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.

Sometimes people need a little push to take that step and contact you, but you need to be careful: If you push at the wrong time you might push them off your website, rather than to your sign up form. As with everything, it is all about timing and value. If you are going to use forced registration in an area where it is not required by your MLS, you are walking a dangerous line. From a visitor’s point of  view, you are “selling” them information and making them pay for it with their contact info. If they can get the information you’re offering down the street for free, you’d better have a highly appealing value proposition accompanying that sign-in form. Let’s look at the right and wrong way to implement forced registration.

For this exercise, we will pretend that I am a potential customer who arrives on your website. I might have been referred by someone or  might have found you through search engines; either way, I have never talked to you and I don’t have any particular allegiance to you or your brand.


forced online registration form

The Wrong Way to Force Registration

I show up on your website looking for information about the area and property listings. On your home page there is a little bit of copy about you and your services. I find that my only options are to look at your featured properties or search for listings. I choose to search for listings, click through to your search page, fill in my search criteria, and press search. After having pressed the search button I am expecting to see listings that match my search, but instead I am taken to a page that asks me to sign up. And if things are really bad, it looks like Figure 1.

There are a number of problems with this scenario. The first is that you are promising someone one thing, and then giving them something else that they don’t want. Additionally, if you are requiring registration before displaying MLS information when some other sites give it away for free, you basically offer no value proposition for the visitor. It would be like trying to kiss someone just after you pick them up for a first date—you are going to get rejected because you have not proven that you are worth their time yet. Neither the kiss, nor the contact form will work, since you have not demonstrated your value.

The Right Way to Force Registration

I show up on your website looking for information about the area and property listings. On your homepage I find inviting copy that you’ve written to welcome me to your site. Maybe I even see a video bio about you that lets me hear your voice and see you interacting with clients as you walk around this area that I want to move to. Within that welcoming text you have links to different lists of properties you recommend, which makes your visitors feel like you are touring them through properties even though you have never met them. The visitor looks through a few of your recommended properties and gets a sense of what is available. They might look at a few of the other towns you suggest as your knowledge guides them through your area. This progression of events is important because if you are trying to force people to register, then you need to give them some value in return.

This value has to do with many things, but generally it is related to  engagement thresholds. Engagement thresholds are a way to quantify people’s increasing interaction with your website. The general principle is that each time you promise a site user some information and then deliver on that promise, they become more invested in your site and your message. In this second senario you have delivered on these promises by demonstrating your value through quality content and show them more about you through videos about you and your market area that highlight your knowledge and strong connection to the area. To go back to our first date analogy, at this point the date has gone well. You were funny and charming, and it turns out you are both interested in similar things. Your chances for that first kiss are now looking a whole lot better.

Increasing Leads by Requiring Website Registration

requiring website registration

Figure 2

Some studies have shown that the best time to require someone to register is at or around ten property detail views. The most effective way to implement this is to trigger a screen that looks like Figure 2 when the site visitor clicks on the next property detail view page.  There are a few important things to notice here:

  1. By showing the page they want faded behind the contact form, the visitor is assured that they’re going to get the information they were really looking for. All they need to do is fill out this form.
  2. The contact form itself is very simple. As a site owner all you really need is a name and an email address, nothing more, so don’t make it complicated.  Filling out 4 fields takes less time and less commitment than filling out 15.
  3. There is a little reminder on the side of the form that says “I will give you all of these services; all you have to do is sign up.” In this scenario, you have already provided so much value to the site visitor that they are much more likely to take that step and register.

After that, it’s up to you to follow up and show them how informative and helpful you can be in person.

3 thoughts on “Forced Registration and The Dark Arts of Real Estate Web Design

  1. Hi Spencer

    thanks for this piece. I wasn’t aware that you offered forced registration on our sites – can you let me know how much that would cost to set up at 10 searches please

  2. For Union Street clients, this feature is available to our Enhanced, Premium and Custom clients now, and it will be rolling out as an available upgrade for all other real estate clients in the coming months.

  3. You just confirmed a question I have been asking myself. It first came to mind when a friend called me and said “why did I have to sign up to use your mls”. I have been thinking about changing the settings and adding an optional email script to the page since.

    I use a yahoo email address for most of my contacts for numerous reasons. After eventually ending up in the spam folder at yahoo and hotmail it told me one thing, not everyone appreciated my emails. I feel if you have a good presentation and gain the consumers trust and best interest they will contact you.

    A really good article on the subject. I was a second away from surfing off into cyberspace when I clicked on real estate in the sidebar. Glad I did.

Comments are closed.