People are always telling me how long – often measured in years, not months – they’ve been searching for the right plans, and how many thousands of house plans they’ve looked at. I let them know that this is actually quite common. I mean, finding a previously-drawn plan that’s nearly identical in every way to the home of your dreams is a mini miracle. What they don’t know, though, is that no matter how many “stock” plan sites they’ve visited, they’re looking at the exact same plans, by the exact same designers, at the exact same price!
This is because designers who specialize in creating stock plans (and there are quite a number of them) market their plans through all the large stock house plan websites. And they – the designers – set the selling price. You may not notice it for a while, because each site presents their tens of thousands of house plans in a different order. And the floor plans on most sites are so similar that it’s hard to differentiate one from another anyway. But if you search long enough you’ll discover that you’re looking at the same plans you’ve seen on other sites.
When I opened for business more than 20 years ago, I searched on my competitors’ sites to determine how many homes I could look at before my eyelids started to droop, and I could no longer recognize differences. My limit was 175 homes. Now this presented a serious problem, because a search back then for homes between 2,000sf and 2,250sf on one of the larger sites produced 1,734 results (I still remember the number).
By then (this was 2003), several sites had passed the 10,000-plan mark. I learned that this was a goal because – as the logic went – if you saw this many plans on one site, you wouldn’t need to look elsewhere. Soon more and more sites had reached this milestone, and they never slowed down.
Believe it or not, the largest site now offers 43,000 “different” plans. Forty-three thousand! Talk about overkill, not to mention causing so much mental and physical exhaustion. Today, on that same website, a search for homes between 2,000 and 2,500sf brings up 5,000 different homes. I decided that this might be the worst marketing idea of all time. But after more research, I discovered another reason for having so many plans… search engine rankings.
Google has always looked for “content” when determining rankings – first based on quality, and then quantity. When you have 43,000 pages, each devoted to a different house, you naturally end up on the first page of the engine in a search for “house plans” – assuming that, like all sophisticated sites, it has been “optimized” for high rankings.
By the time folks find our small site, they’re worn out. But they’re relieved to find that we only offer 350 or so homes; that each is completely unique; and that they can see photos because all of them have been built.
Like all of our larger competitors, we try to use every proper SEO (Search Engine Optimization) option in the book. Totally original content; well thought out Titles & Descriptions (what one sees in the results from an online search); keyword-rich text (without being at all spammy); easy navigation of the site; a positive UX (User Experience) – the list is quite long. But our competitors have huge and unfortunately insurmountable advantages.
These companies have been on the first page of Google in a search for “house plans” and “home plans”, and most other valuable search terms, since the early 90’s. Most are also publishers of many home-related magazines that have been around forever, so all that content is in their websites. They also have thousands upon thousands of links from all their advertisers over the decades. And finally, they offer 30,000+ house plans, which makes their sites enormous.
Added to this is the fact that 7 of the 10 first page results for the most searched keywords are all owned by the same company, each doing business under a separate name! This means they compete with themselves – not much of an advantage – but it guarantees that most searchers will purchase plans from them, because they have to get to page two to find other sites. And that page is always occupied by smaller (but not small) sites by designers that have also had a presence online since the early ‘90’s. And nearly all of them offer their plans on their competitors’ sites.
So no wonder folks searching for the perfect plans are exhausted and frustrated! No matter how many sites they visit – unless they search past the second page of results, which is rare – the results are the same.