7 Steps to Success: What A Good Real Estate Website Must Have!

7 features or concepts your website needs to have in place to get noticed on the web and help you succeed...

Below each step is presented as well as checkboxes so you can mark them off once you've satisfied that need on your own website. Also, feel free to use the "Notes" section on the right of each section to jot down anything you need to keep handy while working on your site.

Class Materials:


Step 1: Have A Plan!

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Before working on your website it's important that you have a clearly set plan and goal. Start by answering the following questions:

Who are you targeting?

 

How will you present yourself to them?

 

What do you want more of (buyers, sellers, seniors, etc.)?

 

What do people need or want in your area?

 

What real estate problems need solving?

 

What are the common interests, likes, cultures in your area (your target profile)?

 

What will your offers be to catch their interest?

 

What makes you different?

 

When you are contacted how are you going to stay in touch? With what (e-mail, phone) and how often?

 


Step 2: Clearly State Your Specialties

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Once you've set a plan it's important that your website helps you accomplish that plan. We'll start with your homepage. Specificity is important with a website, as visitors don't want a site where they have to hunt to figure out if they're in the right place or not.

Add your target area names (cities, counties, neighborhoods, subdivisions) near the top of your homepage (and possibly other pages) where it's relevant (for example in a headline like "Your real estate expert" you could rephrase it as "Your San Diego real estate expert")

Use at least one of these target area names in the titles of each of your pages (for example on your foreclosures page you might title it "San Diego foreclosures")

Don't just mention an area - provide information about that area. Specific pages are a plus, but see how many of these things you can discuss on an area information page.

Area attractions and highlights

Demographics

Market conditions

Price ranges

Neighborhoods

Builders

Note: if you need some ideas see what the Wikipedia article about that area has to say and then build your own version of that (don't copy/paste, as it should be unique and sound like the rest of your site).

If you decided to target more than one audience with your plan then create "audience areas" on your site for special needs or demographics.

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Have at least one page (or sub-page) for each audience (so people know where to go for info "just for them")
Consider creating fly-out menus for each audience if there are a number of pages you have that might help them (such as a "For Buyers" button that has fly-out buttons related to buying advice)
Call out to these audiences early on your homepage so that if they start reading the page they are welcomed and given direction. You can make a specific offer (like "Home won't sell? Click here to find out why"), create links to some pages that might interest them (feel free to use a bullet point list if you have several recommendations for each audience) or simply link to their audience area ("Renters, click here!")

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Step 3: MLS Contents

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It's important that your site has more than just one general property search button that makes the visitors do all the work. If they wanted to type all of their search parameters manually then they'd probably have done so on Trulia or Zillow. They came to your site hoping you had something more to offer (usually they aren't just shopping, they want advice and to feel like they're in the hands of an expert). One way you can accomplish this is by ensuring your MLS tools help show you are an expert in what they were seeking.

Consider creating a page for each niche or market so your target audience doesn't have to think and can simply make a single click to get started. Here are a few ideas for niche MLS search pages you might consider:

Create a button that narrows the search by price range or features (such as for luxury, family homes or "starter homes")

Do a custom area search for homes near an attraction (live near downtown, or near a military base or large, popular employer)

Zero in on a popular community, neighborhood, or a place where a reputable builder operates.

Ensure that your MLS tools offer some sort of features that encourage visitors to keep coming back. Below are a few examples of features they will appreciate. If you are using XSitesIDX by a la mode then you can go ahead and check these off:

Visitors can create an account and save their favorite listings for later

The ability to save a search and/or sign up to receive e-mail alerts when a new listing matches their saved searches

Lead capture forms to easily request more information about a property

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Step 4: Simple But Appropriate Contents

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The best websites are simple. They don't have so many buttons that a visitor feels intimidated, and everyone knows where to go to find solutions to their problems. It also helps that your site feels "just right", like they've found exactly the right fit for their needs. People will be more impressed by an ace of one specialty than a jack of all trades. You're not just a choice, you're the choice.

