4 Web Design Approaches: Which is the Best for Real Estate?

Web design for real estate, Vancouver, BC

What makes design great?


Steve Jobs believed that design was more about the way things work, not the way they look. Apple has gone on to become the world’s most valuable brand with that philosophy.

Four web design approaches

  1. Client-centric web design focuses on converting the website owner’s artistic vision and feature wish list into a web reality.
  2. User-centric design is all about the user experience. It’s sometimes referred to as a UX design (User eXperience), content-centered or consumer-centric approach.
  3. SEO-centric design targets search rankings, with Google’s top ten positions as the key objective.
  4. And ROI-centric design decisions are based upon raising brand awareness, building market share, driving sales and increasing profits. This approach is often referred to as a profit-driven design solution.

To get a better idea of how these approaches translate to real life…

Let’s say you and a few prospective customers decide to take a road trip, as a relationship building exercise.

SEO-centric of course decides to stay home, because the trip does not include a visit to Google headquarters. User-centric obsesses over the comfort of the passengers, so they’ll be very happy they made the trip, and consider coming along again. ROI-centric carefully maps out the most efficient route, checks tire pressures and suggests taking a car with better fuel economy. Cost of customer acquisition is weighed against buying another round of snacks at the convenience store. Meanwhile, Client-centric only cares that the color of paint on the SUV you’ll be traveling in. matches the swatch the prospective customer provided.

From my perspective, getting someone into the vehicle in the first place − or creating your audience first − would have to be the most important. Without it, there would be no trip even to consider. (But, of course, as a marketing copywriter,  “audience” is priority #1 to me.)

A growing number of conscientious web designers are coming to the realization that the client-centric approach is extremely short sighted, self-serving, and fundamentally flawed from the outset. Rendering the decision maker’s creative vision becomes the only thing that matters… to the exclusion of almost everything else. Very rarely does this approach bring any value to the audience. And without an audience, you will be unable to influence the decisions of future clients.

ROI-centric design wins on the balance sheet, the only place it actually matters in business

I believe that many designers who won’t fight for the website’s users, or even the company’s balance sheet, are equally self absorbed. They’ve realized that a “give the customer what they want” approach is the shortest, least stressful, path to sign-off and final payment. They know many of their clients’ choices will come back to bite them in the ass, but they say nothing, or at best, make mention of it once in passing.

The return on investment design approach embodies user experience, creation of useful content, SEO and a conversion strategy. In other words, designing for profit covers all the bases but one. Chasing aesthetics, and delivering a very specific look and feel that satisfies one individual, or a small group of them, often conflicts with a far nobler purpose. The best designers design for the client’s client.

Final thoughts

Are you of the persuasion that the customer is always right? They are, after all, paying for the work and should make the design decisions.

Or would you agree that, as Google and Facebook have concluded, function trumps aesthetics? The audience determines the value of the website. And the true beauty of a site is revealed in an impressive return on investment.

Custom-designed, responsive real estate websites


  1. says


    I would have to say that I believe the customer is always right. I think that web design should be done to attract the most visitors and hence create the most revenue.

    You can make the most beautiful website ever but if it does not help make a profit then it is not worth much.

    Great post.

    Dee Ann
    Dee Ann Rice recently posted…Online BillboardsMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Dee Ann,

      Thanks for your input. I’m all for giving the customer what they want aesthetically, as long is it doesn’t conflict with the job they hired me to do: increase search engine results, traffic and the number of leads they get from their website.

      For example: Requests like a dozen huge, full-width slider images on the home page, and a long list of features that require a lot of JavaScript, will slow the site to a snail’s pace. User experience will absolutely suck, and they could even be suspended by the hosting company.

      I’ve seen sites rate with a pair of D’s on GTmetrix.com as a result of fulfilling client requests. Google won’t rank a resource hog like that anywhere near the top. No rankings = no traffic = no sales. That’s a problem. In situations like that, I’m effective to the degree I am able to convince them their “design” ideas are killing them.

      You’re so right… a pretty site that doesn’t increase profits is a waste of server space. Or as I like to say: “How important is the ‘design’ on a site nobody ever visits?”

