think that a builder has greatly complex data, you know, just from a pedestrian view. I would totally agree with that. Like, I would never think that the home building industry has a complex data set in the way a set of rules and how things work together but I can tell you that it does. And then I can tell you that every builder also has different ways that they choose to treat that data.

There are lots of business practices and business policies that influence even how different builders treat the same content. And that kind of flexibility we have found well beyond the complexity that WordPress has decided to support. So, I'm of the same opinion. Some builders have made it work for them and that's great. We have been able to get much more mileage, I know you have too, Greg, out of solutions other than WordPress to be able to meet the needs of the builder.

Greg Bray: It really gets down into, I think it's a pros and cons [00:19:00] thing. It's not necessarily right or wrong. There's a cost here or there's a cost there, and you've got to kind of figure it out. I don't want somebody listening to this going, Oh, shoot. We just did a WordPress website. I'm going to get fired. Because there's some builders out there that have done some good things with WordPress, but I think that there are some cons that they may not have recognized early on, especially if the agency that was building it for them isn't as familiar with some of these other use cases, and then they start to run into some of that and they go, wait a minute,

I've had, you probably have two Dennis, builders come and say, Hey, we have this great WordPress thing and we need to get a feed out to Zillow or somebody like that. And it's like, I can't do that for you. I'm sorry. I can't.

Dennis O'Neil: There's no way that there's no magic tool that scrapes everything off of WordPress and turns it into a Zillow feed. It just doesn't happen. Right. Yeah. Totally get it. I've had the exact same conversation. Just like you said, WordPress is great in a lot of ways. A lot of the questions or requests that we've gotten over the years, they originate from somebody have using WordPress because they do have a lot of great tools.

Their WYSIWYG editor is really good, the What You See is What You Get editor that's in the dashboard. They've got really simple ways that people are [00:20:00] used to being able to add plugins for functionality, good tools to be able to just copy and paste in a YouTube link and then have it turn into a video. So, there's definitely some things I think that we can learn from WordPress in terms of dashboard and user experience.

But ultimately, when you see someone who is used to building in WordPress and you see the product that they build for a builder from a website perspective, oftentimes they are very good, but like to your point, Greg, there's that step of like not being able to foresee this other need and not understanding that, Oh, well, actually you're going to need to go here, but you're also going to want this data to do this. So, it really should be sort of separate or allocated differently.

These are things I'm speaking about vaguely because I didn't want to get too nerdy with examples about technical things. There are things that need to happen. You know what our clients are going to ask for, right? You know what the builders need, we have seen it, you organize it differently. WordPress is, back to your point, Kevin, I guess I'll have to say it sort of has that page-by-page sort of mentality about how things are maintained, [00:21:00] not big structure with fill it in with dynamically with content.

Kevin Weitzel: It's a great informational magazine, not necessarily a plug-and-play computer where you can actually feed other platforms with it.

Dennis O'Neil: Yes.

Kevin Weitzel: Safe layman's assessment.

Dennis O'Neil: I think so.

Kevin Weitzel: Let me pivot to this. Let's pivot to some mistakes you've seen besides the one that's off-limits. You can't use this one is people that have built a website and then set it, forget it, and didn't do anything to it for five to 10 years. That one's off limits. What other mistakes have you seen out there, Dennis, that home builders have done?

Dennis O'Neil: Ah, well, we already use WordPress too. So I guess I can't use that one either, right? I'll just put WordPress maybe under the whole sort of wrong platform scenario. I can lump some others in there, which maybe are not as good as WordPress, like Squarespace and, you know, smaller builders that are just getting started, of course, that are just using something really simple and static like that.

I think maybe the ones that rely on outside companies to do their website. And by that, I mean, like realtors. And this is a problem typically that is more for builders that are just starting to [00:22:00] grow, getting accomplished. Where they have basically abdicated the majority of their responsibility for any website content to realtors and MLSs, and they just have sort of a basic iframe on their website where they're importing some listings from a real estate agent. Where they essentially have zero control over their data or the presentation of their data. I'd say that's a big one.

I mean, on the flip side of things, the ones that's maybe a little bit easier to come back from is the website that has a hundred things, every new shiny tool bolted onto it. I'd say that's probably another one.

