Reading the Thinkery's Twitter feed the other day, a post from one of the major real estate firms popped up saying "Twelve Essentials for a Real Estate Website". I clicked the link, thinking, "Wow! This might have some great insights into how we can make IProperty better!"
Unfortunately, the link simply went to an image with a "tag cloud" of items supposedly critical to a real estate website. It included such pearls of wisdom as ranking "Web Design" as the most important feature of a real estate website! Not a big help. . .
So we talked about this and thought maybe we ought to write our own version of what is required in a great real estate website-- we've been in the business for years and have built a specialized piece of software used in thousands of agent and agency sites worldwide. Why not?
So here it is! The requirements for a great real estate website:
SEO-- must have. There's no point to having a great website if no one can find it! You need to have solid search engine optimization, and your pages should have all the best practices of SEO built in, ideally with automatic keyword generation, meta tag optimization, proper use of HTML tags, microdata, etc-- this could be a book in itself, so we'll leave it at that!
A lot of cookie cutter real estate sites are built using IFrames provided by the MLS-- this is terrible, since IFrame content isn't even indexed as your own site's content-- don't do this. It looks bad and it does you no favors with the search engines.
Social-- the site should not only show the user how to interact with the agent via social media (eg. Facebook link, Twitter feed embedded), it should allow the user to interact with his or her own social media on a LISTING basis! That is, each listing should allow the user to comment, pin, tweet, or otherwise embed the particular listing in the social consciousness.
This allows a husband to share a great home with his wife and family, opens up dialog with the friends of the buyer regarding home features and location, and, for the site owner, opens up a whole new frontier of potential viewers and buyers due to the viral nature of social media.
Search-- the main point of a real estate site is that a user will be connected with a pool of listings for sale, for lease, for rent, etc. If the end user can't easily find what he or she is looking for, they will move on down the road and find a site that is easier and faster to use. So the search tools should be well planned out and varied-- that is, some users know the zip code of the area they want to live in, and want to search on that criterion. Others will just have a general price range they are thinking about, while others may have a growing family and are mostly concerned with space.
Therefore your real estate site should attempt to make all of these use cases accessible and intuitive-- having links to geographic areas of zip codes, as well as categories, sale types (for sale, lease, rent) and price, area, beds, baths and keyword searches. Make it easy for the user find what they want, and they'll come back.
Style-- one issue with a lot of "commodity" real estate sites is that they are really poorly styled. They look like they were built by the agent's 16 year old nephew. While in many cases function beats form in a utilitarian real estate website, you want to look your best. It's important to have a site that looks good and represents you as a professional agent who has the resources to create a really great website-- not some cheap site that looks like you guilt-tripped your brother's kid into building it.
Substance-- ok, I'm on a roll here with the "S" words, so bear with me! I'm talking about content-- good, solid, substantial content. Users want to find properties first and foremost. But you want to sell them on a whole wolrdview. We recommend blogging as a great tool to provide content to your users (it's great for SEO as well). Talk about your life, your region, your town-- tell them why you love where you live and why they want to live there too. Talk about the trends in the market, mortgage rates and what it means to them, talk about your pets, talk about what matters to you!
You're creating a brand, and you're providing insights into your world and the world the viewer is going to be buying into. There's lots of room to show the user your town, local hotspots, useful links and info about the community, etc. Use your imagination, and put it out there.
Speed-- this rolls up into a whole lot of other angles, including the web host, platform / CMS / framework used in the site, Apache extensions, and all sorts of other geek stuff. But the point is, don't make your user wait-- your site should be fast! At a minimum, choose a reputable web host. There's tons of info available, and extensions / analysis tools like Google and Yahoo's page speed analyzers to help you get a read on your site's speed.
Responsive-- (yeah I couldn't think of an "S" word for this one) Responsive websites are those that adapt to the viewer's method of visiting. So if your viewer visits your site on their mobile phone (which is obviously becoming more and more common) it will adapt and overcome, changing the way the site is displayed to fit the smaller screen rather than showing a lousy, poorly rendered depiction of your site. This goes for mobile phones, tablet devices, etc.
Specific-- (back to the "S" words!) Users are pretty savvy to the big aggregator sites like Zillow. A lot of real estate agents are nervous about what the acquisition of Trulia by Zillow means, since the big gorilla in the room just got a lot bigger. But what Zillow lacks is local knowledge-- specialized, specific subject area expertise on communities and life. That's where you come in as a local agent. The buyer is paying you for your specialized expertise on the region you sell, and the big guys will never be as accurate as you.
So play this up, and showcase your knowledge and your roots in your turf. Using tools like Walkscore, Education.com, Google Streetview and Google Places lets you put your listings in context, and show the viewer what the neighborhood they will be living in is like from the ground.
That's about it for now. Check back and we may have some more thoughts for you to consider as you work to stake out and define your slice of the world wide web!
PS: This post isn't meant to be a sales pitch, but it's worth pointing out that IProperty has you covered on all of the above topics with tons of advanced features out of the box.