Last January, I had the awesome pleasure of launching a start-up Real Estate Brokerage Firm from the ground up, in NYC. I came aboard as a Licensed Agent, and an IT consultant. This report is the Website Exploration highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in today's real estate webpages.
If you are among the few that I bashed in here, don't mull over the offense for too long. Let's talk about how we can improve on it!
Some of the names have been changed, but since most of these guys have put themselves in public spotlight, I'm leaving actual websites and names live for comparison. This starts in letter form.
Lastly, after working with two different firms as a rental and sales agent in NYC, one with RealtyMX, and one without, it is my firm belief that if you are not working with RealtyMX in your real estate company, you are at a severe disadvantage!
...hope you're well. The following is submitted for your review. After studying all the clients on RealtyMX, this report highlights the done-wells and the tried-but-not-done-so-wells. I hope we can use the observations to create a cleaner, more customer-converting, efficient site.
In short: I'm going to suggest that we focus on a clean site based around four main sections, and that we leverage recent trends toward social "micro-blogging."
Initial Website Exploration Report for Namesake Estates. (Jan 2011)
After exploring the bulk of the client examples listed on RealtyMX's site, there are several common themes in place, and reoccurring trends. This makes "analysis" easy, but also doesn't really illuminate much in the grand scheme of things, which is disappointing. What you find is a lot of regurgitated, unoriginal material out there in an intensely competitive market.
In the world of Web, the ruling mantra is, "content is King." Meaning the more original and informative content that your site provides, the greater your value to a prospective customer, and the stickier your webpage becomes (referring to how long the reader stays, and how often the reader comes back.) In sales, stickiness matters; as you know, the longer a prospect is engaged in your pitch, the greater the odds are of that prospect converting, or closing.
The three main turn-offs I noticed were:
- Obviously generic looking stock photos on the landing page, leading to quick click-away.
- "Resources" Available, but no clear call to action or sales flow. (cluttered, indirect pages, ect.)
- Lots of links or features on the front page that clicked back to the same minimal content (mainly regarding the neighborhood links)
All three of these can easily be overcome, and I'll end with suggestions.
Great Ideas vs. Essential Basics
As a web developer, and businessman combined, I recognize a fine line that many web developers neglect. Although content is King, and a website should be engaging, for businesses where the actual business is done in the personal realm, out on the streets, or on the block, as I prefer to call it, the website's primary functions should be to:
- Lend credibility to the business (to give Namesake Estates a professional store front, so to speak).
- To answer the very basic five-W's: Who is Namesake Estates, What do they do? When can I interact with them, when did they start doing this (experience, ect)? Where can I find Namesake Estates? And not to be overlooked, Why should I work with Namesake Estates (value proposition)?
Through my experience designing and launching hardknocklaughs.com, and businesspowerIT.com (the former, a production company, and the latter, an IT consulting firm), I've noticed an overwhelming desire to focus on a dozen extra useful content pieces instead of the core basics. Be wary of that!
On paper, in outlines, the idea is great, and when imagining all the Google Juice PR that it will foster, it's delicious, BUT on almost all accounts, the time to add that copy is daunting, the links are put up on the homepage, and then they sit with a "coming soon" note on the click-through. For Hard Knock Laughs this fluff quest was an extensive list of talent bios, for Business Power IT it was a large index of confusing IT terms to be explained in their layman definition, for Namesake Estates this would be a comprehensive description of Manhattan's neighborhoods that all the other real estate sites try to do.
The ideas are great, but the lack of follow through makes the websites feel outdated, neglected, and less than professional to the customer. The only two solutions to this are to A.) follow through, but unless you're hiring professional copywriters, you will quickly find more pressing needs of your time (like running your business). And B.) lean out the site, stick with the basics, make it impressively clean and effective, and then add content as you notice that you or the team are answering the same questions over and over via email, ect (that's where a solid FAQ comes into play, and readers love a good FAQ!).
A Real Life Case Study in Minimizing Website Options.
As a quick case study: to lean out that production company's webpage, we came down from a dozen+ pages that included a blog, fan's discussion board, photo spreads, comic bios, new events page, ect, all the way down to THREE concise main pages. There is a home/welcome page with three distinct calls to action; there is an About page explaining the company, and an About page (Bio Page) explaining the lead talent.
And instead of competing with the monster-growing Facebook and Twitter social networking trends, we embraced them, which had the added bonus of minimized tech overhead needs. Now all of our photos and discussions are hosted on the Facebook Fan Page, and one of our calls to action leads visitors there, to add them to our network. Now all of our news, that might have been on the blog, is hosted on our Twitter account, and we have our feed displayed on the front page of our website. It's simple, quick, and informative.
Industry Examples of Too Much or Just Right.
On the real estate side, CORE Blog is the blog started by CORE CEO Shaun Osher, whose firm is featured on HGTV's Selling New York. It's worth noting that even with 1.5 million people tuning into the show weekly, his blog gets minimal interaction, and his Twitter account boasts only 571 followers! (Ed: only 79 during initial correspondence).
If blogs are not frequently maintained, they look lame (to put it colloquially), which means they require significant effort to keep up. And unless Mr. Osher gets personal satisfaction out of maintaining it (which is very possible!) the costs quickly outweigh the benefits.
Twitter on the other hand allows updates of 120 characters max, which forces the communicator to distill the message to its most important point, which rings well with affluent buyers who are about their business, care about their time, and that look toward real estate professionals to be effective, efficient, and knowledgeable, as opposed to just trendy.
