Why Having Your Friend’s Son or Son’s Friend Design Your New Real Estate Website is Not the Best Idea.

I have conversations with clients all the time that begin with “my friend/son/son’s friend designed my website and I like the look of the homepage but I don’t like the way it works with the MLS data and the navigation.” This is a common problem for Realtors® because the specific requirements of real estate data mean that being a good web designer does not mean that someone can build a good real estate website.

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Website Construction: Internet Marketing for Real Estate Agents

Part 1: Real Estate Website Design and Functionality 101

“This blog series is intended to be a walk-through for setting up a lead generating website. My goal is to get you thinking about ways to improve your site and enhance its performance. Each blog post will be centered on a specific part of website development that will help you grow your online business. Some posts will be more specific and advanced, while others will be more general and introductory.  Taken together, the posts in this series will offer valuable tips, regardless of where you are with the maturity of your website.”

Design is an important element in website development. In the past the thought was to create animated, Flash-heavy websites that dazzled Internet searchers. Today, Internet Marketers say that Flash websites daze and confuse consumers, who have become more sophisticated at searching for websites thanks to companies like Google.

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Forced Registration and The Dark Arts of Real Estate Web Design

On this blog I have written often about giving your website visitors value, making your site the best resource for real estate information in your market area, and capitalizing on the resulting engagement by providing visible and attractive conversion tools on key pages. These approaches work—people see the value that your are providing and frequently will take that next step and contact you. But what if you don’t want to be that nice?!?

Welcome to the world of forced registration, where a visitor is required to provide contact information in order to view more details about properties listed on your website.

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Lessons from the Web: Finding Familiar Ground in Home Improvement

We’ve all heard the old cliché “Write what you know.”  I decided to take a different approach with this article, and address something I very recently learned and tie it into something I know well.   As it turns out, remodeling a kitchen isn’t so different from building a new website.

Not long ago my husband and I decided to do a complete kitchen overhaul in preparation for putting our condo on the market.  Out with the old tiling, the outdated cabinets, the stained countertops.  It was time to make serious updates.  Looking back, I see that I was actually in my element in this new experience.  Let me demonstrate….

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Great New York Times Article on Engagement Thresholds

On the 25th of June the New York Times published an article by Barnard Lunn entitled Build an Insanely Great Web Service. Not only is this article worth reading because it gives the reader the opportunity to read the work “suck” as a descriptor in a New York Times article which I just find amusing, but it offers a great model of the engagement thresholds that websites and services need to think about. The article is written using a start up web service as a model. The applicability of what the author Mr. Lunn says does not stop there, however. The concept can easily be transferred to any website and web service. Viewed through the lens of real estate sites, we see a clear structure in which to think about how users interact with websites. The time thresholds that he lays out are:

  • 30 seconds: “I get it.”
  • 3 minutes: “I’ve used it and still get it, and it has not annoyed me yet.”
  • 3 days: “I find this really useful or fun.”
  • 3 weeks: “I am raving about this to other people.”
  • 3 months: “I couldn’t imagine not having this, and I’m boring my friends telling them about it.”
  • 3 years: “How weird to see this on Oprah.”

(Lunn, Barnard, New York Times 6/25/09)

Now, I am not saying that your real estate website is going to end up on Oprah — though I would not rule it out. But in the mean time, lets look at this structure in the context of a well designed real estate site being used by an interested potential buyer. (Please note that I am going to add a threshold that I feel was overlooked):

  • After 3 seconds visitors should like the site design, be able to identify where they should look first and find it easy to read. (Things to think about: Design and Layout)
  • After 30 seconds visitors should have clear idea of what your site has to offer them and most importantly what the next step is that they can take. (Things to think about: homepage content and calls to action)
  • After three minutes, your visitor has used some of the functionality on your site. If it is well organized and the functionality is intuitive, they will still see the value in your site because they will find that they can easily access the information that they are interested in. (Things to think about: ease of use of your sites functionality and navigation)
  • After three days they have fully explored your site, read information on you, your market area and used all the applicable functionality. They find it useful and at this point contact you. (Things to think about: quality and amount of information available, easy and obvious conversion tools)
  • After three weeks they have found that your website integrates seamlessly with their property search process and your personal service. They continue to use the site to save searches and ask you questions as you set up viewings. (Things to think about: Lead management and contact utilities)
  • After three months they have found the house they want and close on it. They can’t imagine what the process would have been like without your website and your personal attention. (Things to think about: how integrated is your website to your current client management)
  • After three years they are ready to buy again and call you . . . or they see you on Oprah and are really impressed. (Things to think about: the value of continued contact with past clients, how good Oprah looks in that pant suit!)

Using these time thresholds as a structure to think about your website is a great way to take a tough look at how your site encourages the engagement of potential and existing clients. If your site is not up to snuff, the possibility of losing potential buyers at any one of these 6 stages is a very serious reality.

The moral of the story is always look at your site from the user’s perspective. Your site should be all about what the potential client is looking for and what you can offer them that they haven’t even thought of yet.


Increasing Reach and Engagement: Integrating real estate search technology on your website


Image via Wikipedia

Sean Purcell nails it when he says “the premier ingredient in creating real estate success: lead generation.” Let’s look at how putting property search capability on your site can expand your reach and increase visitor engagement as part of your lead generation activities.

The search function on most real estate professional sites can be broken down into two types: integrated IDX property search and framed IDX property search. Since Union Street Media specializes in IDX integrated real estate web design, we’re often asked what the difference is and which is better.

Framed IDX is often cheaper. But if your real estate website is a part of your online marketing plan, there are significant advantages to an integrated IDX solution that should be considered.