With that in mind it's best to keep your contents as simple as you can. Below is a checklist of the contents your site almost certainly has to have:

At least one sub-page for each specialty, niche, target, or local area

A few different pages for home shopping (remember the MLS tips from above)

A separate testimonials page

A page about you (or your team) and your credentials

A dedicated page for your contact information (so it's always handy)

Next, you'll want to make sure that the pages on your site are organized cleanly to make sure your hot topics are easy to find and nobody gets lost.

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Organize any menu buttons that are closely related so they are side-by-side. For example, have all of your buyers buttons, seller buttons, or shopping/listings buttons close together so visitors of a particular type will be drawn to that part of the menu as their pocket of interest.
Optional: If you still end up with a large number of buttons for each audience then create a fly-out menu per audience so your menu will look cleaner and flow better.
Where possible, if you start talking about a topic that is covered elsewhere then create a link to that page ("learn more" or "click here") to keep things short.
Optional: Consider if a page really needs its own button or not. You can always have less buttons in your menu by using "landing pages" for certain needs or topics as your buttons, then having those landing pages contain links to more articles (like how a news website has sections for weather, sports, world, and so forth, and after you click into each of those you see clickable "headlines" to lead visitors to more relevant pages).
Cut any pages that don't fit your niche or strategy. They're just taking up space in your menu and will be of questionable value.
Every page you keep should work to get people close to you, so if you can't come up with a reason for someone to contact you because of a page then consider not using that page.

Finally, let's spend some additional time looking at what goes into an effective homepage. There are two important things to mention here:

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On the homepage you should view this pageas a "table of contents" for your entire site. Its goal should be funneling your visitors into the pages they came there to find, and to do it as cleanly and quickly as possible. Take your highlight pages or audience areas and mention them near the top of the page with links to read more on those topics. They're going to read the homepage anyway when they find it, so they might as well be reading about what brought them to your site and find more information.
Make sure your homepage does that by calling out to specific pages, and be sure to move any talk about yourself, your team, your credentials, how great you are, or testimonials to their own sub-pages. It's important that your site has them, but they don't belong on your homepage. The homepage should NOT be a place to "toot your own horn". For your first impression visitors aren't interested in you or your company if they found you while searching for a solution to a real estate problem. All they care about at first is if your site will solve that problem. Then they'll care about you.

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Step 5: Lead Capture

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The entire reason you have your website is so you'll get contacted and hopefully turn that into more business. With that in mind lead capture is a crucial tool for making that happen.

 

Come up with a "pitch" for each content page that you'll use at the end of the page to close the funnel and get someone to contact you.

Take that pitch idea for your page and create a custom form around it to be used on that page. Forms catch people's eyes and make contacting you about a topic even easier than writing an e-mail.

Title the form or otherwise call attention to your offer by phrasing their problem right back at them (like "Need help finding the right loan program?"). This will get their attention if that is a worry they still have.

After getting their attention talk to them about solutions and not "at them" about your services. Re-read your language and make sure instead of saying "I, we, me, my" you put the focus on "you, your, yours". It'll make you sound more like a consultant than a salesperson.

Consider some of these offers as ideas to give someone a reason to contact you:

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Offer a "no obligation consultation" (such as checking out their house to give reasons it's not selling, or to show them around a few listings with no strings attached)
Use referrals to other experts as a reason to be contacted (like adding a loan help form on a page even if you'll just be forwarding them to a loan officer colleague). If you do refer them elsewhere then keep in touch and make sure they got the help they needed so they feel rewarded by using you as a "middleman".
Recommend that you help them find what they are looking for by offering to compile a custom list of properties just for them based on their needs.
Provide them with a market analysis as "inside information" to help them understand if it's a good time to buy or sell.
Create a periodic newsletter and offer it to your visitors (as long as you can tell them what's in it so they see a reason to receive it).
Find PDF or other online handbooks (buyers or sellers guides, homeowner packages, etc.) and offer these to a visitor if they use a contact form on your website.
Sign up for discount programs from stores such as Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sears, or others. They can give you coupon codes to hand out to your clients. Then, make sure your site mentions that you can offer them discounts as solutions to their problems (such as on your fixer-uppers page you could add "Need supplies for remodeling? Contact me to find out about my Lowe's discount program.").

