We seek personalization in everything we encounter. We want our video streaming service to let us know what to watch next, our music streaming service to recommend our favorite song, our travel portal to find us the best vacation package and our significant other to anticipate what we want for dinner.

Is it too much to ask that the experience of buying one of our most important and expensive purchases – a home – also be personalized?

With 93% of home buyers using the internet to look at homes, the home search process has come a long way since the early days of the MLS and newspaper ads. But even though buyers have shifted online, the home search and buying process is largely overwhelming and generic. The top three home search sites of Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com don’t allow for much buyer customization beyond zip code, bed, baths and price range. At the end of the day, these sites are still primarily built for search and their value relies on sheer listing volume to promote the roughly 5-6 million homes sold in the U.S. each year. Buyers can end up sifting through hundreds of listings before coming up with a short list of homes to tour and then buy.

And for those 38% of buyers who include new construction on their search list, only 11% ultimately purchase a new construction home.

Closing this consideration / purchase gap was a key priority for Meritage Homes, one of the premier homebuilders in the nation with 300 communities in 9 states. In addition to competing for sales against well-heeled national, regional and local developers and homebuilders, they were also competing against existing resale homes, condominiums and rental housing with some of their emerging audiences.

But Meritage Homes had a great story to tell as part of their LIFE. BUILT. BETTER. brand promise which featured industry-leading ENERGY STAR® standards in all of their communities. Translation? Having a home that is quieter, cleaner, healthier, smarter and safer. Unfortunately, this story was buried in pages of photos and long detailed home descriptions, hosted on a legacy of disconnected websites that were old and difficult to maintain. Clearly, Meritage Homes was an unwilling contributor to the overwhelming process known as home search.

The Challenge

How do you reinvent the online home search experience to convert more home shoppers to Meritage home buyers over a lengthy 4-6 month journey?

 
 

Mapping the Journey – Hundreds of Micro-moments

The home-buying journey begins similarly for all buyers — dreaming about their desired home and lifestyle, getting finances in order, and then figuring out what home features are desired. A sense of excitement surrounds this dream phase but can quickly derail into distraction as many buyers feel overwhelmed or frustrated about making choices as they start researching options.

Over a 4-6 month process, this fractured buyer journey spans hundreds of intent-driven digital interactions with online resources all the way up the final purchase decision. We knew that each of these micro-moments would represent a critical opportunity to shape long-term purchase intent for Meritage Homes so our mission was to make sure each and every encounter with Meritage Homes made an impact.

Prioritizing Segments and Content via Audience Research

A deeper understanding of the home buying audience would give us the edge in making that impact. More than 80 million millennials are entering their prime home buying ages. They make up the largest share of current home buyers. In addition, a significant percentage of the 75 million Baby Boomers generation will also be looking to move down and simplify their lives. These two important demographic trends were central to our strategy focused on three segments:

  • First time home buyers
  • Families looking to grow their household
  • Homebuyers interested in scaling down

We conducted audience research to better understand these segments and what is important to them, then translated these insights into a content strategy with prioritized features and functions for a new digital experience. Next, we developed a web voice and tone guide to guide the content creation process for these segments in a way that was authentic to the brand and sustainable across the home buying journey. Some of the new content features included:

Guided Home Search

We created an engaging quiz-like experience that aimed to learn more about a user’s preferences in a home. This experience allowed the user to dive as deep as they wanted to get the best results possible. Realizing the risk for question fatigue, we provided many opportunities to skip ahead based on what had been entered thus far. With pathing questions, sliders, dropdown and progressive profiling data collection techniques, the results led to a thoughtful, guided experience that lent credence to the brand while helping the user discover and guide their own journey.

 
 
Guided Home

Making Energy Efficiency Compelling

Although many other home builders have co-opted energy efficiency as  part of their positioning, Meritage Homes is the undisputed leader, setting the standard for energy efficient homes.  In fact, Meritage Homes has received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for Sustained Excellence Award every year since 2013 for innovation and industry leadership in energy efficient homebuilding.  We couldn’t ignore these credentials. Instead we had to find a way to engage users about the topic in a memorable way. We created an interactive experience that allows users to explore the benefits of energy efficiency through images, videos, and scannable copy.

 
Energy Efficiency

Leveraging Testimonials

Another thing we found out in our research was the importance of testimonials. People want to hear from people like them so we filmed testimonials for each of their target segments and in some cases multiple. This way custom content could be served up based on what we know about a visitor to the site.

