Successful Realtor® Web Sites;
What They Include and How to Plan Them

By Bill Koelzer

Web Consultant to Realty Corporations
Co-author, "Internet Marketing for Real Estate Professionals"
Columnist, AgentNews.com
Mktg4u@home.com
http://www.koelzer.com
949-496-4159

Service! That’s what a good web site provides, the same as does a good Realtor®). In fact, your web site IS you—your representation of yourself to visitors whom you welcome to your site the same as you would to your office.

Consumers visit you to get help, to gain information. They want to buy or sell a home without making a mistake. You’re there to make them feel "taken care of." Thus, your job on the web is as always—assisting consumers in making realty decisions. But to get started, you need a high-content web site.

Creation of your web site begins in your head and with a yellow pad. You must be honest with yourself and write down your greatest strengths. Why? Because most Realtors® portray themselves online as generalists, thus you may be better off in positioning yourself as a specialist, employing the theory that it is better to get, say, 50% of a smaller "niche" pie instead of a wafer-thin slice of the same pie that everyone else fights for.

When you "position" yourself well to visitors, they form a distinction between what you provide and that of other Realtors. You demonstrate your specialty on your home page through a main headline, subheads, relevant graphics, and links to position-related information.

How do you determine your strengths, your positioning specialty? Chances are you’re already promoting yourself that way. Are you a dynamo with rural land? Beach property? Lakefront homes? (http://www.lakeproperties.com), 1031 Exchanges? Condos? Are you the "Horse Property Specialist?" (http://www.larandpat.com), "The Mountain/Resort/Lake/Stream Property Realtors®" (http://www.schallerandschaller.com), "The Online Realtor® for Remote Buyers" "The Internet Realtor® " (http://www.debbieferrari.com), "The (County Name) Specialist" (http://www.2buy2sell.com)?

Once you’ve thought through your specialty (or even several) write it down on your yellow pad. Next, think about what sub-points are important in your specialty. Ask yourself: "If people want my specialty, what will they most want to know?"

Make your selections in an outline form, with main points followed by sub-points. Write down everything you can think of for each point. What you are also creating here are many of the main and sub-links that you will later put onto your home page and internal ones. Once you have exhausted your thinking, go on the web and study Realtor® web sites until you can make distinctions between them.

Judi Franich, San Francisco - East Bay Realtor® (http://www.2buy2sell.com/) says, "A good place to find sites already rated for their quality is at the International Real Estate Digest (http://www.ired.com). Select any state and then pick a city or region. There you’ll see lists of agents and their locales, followed by a symbol indicating how the hard-nosed IRED editors rated the agent sites. Compare highly rated sites with lower rated ones. Look for ones with specialties similar to yours. Even if you prefer not to indicate a web site specialty for yourself, study what made some sites rate high and some low. Take copious notes. Write down the addresses (http:// etc.) of sites you particularly like or dislike."

Do what Judi says, and you will have likely done more serious planning about your site than do 95% of all agents. Also, notice that you did not have to know one thing about computers, software or the Internet. But this is also the point where you may turn to an expert who does—someone who designs web sites, ideally ones for Realtors®. And, fortunately, you can often see links to them at the bottom of Realtor® pages that you admire.

Site designers abound, but you want one skilled in doing Realtor® sites. Prices vary and you generally get what you pay for. If you want a web site merely so you can tell prospects that you have one, you don’t need much of a site. For you, a very basic "template" site may be fine. These "canned" sites feature off-the-shelf formats with most realty and local links built-in, however, some modification is offered. Sadly, most agents who get template sites make few changes, and thus one looks almost identical to the other (from the same vendor) in a given metro area.

Visually, most template sites differ only in the agent photo shown, main headlines and subheads, and in bio information. A consumer, who has visited several and noticed that the other information is basically the same, will likely not visit another one.

Barbara Cox, Orange County, (bgcox@home.com), co-author with me of the Prentice Hall book, "Internet Marketing for Real Estate Professionals," and a pioneer in teaching Realtors® web marketing, says, "Any site is thousands of times better than no site. Agents who choose to start with a template site and then build on it later are to be commended for getting started. That’s often the biggest obstacle, getting started."

Nonetheless, template sites, perhaps the number one choice of California Realtors® during the last year, are everywhere. For a Realtor® who never plans focusing much attention on Internet marketing, they seem a valid, inexpensive choice. Template sites cost as little as $400 up to many thousands. If you get one, your goal is to radically modify its layout, button choices, background colors and text so that it looks far different than those of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of agents in your area who chose almost identical ones.

Some larger template sites enable so much modification that you can hardly tell them from custom sites. That’s great, since your best marketing strategy is to look and be different and better than competitors so that consumers find you more memorable.

