Great websites don’t just “happen.”
They can, however, be distilled into three major components: DESIGN, PROGRAMMING AND CONTENT.
The best sites are equally strong in all three areas, offering visitors a genuinely enjoyable experience—access to useful information in an attractive and user-friendly format.
How can you create a site that measures up to these standards? In most cases, you’ll have to hire the right people.
Here are a number of questions to ask, when deciding.
The first impression of your website—and by extension, the first impression of you as a real estate professional—is what visitors see on your home page. Designs that hide or bury essential information (like how to contact you) should be avoided.
Think about what your potential clients want to find on your site. Deliver what they’re looking for in an easy-to-access, visually pleasing manner. Text links are a simple, effective way to provide easy access to additional “drill down” information. Your design should also provide an enjoyable experience across a variety of web browsers, as well as mobile platforms. Currently, responsive web design is the best option meaning your site will automatically sense and adjust to the platform being used to view it.
Visitors on smartphones, for example, will see a single column of the main text and primary navigation options. (Instead of a microscopic version of the entire page.) With responsive design visitors don’t have to scroll left and right, or zoom in to read pages, regardless of what device or browser they’re using.
In general, the far left and right (or top and bottom) buttons are the ones most often used by visitors. If you want to highlight your international services, make this the first navigation button. Use the far right (or bottom) button for your Contact page, which should include a contact form, additional methods to reach you, your physical location and other essential information.
Questions for Designers
Will you be creating an original design or modifying a template? Both approaches are valid, as long as you don’t wind up with a “cookie-cutter” site that lacks originality.
How much will I need to budget for photography? Numerous sites like istockphotography.com, shutterstock.com and thinkstock.com make quality stock photography easy to obtain and relatively affordable. Prices range from under $10 to $50 or more, depending on quality and file size. (Fortunately, less expensive, low-resolution images are better for websites.) It may be more cost-effective to buy a monthly subscription package instead of individual photos.
Have you designed other real estate websites? An experienced designer who hasn’t worked on real estate sites may still be a good choice as long as you’re comfortable with their overall approach and they understand how to integrate content like featured listings or property search tools.
The “backend” of your site—the actual programming code—needs to be as clean and as effective as what visitors see. Clean code will make your site render better in a variety of browsers, including mobile versions. It also makes it more accessible to people with disabilities and safer—you never want any malicious code hidden in a template or plug-in.
Google’s own engineer, Matt Cutts urges good coding habits for other reasons as well:
- It makes your site easier to maintain
- It makes upgrades easier
- Handing off your website to new staff is easier
If you are building your site with an eye on the future (and you should!) you need to start with clean code—and discuss several other important topics.
Questions for Programmers
How will you ensure clean code, and when might you think it’s better to use invalid code? Clean code is preferable, but there are also legitimate reasons for bending the rules. Make sure your programmer can explain their reasoning.
Will my site include a content management system (CMS)? Which one do you recommend? A CMS makes it easy for you (or an assistant) to update your site (changing featured listings, for example). While a custom-designed CMS is expensive, this feature is already built into platforms like Wordpress, an extremely popular and user-friendly option. Drupal and Joomla are two other strong contenders. Ask your programmer to give you a behind-the-scenes tour and explain their recommendations. People tend to prefer whichever CMS they know best; that’s okay, as long as you agree with their recommendations.
Are you already familiar with property databases and how to integrate and display listings? In the U.S., most Multiple Listing Services offer Internet Database Exchange (IDX) feeds to accomplish this.
Will your programming support responsive design? As mentioned earlier, responsive design means your site will render properly on a wide variety of browsers and that mobile visitors will automatically view a modified easy-to-use version.
The most important element of a high performing, customer-attracting website is excellent content. Focusing on content will also improve your rankings on search engines, bringing in even more visitors—and more business!
Start by thinking about the information your clients most want and the questions they tend to ask. If you provide easy-to-follow information that answers their questions, then other considerations—like keywords for search engines—will also fall into place. Your use of search-oriented keywords will be the natural result of discussing the material potential clients desire.
Visitors to your site should also have an opportunity to learn about your personality and your dedication to solving their problems. If they feel they already “know” you, they’re much more likely to pursue a business relationship with you.
For global agents, translations are another important consideration. Machine translation tools can easily convert your content into other languages, or let visitors select which language they prefer. If you go this route, be sure to check your content in other languages (or hire someone to do this) and make any necessary adjustments.
It should go without saying that “canned” content (pre-written content sold to multiple real estate agents) will not convey your unique personality or the specialized services you provide. But did you know that canned content also negatively impacts your search engine rankings? Google boosts sites with original content.
When it comes to content, don’t skimp.
Write your own or hire a professional to help.
Questions for Content Developers
Do you have knowledge and experience writing about real estate topics? Are you also familiar with considerations for cross-border transactions?
Can you point me to examples of work you’ve done that will give me a better sense of how you’ll approach developing content for my site?
How will you ensure my “voice” comes through in your writing, so my site makes a strong personal connection with visitors?
Will you be delivering original content that becomes my intellectual property?
How will we work together? What material will you need from me?
What other questions have you found important to ask, especially when developing websites for global visitors? Continue the conversation on the private CIPS Facebook page, Official Group: NAR CIPS Designees.
Note: To read more about website considerations for global agents, refer to the December 2012 issue of Global Perspectives.