Few industries are as competitive as real estate. According to the National Association of Realtors, since 2012 (when the United States began emerging from the Great Recession) more than 300,000 new Realtors® have been licensed. That’s why it is more important than ever for real estate brokers and agents to be on their “A game” online.
This article was written in an attempt to answer some of the biggest questions that come up during the planning stages for real estate websites. How do you figure out what the website visitor is looking for? How can you compete with the the big real estate mega websites like Zillow and Trulia? Should you bother paying for an IDX connection so that you can display MLS listings on your website? How do you measure the success of your real estate website?
Here are the answers to those questions based on our experience building and rebuilding websites for brokers as well as individual real estate agents over the past 20 years.
Challenge #1: Segmenting Buyers & Sellers
One of the unique challenges of operating a website for a Realtor®, agency or broker is visitor segmentation. In other words, the conversion path visitors can take on most websites is pretty predictable because most businesses are only targeting one type of customer. For example, creating highly functional conversion funnels (the path a website visitor takes through your website before becoming a customer) is pretty easy because the majority of visitors to the car dealership’s website are looking for one thing: cars.
Attracting home buyers
On the other hand, someone who is developing a website for a real estate agency will have to be much more creative when building conversion funnels because their visitors will have different intents, depending on whether a buyer or seller is visiting. If the website visitor is a buyer you will want to be able to quickly capture their attention with homes for sale in their market (at the right price), and you may also want to steer them toward forming a Buyer’s Agent relationship with you or your firm.
If, in addition to selling homes you are also a property manager, then visitors in this class may be looking for home or cabin rentals, in which case your website developer will need to get those potential customers in front of your rental information in the shortest number of clicks possible.
Attracting home sellers
The other side of the coin is attracting home sellers to your website in an effort to sign them as clients while at the same time not bogging them down with a ton of garbage they have to scroll through to find what they are looking for. The real estate web designer should carefully consider how to design the website to make it obvious where sellers should click and, more importantly, why they should click that link and sign you to sell their home.
Challenge #2: SEO For Real Estate Websites
As far as search engine optimization goes, ranking a real estate website isn’t all that different from other types of websites in that it is important to identify and write content for important keywords, obtain high quality backlinks from related websites, ensure the proper use of hidden meta data, etc.
With real estate websites, however, the person handling SEO will usually want to get hyper-local with the website by creating lots of content about the local area and business, properly configuring a Google Business profile and make sure your business is located correctly on Google Maps, etc. If you want to compete with websites like Trulia and Zillow then it’s critical to hit all of the local SEO elements in order to get your brand in front of potential customers organically.
Think outside the content box
Writing website content for a local real estate agency or Realtor® doesn’t have to be hard, nor does it have to be time consuming. The great thing about real estate is that it’s one of the few services left where people actually want to know the person that they are buying from, so write about what you know. Not every real estate agent is a mortgage expert, knowledgeable about tax situations or well versed in complex closing procedures, so if you find it difficult to write about technical subjects then write about where you work and live.
As previously stated, the key to overcoming the mega websites that exist for no other reason than to suck up your web traffic before it reaches you is a local SEO game that is on-point, and a big part of that is plenty of relateable local content. The more content you produce that talks about what’s going on in the area where you are trying to sell homes, the more organic traffic you are going to attract. It can take time to build organic search results for your real estate agency, but once you do your business is guaranteed to grow.
Ask for reviews
One of the best ways to improve your local search results is by obtaining positive reviews from happy customers. Be sure to include links to your Google Business and Yelp profile in your email signature, and ask both buyers and sellers to take a moment rate your services. Since closing is usually the most positive time in the entire transaction for both sides you might mention during a lull in business that you would really appreciate it if each side would leave a review for you. It also doesn’t hurt if you ask the question right after you hand the buyer a bottle of champagne.