Other things you can do to earn their trust and get contacted:

Add your contact info in easy to find locations, such as in your header, your footer, at the bottom of some of your pages, and especially right around any pitches or offers you plan to make.

Make your testimonials and credentials contents easy to find. You could link to them in your footer, make them one of your top buttons in your menu, or manualy link to them near where you will be making your"pitch.

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Step 6: Social Media and Blogs

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Social media is now practically inseparable from search engine optimization. In fact, it's SEO "the easy way". Google has stopped caring about what platform you use, any "behind-the-scenes" tech work, or anything other than A.) what they can tell about you based off of your site's plain contents, and B.) if they see that you are accessible, passionate, and involved. Social media is an easy way to satisfy the latter portion.

Join at least one (but consider joining a few) of the major social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, ActiveRain (a real estate specific social platform), or LinkedIn (a business-centric site). You can create a profile under a company name or your personal name depending on how you want to interact with your followers (for example, if you want to blend with their friends then use your real name, or if you want it to be your brand identity then name it after the company).

Add easy to find social media badges/icons all over your website leading visitors to your profiles. Let people know you're available on the same networks they may be using.

If you build a profile around your business (rather than your name) then make sure your profiles have your logo or something else that shows that the site and profile are related.

If you built your profile around yourself personally then make sure you've got photos of yourself on both your site and your profiles.

Just having the profiles and making them available isn't enough, though. You've got to give people a reason to follow your Facebook (or other profile) and stay in touch.

Set a reminder to write a post or blog once every 1-2 weeks at least. Don't let too much time go by before your followers hear from you. They shouldn't forget you exist. But don't post too often or your readers might get sick of hearing from you.
If you have more than one social media profile or blog then you can re-post the same information into all of them. They don't have to each have unique contents, as someone following one of your profiles (such as Facebook)  should get the same benefit as someone following you elsewhere (such as Twitter).
Any time you post keep it short (8 sentences is average for a blog, and Twitter limits you to 140 characters).
Post about the same things everyone else posts about (family, the weather, a funny thing you saw). Just make sure it's no secret what you do for a living and that you occasionally have a low-level reminder that you handle real estate. It should be a "soft sell", so don't crowd your profile with listings and sales pitches. People should follow you because you are interesting and have things in common with them - not because you are an endless stream of marketing. The sale will come because they have a need and they already feel invested in you personally.
Leverage links to your website's pages to "close the deal". An easy way to do this would be to blog using your website's blogging tools and then post links to your blog articles on Facebook, Twitter, etc. That will get readers to check out your site and see what else you have to offer.

One of the biggest hurdles people initially have problems with when it comes to blogging and social media is what to talk about. You don't always have to make it about real estate - in fact that might make your contents become uninteresting or monotonous. A blog is just a platform for you to show people what matters to you. While real estate should be counted among that you should also show that your community matters as well.

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Here are a few ideas of topics you might blog about. Check any you plan to use regularly as a reminder to yourself:

Restaurant reviews
New businesses
Upcoming events/gatherings/festivals
Local news or city council happenings
School openings/closings
Local sports (especially high school or college)
Shopping or home furnishing
Information about local attractions
Financial help or recent developments
Other (anything else that shows you're involved)

Another important aspect about social media is that it's "social" - it isn't one-sided. You have to follow people back so they hear from you on occasion. Here is a list of tasks to keep in mind:

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Read your followers' page or friends' list regularly and stay familiar. These are all potential relationships and you need to stay in touch.
Comment when they post something interesting so they keep hearing from you and start recognizing your name in conversations.
Follow your friends' friends, but only on the grounds of shared interests (not as "sales stalking"). If one of your followers has a friend's profile that has things in common with you then ask that friend to introduce you and start conversing about your shared interests. This is like a business referral where business hasn't come up yet (and you can make new friends, too).
Find other blogs that are similar to your interests (local news, real estate, colleagues, event blogs, etc.) and comment on their posts regularly. You can usually include a link to your own website when you comment and you might get some followers that migrate from that blog to yours.

