Most buyers no longer first drive around a neighborhood or go to multiple open houses. Instead, they go online and scroll through real estate websites from Realtors® and companies such as Trulia and Zillow to see listings. If you’re a real-estate professional and don’t have a site, you probably will lose potential customers and sales. If you do have a website but it looks dated or lacks key information to pique buyer interest, you’re also not going to snare the same traffic you otherwise might get with a strong site. Furthermore, if you have special listings—a house with new amenities—a bocce court or meditation room or a super location overlooking a falls or high in the mountains—the site should play up these strengths.
Following are pointers to improve sites (all culled from several savvy real estate pros):
1. Develop a great platform. Work with a pro who does this work all the time rather than your neighbor or friend unless they’ve had great experience, says Jason Weamer, owner, Visual Identity Group in southern California (http://visualidentitygroup.com), which specializes in marketing and communications. Potential hires should have a portfolio to share. Ask questions about how they work:
- How long does it take them to craft a first draft?
- What do they need from you?
- Do they work via a phone call or in-person meeting?
- What kind of photos do they need?
- When should any written copy be delivered?
- How do they plan to meet your goals and your budget?
- How many revisions will they do gratis? and
- How much do they charge to monitor the site weekly, monthly or yearly?
Also ask about accessibility so you know that they have time to manage the project, Weamer says. “Some like to use TeamWork or Basecamp so you can check on the progress and have a central communication area,” he says. Also ask what SLA—service level agreement—they offer to guarantee availability and response time, says Seth Price, vice president of industry relations at Placester in Boston, a business platform for real estate pros to handle digital needs for sales and marketing.
2. Be sure your site is written for high visibility. If not, it will remain invisible to many, says Jason Polancich, co-founder of HomePocket, a Florida-based real-estate listing network and marketing firm. What does good search visibility mean? Polancich says it requires good technical configuration including headings properly formatted and the right content, which has now replaced key word indexing. “A Realtor(R) would/ should talk about specific services in a certain coverage area—for luxury home buyers or sellers in Atlanta, for example,” he says.
3. Keep up with demographics and adjust your site accordingly. When Realtors(R) put up websites, they often neglect to manage them regularly, though the audience will react to changes in the market such as lower mortgage rates or even a new President, says Polancich. “You can’t just leave it there because the content then no longer targets the right users for best search visibility. Someone should monitor it monthly,” he says. His firm charges $600 a month and up to do so, based on a variety of factors.
4. Make it mobile friendly. A year ago mobile traffic started to exceed desk-top traffic, Polancich says. Yet, many don’t know to get a “responsive website design” so the result looks the same on their desktop as on their mobile phone device, and functions the same, too. The addition doesn’t add extra cost but it does ensure that the website built is responsive, he says.
5. Make response fast. PageSpeed Insightswill relay the speed of your website and how to improve it, according to Google, which developed the site. Scores are based on 0 to 100. “If not fast enough, it won’t appeal to the tech savvy generations who use their phones more often than not,” adds Matt Murphy, CMO of Chime, an all-in-one real estate platform with offices in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. “Our research has shown that if an agent’s website does not load in under four seconds, 70 percent of visitors will bail. We dug a little deeper on this and found that consumers feel if an agent does not have a fast loading website, they will likely be slow at other aspects of their job. This may sound like a harsh statement but having a speedy website is a cost of doing business in the 21st century. In addition, given that we live in an on-demand economy, consumers also expect immediate responses from their real estate agents. With a modern CRM system, it’s easy to get back instantly to your customers via text or email leveraging auto-responders or even chat bots.”
6. Go clean and utilitarian. Just as more buyers today like modern, crisp-looking homes without clutter, the same goes for websites. Images should be showcased so they stand out rather than appear tiny or crowded, but even more key is professional shots rather than so-so ones from a cell phone, says Price. The font is essential, too, both for aesthetics and performance, or visibility, Weamer says. Also, know that little is worse than a site reflecting a cookie-cutter approach from a real estate template that many other professionals use. “These sites may be more affordable, but a little bit more of an investment into your brand (which is you) will pay off,” Weamer says, “First impressions count.”
7. Add a video. Stats show that by next year at this time 70 percent of Internet traffic will be video, says Price. And all sorts of videos can be used such as a pre-listing one. “Moreover, all of them can be used over and over again,” he says.
8. Clarify what’s most important. While photos are important, so is the right content—location, location, location, plus schools, price comparisons, walkability, distance from a train station or subway line for those who care about getting to work easily, Weamer says.
9. Hype community events. Doing so will help you attract more traffic to your site and build rapport with people in your area, says Weamer. He suggests mentioning free or affordable holiday events such as Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, or Fourth of July BBQs that are open to all.
10. Provide more ideas for free. Offer Comparative Market Analysis (CMAs), home evaluations, and mortgage calculations for free since there are lots of available tools. For example, Zillow offers free real estate widgets and mortgage calculators to help people search for homes and once they’ve found their dream home they can discover what it will cost, Weamer says. “If you don’t like branded tools/widgets, there are inexpensive ones that you can customize and brand on your own. The key to this is to look for tools that are IDX compatible. IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange and allows for connectivity to an MLS,” he says.
11. Ask only for basic buyer contact information.Few will take the time to fill out a form to have you contact them because many fear how the information may be used, Weamer says. Instead, figure out ways to overcome that initial concern by offering something again for free such as—”how much is my home worth?”—in exchange for their email or phone number, Weamer says. Then, be sure you share how viewers should reach you—call, email, or text.
12. Consider adding a newsletter. If you can offer valuable content, then it is great to do so. But know that many people may not read it unless it offers something informative, Weamer says.
13. Tout yourself somewhere on the site. Toot your horn a bit. Do so by adding comments on the site from a trusted party who says you’re great whether in reviews from Zillow, Google, Yelp, or Realtor.com, says Price. And if you don’t have any reviews, get them by asking clients and colleagues to write them, he says. Testimonials are another device, which you can seek from buyers after a sale. Ideally, you also show some photos of the people associated so the information doesn’t come across as fake! Include the person’s first and last names, Price says.
14. Spell check and check grammar. You’re in the business to sell homes, not show off your literary skills, but don’t fall down on those. Have a colleague read through your site or even hire a pro to check; misspellings and such words as “to” instead of “two” or “too” or “farther” rather than “further.” Such mistakes may make some buyers question how thorough you are about your real estate listings. You want to shine and stand out as an all-around star!
You can gain more tips at the Global Real Estate Education Network.
Here are two sample websites provided by Jason Polanic: