6 Essential Tech Steps to Launch Your Real Estate Website Fast
So you want real estate leads. You know that having a website is important to that process, but you don’t know where to start first. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by the many decisions to make in this new online tech space. Or maybe you’ve been burned by some providers in the past. There’s a whole host of things you can do to start building your site, customizing it, and making it appear visually appealing while also coming up in search engines, but we believe that you can build upon these in tiers.
Ultimately, your online business is a marathon. Consider this your initial few miles. If you want to conquer that first tier and have a great base to grow with, these are the 6 absolute essentials you need. We also decode some of those confusing terms for you! (And if you already have a site, these are great points of reference to see if you’ve hit all the marks.)
1. Layout Sets the Foundation: Selecting Your Provider
There are many great providers out there for your new site. The main difference is found in the value you are getting for your money.
First choice: custom site or template? Just like building a house from scratch, it takes time and money to get the custom site of your dreams. Keep in mind that super trends change quickly. In a few years time, your site may start looking like the house on the block with the ‘70s style wood-paneled walls and questionable green carpet. The look may be out of touch and people that choose to go with a more traditional theme will have more flexibility to react to Internet trends.
A template (also known as a theme) is a pre-designed webpage(s) that makes it easy to input your own content and photos to brand it as your own site. It’s like moving into a pre-built home where all that’s up to you is moving in your furniture. Save yourself a headache by going with a template on WordPress. WordPress is a great, well-recognized content management system (CMS) you can use to easily make the changes you need to your site.
Ensure that the template you go with is responsive on mobile devices. Responsive means that your visitors will have a seamless experience whether they use a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone: Your site will respond to the size of the screen and resize itself to accommodate the viewer. According to realtor.org, “More than half of Gen Y and Gen X buyers used a mobile device during their home search.” That’s why it’s so important that you are where your market’s attention is going.
2. Something to Handle Your Listings: Choosing Your IDX
So you’ve chosen your responsive theme. Now it’s time to pick an SEO-friendly IDX (Internet Data eXchange) provider. Some great example questions to ask: Do they cover your MLS? Are the listings indexable? How do they help you capture leads? What else do they offer? Let’s explain what these all mean:
- Are the listings indexable? Indexable listings are great for SEO. It means that the IDX provider is able to generate individual pages for each of the listings coming from your MLS. Search engines want to ascertain a website’s value by how many pages are associated with it. The more pages your site has, the more they can trust that your site is a great source of content.
- Do they cover your MLS? It takes a lot of technical and administrative work to get an IDX to function well on a real estate site. You’ll want to be sure that they already cover your MLS or you could end up waiting a long time for the provider to import your listings. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as clicking a button. A from-scratch route may involved paperwork between the vendor and MLS and a great deal of manual work to match each attribute coming from your MLS transferrable to your site.
- What about hosting? It’s imperative to have a great hosting provider. Hosting allows your site to be accessible on the Internet by occupying the space on an organization’s server. On real estate sites, hosting is important for site speed due to the large volume of listings coming through the MLS. If you’re lucky, the provider you go with will offer hosting with your IDX. If not, look for providers that offer fast site speed, ample bandwidth, solid security, and consistent maintenance and support.
3. Be Easily Identified: Creating Your Domain
When choosing a domain name (website URL address), you’ll need to put yourself in the seat of your site visitor. If you meet a prospective client and they lose your business card, make it so they can easily remember your domain name. Try to avoid long-winded, hard-to-spell site names. If you struggle with having a long e-mail address, your domain name may be equally too long.
Many domain name registrars allow their users to point the custom URL at their own site. The price difference isn’t huge, so it all depends on what fits your needs. Here are a few pros and cons of registrars frequently used by realtors (listed in no particular order):
Pros: This is a great domain name registrar if you’re looking for something that’s fast to map to your existing site. They always have great deals on getting a .com or .net address.
Cons: Once you get into the system, it can be hard to navigate if you haven’t done it before.
Pros: HostGator is the most popular domain registrar, but that just might be because they have been around the longest.
