Part 1: Real Estate Website Design and Functionality 101

“This blog series is intended to be a walk-through for setting up a lead generating website. My goal is to get you thinking about ways to improve your site and enhance its performance. Each blog post will be centered on a specific part of website development that will help you grow your online business. Some posts will be more specific and advanced, while others will be more general and introductory.  Taken together, the posts in this series will offer valuable tips, regardless of where you are with the maturity of your website.” Design is an important element in website development. In the past the thought was to create animated, Flash-heavy websites that dazzled Internet searchers. Today, Internet Marketers say that Flash websites daze and confuse consumers, who have become more sophisticated at searching for websites thanks to companies like Google. Website optimization is the key to doing online business in the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean that design has to suffer to rank number one. Website design is very much about structure. According to our Creative Director, Todd Cummings “There is a step in the web design process known as Information Architecture. IA is the development of the web site’s structure and navigation. This framework or “wire frame” provides a map of the content and functionality that will drive the design and development process and result in the finished web site.” Think about the design structure and layout of your site like an architect would about a new home being developed. The questions raised before actually building a new home are very similar to those developers ask before building a new website.

Do You Know Your Audience?

Understanding the intended audience will help determine the look and feel of your website. Builders need to understand their market before starting a project. Do their potential buyers prefer hardwood or carpeted floors in their homes? The same goes for your potential clients: put yourself in their shoes and shop for a home on a competitor’s website. When you first visit that site, what attracts to you to it, and what annoys you? Sometimes we forget to see our sites through the consumer’s eyes.

How Will People Find Your Site?

It’s important that you also understand how the design of your site will or won’t influence your ability to be found. Flash and image heavy websites tend to have a harder time ranking on the first page of search engines. Remember, Google is a text matching engine, so it wants to be able to read content on your website, and it can’t read or understand Flash. A great web site design will deftly balance all of these elements, greatly increasing your chances of being found amid a sea of other web sites. Is your design flexible enough to allow you to add and update content? Adding a blog to your domain and creating unique pages are two of the easiest ways to help you be found, so don’t create a site that can’t accommodate that!

How Will People Use Your Site?

The most important question an Architect needs to answer is: How are people going to use the home they are designing? Figuring out how the home will be used helps them determine the layout and functionality of rooms. So ask yourself, what do home buyers want from my website? Todd elaborates on this point well: “Design is about communication. A simple, straightforward design will highlight and support the site’s all-important content. Good design is essential to an effective website but shouldn’t become a barrier. The design should be a link between the user and the information.” Understanding how customers use your site will not only help you understand what needs updating, but also how to increase leads. Your site is a portal for customers to view properties and find out if you are the right REALTOR for them. Perhaps some clients also want information regarding the communities they are thinking about moving to, or some help with relocating to a new area.  Especially for new buyers, recommending specific searches that buyers can access in one click is a great way to showcase popular real estate in your area and make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for right away. As a fringe benefit, search engines love links to recommended searches too.

Is Your Design Simple and Easy To View?

As Spencer Taylor likes to say: “Site visitors have the attention span of goldfish.” If you are having trouble making a decision about a button or content, remember that the simplest answer is often best. Also, make sure the font on your site is large enough so all visitors can easily read it—including users with small, old screens and weaker reading vision.

Does Your Site Make You Want to Move to Your Market Area?

Remember, you are not only competing against other REALTORS in your market, you are competing against other markets. So, a web site for Cape Cod should make you want to buy a beach house right there. For example, we helped Lomenzo Properties accomplish this with a homepage design full of beachscapes—and they won an award for the design.  There is an old sales proverb that applies here: if you are selling Caribbean beach vacations, you should talk about the feeling of the sand between your toes while walking on the beach.  In addition to the first impression, a site infused with local imagery helps show buyers that you are passionate and knowledgeable about your area and keeps them coming back.

Are You Branding Your Business?

A website that doesn’t brand its owner or business is not as effective and doesn’t distinguish you from your competition. Todd says, “A strong brand image includes more than just a well-designed logo.  Differentiating yourself from others through your promise and client service actions is essential. Reinforce your brand image with a strong upfront value proposition and consistent styling from your web site and print materials to your yard signs and business card.” In other words, the content and presentation of your value proposition (the front and center message on your site), is your best opportunity to establish a good first impression with your visitor.  So, it needs to be a compelling statement that’s support by compelling design and content features. For example, if you state you are the most approachable, down-to-earth and “non-salesy” Realtor, include a design feature of several of your customers talking about these qualities in you, like Dave Chenette does in the video. Next Month: The Importance of SEO and Keyword Research