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Real Estate Website Basics

March 22 2010

Today a brokerage in the northeastern United States launched a new website. When I saw the press release, I rushed quickly over to the website to see what type of new innovations may appear.
wrong way sign higher resWhat I found was a website with a high quality domain name (city name + real estate), tons of search engine optimization features, multiple language support, market reports and more. I enthusiastically rushed over to the quick search on the homepage, picked my dream home prices, saw a list of results, and clicked the first oneREGISTRATION REQUIRED. I left, heartbroken and angry.

We hold this truth to be self-evident. The purpose of a real estate agent or broker website is property search. Forcing registration is the worst possible thing that an agent or broker can do to alienate potential buyers and sellers who visit your website.

I have seen this happen a thousand times before. An agent or broker knows some genius Web designer who works with the most special companies in the world. Surely that person is qualified to build a simple real estate website, right? No!
The website I looked at has Search Engine Optimization nailed, with tons of text on the homepage. The sitemap at the bottom of the page was wonderfully crafted with outstanding links to every city name + real estate term in the area. Indeed, the company that built the website even has SEO in their name. I use a free tool to check page rank called SEO Book. It is a free Firefox plug-in. As it turns out, the website in question has been around since August of 2000—very old, which is a good thing for SEO. It also turns out that the page rank is 4—pretty average.

Page rank is not everything, where the rubber hits the road is where the site appears in Googlewho has 50% market share in all of search. For the primary keyword (city name + real estate.com), the company did appear on the first page of the search results. This is great news, but expected with such a fantastic domain name, so I dug deeper. I checked to see how they were performing for city name + real estate searches that did not include the domain name. Geeks call this “long tail search”; In other words, rather than searching for “Los Angeles real estate” (the company’s domain name was something like losangelesrealestate.com, but I will not tell who they really are), I searched for a comparable term like “beverely hills real estate,” “Malibu real estate,” etc. The company did not show up anywhere on the first 100 results.

Here is the lesson in all of this:

The first thing that you do before building a website is write a requirements document. It details WHO the website is being built for (i.e. Local residents, male and female age 30-55) and WHATlooking for real estate, and WHYwhy you as an agent or you as a broker?

The second thing you do before building a website is design the theme for the home and sub pages. They call this CSS or cascading style sheet in geek speek. Make sure that your branding is clearly differentiated from your competitors, and consistent with colors and fonts already used in your logo and other marketing communications. Make sure the user instantly understands that they are reaching a real estate website and place property search as the primary call to action on the website. Develop the primary navigation menu for the site.

Lastly, build a specifications document. This is the detail of how the website works when you enter any information or click any button or go to any page on the website. What is there? Part of the specifications is something called Meta Data—the title of each page, description of each page, keywords for each page, and the sitemap for the entire website.

In the case described above, the site was developed in the wrong order. It was built for Search Engine Optimization first, branding second, and the property-searching consumer last. As a result, the tech-savvy consumer will promptly abandon. Remember, consumers do not want to become leads.