Effective Web presence is vital to every organization. For small real estate agencies, the Internet provides an efficient method to connect with potential customers and get listings noticed. According to the 2011 National Association of REALTORS Member Profile, four percent of realtors say a REALTORS personal Web site generates 26 to 50 percent of business.
Another study, by J.D. Power and Associates, states that 58 percent of sellers indicated using a Web listing to market their home in 2011. Surprisingly, this number is down significantly from 2010, where the statistic was 82 percent. However, even the lower statistic represents the majority—meaning the Web is a prominent influencer in real estate.
The Internet drives prospective buyers. Agencies without a Web presence find it increasingly difficult to compete in a connected world. Those with inefficient or outdated sites should consider a redesign or an advanced Web strategy.
Chris Sanders, founder, Ipoxi, stresses the importance of a Web presence. “Customers expect a legitimate business to have a Web site that at least provides more information about the company and what it does. Presentation quality has a large impact on the perceived quality of the business, so it’s important that the site looks good,” says Sanders.
Lauren Whitson, spokesperson, 1&1 Internet, Inc., agrees, adding that as a realtor, Web sites open up a channel to showcase different services and available listings along with the company’s knowledge in the field. “Oversight of the Internet as a popular and productive resource for touting what you specifically offer clients is a missed profit opportunity,” she states. An expansive audience combined with easy access to information makes the Internet an ideal avenue for marketing a business. In the end, if potential clients can’t find an agency on the Web, they will look at competing realtors instead.
Smaller firms are at an advantage to out-maneuver bigger firms, notes David Friedman, president/founder, Boston Logic Technology Partners, Inc. “Larger firms make big investments and then sit on them for a while. Smaller firms, making slighter and more surgical investments, take advantage of micro trends and rapid changes that occur on the Web every day. The bigger firms don’t usually have the capacity to do so.”
Building for Success
To be effective, real estate focused Web sites should be professional and easy to navigate. Ease of use, quality of content, and project goals are considered first and foremost before launching or re-launching a Web site.
Dale Cook, WebPlus product manager, Serif Ltd., points to simplicity and accessibility as the most important considerations. “Keep contact information in view, but don’t try to cram too much into one page. Make suitable properties easy to find and include plenty of pictures in a way that is easy to browse,” says Cook.
Professional appeal is critical. Even smaller firms should portray a look that pays attention to detail. “Competency is portrayed in the quality of a Web site, which is one of an agency’s primary podiums to the public,” points out Sanders.
According to a survey by 1&1, 35 percent of consumers have walked away because of a poor Web site. A professional, organized site with relevant content helps convert visitors into clients.
Understanding a site’s goals upfront is also essential to success. Is the Web site designed as a lead source, or an online business card? “Online business cards are cheap and there are dozens of companies that quickly institute them,” says Friedman. But, he warns, if you want results, it is important to realize that and to allocate a proper budget into getting it done right.
Determining a budget is another preliminary step. Friedman points to the old adage—you get what you pay for. “If you re-launch and spend fifty or a hundred dollars per month, without results, this isn’t surprising,” he says. In order to compete online, it is necessary to spend real money. “There are a lot of ways to quantify this, depending on the size of the company and how much business you want the Web site to produce,” he notes.
When choosing a Web site developer or software provider, it is important to look beyond design. In addition to providing a landing page for potential buyers scouring the Internet, the real benefit of the Web is lead generation. Many developers are aware of this, and provide intuitive dashboards that report and track visitor activity. With the tools in place, small realtors jump on leads and convert them into sales.
Smaller real estate agencies find it beneficial to embrace their size, making it a positive selling point for potential buyers. “The Web site should highlight why it’s great to work with the little guy instead of the big guys—more personal service, for example, or more experienced agents for the area,” says Sanders.
After determining the goals of a Web site, deciding on content is imperative. “Owners should create personalized text to inform customers about their specialties and emphasize their expertise in the job. Complementing the information with relevant images not only reinforces ideas, but makes a Web site more visually appealing,” says Whitson. Once a Web site is populated with its content, the flow of relevant information should continue as often as possible. It should also be updated regularly.
