Food connoisseurs know that diners “eat with their eyes first.” This applies to real estate as much as it does a plate of fine food – hence the emphasis on landscaping, pressure-washing and painting the outside of a home on the market, and so forth. But it also applies to real estate websites. A significant percentage of home buyers use the Internet to hunt down homes they might be interested in buying, and more importantly, to find the perfect real estate agent. According to the National Association of Realtors:
“As a result of online research, nearly half of the home buyers conducted a walkthrough of a home they viewed online. 29% of the home searchers found a real estate agent as a result of an online home search and 21% at least drove by a home they saw online.“
Sooner or later, that online research is going to send them to your website. As a real estate agent or realtor, how do you make your website stand out from your competitors’? There are quite a few things you can do to help buyers decide that you are the best agent for their home buying needs.
First, decide what impression you want your site to give a first-time buyer. That may well depend on the clientele you serve. Do you primarily work with high-dollar buyers who want an opulent family home or a luxurious vacation retreat near a pricey resort? Then you may want your site to appear sophisticated and traditional, giving the impression of solid, upper-class respectability. Some realtors who serve this clientele such as Signature Properties in Arroyo Grande use a dark, rich color scheme and classic, even vintage typography. Others, like Monica Ruggieri of Newport Beach, California use a lighter, more modern design. Photos of luxury homes and vacation vistas, such as those provided by Lanikai Properties in Oahu, Hawaii, draw in the wealthy buyers. If you’re trying to appeal to buyers on a budget, your site should still be bright, friendly and elegant. (The Realty Store takes this concept to its extreme, advertising “cheap homes for sale nationwide,” but still provides a clean, elegant and functional site for potential buyers.) No one, no matter how nominal their budget, wants to go to what appears to be a low-end agent. A low-end design, poorly done or filled with spammy come-ons and aggressive design elements, chases away more clients than it attracts.
More so than almost any other business, real estate sites rely on photography for buyer appeal. Buyers want to know what kind of homes and properties you can sell them. Give them a well-designed photo gallery of some sort (your Web designer can help you select the perfect gallery for your site) that displays well-done photos of some of your most marketable properties. Breezy Hill Marketing writes:
“All real estate websites should be oriented around real estate photography. Make sure your site supports the use of high quality photos in slide shows and listings to allow for better property viewing. Today’s buyers search properties extensively online before they pick up the phone to talk to a Realtor so help them out by giving them access to great pictures.”
Weinstein Properties of Glen Cove, Virginia uses a rotating photo gallery that allows buyers to click through a number of highlighted properties and visit individual sites of the homes that pique their interest. Including professionally-done photographs, or at the very least well-composed photos taken by you or your agents, is a must. Bad photographs give a bad impression that cannot be rescued.
Give your prospective client an easy way to register with you. You can then send updates and new listings to their email accounts or smartphones.
Make it easy for your prospective clients to find their dream property without leaving your site. A common mistake some agents make is to entice the prospective buyer with photos and tidbits of information, then require that buyer to call or email you to find out more. Instead, include a property locator function to help them sort through the various properties that are available in their area. A detailed, well-styled form that allows the clients to input filter information such as zip codes, property features, price ranges and so forth helps them make their decisions quickly and easily – and makes them more likely to choose you to help them continue the buying process all the way to closing. The nationwide realtor Re/Max makes their property finder the centerpiece of their site design, and using the finder to steer potential clients to local Re/Max agents. A lot of agents use Google Maps, or other Web-based maps, to let clients locate various properties. And, naturally, a high-functioning, configurable search function of your site is mandatory.
Your site might do well to have separate pages for the various communities you serve, especially if you are in a large geographical area with several small population centers. If you’re in a large urban area such as, say, midtown Manhattan, your “communities” might be neighborhoods such as Sutton Place, the Diamond District, Turtle Bay and Little Brazil.
The younger and more financially successful a client is, the more likely he or she is to use social media for, well, everything, including real estate hunting. Make your site social-media friendly. Link to your Facebook and Twitter pages, and update them regularly (at the very least once a day), using shortlinks to help visitors find the properties you want to move at the moment. Don’t forget about Tumblr and Pinterest, both great sites for showing hot properties.
Optimizing for Mobile Devices
More people are accessing the Internet by smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices than by laptops and desktops. Your site should be fully responsive (not merely adaptive) and thoroughly optimized for mobile platforms. If your designer insists that modern mobile-friendly designs have to be narrow, text-heavy designs that look bland and outdated, find a new designer! Mobile-friendly designs can be just as appealing as large-scale, desktop-centered designs.
SEO means “search engine optimization,” and consists of techniques allowing your website to appear prominently in Google, Yahoo and Bing rankings. If ten agents in your area have sites that appear in Google before yours, chances are most of the people hunting for agents will go to them before they bother to scroll down to your search link. Strong structural design and excellent content go a long way towards SEO success, but make sure your Web designer/developer knows how to optimize your site even further, particularly for searches involving your town, your region and your name.
Blogging isn’t just for cool kids who think they are “hackers” and housewives who regale their seven followers with endless tales about their cats. Just about everyone who is anyone blogs these days. Not only do blogs enhance your SEO, they attract clients. You should post at least a couple of times a week – not only posts about the fabulous new listing you just found, but about funny things that happened to you while showing a house, wonderful people you met along the way, and so forth. Informal, personal, and family-friendly blog posts win new clients as fast as snazzy photos of snappy properties.
It should go without saying that your site should be as fresh as today’s newspaper – at least. Nothing frustrates a prospective client to call your office to ask excited questions about a property he or she found, only to be told that the property was sold last week. You can bet that client won’t call you back. Keep your site up to date. Ask your designer about using WordPress or other easy-to-use content management systems so you (or your office intern) can update the site yourself without constantly having to go back to your developer to keep your site up-to-date and fresh.
Good Site Design and Implementation Costs Money
A lot of business owners and other folks think that websites are easy and cheap to do. They are not, at least not if they are done well. A professional real estate agent should not hesitate to pay a professional Web designer or developer, or a design and development firm, to create a professional site for his or her needs. There are literally thousands of stories out there of clients failing to understand that websites should be paid for in money and not in cheeseburgers (yes, really), or believing that their son the video-game addict can do as good a job as the professional firm with an office and a staff of designers, developers and content writers. If you intend to use the Internet to connect with prospective clients, then get a professionally done site. Period.
The most successful realtors today rely on the Internet to solicit and steer clients to them. You need to use the full array of Internet tools to make this happen for you. Create an entire “network” of social media pages, with your website at the “hub,” to give yourself a powerful and profitable Internet presence. The time and initial expense you will incur in creating and maintaining your Internet “footprint” will pay for itself over and over again in more (and happier) clients and more (and more profitable) sales.