Another good way to pile up some positive local reviews is by asking friends and family that you have helped in the past with a real estate related issue. Every Realtor® has a friend they have helped with a lease or a family member they have advised in the home buying or selling process. Reviewers don’t have to be anonymous, they just have to be honest and they have to be writing the review without compensation.
Finding quality backlinks for real estate websites
It’s no longer enough to spam a thousand link directories with your website URL. Google is smarter than that now and does a pretty good job of differentiating between quality organic links and crappy spammy links, and being linked from websites with low trust scores can actually harm your search rankings.
The best way to get good backlinks is to create good content. For instance, if you live in a tourist or vacation area you might want to write a blog post about the best outdoor adventure companies in your area. This is valuable free advertising for these companies, so most of them will readily link to your content on their website and social media profiles if you ask them. Another good way to obtain quality local backlinks for your real estate website is to create a local resources page for your visitors and then link to area businesses and service providers in exchange for a non-spammy link back to your website.
Challenge #3- To IDX or Not to IDX
One of the biggest questions that comes up when designing a real estate website is whether or not website visitors will be able to view and search MLS listings that are generated by your local board of realtors®. On the one hand, providing website visitors with the ability to create very specific searches for properties in their market and price range is an outstanding way to attract and retain potential home buyers. It shows that you’re serious about helping your customers find a new home or property whether it’s your listing or not.
On the other hand, as mentioned earlier local real estate websites have to compete online with not only real estate aggregator websites like Trulia and Zillow, but also with large brokerages that have enormous online footprints. For some small brokers or agents it might not make sense to spend the money ($40-$100 per month) to install and maintain IDX software that connects a real estate website with the local MLS.
But for most agents and agencies who are serious about growing their presence online, providing potential home buyers who visit your website with the tools they need to do the research on their on is mandatory. Yes, a lot of people who have no intention of ever calling you will use these tools for free. So will other agents. But you don’t care because it doesn’t cost you a dime extra (usually) to provide information to this non-customers plus, you are building your brand for the long-term.
Which IDX software should I use?
This is an easy question to answer because we’ve tried them all, and by far the IDX solution with the most flexible integration solutions and user options is iHomefinder, which provides high quality snap-in solutions for either static or CMS based websites like WordPress. In fact, installing the OptimaExpress WordPress plugin from iHomefinder takes about 30 seconds and makes populating your WordPress website with listings from your local MLS a snap!
Besides the nearly limitless custom search options, which allows you to create hyper-targeted pages for local cities, neighborhoods and developments, combining iHomefinder with WordPress provides your website with a huge SEO boost in the form of static content that is served from your website, not through an iframe.
How much does IDX cost?
That’s going to depend on what you want to do with it. If you are a single agent that wants to feature your MLS listings on your own website and offer visitors the ability to search all MLS listings then the basic single-agent version of OptimaExpress will cost about $40 per month (plus a $99 activation fee). If you are broker that wants to provide MLS functionality on your agency’s website then the Broker version of the software will cost you (minimum) about $80 per month with unique logins and agent pages for up to five agents, and the price goes up from there based on the number of agents. There are some awesome features in upgraded versions of the software for agents or agencies that really want to boost their online footprint.
As mentioned earlier, having the ability to display MLS listings is not a priority for all real estate professionals. If you have a small office, few listings, work in real estate part-time or don’t interact with the local board and MLS then you may not be able to justify the additional expense of IDX software. If that’s the case then the best solution is probably a WordPress theme with built-in local listing functionality, such as RealtySpace or houzes, both of which are high quality WordPress themes with tons of built-in functionality.
If you already have a WordPress theme or static website you like there are several plugins and stand-alone php scripts that will get your listings in front of people.
We can turn your real estate website into a powerful marketing tool
Lanier Tech Pros has nearly 20 years experience building, redesigning and configuring real estate websites for brokers and agents. If your online marketing efforts aren’t getting you the results you think they should be give us a shout and let us show you what a little bit of elbow grease and a lot of knowledge about building beautiful, highly functional real estate websites can do for your bottom line.