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TECH WATCH

Web site pizzazz
Does Your Web Site Have Curb Appeal?

Give your Web presence a fresh look this year and invite visitors to stay.

BY MICHAEL ANTONIAK

It’s the curb appeal—that critical first impression a home makes—that often determines if a prospective buyer steps inside for a closer look, or moves on to the next listing.

As you mull your marketing plans for the year ahead, you’ll be well served to assess the curb appeal of your Web site. With many consumers likely to look online first in their search for property and real estate services, make sure your Web site is one they’ll want to investigate further.

Visit a number of real estate practitioners’ Web sites and you get the sense that some feel once a Web site is up, their work is done. But setting up the site is just the beginning. Continually revise and expand your content. If it’s been years since you first developed your site, and you haven’t revised it since, its design could appear stale to those who’ve visited before and dated to first-time visitors. It doesn’t take much to change those perceptions: A simple rearrangement of elements on the page or a new design theme or color palette will do.

The Home Page

The home page is a portal to your Web presence. At a glance, it should let visitors know who you are, what you do, whom you work for, your professional affiliations, and how your background and experience can benefit them. If you want your face known, use a small picture that loads quickly. Contact information, including an e-mail link that launches an e-mail program, should be prominently featured on the home page and throughout the site.

Ever try to find your way around an unfamiliar town without a map? It’s fine if you have the time; otherwise it’s an exercise in frustration. Assume visitors to your site are pressed for time. To aid them, use consistent navigation to streamline their search for information.

As the point of initial contact, the home page should include a hot-linked index to all areas of your site. It’s better to use broad headings that are easily understandable, such as Community Information, Current Listings, Loans and Financing, and so forth. On the linked pages, provide a more detailed directory to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find specific information they want.

The Listings Page

To help visitors quickly identify property they can realistically afford, as well as the locales or types of homes or locations that may interest them, create a main listings page with a sub-directory of property grouped by price range and other criteria, such as style or size of home, neighborhood, or school district. Visitors can follow these links to a thumbnail directory of properties and pictures. Remind visitors on this thumbnail page and throughout the listings pages that you also have information on all homes for sale through your affiliation with the MLS.

Use the caption below these thumbnail images on your listings pages to tell visitors something about the home to encourage them to click on the image for a closer look, via virtual tour.

Your virtual tour can be a series of pictures dropped into a template or a visual experience created with one of the latest tour solutions. Whatever the approach, the virtual tour should sell the home as it highlights the features. The virtual tour and accompanying information should show visitors why they would want to live there, show the house’s location on a map, estimate what it might cost per month to buy the home—anything that reinforces a home’s appeal.

Links to Other Sites

With information such as area demographics, community resources, and sources of financing, your first inclination may be to include links to other Web sites. But, there are pros and cons to external links. They’re an easy answer for providing additional information, but every link elsewhere is an invitation to leave your site.

If and when you decide to employ external links, set them to launch a new browser window. That way, your Web site remains open on visitors’ monitor, while a new browser window displays the linked Web site. You also may want to consider only linking to sites that’ll provide a reciprocal link to your Web site.

But before you add an external link, consider developing some content yourself as a way of enticing visitors to linger at your site. Examples include a brief description of the area, schools, shopping, and entertainment, which may be enough to help visitors decide if they’d like to live there. Early on in their search for a home, visitors may also find a mortgage calculator on your site to be helpful in keeping them focused on what’s practical without looking elsewhere for advice.

Just as a fresh coat of paint or freshly cut lawn can make all the difference in a home’s appeal, the time you spend sprucing up your Web site can benefit your bottom line.


Previously by Antoniak:
Another Good Year for Hardware
Technology Coming Your Way
Services Help Build or Enhance Your Web Site
Gifts That Give Back

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Do you have technology you’d like to learn more about or a new user twist that you’d like to share with your peers? Let me know about it by e-mailing antoniak@dtccom.net, and I’ll do my best to give it the coverage it deserves.

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Mike Antoniak is a freelance journalist, who writes frequently on technology.

Send your questions to:
antoniak@dtccom.net

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