There are also basic content elements that should be taken into account. “For instance, have business contact details displayed prominently on the homepage along with hours of operation. Keep the Web site organized with easy navigation and a layout that helps guide visitors from page to page,” advises Whitson. She says another modern technique is to link from your Web site to social media profiles. This serves as a way to consistently update the site, for example, posting new listings and industry news are ways to encourage site revisits.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is key for any business looking for an effective presence. With the use of metadata embedded within a site’s coding, search engines are able to find sites easier when keywords are pursued. Additionally, maintaining and monitoring company social networking sites and adding listings to location-based Web site services help to improve overall Web presence.
Small businesses represent a huge market for Web site developers. Many provide solutions that streamline the process, from do-it-yourself template-based solutions to programmers for hire. SMBs should do their research and decide which type of service best fits their business need—keeping in mind future functionally requirements and the overall goal of a Web site. The nature of the business also weighs in on the site’s complexity.
1&1 offers an expansive list of services and solutions as part of its goal to be a one-stop shop for a variety of small businesses. Most of its online business solutions are inclusive, meaning everything a business needs to succeed online—from site tools to hosting, is provided for in its package. Most 1&1 Web hosting and Web site design packages include a free domain with the option for private registration at no additional cost. “Such domain protection allows business owners to keep their personal information, like address and phone number, confidential to help prevent fraud and identity theft. Additionally, multiple email addresses are included so businesses have unique addresses specific to the business domain. This is something that is often underestimated in the ability to convey credibility and professionalism,” remarks Whitson.
Once a business creates an online identity with 1&1, marketing tools are available that range from social media to newsletter outlets and SEO help. “No matter what methodologies are utilized, the important thing for any small businessperson to understand is that a Web site presents a company to people and how you engage it elsewhere on the Web is ideal for a successful online presence,” adds Whitson.
1&1 targets a broad base of SMBs, so its feature sets are designed to attract new customers from all verticals. Whitson says its Web site design application, 1&1 MyWebsite, is ideal for entrepreneurs with limited technical knowledge. “Once the site is live, real estate agents might consider the next steps to making a business more visible on the Web,” she adds.
Boston Logic works with hundreds of real estate companies to help develop and launch effective Web sites and online marketing campaigns. Depending on the client, their needs, and budget, the company offers different design and development packages—all leveraging its Sequoia platform.
Sequoia System is an advanced platform for developing and operating real estate Web site and online marketing campaigns. Real estate enterprises find features that make running their companies more efficient. Simultaneously, smaller real estate firms are able to leverage the tools and features commonly available to bigger firms.
For larger companies that want a custom design and development process, Boston Logic takes them through a series of planning and conceptual meetings to understand technical and internal assets, needs, creative requirements, and goals. “Our design team then presents them with options to choose from. They pick a favorite and we work though rounds of revision. Content is crafted and implemented to meet the customer’s needs,” explains Friedman. Training and support is provided to leverage productivity and marketing tools.
Clients also hire Boston Logic to run online marketing campaigns on an ongoing basis.
Ipoxi is a quality-driven Web site building tool. Compared to competitive solutions, Sanders notes that the product offers its users more control, enabling them to incorporate high-level features found in larger companies’ Web sites. This includes color controls, graphic design work, numerous layout possibilities, and options for displaying content.
Ipoxi doesn’t offer specific capabilities for the real estate segment, but Sanders does not think this changes its appeal to those customers. “Will a shopper choose a real estate firm because they had a mortgage calculator on their Web site? Probably not. Again, this comes down to the small firm selling the service and relationship that it provides. Mortgage calculators and search engines can be linked to from the firm’s site so users can easily access them, but they don’t need to be hosted on the site directly.”
Serif provides SMBs with templates, high-quality Web graphics, and a range of built-in gadgets and slideshows to show off a site’s content. “Everything from site structure and navigation to the finished look is done with drag-and-drop simplicity for novices or designed from scratch if there’s vision behind the project,” says Cook.
The company’s WebPlus software includes templates suited to real estate with features such as pop-up information panels and easy ways to streamline media—YouTube videos, ready-made and custom forms, and interactive maps. Additionally, specific modules from another company or Web provider are easily plugged in.