Kevin Weitzel: I've seen that.

Dennis O'Neil: Because it's very easy and fun to chase shiny tools, right? It just not all of them are ready for primetime. That's all. So, I think we've seen both in this point where you've seen like there's 15 different chat bubbles that sort of pop up at any given different moment because somebody is using a combination of like unbounce modals and a chatbot and then also a reminder thing and a request for notifications. And, you know, you're like clicking all seven things before you can actually read the content of the website.

And that's because the builders are trying to do everything [00:23:00] they can that they've been told at some point or another was, Hey, this is a good thing. When in fact, not everything is ready. Not everything is ready. It has to fit into holistic strategy and think about consumer experience too.

Greg Bray: Dennis, on that list of mistakes, what are you seeing with builders who say, okay, I need a website, I know I need a website, it needs to perform, but then they hesitate to make some of the investments after the site's live for things, say, SEO or other types of promotional activities online that really drive that traffic, the whole build it and they will come mentality that I think is a little dated if I dare say so. Are you running into that still or are builders finally getting it, in your opinion?

Dennis O'Neil: I think it's more common that they get it now for sure. I hope nobody still believes to build it and they come actually ever existed in reality, except maybe in the beginning when there just weren't enough websites to satisfy people's needs. But I think we're there. Right? I think the volume of websites necessary has been achieved. [00:24:00] Now, it's about trying to find or surface, the better ones. Right?

We do try to talk to builders about that often, even before we've been engaged to build something new for somebody. We try to encourage them to think long-term. You know, we talk about lots of ideas and a good percentage of ideas can't make it into, you know, what we call launch version. There's a lot of things that builders have that are on the wish list. A lot of things that builders would like to do.

We also encourage them not to try to do everything all at one time, even though that we could do everything for them at one time. Most of the time their business processes need to change or be altered to even be able to accommodate some of the things that they want to do, and we recommend they do. Trying to do all of that at once is normally a recipe for failure.

So, we normally try to encourage them to phase things in, which also involves an acknowledgment that we're going to keep building. We're going to build the site. It's going to launch and then we're going to keep going, and we're going to go into phase two and then phase three and phase four, and we might add in a 3.5 and a 2.7, and then whatever comes along the way. But it's, thankfully, I think getting more and more common to [00:25:00] understand it's a forever process. It really is.

Kevin Weitzel: You brought up actually a pretty interesting point that I want a little tangent that I want to take on that. And that is that people want their websites to do everything. However, how realistic is it with a lot of the builders that you run into that they even have the infrastructure, the backend, to be able to feed the beast that would be that website that can sell online, they can reserve online, they can do everything they want it to do? I mean, all these disconnected pieces, they have to be able to connect. How are you seeing that folding into reality?

Dennis O'Neil: So, it is still a conversation we have pretty often in the sense that I think well, we were on that panel, the buy online panel a couple of years ago, right, at the builder show. That was the flavor of the month back then. Don't hear people ask many questions about buy online today. Things change, right? But at the time we had many of those conversations. I'll lean on that as an example that at that time, everybody wanted to be able to have somebody go through the cart checkout process, sign a contract, leave a deposit, [00:26:00] and reserve a lot and do all of those things via the website.

We had, and still have, the infrastructure to support that. We have some clients that implemented it and still have it. But I will say that the biggest sort of obstacle that we had for builders was not thinking through the rest of the process or sort of like not realizing that they needed to be prepared or that more than the marketing department needed to be involved in the conversation.

The marketing people were obviously the folks that we work with and the folks that are coming to us, sales and marketing team about, we want this, we want this now, when can we have it? And we're like, you can have it tomorrow. However, here's the other things that you probably want to involve in the conversation. You know, has someone approved this process for deposits? You know, is this acceptable in your state for mortgage deposits? Can you do earnest money with a credit card in your area?

Will banks accept that and does your controller realize that if we do ACH that there's a 30-day chargeback period and that you shouldn't accept an ACH within 30 days of closing because that consumer could still go [00:27:00] pull that money back even after they closed? So, like all of these things that we sort of had to talk through with the builders. Unfortunately, many of them hit roadblocks that they were just not able to overcome.

