10 Ways to Utterly Fail for Residential Real Estate Companies Desiring Useful Web Sites

Photo adapted from “191 Whisper Wind on Lake Martin — 64” by John Coley (Flickr, Creative Commons).

From time to time, I’ve wondered what life might’ve been like if I’d gone into real estate. After college, we lived in the Washington, D.C., area and became friends with some realtors. They seemed not much older than we were (young 20s, then), yet doing remarkably well for themselves. I remember thinking a decent salesperson could probably do well in that very active market so long as he or she could figure out how to get quality listings and/or active buyers (or, ideally, both). After all, the houses and neighborhoods basically spoke for themselves. Ergo, if you had desirable listings, the homes would sell. Or if you had motivated buyers, the sales would happen organically. (Needless to say, I’m over-simplifying.)

The Internet was younger then, though … few real estate companies had dedicated sites in the mid-90s. It was pretty much an old-school game, with the marked difference that the realtor handled most of the MLS searching. Today, realtors still do a ton of work for clients. But, with the Internet being ubiquitous, home buyers are rolling up their sleeves and scouring the web for their dream homes. I can’t speak for everyone, but the last two homes we bought were listings that we brought to our realtor’s attention, not the other way around.

I conducted an informal study recently, rating a bunch of real estate web sites here in the Portland area. Most are doing fairly well, but there are nonetheless still some stragglers with kind of, well, awful web sites. Maybe there’s room for the luddite agents still hanging on. It’s tough for me to understand that mentality, though. Trouble is, once you find a desperately bad web site, it’s kind of an awkward sell. It’s tough to call someone and say, “Hello, your site is a complete train wreck — easily the ugliest botch-job we’ve ever seen. And, by the way, would you like to hire us?”

If I were to put together an “absolute essentials” list for residential real estate web sites (or, at least the top 10 features / aspects) , it would be something like the following.

10 Most Important Web Site Elements for Residential Real Estate Brokerages

  • A content management system (CMS) / solid site infrastructure / quality hosting
  • Property information
  • Property photos
  • Property videos
  • Agent contact info
  • Well developed, on-point content
  • Search engine on the site (for both site content, and of course for finding properties based on various parameters)
  • A search engine marketing / search engine optimization strategy
  • Good infrastructure SEO, microformats, etc.
  • Team member bios / staff bios
  • Inquiry form
  • Data capture / list building / autoresponders, newsletters, etc.
  • Proper disclosures and compliance items

Ways to Fail

Okay, let’s discuss things a bit, with these 10 “Epic Fail” scenarios in mind. First, if you’re going to market properties online, and especially if you have multiple agents, you absolutely need a system to handle all of the data. An active real estate agency generates a ton of data (and that’s great for SEO, by the way). So, you need a good mechanism and infrastructure in place to handle and organize it all. No Content Management System? … Epic Fail.

Next up … property information. You need to include detailed information — the full address (with zip code); a catchy, well-written, description, the walkscore, nearby amenities, and more. Key tax information, school districts, and other related information is also viewed as helpful to your target audience. Keepin mind that these items also serve as the content of your web site, so the text should include keywords and keyword phrases that your demographic are searching for! Fail to include these items? … Epic Fail.

Pictures! You ARE including many, many pictures, correct? I don’t care if it’s an empty lot, you should gather a bunch of them. Whether you want to do them “professionally” or not is your call. I actually believe that most amateurs can now produce fairly good (if not near-pro-quality) photos on their own (esp. for exterior shots). But, that’s another can of worms I won’t open at the moment. The point for this article is this: get the photos in there — as many as you can. If you’re including just one pic, or NO pics … Epic Fail.

If you’ve read other marketing articles on this web site, you may know our views on video marketing — namely that it’s still hugely underdone. Instead of enumerating the merits in this article, please see HERE and HERE for a few pointers along those lines. Decided not to do videos for each and every property you’re listing? … Epic Fail.

Once you’ve enticed prospects with your awesome listings, you need to provide them a way to get in touch. Some people prefer email, others phone, others forms on your web site, others like Facebook, others Twitter. The point is: You need to cater to them. Be reachable. Are you not reachable? Is it tough for a person to learn your email address or phone number on your site? … Epic Fail.

On-point, marketing-focused content is up next. I honestly believe a majority of agents fail miserably here, and I really don’t know why. Maybe it’s that they aren’t investing enough time into exploring the listing for themselves, not taking notes about each one, not interviewing the owners about the property merits, and/or they aren’t comfortable writing up the listings. I think most successful agents are probably capable closers, but maybe they need to bone up on the pre-sale work — meaning the marketing. Bad marketer? … Epic Fail.

Particularly for larger real estate web sites, a great search engine can really help shepherd visitors to the properties they are interested in. A great search engine should accommodate a user in two ways: First, it should be good at matching any phrase thrown at it. (Of course, part of that means you need to get the copy into the system in the first place, so this is another reason to focus on well-detailed copy!). Second, it should be able to help users find properties of true interest to the user. To this end, realize that whatever you put into a web site, you can then pull out of it. So, put some thought into the site architecture… If walkscore is huge, then make sure to include it in your property database so that you can then return a set of results organized by that. You’re 100% unlimited here (well, at least in terms of technical possibilities)… Aside from price, zipcode, keywords, etc., how else might your properties be classified and/or searched out? By loan type, by days on market, by neighborhood, by school district? Maybe it’s something completely nutty — say, by house color! Whatever you can imagine, you can build. But, fail to include any search function? … Epic Fail.

SEM strategy is critical these days, and yet you’ll still find agents with sites that have URLs like “www.joesmith.com/proplister.asp?propid=1lckqahj&status=pending". This basically tells search engines nothing via the URL (which, arguably, is *the* most important controllable aspect of any SEM strategy). Instead, wouldn’t you rather have an URL like:”www.portlandhomesforsale.com/hawthorne/123-se-42nd-street-house"? (Note: I made up all of the above examples, although those are probably real domain names.) The former URL actually does tell us a few things. First, it tells us that your site is far out of date, which is (IMHO) probably actively bad for your SEO. From time to time, I’ve heard from outdated site owners that their positioning isn’t what it used to be. I usually say that, partially, it’s due to new competition emerging, and partly it’s their own fault. Anyway, no SEM strategy? … Epic Fail.

Well, I promised 10 “epic fails”, so let’s look at two more… Having no team bios is definitely an epic fail these days. I think you have to sell yourself as well as the houses. So, get those pics and bios in ship shape and highly visible everywhere!

For my final “epic fail”, I’ll include something not on my list above, as I just remembered it… I thought I’d share the process we actually went through while selecting a listing agent when we went to sell out Pittsburgh home years ago: We went to agent bios and looked up their “sold” listings. The ones with the most and best sold listings were viewed as ones who knew how to sell homes. So, let’s call it an “epic fail” if you’re an agent and you do not have a list of your sold listings on your site. (If you’re new, you may not have this, of course… But, for veteran sales agents, it’s an epic fail to have these and not be showing them!).

Enough’s enough… you get what I’m saying… And besides, you shouldn’t be reading this; you should be out selling homes! So call a web development company now. Let us (or them) do for you what we know best, freeing you up to go make those sales!

Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com.