Own your website, Own your content and Own your marketing
There are two primary real estate web design approaches:
1. “Better sameness” (a horrible marketing strategy)
The majority of the agent websites present their own version of the very same tired information every other real estate site displays. They may try to do one or two things a little better, but it’s the same boring, ineffective information. Yawn…
Turnkey SaaS (software as a service) monthly subscription providers do make it super simple to set up a do-it-yourself template website online. Your new website can be online in under an hour, complete with IDX (MLS Reciprocity in B.C.) listings, a few core pages you can customize, some form of CRM or contact management, your own logo and colors, with hosting. The attractive feature is ease… the “content” updates automatically come from MLS. It’s the easiest, cheapest solution, but there’s no content strategy or effort to provide any unique value to the reader or search engines. The majority of these sites are empty shells, displaying data and images from the external provider.
For real estate agents that want something a little more original, every city offers a plethora of web designers to choose from. The standard procedure here is putting together an RFQ (request for quotation), and selecting the candidate offering the biggest perceived bang for the buck. And while the look and feel should stand out a bit from the “cookie cutter” providers — and you will probably own your site instead of just renting it — the developer will usually also drop in a snippet of code from an IDX (MLS reciprocity) provider to handle most of your “content.” Giving the cheap template site a unique look, really doesn’t help. The issue is content, or shall we say, lack thereof. Fortunately these semi-custom solutions will usually include at least of few of the standard pages that are “real” content, even though they tend to be a regurgitated knockoff of what everyone has.
The problem: Websites are viewed as a ‘necessary evil of business’, an item to check off a list, like business cards. So they have about the same value as a marketing tool.
Google is trying to index unique, epic quality (the best page on the internet for the topic and keywords), real (physically located on-site), relevant and ‘local’ content, updated regularly. The typical real estate agent’s site fails to provide anything Google considers valuable, so it’s no surprise that you won’t see them listed in the first page of Google search results.
What’s the difference between “real” content and filtered content “piped in” from an external source? Think of your website as a library room of high quality content. In the window you can view a beautiful display, made up of some of the most interesting samples of the information inside. Further inside, you see comfortable chairs and tables where visitors can sit down to go over the information. There are shelves of carefully indexed archives of sold listings, dating back quite a few years, many recent articles with local information of great interest to potential buyers, and recent publications covering local news pertaining to the community’s real estate. The address to that public library of information would be well worth sharing with interested searchers. Now what if that room was empty instead, with only a rear-projection screen placed in front of the window (a facade). The projector behind would display information from a library in another city, albeit covering current listings available in the locale. How valuable or shareable would that address be?
2. Standing out and delivering high value to your audience
The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver claims a membership of over 11,000. There is no way an agent in that geographic area will find themselves listed in the top 5 ranking positions, that get 90% of the clicks, doing the same thing as everyone else. The heavy hitters in real estate have usually discovered that contrast is the key to marketing success. Standing out from the ambient noise is what makes them visible on Google, and to prospective clients. We’re experts at defining a competitive difference.
The achievers understand that content builds authority, rankings, traffic and leads. Content also provides ‘local’ value to the reader. For a website, they look for an experienced content marketer and strategist, instead of a turnkey solution, or just a graphic artist/programmer “gun for hire”.
The real estate agent’s own listings are featured on the home page, and throughout the site, in stunning magazine quality spreads, and someone has taken the time to showcase each property with great care. The descriptions read as if they come out of Architectural Digest or Dwell. Whether it’s someone on the agent’s team, or the content marketing/social media/lead generation company, the images, video and text are manually entered into the dedicated real estate CMS (content management system) on the agent’s own site, rather than “piped in” from an external source. With legitimate on-site content, it can be carefully optimized, for specific reader personas and the search engines.
Over time, the archive of active and sold listings grows and grows, providing not only credibility to visitors of the site, but also a mountain of keyword-rich local content for the search engines to index. Consider this: if one site has hundreds of archived on-site listing pages, and the competition only displays 3rd party IDX data (no physical pages on the actual website hosting space), it’s a slam dunk for the website with all that “real” content.
Don’t get me wrong; IDX data feeds definitely have their place, providing you also deliver real on-site content to bring in the traffic to view those MLS reciprocity listings. IDX is useless without “eyeballs.” We install MLS reciprocity on most real estate sites we build, but work together with our clients to produce the quality content that will deliver value, search engine rankings and traffic.
Want a reliable stream of leads? Hyperlocal content is the key to driving plenty of quality traffic to your real estate website. In addition to displaying the most gorgeous real estate in your area, with stunning imagery and captivating descriptions, your site becomes the local magazine and information resource.
If they want to know about the zoning changes in your area that affect real estate; you’re the go-to source. If someone Googles “places to walk my dog” in your area, your site is at the top of the list, with several paragraphs describing each trail and a nice Google map with pins in it, showing all the locations. If someone wants to know what was discussed at the last town meeting, there it is, on your site. Over time, there will be thousands of likes, tweets and recommendations online, all linking back to this incredible resource site. (No worries. You don’t have to write it all… but more on that later.)
A good real estate website is a hyperlocal content platform
Search engines love “real” (physical pages that reside on your site) local content instead of “piped in” data from a third party provider. Why would they give out top 10 rankings for external content also available from thousands of other real estate websites?
Google’s algorithm updates have forever changed the online marketing landscape. The old ‘tricks’ are dead. In 2015 real estate SEO is a content play.
This is our web design process:
1. Website Audit / Roadmapping
We begin by auditing your existing website and the results achieved with that website, and the marketing strategy behind it. I evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and review the content, architecture and server setup.
I will then consult with you, discussing my findings and making some initial recommendations.
In the discovery process that follows, we will discuss your needs, goals and desired outcomes. To make your goals achievable, they need to be clearly defined and progress must be measurable.
I create customer personas. We need to know exactly who your ideal customer is. Once I know the audience we’re targeting, and the local area we’re focusing on, it’s time for keyword research and mapping out the content silos and superior navigation we need to build to effectively present that content.
I determine what content must be created, and if it will be included in the re-design project. I have been writing marketing copy for 27 years, with my roots in magazine publishing. I can help you by writing most of the content, or in coaching someone on your team to write well for the web.
For your project to be successful, we must be on the same page as far as the strategy for achieving your site’s objectives goes, and the implementation. Based upon my findings during the discovery process, I will prepare a strategic brief for your approval. A functional specification document is also prepared for our design department.
We work with our sister company, Whitewolf Design, on the design and development. Moodboards (a collage of colors and style items) are created, wireframes prepared (simple visual layouts) to define key layout areas, and we will begin creating visual mock-ups in Photoshop for you.
You will be presented with design layouts. These layouts are reviewed by you and refined/revised until approved. Upon sign-off on the design, the project is ready to move into production.
In the production phase of the project, the Photoshop layouts are “coded” into a functional website.
All of our design work in 2015 is responsive, so the content looks good on all popular browsers, computer platforms and mobile devices. Mobile is huge for real estate and your site will include basic responsive on-the-fly rendering for iOS and Android devices.
6. Content Population / SEO Strategy
In most projects, web copywriting will have been going on behind the scenes while the design and production are carried out, and it’s now time to enter all that content into the pages we created.
Our standard Real Estate web design projects include a series of tutorial videos, covering all common maintenance and content creation functions, screencast by completing the tasks on your new live site. I am also available by phone or email, to answer questions after launch.