For those kind of large structural process transaction changes, they need to corral the leadership and get everybody on the same page, and acknowledge the changes that the company is going to have to make to be able to accommodate those.

So, when a builder's up for it and you've got a marketing head or a sales and marketing head that is ready for that, then it's great. But still, one thing at a time because you're also not going to convince your production team and the financial department to make seven changes all at once coordinated with the website launch date. It's a process, it's a process. The larger organization, more layers of approval, more people involved.

So, it is possible. I don't by any means want to say all of that and discourage anyone from trying. If anything, I'm, I'm hoping that more people are up for the challenge because I think in the long run, it's a necessity. Think of it as a disadvantage for [00:28:00] the larger established companies and an advantage for the ones that don't have a process yet because they can make the process work. They can build their company around the process that works the way consumers want to buy.

Kevin Weitzel: That's aircraft carrier versus PT boat mentality.

Dennis O'Neil: There you go. Yeah.

Kevin Weitzel: It takes 13 people to steer an aircraft carrier. It takes one person to make a decision to turn the wheel on a PT boat.

Greg Bray: There's also a technology leapfrogging effect too, right? When you think about cell phones, the countries that never had landlines because they were just behind and then cell phones came along, and all of a sudden everything's cell phone. But in the US we lagged behind because we had this big infrastructure we still have to pay for and leverage and use for many years, and I see kind of what you're talking about.

This whole idea, Dennis, that buy online was so in the conversation just a couple years ago, and I've been pondering that a little bit myself. Like, why did it go away? Right? Why did it go away? And I think some of it was the pandemic pressures eased up. There was some COVID pressure to try new things, some focus on some of [00:29:00] that. And we've been able to kind of go back to the good old way of selling, because of that. But I think some of those roadblocks you talked about also people like went, Oh, this is harder than I thought.

I think the buyers though changed during COVID and I don't think they've said it's fine. Oh, sorry. There's a roadblock. You know, we still want it. They want to interact online. I think people that learned how to buy groceries during COVID on the website who had never done it before, they may not do it as much, but when they're in a pinch, they like knowing they can go buy groceries online, and get it delivered and not have to mess with it. Buyer behavior has evolved and if builders just say, oh, nevermind, we can all go back. I think we're going to be in for a rude awakening pretty soon if we don't keep trying to solve some of those barriers. Thoughts?

Dennis O'Neil: Yeah, that's an excellent observation. I would have to agree. We got this sort of dam of pressure that built up because there were a lot of things that couldn't happen the old way, you know, even if consumers wanted it beforehand. The acknowledgment was during COVID [00:30:00] things were still locked down and people still weren't coming out as freely in some places, and we had this sort of like, we have to go this way. We have to do buy online because it is our only way that we can continue selling and doing things.

People were sort of predicting it. Obviously, we were selling lots of homes during the pandemic, but we were looking for everything possible to make it easier to happen because we were anticipating things potentially getting harder. And maybe we were missing some of the market and maybe buy online would give us a competitive advantage over the other builders that didn't do it. Now that's still up for debate.

But what happened was is when that roadblock went away of like, Oh, you can open again. We can do business in person. You can come out, we can just email the contract. We'll just take your deposit this way. When all that opened and got to be available again, all the pressure of that sort of internal drive from the sales and marketing leaders that said we need to buy online, it's not our biggest problem anymore. It's back to over here. And I think everybody just started looking at a different direction. That's why we don't really hear much of the conversation anymore.

But I agree with you, Greg. It's [00:31:00] still here. The consumer's mind hasn't changed. I mean, we were talking about how the consumers have always wanted to buy online and thrilled that everybody was talking about it a couple of years ago. Right. But it's not priority one for any builder that I know right now. It's not. And it's kind of shocking really, when you think about it.

How many builders had made it priority one during that time period? And some of them accomplished phase one, two, maybe something like that, you know, maybe hadn't gotten all the way to phase three, but the, some of them got a little far. But nobody's really focused on that as their number one thing right now. I mean, problems have changed and unfortunately, we tend to be, I think a little bit too reactive in the industry at times, which is some of what creates our problems, right? A little bit too reactive.

