Building Your Real Estate Website with Purpose
Whether you’re building a website from scratch or optimizing an existing one, approach the project with the mindset of strategy first, execution second. Your planning process should be purposeful and thorough.
Five focal points of a website
“A strategic website’s core purpose is to serve, support and sell,” writes author Lorrie Thomas in The McGraw-Hill 36 Hour Course: Online Marketing. Thomas presents a five-pack of components that should be the focal points of your website.
- Credibility – Your website needs to establish credibility to gain the visitor’s trust. It needs to make a strong first impression and continue fostering credibility with every piece of content presented
- Usability – Users must have a positive experience interacting with your website. Usability is a function of your website’s design, architecture, navigation, call to actions, and content.
- Visibility – Visibility is a crucial component of your website and online marketing at large. Visibility might come from any combination of marketing channels, including advertising, search, social media marketing, PR, and email.
- Sellability - With its pages, posts, images, videos and any content, your site must answer the question, “Why should visitors do what you want them to do?” Your value propositions must come through clearly.
- Scalability - A healthy website is developed to accommodate ongoing expansion. Ideally, you should be able to scale your site easily without a continuous dependence on the services of coders and IT professionals.
Determine Your Site’s Target Audience
Let’s face it: your website isn’t just about you. After all, the main reason you even have a site is to attract visitors that you can build into a tribe and later convert into supporters, leads and customers for your business, right?
So shouldn’t you cater your website - and the experiences you provide there to those very visitors? When people land on your website, they usually ask themselves, “What’s in it for me?” And when building a brand, you need to be able to deliver an experience that makes it clear to those visitors exactly what’s in it for them, and why they should care.
That’s why it’s so crucial to craft your website’s design, content, and experience with your audience personas in mind. WARNING: you shouldn’t skip this step (though many do).
Persona development is an important step in minimizing the risk of drinking your own kool-aid and instead creating an experience tailored for your website visitors.
Developing user personas will help you build a website that resonates with visitors, motivates content sharing, and converts better.
Here are some ‘Who” questions to help hone in on the right audience:
- Who are the people that will pay you? – This is your primary target, It could be your buyers or your dream sellers. It may be the agents that work in your brokerage or the agents you plan to recruit. It could also be real estate investors or developers who desperately need a good marketing and sales partner to work with.
- Who are the people that Influence those that pay you? – These are the people that hold the attention of the people that pay you. Think local, respected and connected.
- Who are the influencers in your market – Take a look at the most prominent businesses, business leaders, bloggers, event organizers, party planners, developers, journalists, authors, podcasters and subject matter experts in your market.
- Who are your supporters? – Call them tribe, network, ambassadors or super-fans-just don’t ignore them. These people believe in you without hesitation, are willing to connect you with others and happily tell the world about the value and importance of what you do. This can be your family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, advisors and anybody that can lend a hand as you work your way to your vision.
- Who’s in charge of the next step of your business growth? – Could be your clients, future clients, investors, competitors, or your boss’s boss.
- Who are the people most interested in your expertise? – Who, if they heard your message, would benefit from it most.
The questions above should help get your creative juices flowing and help you start to narrow down some of the “Who” in your persona development. Remember, not everyone is your target audience. Be specific and be selective.
Next step is to get personal with some “What” questions relating to your audience:
- What are their ages?
- What is their sex?
- What do they do for work?
- What do they do for fun?
- What is their family situation?–Single, married, divorced, engaged, partnered, children and pets all count.
- What are their hobbies?–Minecraft or Golf, Crossfit or X-Games, each one says a lot about what excites them.
- What do they read?–Digitally and physically–Books, Kindle, Newspaper, Blogs. Get as specific as possible.
- What technology do they use?
- What is their favorite means of communication?–Email, phone, Facebook, text or in person
- What social media channels do they participate in?–Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest and present different ways in which you will need to communicate with your target audience.
- What Conferences do they attend?
- What podcasts do they listen to?
- What is their motivation?–Are they struggling for survival, looking to become a better mom or searching for the meaning in their life.
- What is important to them?–That you can help with
- What are their biggest challenges?–Where you can provide answers or relief.
Go so far as to write down the names of 1 or 2 people that most represent the quintessential target audience. While there are many other questions you can ask to better you understand your target audience, this is a perfect start.
These user personas will serve as fictitious characters that represent the people that visit your website.
When completed, a single person represents a cluster of visitors who exhibit similar motivations, attitudes, behavioral patterns, and needs that you will use to guide your website development. You are building the site for them, your target audience.
It Pays To Plan Your Website
Serious real estate marketers recognize a website that will deliver a bountiful return on investment needs to be created by experts.
Hire professionals making sure your team includes talent to cover the key areas of website production including:
- Graphic design
- Search engine optimization
Start With A Creative Outline
While the actual number of players on any given website development team will vary, it’s fair to say some form of collaboration will take place. Therefore, you need everyone on the same page from the get-go. Your web marketing creative brief is literally that page.
A carefully completed brief should provide insights and guidance to successfully take your project from concept to completion. It should articulate a set of objectives and summarize all the factors that will impact the website’s development.