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…4 Web Design Approaches: Which is the Most Effective?My Profile

  2. says

    I have been online since the early nineties and have changed my website many times. I would ask my customers what would make their experience better? I still ask that question and continue to make the changes. Now to stay up with my competitors, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your site is if it can’t be seen, so one should never forget SEO.
    Arleen recently posted…Why Companies Trademark Everyday WordsMy Profile

  3. says

    I have always advocated the user centric approach (focusing on the user experience; provide a memorable experience and there is a higher chance that the user will come back).

    But, the way you explained this makes sense, especially for design. If we are blogging for business (or blogging to promote our business), ROI is important, even essential.

    I have been working on improving my blog (most of it is still behind the scenes, a lot more things to do before I implement those changes). So, this blog post is very much timely for me 😀

    Now that I think about it, I am getting ideas on how I would improve my blog – to get more results (in my case, more traffic and more subscribers).

    Thank you for sharing this, Cole!

    Appreciate it :)
    Jeevan Jacob John recently posted…7 Techniques to Confront Demotivation!My Profile

    • says

      Hi Jeevan,

      The ROI-centric approach addresses search engine rankings, the user experience when visitors arrive, and converting visits into revenue over time.

      Best of luck in continually improving the design and content on your blog. Over the years I’ve seen many of my favorite blogs and websites vanish for lack of revenue. Quite a few of those authors felt that blogging for “money” was somehow ethically wrong. (One declared it “vulgar.”) Had they taken care of their bottom line, they’d probably still be providing their readers with high quality information. I dearly wish they had. I believe it’s Robert Herjavec who said, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for money.”

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…A Powerful Internet Presence Begins With a Strong CoreMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Pankaj,

      I’m with you there. If the user experience sucks, visitors won’t return, and there will be little hope of a return on investment.

      Putting return on investment first, out of necessity, addresses SEO, traffic flow, an enjoyable user experience, affective presentation of useful content, social media integration, and a conversion strategy that puts money in the bank. The only consideration that gets very little attention is whether the clients were able to fully express themselves artistically in the finished website.

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…A Powerful Internet Presence Begins With a Strong CoreMy Profile

  4. says

    Hi Cole,

    I’m enjoy web design and learn more and more about it all the time. When I look at these 4 approaches, for the most part aren’t they all considered equal?

    The customer is absolutely always right! I think a healthy blend is the most effective approach. The client centric sets you apart from them many other sites in your niche. The user centric is important for engagement, conversions etc. The SEO and ROI centric go hand in hand, as far as, credibility and being found online. All are important and none of them should be neglected?

    Thanks for this Cole.
    Steven Wilson recently posted…If Your Blog Is Missing This Element, We Are Missing OutMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Steven,

      I’m going to have to disagree with you. Sadly, most web design customers look to other sites for their design and marketing ideas. We have the blind leading the blind, because statistics indicate that over 95% of all websites fail the only place it matters, on the bottom line. These sites will cost the client more to build and maintain than they will ever recover in new business revenue. The customer is usually dead wrong when it comes to designing their website. And if they are permitted to run roughshod over a designer that knows better, that online marketing professional has failed the client spectacularly.

      If a trial attorney permits the client to discard a tried and proven approach for winning the case, and map out her own defense, he is not behaving as a professional at all if he adopts a “customer is always right” philosophy. The case will almost certainly be lost in court, and his client will likely face years in prison, or be liable for financial damages that could bankrupt her. That irresponsible attorney should be disbarred.

      A heart specialist will not dismiss years of medical training and hands-on experience, in favor of directions from the patient, when performing open heart surgery. A malpractice suit will surely follow the procedure if the customer is permitted to take over.

      The stakes are just as high in online marketing. Sales are the lifeblood of any company, and businesses die every day because their websites failed to generate leads. If we fail our clients, the consequences can be dire. Who honestly cares if customers received the exact look and feel they wanted, as they’re closing the doors and terminating the jobs of their entire staff?

      It’s time internet marketing professionals provided real value and took their advisory roles more seriously. The projected upside must exceed the cost of the re-design, or there will be no return on investment.

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…A Powerful Internet Presence Begins With a Strong CoreMy Profile

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