Let’s start by breaking down the components of real estate search technology that matter most to online marketing.

Anatomy of real estate search technology

Search technology for property is a combination of four things:

  • Data The MLS data can be hosted on a third party provider or on your site
  • Search Interface Flexibility of the search interface to reflect your customers’ desires and your local expertise
  • Visual Design Ability to keep your agent or office branding intact throughout your customers’ search process
  • Technical Design The code used to display the listings and search results can have implications on your SEO and other marketing objectives

Understanding how these four elements interact can help you make an informed decision about what kind of search technology to deploy on your real estate website.

Your property search and Google

People looking for something will often start on a search engine. The NAR has said that over 80% of housing searches begin online (I bet you’ve heard this from every single technology vendor for the past few months). A fair share of those searches started at Google. You want your property search to be visible to Google in order to reach those people.

From a marketing standpoint, a big difference between integrated IDX and framed IDX is how they appear to Google. On an integrated IDX site, the property data is hosted on your website. That’s part of the integration. On a framed IDX site, the property data is hosted on a third party’s website and “framed” into your site.

Google doesn’t see visual design on websites. It only reads code and data. So while a framed IDX site might appear to be showing all the property data to a human eye, Google doesn’t recognize that the framed data is part of your site. This means that any SEO value from showing property on your site would be lost in a framed IDX site.

Your property search and your brand

Once people find your real estate search website, the next thing you’ll be wanting to do is provide them with an engaging experience. Engaging experience is web marketing geekspeak for “help them find stuff by making the search easy and effective.”

The design of a framed IDX search is often shared across a vast number of real estate websites. This can make integrating the design and branding of your office site with your search technology difficult.

Integrated IDX sites inherit the design styling of your site because the data is on your site. For this reason, it is often easier to maintain branding consistency on your site with an integrated IDX property search.

Widgets and other real estate tools

Integrated IDX sites also offer the capability to add widgets such as a quick search on every page of your website, easily configurable one-click real estate searches and other tools that you can use to promote property and encourage visitor interaction with your search technology. You’ll also want the ability to add extra information to your own listings on your site (if your MLS allows this) so that you don’t get a “duplicate content” penalty from Google. Some framed IDX searches offer these things and some don’t.

These extra tools and widgets have become more prominent and important in the past year as a way for agents and offices to differentiate their specialty knowledge in a geographic region, customer type or property type.

Some questions to ask your real estate search technology provider

Choosing the right technology for your real estate website will always come down to weighing the costs against the benefits. Here are some questions to ask your technology vendor (whether you’re using integrated IDX or framed IDX) so you can plan your online marketing efforts accordingly:

  • Will Google and other search engines consider the property information part of my site for SEO purposes?
  • Can I change the design and color scheme of the list and detail views to match my site’s branding?
  • Can I set up one-click searches and provide links from anywhere in my existing site?
  • What incentive do you have to improve your search technology in the future?
  • Can I show extra information about my property that is only on my site (avoiding duplicate content issues with Google)?

If you found this article helpful, you may also be interested in the “Is your code hurting your website” post.


Week in Review: 3 Block Quotes

Guy Kawasaki on viral vs word of mouth

Viral marketing is typically reserved for programs where the advertising is talked about as opposed to the product itself. A good example are viral videos, where the humor trumps the brand, ala Cadbury Schweppes drumming gorilla video—humorous partly due to the Phil Collins soundtrack, of course—and the parodies which followed). Word of mouth is the actual sharing of an opinion about a product or service between consumers. Your viral marketing only works if it gets people talking about the product itself. If it doesn’t, you might create some laughter and awareness, but there won’t be a change in sales.

Read the full thing.

Greg Swann on single-property sites

If we can do it, we want for buyers visiting one of our single-property web sites to move into the home in their minds — just from the experience of the web site. If we can’t get them that far, we want to answer every question they might have, passively, from the web site — both to satisfy their itch to know and to establish our transparency. We want for buyers to long, to marvel, to exult about the tiniest details in our homes, treating our single-property web sites like the Christmas Wish Book. At an absolute minimum, we want for our sites to dominate their time. The more time they spend on our site, the less time they have to spend looking at other homes.

Read the full thing.

Marc Davison on the development of the real estate web

I think we can all agree that building a relationship is the truest segue to creating a client. But when real estate emerged online over a decade ago it made a conscious decision to forgo that time honored method of building business. Instead, it lunged at the consumer. Baited. Switched. You know the rap.

Read the full thing.

My fave Bad MLS photo this week is for all you Harry Potter and/or fixer-upper fans.


Short followup on Craigslist and HTML

The HTML that will allowed on Craigslist should be enough to make a nice layout. You get images, tables (as much as I abhor table-based web development), headers and the font tag. Sure it’s like we’re rolling back the clock to 1999. But it won’t be too difficult to make attractive ads with the tags allowed.

I would consider the outcry to be pretty much a false alarm (let me know if I’m wrong here). But it still provided a great opportunity to listen to customers and hear what they think about real estate marketing efforts.


Real Estate Internet Marketing “Map”

During one of the final panels at Real Estate Connect in NYC I was sketching in my notebook the process of how users get to websites, and what we ultimately want them to do when they get there.

I took a few minutes to draw it up when I got home, and this is what I came up with. It’s far from complete, but seems useful in explaining how firms like ours use “web 2.0” technologies to get traffic to our client’s sites. I thought it might be useful in providing a visual framework to illustrate the process. Personally, I needed something to organize the constant flow of information, ideas, sites, tools, etc., that constantly cross my desk/inbox/RSS feed.

Do you think this is a useful and/or accurate way to represent this?