 
Testimonial video

Removing Product Owner Biases - Leveraging User Testing Throughout

To keep the voice of the customer omnipresent during the development phase, we conducted 5 usability studies with to gain insights on their impressions, expectations, overall experience, and to assess the value add to the prospect’s home search experience. We were able to proactively iterate on our designs and test a variety of components and factors. The results generated by our testing were remarkable. While slight bugs were uncovered through the process, we made the tweaks necessary to validate that users wanted and appreciated the advanced filters and functionality. This was the validation that the team and client needed to pursue this bold new direction with the website. The most valuable feedback from user testing comes from anecdotes and specific recommendations but we also got some numbers.

  • 100% see the guided search tool as a value add when searching for a home
  • 80% of user testing participants said there were the right amount of steps/prompts in the guided search feature
 
Tech Stack

Selecting a CMS

Not surprisingly, a personalized experience rose to the top of desired features from our audience research and usability studies so finding a CMS that could deliver this was paramount.

While LaneTerralever already had extensive knowledge and experience with Sitecore as a certified partner, the recent addition of Sitecore’s Experience Platform was in its early stages to the market and no one really knew how to utilize the full capabilities at the time. So our experience design team and developers had to roll up their sleeves and do something that had never been done before – to unlock the full potential of the platform and realize the following:

  • One platform to manage personalized content delivery across channels and at scale
  • Multi-site – all the various brands underneath the Meritage Homes umbrella needed to be managed in one platform for centralized control, and multilingual content management system (CMS)
  • Central repository for all customer interaction data which could later be used to personalize future marketing initiatives to specific audiences

Bringing Personalization to Life for Our Homebuyer Segments

With Sitecore as the chosen CMS, we were able to start personalizing the digital experience for the distinct homebuyer segments through a mix of new website features including a better home search, better search filters, and more engaging content. The beauty of the Guided Home feature was its progressive profiling technique. Through focused questions and information gathering, this technique allowed us to develop a highly individualized picture for every single person both before and after they registered at the site. With progressive profiling, layers of customer insights could come together to deliver these types of personalized experiences:

 
 
Responsive web design on multiple devices



LAYERS



EXPERIENCE

PERSONA/SEGMENT

Based on self-identified or inferred data, each website visitor is bucketed into a buyer segment and relevant content is served up accordingly. For example, if someone is looking at active adult pages then we can assume they fit a certain persona and will primarily receive that kind of content going forward

STAGE IN THE JOURNEY

Content and calls to action are personalized based on where a user is in the home buying journey or buying cycle which is based on which pages they have been to and how many times

GEO-TARGETING/LOCATION

Content is personalized (text, images, tools) based on the buyer’s geographic location. For example, someone interested in Phoenix would receive content more focused on Desert Living while someone in Florida would receive Beach Lifestyle content.


TRAFFIC ENTRY POINTS

Landing experiences are personalized based on SEO keyword or digital media that is targeted

CALL TO ACTION

Messaging, tag lines, and calls to action on the site are customized and changed based on user behavior, preferences, and response rate.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Seamless Online to In-Person Experience

In addition to putting the buyer at the center of the experience with personalized content, we were able to arm the Meritage Sales team with data so the in-person experience was just as personalized as the online experience. By collecting and storing content consumption data in their CRM and marketing automation platforms the sales team has been able to address the customer needs like never before with much deeper and targeted conversations throughout the sales process.

Results Start Pouring in Within 2 Months

Within 2 months after launch, we started seeing an uptick in some key KPIs. 

  • People coming back to the site and using it as a trusted resource
    • 3% increase in Returning Visitors
    • 13% increase in Avg. Session Duration
  • Increase in capturing user contact information
    • 93% increase in Goal Conversion Rate
    • 7% increase in Floorplan PDF Download
  • More leads delivered to the sales staff
  • Organic traffic increased

The allure of buying a new construction home is undeniable. You can personalize your finishes and treatments and imprint it with your individual style. And now with Meritage Homes, your home buying journey is just as alluring.

In the age of personalization and empowered consumers, Meritage Homes is leading the industry to ensure that the home buying experience is unique to their buyer’s desires and interests. By reinventing their digital experience to keep website visitors engaged over the 4-6 month home purchase journey, we are confident that Meritage Homes will also lead the industry by closing the consideration/purchase gap for new construction homes.