Greg Bray: Well, Dennis, we appreciate the time you spent with us. Just a couple of thoughts to get from you before we kind of wrap up. You have the opportunity to talk to a lot of builders and to look at a lot of marketing plans and ideas and things, and when you get invited in to say, gosh, we need help, what are those first [00:32:00] few things that you start asking about or looking at as kind of like that core foundation of, okay, if we need to sell more homes, get more leads, what are some of those first things that you look for to see if it's broken or okay?

Dennis O'Neil: I'd say it's really three. And one of them is sort of a subcategory that's related to both. I'm looking for data on leads and sales, the origin of leads, and the origin of sales and sales volume by community, right? So, sometimes you're trying to rule out, is it a sales problem or a marketing problem. That's the leads-to-sales ratio component. But then also I'm looking for leads and leads by source.

But throughout the whole time that I'm looking at that, I'm looking at the integrity of the data, which oftentimes is where the ability, in my mind, to do a perfect audit, which doesn't really exist, but to do a great audit requires data integrity. Unfortunately, most of the time we deal with the data we have, right?

But almost immediately, there's always opportunities to [00:33:00] improve the quality and the consistency of the data. You know, you can't have a lead report and says, well, this is all of our leads and it does include everything. Well, except for Tuesday, because on Tuesday, Bob takes the leads and he's not great about entering stuff. That's not a report then, right? There's no integrity there in that data.

So, oftentimes my very initial conversations come to leads and sales and looking at where you see holes and gaps in those and opportunities, you know, not investing in this channel over investing in another channel, geographic differences in results and sort of outcome based upon investments. But almost always there are significant notes on how to ensure quality data because you can only make the recommendations based on the data that you actually have, whether or not it's accurate or not, you don't really know. You just sort of think of benefit, but almost always there's ways to improve the quality and accuracy of the data that gets collected.

I think just in general, and I'm speaking broadly, there are some builders that do a great job, but just as an overall sort of general feedback, I think the industry has a lot of [00:34:00] improvement and opportunities in terms of consistency of data, interoperability of data. You know, can we layer this over that, can we look for correlations between these two statistics? We should be able to do that.

Home building industries are huge, really. When you think about revenue per capita, by that, I mean, like revenue for a company as compared to the number of employees, home builders should, I don't know enough about other industries to be absolutely honest, to be able to say that. But if you think about revenue per employee. It's huge, right? When you think about that kind of scale, and I'm not saying that that means that there's tons of money everywhere and they should spend every single dime they have on data.

I think we under-invest in what we could learn. And part of it probably goes back to some of what you had mentioned, Kevin, this is that every builder operates with their own product line. There's not a lot of benefit to sort of sharing, you know, like best practices and tools. But, I think they have the benefit of that PT boat, right?

I've never heard of the word innovation and committee work together in the right sentence, [00:35:00] you know, they just don't, right? If you want to be an innovator, if you want to be a leader, if you want to create something new, then being the PT boat, at the very least, it's the mentality you want to have, even if it's not the reality of the size. Working like that gives you the ability to move faster.

Greg Bray: Well, Dennis, any last words of advice for helping builders with their marketing that you wanted to leave with our audience today?

Dennis O'Neil: SEO is technical again. Just a heads up. It doesn't mean content's going away, but for years the conversation around SEO has been content and quality and content is king. But SEO is technical again. Pay attention to website performance, speed, and Google's toolset around core vitals, you know, all those things are important. It's coming back in a big way. So, pay attention, ask your web developer for data.

Greg Bray: Great thoughts. Great advice. Well, Dennis, if somebody wants to connect with you and reach out, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Dennis O'Neil: Best way is email. It's just Dennis, D E N N I S @oneilinteractive. com.

Greg Bray: Alright. Well, thank you again for being with us today. And thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm [00:36:00] Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse, Thank you.

Nationals Silve Award Logo
Winner of The Nationals Silver Award 2022

Best Professional
Development Series

Digital Marketing Podcast Logo Logo

Hosted By

Blue Tangerine Logo
Outhouse Logo