The lockdown diaries, day #5: Your checklist for building a real estate website
Our operations manager has been on my case to write something on this, as she regularly deals with agents who fall into the trap of blindly spending on and developing websites, without checking some basics.
So here it is. Now is a good time as ever to revamp your website and I’ve compiled a generic checklist for you. If you are willing to spend a few bucks, make sure you at least read through this and remove some of the pain and frustration others have experienced.
1. How will you update your property listings?
Seems trivial right? Unfortunately many estate agencies fall into the trap of developing custom websites through developers not specializing in real estate development. The end result may look great, but in many cases agents end up with a great front-end linked to a poor back-end for updating properties, and this doesn’t complement any website.
Your backend listing system is absolutely critical to load listings quickly, ensure property photos are resized correctly, all the property features captured and provides an easy way to update prices or mark them as sold when required.
Your custom developed website won’t simply ‘plug’ into external listing systems. In most cases it requires additional development work and you will need to research systems that allow for integrations.
As an example our Base system is integrated with our front end website platform called Flex, so allows for simultaneous updates to your website and property portals. Ideally you want something as per the screenshot below, where you can select where listings go. Some clients do not want to advertise on certain portals, or only want to advertise on the agent’s own website for privacy reasons. Updating to everywhere obviously results in huge time saving too and eliminates errors.
As a final consideration, choose a listing system that is mobile friendly, so your agents can access and update listing data, even from their mobile phones.
2. Template or custom website
Many services providers like Entegral, exclusively specialise in real estate web development, and provide template real estate website options that provides cost & time benefits.
Template sites will come in a generic format with a certain home page layout, property search, results, property details, contact page and other key pre-built pages. The developers simple customise parts of this to personalise it for you and add the relevant content pages.
Template websites usually run on the same code too, so you are getting something that is tried and tested and maintained for everyone on an ongoing basis. This results in reduced setup fees and ongoing maintenance costs. With full custom websites, the developers would need to maintain your website individually, so it will work out more expensive in the long run. Make sure you understand the basic hosting costs and the cost for any updates you request.
Going the custom route usually involves starting development from scratch. Be prepared to have a bigger budget and more time for input and development. On the upside, a full custom website provides you with the freedom to personalise every aspect of the website which differentiates you from your competitors.
At Entegral we provide both template and full custom sites for real estate clients and even the option to start with a template and convert it into a full custom website later.
3. Support and updates
How easy will it be to update your website and what will the developers charge? More importantly, how quick can they respond?
Costs and response time can vary considerably between companies and depending on the underlying framework your website was built on, can add to the cost.
At Entegral we have a central helpdesk, so clients simply email requests through, we allocate it for review and quote the client accordingly. Small updates are usually done in a quicker time frame while bigger updates require a bit of lead time to fit into our schedule. We also waiver fees for very small updates that only takes a few minutes.
4. Your domain name
A domain is just your website address right?…..there is more to it:
a. Ensure your domain is registered in your name so a service provider cannot hold you ‘ransom’. Entegral is an accredited domain registrar so we comply with all the regulations. Your service provider will pay setup and yearly fees to authorities and in return invoice you.
b. Choice of domain: Go for a country level domain (e.g. .co.za, .com.na) if you can, it adds more credibility and helps everyone including Google to figure out where you operate. Choose a short domain name as you will usually link email accounts to that. Long domain names makes for extra long email addresses. Generic, keyword related domains (e.g. where you include the word ‘property’ in the name) used to work good for SEO but not anymore. Focus on short and memorable.
c. Technical consideration: where is your domain hosted? Domains, just like websites, need failover protection and protection against attacks. This is getting highly techincal, but we deploy our domains through our AWS AnyCast DNS network that offers a range of benefits. If your service provider can provide this, it is really a ‘cherry on top’ feature that provides extra comfort;)
5. Your Logo
Oh my….we’ve really seen it all through the years. Agencies getting friends or family to design their logo or even design it themselves. You really need to get an expert in with this one. Spend some time on this as a poor logo will drag down the best looking website.
If you already have a logo, try to refresh it every few years to keep up with the times. There are three essentials to a good business logo: it must be appropriate to the business; it must be memorable, and it must be uncomplicated in form. Invest in professional branding.
6. Uptime, backups and failover protection
Make sure your service provider provides daily automatic backups as part of their website service offer to you. Outages happens and you don’t want to be stuck without an online presence and a red face.
Another point to consider is failover protection, which few service providers focus on. Should there be a catastrophic technical failure, how quickly can your service provider get your website back online? Do they have disaster recovery mechanisms and plans in place to protect your business?