If you handle social media properly it can feel more like a "hobby that pays off" rather than marketing or work.

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Step 7: Other Off-site Promotion

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Your website is done, for the most part, but your work isn't done. Unfortunately, nearly 75% of your Google rank comes from Google finding you in other places on the web versus just your own site. Basically, in order for Google (and the other search engines) to pay attention to you they need to keep hearing about you - and not just from yourself. This is still the #1 way to improve your search engine rank!

Social media is one way to do this, but here are some other related ideas for off-site promotion.

Set a day or time to answer questions on "question sites" like Trulia (a real estate specific Q&A section), Mahalo (a question site where you can find specific categories to browse and answer), or Google's or Yahoo's own question/answer sections. Be sure to leave your website in any answers you provide (either by sending them to a page that solves their problem or simply sign it with your name and domain). Not only will Google see you are on sites they feel are relevant to what you are targeting but you might even get some direct leads by doing this.

When you read a news article that has something in common with your business (either because it's real estate related or because it is about your area) then leave a comment in that article's comments section. Put a link to your site in the comment and have something interesting to say so that not only will Google see you pay attention to relevant news but visitors may like your comment and check you out.

Optional, but a big bonus! Consider writing a pro bono article for a local news site about something you know well (like a market analysis or financial woes, winterizing your home, etc.). If they don't have to pay you they'd love to add your knowledge to their publication and/or website. Be sure the article also closes with your website address, or make sure your site has more info on that topic and refer readers to your site to learn even more. Having a reputable news website send you traffic can really score some reputation points for Google (as well as get you noticed).

Trade links with other local businesses and colleagues. Not necessarily your competitors, but people to whom you might refer business such as an appraiser, loan company, title company, insurance agent, plumber, or other professionals. Link to them as a resource that can solve your visitors' problems, and have them do the same. Not only might you be helping each other get traffic but Google notices you have a "circle of trust" and they'll trust you a bit more, too.

Get listed in directories where other agents are listed. This could be YellowPages, Business.com, BOTW (Brands of the World), or a local professional directory of some sort. Someone using these resources to find an agent will find you, but since these lists are also considered reputable by Google they treat a listing on these sites as a sign of your legitimacy. Note, some listings cost money, so evaluate them before you invest.

Join Google Places. It's free, takes about 5 minutes, allows visitors to leave ratings and testimonials right on your Google search result when your site comes up (so people searching can see you have 5 stars), and really spells out for Google who you are, what you do, and where you do it.

Syndicate your listings to other sites, such as Trulia, Zillow, etc.

Post ads on Craigslist for listings or services. Craigslist is still one of the most visited sites on the web, even if it is ugly.

It's also important to re-examine your "offline marketing" and make sure it upholds the image you are trying to portray and fits in with the plan and goals you have.

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Make sure your print materials (flyers, brochures, hand-outs, listings media) list your website, continue your branding (logos, photos), and possibly have social media badges so they know where to find you.
Do the same for any business cards, stationery, and your yard signs.
Keep your print marketing specific. Remember that if your website targets a niche or area then your print marketing should reflect that so you bring in the right types of people.
Use a QR code generator (like Google's free one) to create a QR code for your site, a listing, your social media page, or any other website you want someone to find. Include that QR code in your print media to catch those "tech savvy" prospects that use smart phones and code scanners.
Find where people are hanging out and hang out there as well. Before the days of the internet this was how many real estate professionals met clients - by mingling "the old fashioned way".
Find bulletin boards at popular hangouts and leave some print materials or stationery there where someone can find them.

Personal Notes For This Section: 

 
 
 


Other Recommended Resources:

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