Cons: The cost will be the same for a domain name no matter which registrar you choose, but the cons are that you may not have access to the cPanel login when signing up for the most basic package. The cPanel allows your site provider to domain map your custom url to your new site. It’s important to have access to that to make the appropriate changes. We’ve spoken to many realtors that get confused because of the different logins for different sections of their HostGator account.
Pros: Hover has a great support team that are ready to answer any of your questions. They have a friendly user interface that makes it easy to manage your domain names and control panel. They also have informative podcasts once in awhile if you are looking to learn more.
Cons: After reading some online reviews, it seems that the cons are around setting up your e-mail account and renewing your domain names.
4. Tailor Your Site to Your Target Market: Choosing Your Pages
Pages allow your visitors to know what you offer. The most important pages on your site are your home page, your target page(s) that focuses on a particular neighborhood or city, your testimonial page for your social proof and your blog that will deliver relevant content to your audience. The home page tells your story about who you are as a realtor (this may also be on a separate About or Bio page), highlights your recent successes and, most importantly, search properties. Focusing on just a few neighborhoods shows that you specialize and you aren’t just in real estate to sell anything with a roof on it. Finally, your blog allows you to demonstrate the knowledge you have about the area you sell in. This is what is going to draw people into your site.
To succeed online, the navigation bar or menu (lists main pages) should be as neat as the house you want to sell. Don’t clutter it with too many options because visitors will be less inclined to explore. If you want to add more pages, think about how they would be clearly organized as submenus under your main pages. Submenus are the options that appear underneath the links as you hover over them.
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
— Henry Ford
5. Deliver the Striking: Integrating Photography
Have you ever been to a home page with a pixelated or blurry image as its prominent image and asked why the site chose to do that? Yea, me too. There are tons of resources to get royalty-free images to use on your website. There’s really no excuse. In real estate, the sites that are most captivating choose photos that capture the culture of the town or neighborhood that they focus on. That’s because sometimes it isn’t just about the house, it’s about the culture of the locale. And the best way to close a lead is to help the prospect visualize living in the area.
There are many resources for royalty-free images, here are a few of them again:
- Superfamous Studios
I suggest mixing up the royalty-free photos with photos you produce that are specific to the area you want to focus on. You should also plan on keeping your site fresh with content and that includes new photos.
6. Attracting the Right Clients: Content Marketing & Advertising
You have a case of false confidence if you’re not advertising your site and have high expectations of capturing leads on your site quickly. Search engine optimization and search engine marketing operate especially well when used together. Online advertising provides vast potential of your services being viewed by the right potential customers, while content marketing allows you to control the data and conversation you share with them.
Advertising online can provide valuable analytics on where a visitor came from, at what point the person abandoned your ad, and how much it cost you to show it to your lead. There is a wealth of information to be captured that will only add to your arsenal to make improvements on your site. Some companies offer advertising packages and they are definitely worth the investment. You’ll need to keep in mind that to start seeing results takes 4–6 months. With the right team, you’ll start to see the seeds you sowed take root and blossom. Think about your close rate, your commission and the average price of a home you sell. It is helpful in figuring out what a realistic return on your investment (ROI) would be.
Content marketing alone will result in a slow climb to ranking highly in search engines. But used in conjunction with online advertising, content marketing is hugely successful at attracting leads and enhancing brand awareness and rankings. You’ll want to plan for frequent blog posts at least every couple of days. This increases the ability for people to find your content, stay or return to your site, familiarize themselves with your brand, and also increase the potential your content will be shared. What should you blog about? Everything that you know about your side of town that will be attractive to those buying in your area. We wrote a great article on 101 blog post ideas that you could start with.
The second part of that is share that content via e-mail and social media. You should ideally have an easy sign-up feature on your site and as many social media pages as necessary for your target market.
These tech steps provide a great starting foundation that you can continue to add and further build out your site structure and advertising strategy.
Were these steps helpful to get you started with your real estate site? Let us know in the comments below!
Published on April 8, 2014
Written by Matt Barba
Matt Barba is the co-founder and CEO of Placester, a real estate technology company based in Boston. Placester makes it inexpensive and simple for real estate professionals, developers, and their partners to create real estate websites. Matt is a 8-year real estate industry veteran; initially an agent and more recently as a technologist and author of the most widely used real estate WordPress plugin Builder.