While real estate websites hold the position of some of the most impressive, cutting edge and prestigious websites online, they can also hold the reputation for the ugliest and least intuitive sites as well.
Zillow is a great example of a new media giant. What started out as a highly secretive startup by the ex CEO of Expedia turned into one of the most talked about sites of the year. It has already been branded by the public the “EBay of real estate sites”. Their site technology has resulted in many industry innovations and in fact is changing the real estate industry as we know it.
Redfin and Trulia are another two up and comers in the real estate technology arena. Redfin has already dominated a 60 minutes show recently and Trulia has just received another 10 million in financing. In fact in January 2007, all three of these companies were listed in Swanepoel TRENDS Report as part of the “Top 10 Trendsetters” online.
Academics report that with over 100+ million websites online, approximately 6% of commercial websites are real estate related. The problem is that a vast majority of these sites are nowhere near the caliber of Zillow.com. Most are mere duplicates of poor real estate website design.
I’m sure you can picture them now, a headshot picture in the upper left hand corner, a pixilated, poorly designed logo, possibly an unnecessary, time consuming flash presentation at the beginning, content which doesn’t stand out, poor information architecture, and countless links at the bottom of their homepage sending their site visitors to sites such as bulgariancardealers.com or real-estate-secrets-for-people-with-bad-credt.com.
At paperclipcms.com we only focus on real estate websites. We see countless real estate websites each day. We spend our days researching, analyzing, promoting, and designing real estate websites. Yet, we never get desensitized to the utterly horrible design and functionality of the majority of real estate websites out there today. It’s sometimes shocking, sometimes tragic and often comical how poorly designed most real estate websites are.
The subject of real estate website design would not fit within the framework of this blog post, however we will point out some major “musts” for real estate websites.
1. Organize your outbound links and keep links to 3rd party sites to a minimum on your main page. If you have a real estate link exchange or resource page, make sure you have organized your links into categories and only included relevant links. A link from a coffee retailer will do more harm than good for your search engine ranking and your public image.
2. Organize your internal information architecture in such a way that is intuitive and minimal. Look at your metrics monitoring program to find out what your most popular pages are. While most real estate webmasters place a disproportionate amount of attention on their “about us” page, we have found these pages are frequented by less than 2% of website visitors. Our testing has shown the most popular pages on real estate websites have been property listing pages, property index pages, maps, blogs and of course the sites main page. People want properties and regional information before they want to know about what your education background is. Make sure you present your website information in an order that correlates to your website visitor preferences.
3. Ensure there is design continuity throughout your site. You should have one title font, size and color, one subtitle font, size and color and the body text should also be the same site wide. Similarly, ensure there is harmony between the colors on your site. There should be great thought put into the color combinations and the interaction between graphical elements and text elements. For example, if your banner has predominantly cool, blues and purples, then bring that into consideration whey dealing with your sites typography choices, such as page titles or subheadings.
4. Upload as many properties as you possibly can. All of our research has concluded the same findings. People visit real estate websites to search for properties. They want pictures, virtual tours, directions, descriptions and contact information. Too many real estate websites keep up a few outdated listings hoping their site visitors will call asking to see a particular place, to which there response will be “I’m sorry, that property is no longer available but maybe you should come by the office and I can show you a list of other properties that are available”. This is such an ineffective way to harness the power of the internet.
The more properties you have on your site, the longer people will stay on your website and look around. The more properties you have on your site, the more education your site visitors will have regarding your property offerings and the less work you will need to do in the future informing your clients of property choices. The web saves both you and your clients a lot of time. You save time because you now have clients coming to you with printouts of the properties they want to see and you spend less time educating your clients. It’s a win win situation, but it requires that you keep your website up to date and populated with many properties.
Again, you don’t have to be the next Zillow.com, and you don’t need to do an IPO to raise money to ensure you site gets the attention it deserves. While building a quality real estate website takes time, it’s not something that out of reach to the average real estate professional. It just takes some pre-planning and a basic understanding of design and technology.