Your creative brief might comprise the following:
Background information–Document the basic who, what, when, where and why information to set the stage. Consider opportunities worthy of discussion and relevant challenges you’ll face. Round up existing research, reports and other documents that will help get the ball rolling.
Objectives–What purpose will the site serve? List the most important objectives.
Audience–Who will the site serve? What do they think? Why should they care? If you haven’t already developed personas to define your target customers, now may be the time.
Competitors–Identify and analyze competitors. Establish what they do on their websites that might inform some of your content. Then, of course, establish how you’ll differentiate your site.
Tone–How will you communicate? Try listing adjectives that will describe the feeling you’re going for and approach you’ll take.
Message–What needs to be said? You’ll likely want to get into an expanded messaging exercise with your writer (or even writers, plural, for various parts of the website). For the brief, aim to capture the high level messaging likely to be applied on your home and about us pages.
Visuals–Describe the visual style you favor. Will you use photos, illustrations, diagrams, and videos? Will the visual style complement other marketing efforts? What assets do you have and what will you need to acquire?
Design preferences–Branding considerations go here including preferred colors, fonts and required logo marks.
The team–Who’s in charge? How will approval processes be managed? Who needs to be in the loop and how will progress be reported team-wide?
Additional details–Consider all that apply to your project:
- Mandatory information
- Existing assets
- List of deliverables
- Preconceived ideas
- Limitations and restrictions
The starting point strategy
When working with your creative team, you’re bound to find it difficult to describe the look and feel that appeals to you. It can be a very abstract process. Perhaps you have no idea where to begin.
We propose the “starting point” strategy, which simply calls for referencing designs you like. Go web surfing in search of real estate websites that feature design ideas and elements that turn you on. Try any or all of the following:
- Review the sites of 5 - 10 competitors in your field. Search for similar companies in another city.
- Search for something along the lines of “great real estate (agent, broker or team) websites” You’ll discover some website inspiration quickly.
- Visit website award and talent sites such as Awwwards, TheBestDesigns, Dribbble and Behance and search for real estate websites.
- Build a collection of websites you like from outside of real estate.
Make notes regarding the elements and copy you feel are a fit for your website and share them with your team. Mix, match and make these strategies work to serve your purposes. It’s not stealing. It’s simply a great starting point.
Where To Build Your Real Estate Website?
You have several choices when it comes to building a real estate website. But, before you decide where to build your site, you’ll want to pick your strategy:
- Use code in the form of a developer or custom designer to make your site, or
- Go Codeless and use a visual-based system that allows you to create a website without the need for specialized skills.
Code vs Codeless
Suppose you want to build a website unlike anything else online, with unique data feeds and complex integrations. In that case, it’s better to hire an experienced team of developers who can create a complex yet unique website for your business.
These teams are highly skilled at building complex websites according to your specific requirements. Also, depending on your arrangement, they will execute change orders during the development process and for a set period of time after launch.
Codeless platforms specialize in letting users with no coding expertise create reliable websites and integrations easily. Even non-techies can leverage these visual-based systems to build complex websites from scratch with drag-and-drop modules, pre-built integrations, and configurable widgets.
Moreover, no-code platforms provide robust templating systems to create design starting points that allow for rapid iteration and customization. You can create live prototypes and work on content, images, and copy at the same time.
Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are a few of the most popular no-code website builders if you don’t need IDX real estate search on your site.
Placester’s Codeless platform is the first no-code website builder purpose-built for real estate. You can easily use one of these platforms without worrying about long development lead times, scalability, or design flexibility.
WordPress is another option, though it generally requires a developer’s help to make it work for real estate.
Regardless of the path you choose, shop around, and ask to take any serious contenders for a test-drive. Note: If you have to buy before you try or are forced into a long contract, that should signal some warning bells to keep looking.
These tools are reducing the amount of time and coding expertise required to translate an idea into something people can use. You no longer need to become a programmer to build things on the internet, empowering a new wave of makers from different backgrounds and perspectives.
– Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt,
in The Rise of “No Code”
Identify your website marketing team
Before you sit down and start building your website on whatever platform you’ve chosen, you’ll want to think about who is going to do what. Think about what you want to accomplish and what tasks you want to do, what to delegate and what to outsource. Consider the different ways you can configure and promote your content so that you can start experimenting.
Don’t forget about images; you’ll want to find a good source of high-quality and fair-use images (always credit your photographer). And figure out who is going to write the words. You should have somebody proofread the copy–or preferably the entire website–before it goes live so you can make sure there are no typos and that the punctuation and capitalization is consistent and looks professional.
And remember that the website isn’t going to update itself. Written or video blogs will need to be populated regularly with fresh content. Swapping out winter-driven images for springtime ones, adding new data to a market report, adding a new frequently asked question to your FAQ section: Those are all tasks someone is going to have to undertake.
Whether that’s you or a designated helper is entirely up to you and your business, but even if you think you want to be 100-percent hands-on right now, you should absolutely set your website up so that someone else could take over for you at some point in the future. Maybe you have all the time in the world to fiddle with pop-up settings as a fresh agent, but when your business picks up, that time will suddenly be in short supply. Consider hiring creative help on-demand to help you get things set up but make sure that help understands all of the complexities of real estate. Take a look at Placester’s On-Demand Services Marketplace to get a sense of what’s possible.