At Entegral, our websites are designed with automatic fail-over protection as it is replicated to over 100 locations worldwide and is also ‘serverless’. We’ve implemented this smart technology since 2018, and as a result have achieved an incredible 100% uptime for our client websites.
Long outages impacts your marketing efforts and in the case of extended outages, can also impact search engine ranking. Choose a service provider with a reliable cloud based platform that can keep your business online at all cost.
7. SSL Certificate / Security
- Any information captured by visitors (e.g. their contact details on an enquiry form) are transmitted securely to your service provider’s servers and are not left open for interception.
- It’s a small Google Ranking factor, you are doing your website and all your marketing efforts a disservice. With SEO, every little bit helps to your overall page ranking.
- It affects your website’s credibility with users and ultimately search engine rankings, as users favour secure sites. As estate agent, there is nothing more important than building trust.
Your service provider may charge extra setup and renewal fees for this. At Entegral we include this as part of our domain and website service.
8. Responsive design or separate mobile and desktop websites?
You either develop your website to work on any screen size device (called responsive design) or develop separate desktop and mobile websites.
These days, with a multitude of screen sizes available, and to provide the best possible user experience, responsive design is your best option. Google also recommends a responsive design as best practice.
At Entegral all our real estate websites comes standard with a responsive design. Responsive websites usually takes a bit more times to develop as developers need to cater for all screen size devices so choose a service provider that is thoroughly skilled with this.
9. Custom integrations
Not all service providers provide you with an option to do custom integrations. These days there are lots of tools available for integration into websites that can help you in delivering a better service to your clients.
One useful tool to look at is live chat integration, which puts you in direct contact with a visitor. Something like Facebook Messenger works exceptionally well, and we’ve done a short blog post on this.
Make sure you have the option to integrate external tools to provide a more personalised experience and unique offer.
You can also look at what other integrations your service provider can offer you for further customisation. E.g. we offer an AirTable integration which allows you to setup and manage unique content structures and pages on your website.
10. Core features
Depending on your choice of template or custom route (see #2) you will need to look at all the core features you want to include in your website. For the template route, service providers will offer certain features as standard or optional extra. Here are key features I feel you need to look at:
a. Property search, search results, property details, bond calculator, contact page. This forms the core of your website for end users and every service provider will offer variations on this.
b. Lead forms. Every property listing should have an enquiry form. They should be protected by something like ReCAPTCHA to prevent spamming. Check if these are emailed through to you or if it can save you time by automatically importing them into your backend system.
c. Agent profile pages. Every agent should have an individual profile page with bio and contact details. They can use this to share on email signatures and social platforms.
d. Custom content & menu. Key to making a more personalised website is the ability to add custom content in your home page and additional pages. You may want to customise your menu too to better suite your needs. A great way to boost your rankings is to integrate area profiles.
e. Virtual tours and video integration. Make sure your website can accept virtual tours and videos to enhance the user experience. A nice to have is making file downloads (e.g. development plans) available on listings.
f. Photo size. Check your website can support high definition photos. Photos sell a home, so also check how many photos are supported.
g. Email alerts. Provide visitors with the ability to receive email alerts as soon as you upload a listing that matches their search criteria.
h. News. You need to keep your website content fresh for search engines and users. Check if you can create weekly news articles and if there is a function to email this out to subscribers.
i. Social sharing. Check that there are social sharing links available on property details to make it easy for your agents and visitors to share listings.
j. Favourites. Can visitors save listings they like and access them later?
k. Map. Every listing should feature a suburb map, and if the listing is geocoded should show the exact location for visitors. If this is in place visitors should be able to do street views and driving directions.
l. On show / Open hours. Although a thing of the past for now, indicate any open hours on listings or in a central link on your website.
m. Optimised for SEO. There is some basic technical work developers can do to ensure best practices for increases ranking and offered by most service providers as standard. The rest will be pretty much up to you: creating valuable and unique content for your visitors and search engines.
As with any service provider you choose to partner with these days, you need to look at whether you are comfortable to work with them and trust them with managing your online presence. Check out existing website, references and reviews and ask questions if you are uncertain about anything.
Check on contract length, do they offer month-to-month or long term contracts that lock you in?
That’s a mouth full, but it hopefully provides you with some guidance. If you feel I left anything out, please leave a comment. If you would like a free consultation please do not hesitate to contact me or my team, we are a friendly down-to-earth bunch!
My Wednesday started on a confusing note for me…. yesterday I ended the day with a message to my co-workers in Slack thanking them for all the hard work for the week and to enjoy the weekend… I think the lockdown is changing my perception of time!…. :)
Apart from the discount for development/upgrade costs we are currently offering for websites, our team is continuing to look at ways we can assist clients during this difficult time.