What Core did do well, on coregroupnyc.com was keep the landing page clean, concise, and with a crystal clear call to action. In one paragraph they say,
"Welcome to Core, New York City’s most innovative real estate brokerage. We offer services in new developments, sales, rentals and commercial properties. Call us today at 212-609-9100 or visit our flagship Chelsea location, at 127 Seventh Avenue." (as of Nov '11)
To the left of that, they have a rolling slide show of properties that bait the readers to click through. Its simplicity is beautiful. In the footer, there is a clean Facebook link, Twitter link, email adress, and phone number.
As a systems admin for over 10 years, I observed first-hand that too many options leads to no decision. It's choice overload. If I told a customer that his phone could do 20 things (conference, page, all-call-announce, line override, ...) and asked him which features he wanted, I'd never get the four he really needed, if I got any at all! If I told him it did three things, I'd get those three important ones installed, and a request about a possible fourth.
Minimizing options works like a charm. Aside from social networking, Core offers the customer two options on their site: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 212-609-9100. If a customer is not ready for that leap, there are listing pictures rolling to keep them on the page.
How to Make Your Website the Best.
Wrapping this up, here are three bad examples of landing pages:
- www.agroupnyc.com Weak slogan in prime part of page, uninspiring stock photo in second prime spot of page, small welcoming paragraph with over-used cliche words, "The AGroup is one of the Premiere Real Estate Brokerage Companies in Manhattan." Lame, passive, and what the heck is premier?!
- www.afinecompany.com (Ed: This forwards to a Halstead Bio now) Another terrible slogan in prime page space, poor aesthetic site construction, 5-W's buried on the bottom of a poor page which renders the call to action on top sterile (poor sales flow), neighborhood links lead to an entire page dedicated to a two sentence description (an example of a good idea executed poorly).
- www.bapazaderet.com Auto-playing music: BAD! That is one of the quickest ways to get readers to click away, too much movement on the front which halts any sales flow, so much info on the front no one really knows what to click or do next.
You intuitively know most of this, and have a clear picture of what NamesakeEstates.com will be; these will help solidify your intuition though. Here are a few good ones to counter above:
- www.absolutepropertiesnyc.com Real clean logo, prime page location hosts pertinent info, fantastic sales flow left-to-right, top-to-bottom, they actually have a slogan worth using, the welcome paragraph was original, uses "real" words, was thought out, and answers most of the W's. Featured properties photo reel adds to stickiness, ends again with its top links which makes the sales flow natural and easy for the customer.
- www.heightsberkeley.com Not much for text, but they do a great job of telling their story with well chosen stock graphics, and the use of a really effective slogan. Combined, they answer the 5-W's well. Their slogan itself is a call to action, which ties in the rest of their options.
- www.onyxgroupnyc.com They're not my favorite, but it's clean, the graphics are stock but custom, the end of each eye movement brings you to a point of contact, or call to action click-through, the prime page spots are occupied by pertinent info, or actionable click-through's, overall great calls to action, the 5-W's paragraph is weak, but the smooth calls to action pick up the slack, and it's easy to read.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. There were several good sites there in their own regard, but I'm trying to focus on User Experience Design, and those sites that were designed to bring the reader to the next step.
I suggest that Namesake Estates focus on several core pages, and keep the focus of the website on being a clean professional store front for the brokerage, while also guiding the customer toward making contact with the firm, or at least submitting contact info to the firm.
- Landing Page: Well chosen graphics, concise BRIEF value proposition spelled out in welcome paragraph, real smooth sales flow. Remember that English readers read from Left to Right and top to bottom. The most valuable space on a webpage is topside, right side, because often scanners will jump the first few words to get to the point. On the great webpages, the most important information, or actionable buttons are on the right side, closer to the top. Think phone numbers, calls to action, or special offers. Twitter feed on bottom left, as news feed, works well because if the site has done its job and kept the reader there, the added news is icing on the cake...it shows that Namesake Estates is about its business and keeps its clients in the know. I included a page-layout diagram in the attachments.
- About Us: This should expand on the value proposition, explain literally what Namesake Estates is (A NYS Licensed Real Estate Brokerage Incorporation), and spell out your vision statement to inspire readers, ending with a call to action. You can include an About the Agents link here)
- Listings: That you can then break down into Sales, Rentals, Commercial, Ect.
- Resources: I suggest keeping this very simple and original! Renter's Guide, Buyer's Guide, New York City FAQ, ect
Ultimately, we want them to call us, email us, or visit us. The featured listings gives them samples, and helps keep them around long enough to see enough calls to action to finally contact us.
"Welcome to Namesake Estates.
A client-focused real estate brokerage excelling at sales and rentals in New York City. We work with you to find the best valued new residence, maximize sale of your current property, and to advise you on New York City's dynamic market. Call us today at 212-222-4444 or visit us at 67 Broadway. Click here for more info."
These are all just suggestions. Take them into consideration and explore the example sites I listed. Ultimately, like I alluded to in one of our text messages, we just want a Castle for our Knights, but if we're investing in the castle, let's think it through, do it right, and be in the top 10% of functionality, crispness, and user experience. That combined with RealtyMX's backend will give Namesake Estates a dominating edge in the market!
For your review,
Want Personal IT Support?
- I'm running a special collaboration offer from This Blue Couch. See Details Here.