Building a website can feel like standing in the yoghurt aisle at your local supermarket: everything looks pretty much the same, and there are so many brands, flavours and prices that it can be hard do know what’s what. So how do you switch from being daunted to being decisive?
In the growing digital economy, a strong web brand is a must. While it’s true that there are plenty of different options for getting your website up and running, there’s actually some key differences you need to consider. As a real estate marketing strategist and digital expert, I have 20 years worth of tips for getting your online presence up, running and working hard for you from the get go.
Top tips for building a real estate website
While it’s true that there are plenty of different options for getting your website up and running, there’s actually some key differences you need to consider. The best real estate websites have a number of features in common, like unique design, strong search engine optimisation (SEO), high-quality content and up-to-date information. So, as a real estate agent looking to create an online presence, what are your options – and how do you go about making an informed decision?
Real estate web design – your options
There are essentially three ways to go about building your real estate website:
Option 1 – Use a website builder that offers pre-made templates and images (like Squarespace) and put it all together yourself. These sites say you can get your site up and running in as little at 10 minutes and while strictly speaking that’s true, the reality is that customising your site, choosing your images and writing good quality copy takes time and forethought.
Option 2 – Choose a theme from an open marketplace (like themeforest or One Page Love) and install it on a website content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. You’ll need some technical skills to do this, or to bring in a freelance professional to help you out.
Option 3 – Engage a reputable company that knows the industry to build and host a custom website for you. This can be a great idea, as they will provide the highest level of quality and a customised design that’s unique to your brand, but you’ll need to carefully consider your budget and timelines.
Key considerations for your real estate website project
With the old saying ‘measure twice, cut once’ in mind, there are some questions you should answer before you start building your site:
What kind of real estate website are you creating?
This is the most important thing to be clear on. Is it for a real estate franchise network, a small agency or network of branches, a single agent (e.g. yourself) or even for a single property? Clarifying this and setting a clear brief for the site – such as who it’s for, what information it needs to provide and so forth will help you think clearly about your project, set a realistic budget and properly brief any third parties (like copywriters, web designers and programmers).
Where will the website fit in the overall brand mix?
Head office/franchise, agency/branch, personal brand and property-specific sites all play different roles in your business and are aimed at different target customers. Is your website being set up to attract property owners (vendors), property buyers or both? You also need to be clear on the context of where this website sits within your overall website strategy – that is, how the different types of website can work together to propel your brand into the digital sphere.
How comprehensive does it need to be?
How many pages does this website require, and what type of content needs to be created? Commonly included information included on real estate websites are:
- Agent bios
- Past client testimonials
- Company/agency/branch history
- Property listings
- Contact details
- Local information (council, schools, public transport) to introduce prospective buyers to the area
How unique does it need to be?
Are there franchise branding requirements, do you have your own brand guidelines or is it all still to be decided? Using templates can save huge amounts of time and money, but there’s always a risk when using something off-the-shelf that a competitor might also end up using the same template – it’s like turning up to a party wearing the same outfit as another guest.
How important is your brand image to your target audience?
This isn’t really a question: potential clients place a lot of importance on your brand image. Even if they’re not overtly aware of it, your website and overall branding will shape their judgment of your ability to market and sell their highest-value asset. They’re attracted to agents with sophisticated branding a beautifully curated digital presence. In short: they’ll judge how well you market your own brand and use that as the basis for deciding how well you’ll market their property.
How often will you want to update your site?
You’ll need both static content (information pages) and dynamic content (your website listings: sold, for sale, for lease and leased). You’ll want an easy way to feed this information in from your customer relationship management (CRM) software, unless you want to manually curate and upload content. Having a content management system (CMS) that’s easy for any new staff member to pick up and learn is vital if you’re going to be updating the information regularly.
Will it be responsive on mobile?
This means setting up your site so it automatically recognises what kind of screen it’s being viewed on, and arranging the content appropriately. Google changed its mobile search algorithm in 2015, so you’ll be hobbling yourself if your site isn’t smartphone-friendly. In fact, your desktop search ranking can be completely different to your mobile ranking if you’re not optimised for, and responsive across all platforms.