Debbie Ferrari, (http://www.debbieferrari.com), First Team – San Clemente Real Estate in South Orange County, says, "If you plan to market seriously on the web, perhaps with the goal of becoming one of the most dominant Realtors® in your area, you may want a custom-designed web site so that you can modify it at will with no limitations. For custom sites, you do the same planning as for template sites. But now your options abound."

With a custom-designed web site, you can choose virtually any of your sub-points to become actual links or develop into pages in your site. On internal pages, you can even expand your outline’s sub-sub-points into original content that you write with your word processor. Or, scour the web for outside links to add so visitors can find the same data. You can also choose a combination of content—things that you write, plus outside links to more information. Most agents take this latter approach and finalize pages through a web designer.

Don Schaller, Schaller Family Realtors® (http://www.schallerandschaller.com), Truckee, CA, says, "Each comprehensive Realtor® web site ideally services visitors with certain basic content items (links and original, agent-written data). These items often include community-related information such as text about or links to school info, government, civic, social, shopping, local attractions, lodging, dining, utilities, home-related vendors, storage firms, weather, maps, and more.

"Basic realty-related content can include mortgage info/various loan calculators, seller and buyer tips/procedures, local loan rates, newsletter, online real estate news services (realtytimes.com, inman.com), bio info, awards, e-mail links and special request forms (going to you), MLS search link and much more. A terrific all-inclusive realty-related site is Fannie Mae’s at: http://www.homepath.com/sitemap.html."

Where do you find links for your site? You go on the web and find them. Or, you hire a web-skilled assistant to handle such needs. You don't have to do all this unfamiliar stuff yourself.

Jerry Cox, RE/MAX, San Clemente, (http://www.jerrycox.com) says, "Community information is the most important content your site can have. People choose a community first and then choose a home. If your site has superior community information, visitors will be more likely to bookmark it and return, perhaps to select you as their Realtor®."

Franich says, "I see my site almost as a local mall for visitors. One of the advantages of the Internet is that it allows an individual Realtor®) to compete with the large real estate firms, and in many cases I will have better exposure than they do they because I can firmly establish my expertise in my particular region by showing more of it."

Franich’s checklist for a top site: 1. Easy e-mail access (to you), 2. Show expertise through site content, not just bio info, 3. On-site access to MLS searching, 4. Comprehensive and current content, 5. Photos besides "mug shots" that show you’re human, 6. Offer something unique to your area that gets someone to bookmark your site, 7. Give something for free, hold contests, 8. Create excitement; ask visitors to sign up for drawings, reports, etc. 9. Know about your visitors’ habits in your site by using "web site analyzers." (See more at http://www.webtrends.com).

Becky and Jim Swann, founders of IRED, offer their essentials for a top Realtor® site: "1. Must load quickly, within 15 seconds, 2. Front Page (Must be inviting/informative, a. Include company name, b. Company logo, c. Statement of services covered, d. Market area covered, e. Full contact information, 3. Control over sound must be given with no sound default, 4. Front-page design must be good in layout, graphics, color combinations, 5. Non-conflicting background, 6. Only one animation per page and that should attract attention to something important, 7. Text-only pages are boring; use some graphics—small and fast loading, 8. Resume info should be present only as backup; not main point. The site should sell service first and then bio data should back it up. 9. Include something unique and valuable, 10. The site’s purpose is to encourage visitors to either leave contact information or to initiate a contact. Doing this well is an art!"

Finally, a great site needs maximum search engine "findability." To get it, insist that your designer create truly excellent META tags. (Don’t ask! – basically, they are invisible codes on a web page that many search engines read to help rank the relevance of a web site to certain key words a person is searching for. (See basic tutorial at: http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/meta.html)

Debbie Ferrari says, "Fine tuning META tags for maximum effectiveness is an art. Yet, without truly excellent ones, a web site is doomed to oblivion. Even the world’s best web site is useless if no one can find it." (To see META tags [or lack, thereof] on any web page, click on "view" on your browser, then select "source.")

Barbara Cox sums up where we are today: "Most realty professionals understand that the Internet’s impact on their industry is revolutionary, but they don’t necessarily know what to do about it. In areas where many agents are web-savvy, late-to-the-web agents fear they’ll never be able to catch up and don’t know where to start. Where agents who use the web actively and effectively are far between, the late-to-the-web agents are seeing opportunities—but they still don’t always know what to do about it.

"Agents who are ready to undertake Internet marketing have no choice but to dedicate some time and resources to learning and applying web-related tools and strategies. And if they intend to stay in the real estate business for the next several years, they need to start now.

"Agents will not be replaced by technology; they’ll be replaced by the agents who use technology to their advantage."

(c) William Koelzer, 1999

 

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Bill Koelzer is a 25-year marketing consultant to firms seeking improved web presence. He is co-author of the Prentice Hall book, "Internet Marketing for Real Estate Professionals, a columnist for AgentNews.com, Inorangecounty.com, Realestateabc.com and more. He can be reached at 949-496-4159, mktg4u@home.com and http://www.koelzer.com.