The secret sauce: SEO
When people design real estate websites they don’t always think about search engine optimisation (SEO). But if your site doesn’t rank high when people are searching online it won’t matter if you’ve done a great job on design, managed your costs and put your site up in record time, because people won’t find it.
SEO determines how ‘visible’ your site is to Google (and other search engines). It depends on a wide range of factors and the balance between them is always shifting as search algorithms are refined, but the following are always important:
- Social media shares, comments, ‘likes’ and links (to show popularity and relevance)
- A good URL (that’s relevant to your site and industry)
- Use of keywords (the search terms you want to be found under)
- Internal and external links
- Regularly added new content pages (this is where a regular flow of content, like a blog, is useful)
- Presence of images and video (to show variety of content i.e. wider audience reach).
If you’re going to put energy, time and money into developing your website you want to make sure it is easy to locate and that it pops up in the search engine results. The way your site has been built also plays into this – Google gives every site a ‘quality’ score, which depends on having a good site structure, the speed at which it loads up for the viewer and how well your developer wrote the code and meta descriptions (which essentially means directory information hidden behind each website page).
This Google quality score is also considered by Google when they display your paid ads and associated landing pages. If you have a better website than someone else, even if they pay more for the ad, there is a change your site could be shown before theirs. Google prefers quality over paid positioning.
So, if you want to be sure your site is on the digital ‘high street’, with lots of passing foot traffic (i.e. search results) to bring in new customers, you need to take heed of all the advice shared above.
What’s the best approach for SEO?
The short answer is: whichever best matches your available resources and ongoing commitment. Every option has SEO-friendly features, so it’s really up to you to use them well. And while your quality rating is important, what’s most important is the quality of the content you post to your site and how effectively you promote it – through email, social media, online advertising and even good old-fashioned print and word-of-mouth. While no recommendation in an article like this can take into account your goals, preferences and resources, let’s look again at the three options.
Website template or custom theme?
I’m a big fan of using a purposely built digital marketing platform, and personally use Hubspot in my business to reach people just like you! Your website should be unique, like your brand, and the approaches I take give more control over SEO and adapting and adding new features over time. The advantage of using a digital marketing platform is that the good ones (and you should only use one of the good ones) have inbuilt tools to check your content before you publish, plus tools to repost and share on social, as well as an email tool and lead management database.
If your resources are stretched then there’s nothing wrong with using a website builder, but I do recommend spending as much time as you can personalising your site. You’ve used a template – but you don’t want it to look like you’ve used a template.
You should also be aware that you’re not always going to save time and money with this approach, because if you’re the one who has to spend precious hours learning how to use the tools, create your own content and visuals and upload everything, plus manage all the technical updates and changes moving forward, you’ll be slower than a professional and your results may not look very polished. The old adage is true – you get what you pay for.
And of course, you need to keep in mind that all the hours you spend in front of a computer screen creating your new website are hours that you’re not out in the market converting leads into new properties to sell. So delegate to the professionals and save yourself a lot of headaches and stress.
Custom website design and build costs
Websites simply must be responsive to smartphones and tablets these days. Google’s mobile algorithm change in 2015 made this a must. And the price I would expect to pay for a digital agency to build you personally branded website is somewhere between $3,500 to $12,000 (excluding content and images, which you or a marketing person needs to supply).
There are some website companies that offer monthly payment packages, so you should calculate the cost of your site over a minimum of 24 months (which is a typical refresh cycle for a website). Some larger brands use longer cycles, mainly because migrating content and keeping all SEO and inbound links working is a big – sometimes huge – task.
Staying on trend
Can you get by without a site? Honestly, for now, yes. But not for too much longer – we’re all becoming more and more digital and more and more often, the property owners journey toward selling their real estate asset begins online. Once you decide to commit to a site, it’s important that it presents itself at the cutting edge of digital design, because digital design trends, just like fashion trends, move on and a website built today using the latest look and most up-to-date thinking will become dated and look the same as many others in a relatively short amount of time (hence the two-year refresh cycle).
Change truly is the only constant!
If you want help navigating the minefield of website options or want to have an insider’s peek into how I run my digital marketing, drop me a line for a chat.
Want help building your own agent website? My team can help! And better still, contact me for a free one hour phone chat, where I will review all your current online profiles.